Categorypolicy

Facebook, Twitter, Google are a new type of media platform, and new rules apply

F

When Congress questioned representatives of Facebook, Google and Twitter, it became official: We need to finally find an answer to a debate that’s been bubbling for months (if not years) about the role of the tech companies—Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, or GAFAM—and their platforms.

The question is summed up by Ted Cruz’s line of inquiry (and here’s a person I never expected to quote) in the Congressional hearing: “Do you consider your sites to be neutral public fora?” (Some others echoed versions of this question.)

Platform or media?

Simply put, the question boils down to this: Are GAFAM tech companies or media companies? Are they held to standards (and regulation) of “neutral platform” or “content creator”? Are they dumb infrastructure or pillars of democracy?

These are big questions to ask, and I don’t envy the companies for their position in this one. As a neutral platform they get a large degree of freedom, but have to take responsibility for the hate speech and abuse on their platform. As a media company they get to shape the conversation more actively, but can’t claim the extreme point of view of free speech they like to take. You can’t both be neutral and “bring humanity together” as Mark Zuckerberg intends. As Ben Thompson points out on Stratechery (potentially paywalled), neutrality might be the “easier” option:

the “safest” position for the company to take would be the sort of neutrality demanded by Cruz — a refusal to do any sort of explicit policing of content, no matter how objectionable. That, though, was unacceptable to the company’s employee base specifically, and Silicon Valley broadly

I agree this would be easier. (I’m not so sure that the employee preference is the driving force, but that’s another debate and it certainly plays a role.) Also, let’s not forget that each of these companies plays a global game, and wherever they operate they have to meet legal requirements. Where are they willing to draw the line? Google famously didn’t enter the Chinese market a few years ago, presumably because they didn’t want to meet the government’s censorship requirements. This was a principled move, and I would expect not an easy one for a big market. But where do you draw the line? US rules on nudity? German rules on censoring Nazi glorification and hate speech? Chinese rules on censoring pro-democracy reporting or on government surveillance?

For GAFAM, the position has traditionally been clear cut and quite straightforward, which we can still (kind of, sort of) see in the Congressional hearing:

“We don’t think of it in the terms of ‘neutral,'” [Facebook General Counsel Colin] Stretch continued, pointing out that Facebook tries to give users a personalized feed of content. “But we do think of ourselves as — again, within the boundaries that I described — open to all ideas without regard to viewpoint or ideology.” (Source: Recode)

Once more:

[Senator John] Kennedy also asked Richard Salgado, Google’s director of law enforcement and information security, whether the company is a “newspaper” or a neutral tech platform. Salgado replied that Google is a tech company, to which Kennedy quipped, “that’s what I thought you’d say.” (Source: Business Insider)

Now that’s interesting, because while they claim to be “neutral” free speech companies, Facebook and the others have of course been hugely filtering content by various means (from their Terms of Service to community guidelines), and shaping the attention flow (who sees what and when) forever.

This aspect isn’t discussed much, but worth noting nonetheless: How Facebook and other tech firms deal with content has been based to a relatively large degree by United States legal and cultural standards. Which makes sense, given that they’re US companies, but doesn’t make a lot of sense given they operate globally. To name just two examples from above that highlight how legal and cultural standards differ from country to country, take pictures of nudity (largely not OK in the US, largely OK in Germany) versus positively referencing the Third Reich (largely illegal in Germany, largely least legal in the US).

Big tech platforms are a new type of media platform

Here’s the thing: These big tech platforms aren’t neutral platforms for debate, nor are they traditional media platforms. They are neither neither dumb tech (they actively choose and frame and shape content & traffic) nor traditional media companies that (at least notionally) primarily engage in content creation. These big tech platforms are a new type of media platform, and new rules apply. Hence, they require new ways of thinking and analysis, as well as new approaches to regulation.

(As an personal, rambling aside: Given we’ve been discussing the transformational effects of digital media and especially social media for far over a decade now, how do we still even have to have this debate in 2017? I genuinely thought that we had at least sorted out our basic understanding of social media as a new hybrid by 2010. Sigh.)

