Blog – a metaverse of citythings

Looking back into the future; the last year I had to think more than once on a project we did back in 2013 on the future of e-commerce; Shopping 2020. It would be nice to have a look into the trends we projected back then to see what became true or not, not to prove ourselves right, but more to learn from the thinking patterns. Thinking about this and exploring the articles of June that might be the base for this month’s look-back update, I could not deny the rise in attention for the metaverse for some time now. A new promise for future forecasters from consultancies especially those with a technology focus. As often, without planning to do, links between the stories pop up… First, let’s go back to the shopping future.


Blog – communities of collaborative AI

This post is a monthly update that I have sent to all subscribers of the Cities of Things newsletter.

Looking back at last month there were two interesting articles that deserve a closer look in relation to the Cities of Things. It connects to some of the basic concepts, and triggers deeper exploring that I probably do later.

One of the core concepts that inspire Cities of Things is the relationships we as humans have with the technology that gets more agency, will make their own decisions, will have more responsibility in taking decisions. The things that are becoming citizens. Things are still representing systems of designed agency, often by organizations. They might however become more learning creatures on their own. We strive for a harmonious society living together with these things, where we can perform in co-performance with the things reaching a shared goal, using each-others best characteristics.


Blog – AirTags as strong signals for the physical operating system

This post is a monthly update that I have sent to all subscribers of the Cities of Things newsletter.

I think I cannot avoid talking about the launch of Apple’s AirTags. I ordered a set but they will not arrive before half of May I think. But that does not matter, the actual experience of using them is not the key point I want to address here. The basic premise of having a tag connected to a valuable object is not so exciting and definitely not new; my tile is still in my bag, just in case. The battery is worn out I think and with the first edition I have, you cannot charge it or replace it. A bad design choice they recognized themselves in the second generation.

reflections update

Blog – citythings with blackbox character

This post is also sent as an update via the monthly newsletter. Around the end of a month, I share learning on the Cities of Things. More on the backgrounds of Cities of Things and the current research projects via the website. In my personal weeknotes newsletter Target_is_new I keep track of the news of the week.

Reading back the weekly updates, it is noticeable that there are continuous introductions of new robot-dog applications, mostly Spot from Boston Dynamics; from policing to being a doctor. The last mile delivery pods are also now adopted by new players every week, so it seems, driven by pandemic lockdowns probably. The pods could see these as typically the creatures inhabiting the cities of things, but it is interesting to reflect on some differences.

From an outside perspective, the way they resemble human characteristics is very different. The last mile vehicles resemble other types of vehicles that we use for transport, while the robot-dogs are a new type of living creatures and touch upon more human-animal interactions often. The robot dogs are also a kind of democratization of industrial robots to a smaller and easier to adopt form factor. The new Stretch robot of Boston Dynamics, introduced last month, is another interesting example. It is positioned as a moveable logistics robot, taking stuff from a truck to the warehouse and vice versa. It is like a combination of a human worker with a tool like a forklift. That make these robots into three types of support connected to human capacities: replacing a delivery person with an autonomous moving bag, replacing the warehouse worker with autonomous lifting gear, and a human guarding or communicating position with an autonomous living object.

All of these are staying close to the objects or tools they replace. That is needed for the acceptance and for the transparency in what they do. Here we touch an important aspect; for acceptance in our regular life we need autonomous operating devices that are readable archetypes. For now.

Will this change? Will we give the autonomous operating citythings more credits for their own character, the authentic choices they might start making. Like the painting robots that create art, that is even sold as NFT. If the autonomous thing is just a predictable extension of human-operated things, there is no character to recognise, and would it be also not likely it will produce interesting art. So might it be a virtue to have non-explainable AI driving these characterful citythings, creating a kind of non-transparent working? In that situation, the relations we have are not are based on our human representations in the autonomous things but in the embodiment of the decisions the robotic things make…

This notion is opening up lots of new questions of course. To connect two interesting reads to dive into it more. First, in her trend presentation at SXSW, Amy Webb introduced the You of Things, where the personal connector is important in the context of networked objects. It is a nice capture of weak signals but deserves also more thinking. The translation into examples is quite basic still. A fundamental exploration on the change of what living things are, was done in this extensive article: “Living Things Are Not (20th Century) Machines: Updating Mechanism Metaphors in Light of the Modern Science of Machine Behavior“. New definitions of machines, robots, programs, software/hardware are proposed.

The science of behavior, applied to embodied computation in physical media that can be evolved or designed or both, is a new emerging field that will help us map and explore the enormous and fascinating space of possible machines across many scales of autonomy and composition.

Interesting to see how it plays out, also in relation to more hybrid systems, especially in a city context. That is something for another edition though.