We might be able to apply existing regulatory—and equally important: analytical—frameworks. Or maybe we can find a way to apply existing ones in new ways. But, and I say this expressly without judgement, these are platforms that operate at a scale and dynamism we haven’t seen before. They are of a new quality, they display qualities and combinations of qualities and characteristics we don’t have much experience with. Yet, on a societal level we’ve been viewing them through the old lenses of either media (“a newspaper”, “broadcast”) or neutral platforms (“tubes”, “electricity”). And it hasn’t worked yet, and will continue not to work, because it makes little sense.

That’s why it’s important to take a breath and figure out how to best understand implications, and shape the tech, the organizations, the frameworks within which they operate.

It might turn out, and I’d say it’s likely, that they operate within some frameworks but outside others, and in those cases we need to adjust the frameworks, the organizations, or both. To align the analytical and regulatory frameworks with realities, or vice versa.

This isn’t an us versus them situation like many parties are insinuating: It’s not politics versus tech as actors on both the governmental and the tech side sometimes seem to think. It’s not tech vs civil society as some activists claim. It’s certainly not Silicon Valley against the rest of the world, even though a little more cultural sensitivity might do SV firms a world of good. This is a question of how we want to live our lives, govern our lives, as they are impacted by the flow of information.

It’s going to be tricky to figure this out as there are many nation states involved, and some supra-national actors, and large global commercial actors and many other, smaller but equally important players. It’s a messy mix of stakeholders and interests.

But one thing I can promise: The solution won’t be just technical, not just legal, nor cultural. It’ll be a slow and messy process that involves all three fields, and a lot of work. We know that the status quo isn’t working for too many people, and we can shape the future. So that soon, it’ll work for many more people—maybe for all.

Please note that this is cross-posted from Medium. Also, for full transparency, we work occasionally with Google.

Getting our policies ready for AI futures

G

In late 2016, the White House published a report, “Artificial Intelligence, Automation, and the Economy” (PDF). It’s a solid work of research and forecasting, and proposes equally solid policy recommendations. Here’s part of the framing, from the report’s intro:

AI-driven automation will continue to create wealth and expand the American economy in the coming years, but, while many will benefit, that growth will not be costless and will be accompanied by changes in the skills that workers need to succeed in the economy, and structural changes in the economy. Aggressive policy action will be needed to help Americans who are disadvantaged by these changes and to ensure that the enormous benefits of AI and automation are developed by and available to all.

This cuts right to the chase: Artificial intelligence (AI) will create wealth, and it will replace jobs. AI will change the future of work, and the economy.

AI will change the future of work, and the economy.

Revisiting this report made me wonder if similar policy research exists in Germany and at the European level? A quick search online brought up bits and pieces (Merkel arguing for bundling know-how for AI and acknowledging that AI spending is low in Europe, demands for transparency in algorithms). However, there doesn’t seem to be an overarching guiding policy. (I asked federal government spokesperson Steffen Seibert on Twitter, but so far he hasn’t responded. Which is fair—why would he!)

Germany has a mixed track record of tech policy

For the record: In other areas, Germany is making good progress. Take autonomous driving, for example. Germany just adopted an action plan on automated driving that regulates key points of how autonomous vehicles should behave on the street—and regulates it well! Key points include that autonomous driving is worth promoting because it causes fewer accidents, dictates that damage to property must take precedence over personal injury (aka life has priority), and that in unavoidable accident situations there may not be any discrimination between individuals based on age, gender, etc. It even includes data sovereignty for drivers. Well done!

On the other hand, for the Internet of Things (IoT) Germany squandered opportunities in that IoT is framed almost exclusively as industrial IoT under the banner of Industrie 4.0. This is understandable given Germany’s manufacturing-focused economy, but it excludes a huge amount of super interesting and promising IoT. It’s clearly the result of successful lobbying but at the expense at a more inclusive, diverse portfolio of opportunities.

So where do we stand with artificial intelligence in Germany? Honestly, in terms of policy I cannot tell.

So where do we stand with artificial intelligence in Germany? Honestly, in terms of policy I cannot tell.

Update: The Federal Ministry of Education and Research recently announced an initiative to explore AI: Plattform Lernende Systeme (“platform living systems”). Thanks to Christian Katzenbach for the pointer!

AI & the future of work

The White House AI report talks a lot about the future of work, and of employment specifically. This makes sense: It’s one of the key aspects of AI. (Some others are, I’d say, opportunity for the creation of wealth on one side and algorithmic discrimination on the other.)

How AI will impact the work force, the economy, and the role of the individual is something we can only speculate about today.

In a recent workshop with stipendiaries of the Heinrich-Böll-Foundation on the future of work we explored how digital, AI, IoT and adjacent technologies impact how we work, and how we think about work. It was super interesting to see this diverse group of very, very capable students and young professionals bang their heads against the complexities in this space. Their findings mirrored what experts across the field also have been finding: That there are no simple answers, and most likely we’ll see huge gains in some areas and huge losses in others.

Like all automation before, depending on the context we’ll see AI either displace human workers or increase their productivity.

The one thing I’d say is a safe bet is this: Like all automation before, depending on the context we’ll see AI either displace human workers or increase their productivity. In other words, some human workers will be super-powered by AI (and related technologies), whereas others will fall by the wayside.

Over on Ribbonfarm, Venkatesh Rao phrases this very elegantly: Future jobs will either be placed above or below the API: “You either tell robots what to do, or are told by robots what to do.” Which of course conjures to mind images of roboticized warehouses, like this one:

Just to be clear, this is a contemporary warehouse in China. Amazon runs similar operations. This isn’t the future, this is the well-established present.

Future jobs will either be placed above or below the API: “You either tell robots what to do, or are told by robots what to do.”

I’d like to stress that I don’t think a robot warehouse is inherently good or bad. It depends on the policies that make sure the humans in the picture do well.

Education is key

So where are we in Europe again? In Germany, we still try to define what IoT and AI means. In China it’s been happening for years.

This picture shows a smart lamp in Shenzhen that we found in a maker space:

What does the lamp do? It tracks if users are nearby, so it can switch itself off when nobody’s around. It automatically adjusts light the temperature depending on the light in the room. As smart lamps go, these features are okay: Not horrible, not interesting. If it came out of Samsung or LG or Amazon I wouldn’t be surprised.

So what makes it special? This smart lamp was built by a group of fifth graders. That’s right: Ten and eleven year olds designed, programmed, and built this. Because the curriculum for local students includes the skills that enable them to do this. In Europe, this is unheard of.

I think the gap in skills regarding artificial intelligence is most likely quite similar. And I’m not just talking about the average individual: I’m talking about readiness at the government level, too. Our governments aren’t ready for AI.

Our governments aren’t ready for AI.

It’s about time we start getting ready for AI, IoT, and robotics. Always a fast mover, Estonia considers a law to legalize AI, and they smartly kick off this process with a multi-stakeholder process.

What to do?

In Germany, the whole discussion is still in its earliest stages. Let’s not fall into the same trap as we did for IoT: Both IoT and AI are more than just industry. They are both broader and deeper than the adjective industrial implies.

The White House report can provide some inspiration, especially around education policy.

We need to invest in what OECD calls the active labor market policies, i.e. training and skill development for adults. We need to update our school curricula to get youths ready for the future with both hands-on applicable skills (coding, data analysis, etc.) and with the larger contextual meta skills to make smart decisions (think humanities, history, deep learning).

We need to reform immigration to allow for the best talent to come to Europe more easily (and allow for voting rights, too, because nobody feels at home where they pay taxes with no representation).

Without capacity building, we’ll never see the digital transformation we need to get ready for the 21st century.

Zooming out to the really big picture, we need to start completely reforming our social security systems for an AI world that might not deliver full employment ever again. This could include Universal Basic Income, or maybe rather Universal Basic Services, or a different approach altogether.

This requires capacity building on the side of our government. Without capacity building, we’ll never see the digital transformation we need to get ready for the 21st century.

But I know one thing: We need to kick off this process today.

///

Please note: This is cross-posted from Medium.

Netzpolitik13: Das Internet der Dinge: Rechte, Regulierung & Spannungsfelder

N

My slides from Das ist Netzpolitik (Berlin, 1. September 2017). Title: “Das Internet der Dinge: Rechte, Regulierung & Spannungsfelder“.

Vom Hobby-Basteln bis hin zur Smart City: Das Internet of Things (#IoT) hat zunehmend Berührungspunkte mit allen Bereichen unseres Lebens. Aber wer bestimmt was erlaubt ist, was mit unseren Daten passiert, und ob es OK ist, unter die Haube zu gucken? IoT sitzt an der Schnittstelle vieler Technologie-, Governance- und Regulierungsbereiche—und schafft dadurch gleich eine ganze Reihe von Spannungsfeldern.

Due to technical issues with the video projection, my slides weren’t shown for the first few minutes. Apologies. On the plus side, the organizers had kindly put a waving cat on the podium for me. ?

It’s a rare talk in that I gave it in German, something I’m hardly used to these days.

In it, I argue that IoT poses a number of particular challenges that we need to address (incl. the level of complexity and blurred lines across disciplines and expertise; power dynamics; and transparency). I outline inherent tensions and propose a few approaches on how to tackle them, especially around increasing transparency and legibility of IoT products.

I conclude with a call for Europe to actively take a global leadership role in the area of consumer and data protection, analog to Silicon Valley’s (claimed/perceived) leadership in disruptive innovation as well as funding/scaling of digital products, and to Shenzhen’s hardware manufacturing leadership.

Netzpolitik has an extensive write-up in German.

Update: Netzpolitik also recorded an interview with me: Regulierung und Datenschutz im Internet der Dinge.

Monthnotes for August 2017

M

August came and went quickly: It was a comparatively short month here at The Waving Cat once you subtract vacation time, and so we spent it largely distraction free, heads-down, on writing.

A quick note: I’m doing capacity planning for fall & winter. If you’d like to explore working together, get in touch now. First come, first serve!

Talks

I have a few talks coming up:

  • On 1 September (ie. this coming Friday) I’ll be speaking at Netzpolitik‘s annual conference Das ist Netzpolitik!, in German, about tensions inherent in the power dynamics of IoT as well as the regulatory environment: Das Internet der Dinge: Rechte, Regulierung und Spannungsfelder.
  • In October, I’ll be giving a lecture on communications and IoT at Dresden University, where if logistics work out I’ll be chatting a bit about the practitioner’s side of IoT. (Details TBD).
  • On 9 November, also in Berlin, I’ll be at SimplySecure‘s conference Underexposed (program). My talk there is called The Internet of Sneaky Things. I’ll be exploring how IoT security, funding and business models, centralization and data mining, and some larger challenges around the language we use to consider the impact of data-driven systems combined all form a substantial challenge for all things related to IoT. But it’s not all bleak. There are measures we can—and through ThingsCon, we do—take.

Trustmarks for IoT

Consumers don’t necessarily trust connected devices (IoT). Maybe more importantly, many products that are part of IoT do not deserve trust. Too many security holes, too much data gathering and sharing, bad business practices are all all-to-common occurrences.

So I’m very happy to be working on two projects in this space. (For completeness’ sake, some early thoughts of mine on the subject.)

For Mozilla, I’ve been doing research into the potential of trustmarks for IoT. The research and report are pretty much wrapped up after August. We’re currently gathering a last round of feedback from key stakeholders, and there’s a last round of final copy-editing to come. Then the report should be done and published in full within the next couple of months. (Disclosure: My partner Michelle Thorne works at Mozilla.)

I’m particularly excited to hear whispers that some core recommendations might be used in the national IoT policy of a major nation. If this truly comes to pass, then I’ll know why I do what I do. ?

The second project is the #iotmark initiative, co-founded by Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino and Usman Haque (both friends, collaborators, and ThingsCon alumni) that tries to develop a consumer label for IoT products. Together with Laura James of UK charity Doteveryone, my role is to look into governance questions. There are a lot of moving parts and open questions, but we’re all slowly getting organized, and I think it’s a tremendous group to be part of.

View Source: Shenzhen

Our friends & many-time collaborators over at The Incredible Machine have just flipped the switch on the new site for View Source: Shenzhen. All our research & documentation from our two research trips to Shenzhen in one place. It’s all there, waiting to be explored by you. What are you waiting for?

Learn more about View Source: Shenzhen.

ThingsCon

ThingsCon didn’t really take a summer break, I guess! Instead, the new ThingsCon chapter in Copenhagen will host their first ThingsCon Salon as part of Copenhagen Tech Fest (6 Sep). The annual ThingsCon Amsterdam conference is shaping up to be the biggest global ThingsCon event yet (30 Nov – 1 Dec). The chapter in Antwerp is even pioneering a new experimental format: A ThingsCon Comedy Special. There’ll be another round of ThingsCon Salons in Amsterdam, Berlin, Cologne. And we’re hopefully-almost-nearly ready for announcements spanning the globe from Pakistan to the Philippines, from Manila to Nairobi. All the details are up on thingscon.com/events.

Also, the founding paperwork for our members association in Germany has finally been processed: The Verein is now eingetragen, officially making it ThingsCon e.V. This will make it a lot easier to interface with other organizations for advocacy, fundraising and partnerships.

Zephyr Berlin

Over at Zephyr Berlin, we have a summer sale on—free shipping worldwide! Use the discount code SUMMER to get your pair today!

What’s on the horizon?

The next few weeks will go into wrapping up/advancing the Trustmarks for IoT project, as well as planning for the rest of the year. Besides the talks mentioned at the top of this post, I’m also looking at Mozfest and some #iotmark-related workshops, yet to be confirmed. Then, starting in October, it looks like there’s some availability, so hit me up if you’d like to discuss new projects.

Monthnotes for July 2017

M

July was short work month: I’m just coming back online from a vacation that started in mid-July. We spent the time on the Spanish side of the Pyrenees and across Basque Country. Gorgeous and highly recommended!

Ordesa Valley

Ordesa Valley

Ordesa Valley

Ordesa Valley / Torla

A quick note: I’ll be doing the fall planning over the next few weeks, and as of now there’s some availability. If you’re looking into expanding your markets, creating new products, or understanding the environment of connected products & users better, get in touch now. First come, first serve!

So what happened last month and what’s coming up?

Writing, talks, media

Stories Connecting Dots

Podcast: Stories Connecting Dots

Markus Andrezak of überproduct kindly invited me to his excellent podcast Stories Connecting Dots. This is episode 12, titled “Ethics for The Internet of Things”. (Read my blog post.)

We had a lovely, intense chat about ethics for the internet of things (IoT) space, how to start new projects, and lots more.

Quoting from the show notes:

That lead to getting to know the community around the Internet of Things, which again led to organising the first Thingscon in Berlin. An epic experience in starting a conference, low on budget, high on energy and even the attention of Bruce Sterling.
During the conversation, you will hear a lot about how Peter sees the world. And as I did not choose Peter by chance, you will hear a lot of things on
  • how to start things off
  • how to open things up for a larger community
  • how to be inclusive
  • how to have impact as a person or a small boutique
  • how to work in early phases once things are in genesis so that your impact may still be there when things grow to utility

Learn more about this episode and subscribe to the podcast (RSS, iTunes)!

Markus decided to split up our chat into two episodes because we covered a lot of ground. Where this one focused on the topics above, the next one is going to be all about Shenzhen.

Future-proofing your org / forecasting, IoT, AI

Recently I gave a presentation for a large retailer on how to future-proof the organization. I focused on forecasting as a method, Joi Ito’s motto Compasses over Maps, and an eclectic selection of signals from the world of IoT, AI, and humans & machines working side by side.

It’s somewhat anonymized/cleaned up from concrete references. It’s also an elusive, rarely spotted set of slides in German!

ThingsCon Report: The State of Responsible IoT

Thanks to Bruce Sterling, our ThingsCon report on the State of Responsible IoT was featured on WIRED. Yay!

Bruce Sterling featured our report on WIRED
Bruce Sterling featured our report on WIRED

Read our ThingsCon Report: The State of Responsible IoT.

View Source: Shenzhen

At the most recent ThingsCon Salon Berlin, Shenzhen was featured heavily.

Among other things, we screened The Incredible Machine’s documentary of their quest to build a smart lock as part of a more responsible bike sharing service. This film was created as part of our joint research trips to Shenzhen that I also documented in View Source: Shenzhen.

So for context, I gave a brief introduction to Shenzhen.

My slides and the recorded talk:

Here’s The Incredible Machine’s documentary:

Learn more about View Source: Shenzhen.

Trustmarks for the Internet of Things

I’ve been working on two projects directly related to trust in IoT. I wrote up some thoughts on the underlying issues and challenges that are relevant to both here.

Trust and Expectations in IoT
Trust and Expectations in IoT

So what are the two projects?

The #iotmark initiative, co-founded by Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino and Usman Haque (both friends, collaborators, and ThingsCon alumni) tries to develop a consumer label for IoT products. Follow along and get involved at iotmark.wordpress.com. Together with Laura James of UK charity Doteveryone, my role is to look into governance structures. Some early thoughts about the kickoff event here.

For Mozilla, I’ve been doing research into the potential of trustmarks for IoT. The report should be done by the fall and will be published in full. (Disclosure: My partner Michelle Thorne works for Mozilla.)

ThingsCon

July was a big ThingsCon month!

With four ThingsCon events (Amsterdam, Berlin, Cologne, Darmstadt), we have a new record of events per month.

Above, you’ve already seen the publication of the video documentary that came out of our recent Shenzhen trips.

Our non-profit structure was approved in Germany (an e.V.) and just received its tax number. This being Germany, the tax number unlocks all the next steps, like opening a bank account, and essentially being able to conduct any official business.

We’re in conversations with local teams about (hopefully) founding several new ThingsCon chapters in Asia and Africa. This is super exciting to me! More on that soon. I’d love to see more chapters around the world, especially in the global South.

Zephyr Berlin

Get yourself a pair of Zephyr Berlin pants now—there’s only a few left.

We’re back in tinker mode. We prototyped new, extra-deep pockets. This was by far the most requested feature.


A few extra centimeters of depth.


Deep pockets are deep.

I'm pushing down the phone in the pocket so you can see the outline a little all the way down. Those are deep pockets!
I’m pushing down the phone in the pocket so you can see the outline a little all the way down. Those are deep pockets!

By the way, if you already have a pair and would like to upgrade, there’s no need to replace your current one: We had this change done by our local tailor and would encourage you to do the same. It’s easy, it’s just a few bucks, and most importantly it means keeping your clothes in use longer.

We’re still looking for examples of how people have modded, hacked or repaired their Zephyrs. If you have, send us a pic, please?

What’s on the horizon?

Outside the ongoing client projects there are a bunch of conference presentations coming up that I’m very much looking forward to:

I’ll be speaking at the conference Das ist Netzpolitik!. At the request of the organizers, even in German! The preliminary title of my presentation: Das Internet der Dinge: Rechte, Regulierung & Spannungsfelder.

Also, I’ll be at SimplySecure’s Underexposed conference to talk about The Internet of Sneaky Things.

Last but not least, I’m planning to head to Mozfest later this fall, too, for all of the stuff related to IoT labels and trustmarks mentioned above.

Defining an #iotmark for consumers

D

A long over-due blog post, I wanted to share some thoughts on the recent #iotmark event that Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino and Usman Haque convened in London as a follow-up to the 2012 Open IoT Assembly (which produced this Open IoT Definition).

Most importantly (spoiler alert!) the #iotmark is a work in progress. You can follow along and/or contribute here.

///

Consumer trust and the Internet of Things

Why is it important to talk about IoT and a label, certification, or trustmark? Because in IoT, it’s really hard for consumers to make an informed decision on which products and services to trust.

Partially this is because implications of anything are hard to gauge in the context of connected, data-driven systems. Partially it’s because the categories of IoT products aren’t fully matured yet and it’s not always clear what to expect from one thing over the other. But also, there’s a lot more going on under the hood that makes it nearly impossible to tell quality work from crap.

A shiny box could be built with top security processes in place by a trustworthy organization, or it could be slapped together haphazardly by a scammer. How would you know!

As a starting point, inspired by a conversation at the event, I made this 4-quadrant test:


Trust and expectations in IoT by The Waving Cat/Peter Bihr

This group of 40-50 participants went hard at it with lots of intense and super interesting conversations. IoT is a huge space, and the challenges are manifold and real.

The range of challenges (and hence, opportunities to tackle) include digital rights, transparency, data protection & privacy, innovation, security & safety, reparability and maintenance, business models, literacy, policy, and many more.

Different schools of thoughts: Purists versus Pragmatists

An aspect I found particularly interesting was the different schools of thought present—pretty much what Venkatesh Rao refers to as Purists versus Pragmatists.

I’m painting with a very broad brush here, but you could tell two underlying approaches to solving these very real issues:

  • Part of the group aimed for a purist approach: Aim high, and stick with the high goals. In terms of labeling, this would manifest in a desire to see a strongly backed, third party audited, highly trustworthy and credible certification of sorts.
  • The pragmatists on the other hand were guided by not letting the better be the enemy of the good. Their approach tended towards a more bottom-up, decentralized, organic label based on self-declarations that might get more widely adopted because it requires less overhead and hence would have a lower barrier to entry.


When collaboratively editing the first draft of the #iotmark doc, we broke Google Docs.

While I tend to be a little partial here and lean a little more towards the pragmatic side of things, I fully see why both sides have strong points in their favor. In a context like this, where there’s no golden path that’s guaranteed to work, it boils down to a philosophical question.

Will this get traction?

So where will this go? It’s hard to say yet, but we’re motivated to make it happen one way or another. (I’m involved on a voluntary basis by heading the governance working group together with Laura James.)

The interest is certainly there, as is promising precedence as you’ll see below: Stacey Higginbotham just covered the #iotmark on her (excellent!) blog, staceyoniot.com.

And we know that informal, ad-hoc gatherings can have a real impact. Decisions are made by those who show up! Steffen Ferber was a participant in the 2012 Open IoT Assembly, and he shared the story of how he introduced the Open IoT Definition we signed back then at Bosch.

Now, 5 years later, this impacts Bosch’s work in the space. (If the images in the embed below don’t load, just click through to the tweets.)

To me this is a great reminder and gives me a lot of hope: This type of work might not always seem glamorous and sometimes it’s hard to tell if it has an impact. But often that’s just because it unfolds its impact silently, in the background, and only much later the effect becomes visible.

A nice side effect of Bosch using the Open IoT Definition principles we laid out in 2012 is, by the way, that their products are now all pretty much automatically compatible with the GDPR, Europe’s new data protection regulation. Another case that illustrates that good ethics are good business!

I’m looking forward to continuing the very hands-on work on the #iotmark. Hopefully we can move it to a launch-able v1.0 shortly.

In the meantime, I’m also doing more research into the overall landscape and most promising approaches to an IoT trustmark, and how it might be developed and deployed for maximum positive impact.

It’s a good time to put a label on IoT for sure.

Monthnotes for June 2017

M

One day you plant the seeds, and later you harvest. An old freelance friend used to say this to remind herself and me at the time of the cyclical nature of work. First you put in the work, then later it pays off. June is such a month of harvest: We published not one but two full-scale reports.

For this and much, much more: Keep reading.

If it seemed a bit quiet here last month it’s because it was the proverbial quiet before the storm, aka launch month.

View Source: Shenzhen

We went to Shenzhen to explore opportunities for collaboration between European Internet of Things practitioners and the Shenzhen hardware ecosystem—and how to promote the creation of a responsible Internet of Things. You can read the result here: View Source: Shenzhen

ThingsCon Report: The State of Responsible IoT

The ThingsCon report The State of Responsible IoT is a collection of essays by experts from the inter-disciplinary ThingsCon community of IoT practitioners. It explores the challenges, opportunities and questions surrounding the creation of a responsible & human-centric Internet of Things (IoT). You can read the result here: ThingsCon Report: The State of Responsible IoT

Trustmarks for the Internet of Things

My research into IoT labels to increase (and justify!) user trust in connected products continues.

As part of this research went to the Open IoT Definition (5 years later) hosted in London by Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino and Usman Haque. Just like the first convening of this loose group, it was excellent and intense—and we started a process to try and develop an #iotmark (iotmark.wordpress.com). It’s currently a v0.1 document open for input.

While I’ve been doing expert interviews for a broad range of input, we’ve also just launched a small online survey. If you work in IoT or adjacent fields, I’d love to hear from you!

I’m also planning to host a brief workshop on this attached to the ThingsCon Salon Berlin on 13 July. Please ping me if you’d like to participate (likely 15:30 to 17:00 or so).

Updated website

Perhaps a little less concrete but also relevant I think, I’ve reworked the company website to better reflect the types of work I’ve been doing these last few months and aim to continue doing. There were some seriously outdated things there.

The two core areas I’d sum up as strategy and research.

As a boutique strategy, research & foresight company we help guide our clients’ strategies regarding business, product, and research.

This top-level description now explicitly includes research and foresight, for reasons.

Maybe more notably I’ve introduced a dedicated research section because it’s something I’ve been doing with collaborators in almost all recent projects, but that basically wasn’t reflected at all on our website. Needless to say, I favor qualitative over quantitative.

To lead and advance the field, you need to look ahead and understand what’s on the horizon—and what’s possible. In future-facing areas like emerging tech, quantitative data doesn’t cut it: We provide—and help you apply—foresight & qualitative research so you stay ahead of the curve. This includes a wide range of methods and types of input and output. Because we are tapped into the backchannels of a large network of leading experts and collaborators, we have a powerful and fine-tuned radar for the near future.

You can find most of it on thewavingcat.com.

I’m curious to hear what you think!

ThingsCon

We launched ThingsCon report on the state of responsible IoT (see above), and are preparing a whole wave of ThingsCon Salons for July: Amsterdam, Berlin, Cologne & Darmstadt are all ready to roll.

The salons are also a great occasion to catch a screening of the View Source: Shenzhen video documentation that The Incredible Machine has been producing throughout our two Shenzhen trips!

The impact of a community also grows with its footprint. In that sense we’d like to get more ThingsCon chapters online: More cities, more local communities, all working together.


This map shows where ThingsCon events happened in the past or are currently planned.

Over on the ThingsCon blog we wrote:

ThingsCon is a complete community effort, driven largely by volunteer work. And that’s a feature, not a bug! This community has a seat at the table because lots of us show up when important decisions are made, and when the future of this industry is discussed.

Also:

We’re hoping that by the end of 2017, we’ll see 15 new chapters, including 5 in the global South! Combined with the existing chapters, this could easily make for a total of 50 more events just this year.

It’s easy to get involved. Let’s go!

Zephyr Berlin

Holiday season is coming up. We still have a (small & shrinking) stack of ultimate travel pants. Get yours now!

While we’re looking into (potentially! no promises!) running one more small batch, we’re super curious to learn how people have modded, hacked or repaired their Zephyrs. If you have, send us a pic, will ya?

Writing, talks, media

At DevOpsCon, I had the pleasure to talk Shenzhen with Stephanie Koch. Our session was called Shenzhen: IoT going rogue and we had a full house:

Photo by Markus Andrezak (Thank you, Markus!)

I also had a blast of a time discussing the challenges and opportunities of IoT and security at the Transatlantic Digital Debates with a group of smart fellows from both sides of the Atlantic.

Speaking of smart fellows: Together with Meike Laaff I ran a 3 day weekend workshop with stipendiaries of Heinrich-Böll-Foundation on the future of work and how digital, AI, IoT and adjacent technologies impact how we work, and how we think about work.

As for writing, in addition to the two reports listed at the top of this post I wrote:

What’s on the horizon?

Some writing, lots of research to be published later this year. I’ll also be speaking at ThingsCon Salon Berlin (about our Shenzhen trip), and at Das ist Netzpolitik! Also, we have 4 ThingsCon Salons coming up in July alone! Right after, in mid-July, I’ll be off on a vacation for a few weeks. If you’d like to talk about projects for after, ping me!