CategoryResearch

Thanks and Happy Holidays: That was 2017

T

This is end-of-year post #10 (all prior ones here). That’s right, I’ve been writing this post every year for ten years in a row!

So what happened in 2017? Let’s have a look back: Part work, part personal. Enjoy.

Globally speaking I’d file 2017 under shitty year. So much so that I’ll try not to go into anything global or all too political here. But in terms of work it’s been quite interesting and impactful, and personally it’s been a pretty damn great year.

So, right to it!

The theme for 2017

Last year I wrote (and I’m paraphrasing to keep it short):

“(…) even in hindsight 2016 didn’t have one theme as such, but rather a few in parallel: 1) Growth & stabilization, in the business generally speaking, but also and specifically in all things related to ThingsCon. 2) Lots and lots of collaborations with close friends, which I’m grateful for. 3) Also, 2016 was a year for a bit of overload, I may have spread myself a little thin at times.”

Again, lots of collaboration with old and new friends. But this year I was a lot more focused, with lots of research that allowed me to go deep. I’d say in 2017, the theme was first and foremost impact. Impact through large partners, through policy work, through investments into research.

My work was with some large partners with big picture themes, like our work with Mozilla on trustmarks for the internet of things.

I hope to continue this high-impact work in one way or another.

Friends and family

Overall a bit of a mixed bag.

The bad: Some family members had health issues. Some friends received some nasty diagnoses.

The good: Some of the health issues were solved, we got to spend lots of time with close friends and family. Also, lots of babies were born among our friends, including one of our own. Welcome, little K! To be honest, this alone would make me love 2017. So yay, personal 2017!

Travel

For years I had been trying to cut down a little on travel to a somewhat more sustainable level. It kinda-sorta worked in 2017, at least a little bit. Still ways to go, but it’s a start.

Looking at my Tripit, this is what comes up. Tripit stats are a little fuzzy. (Did I mention I still miss Dopplr?) As far as I can reconstruct it on the quick, including vacation time I traveled to 7 countries on just 9 trips, and spent about 89 days traveling. (As opposed to 21 trips to 12 countries for a total of 152 days the year before.) So that’s great, even if it sounds like I might have missed a couple short trips.

pyrenees

Work

There was a lot going on in 2017, so I had to consult my monthnotes to refresh my memory. The focus is still, and ever more so, at the intersection of strategy, emerging technologies, and ethics/governance.

Lots of work around trustmarks and consumer trust generally speaking around the internet of things. Increasingly, artificial intelligence has also solidly established itself as part of the emerging tech canon I’ve been watching closely.

I wrote a lot. I mean, a lot. And I’ve enjoyed it tremendously. Outside my blog and some project-related newsletters and Twitter I did some long and short form writing:

If the writing is part of my overall communications landscape, then so is my website. So I relaunched that completely and restructured it for much more clarity.

I also got to work more with foundations, which is always fun. From workshops with Boell Foundation to research for Mozilla Foundation, the non-commercial, impact-driven sector is certainly an area I’d like to spend more time in.

Very Fun Side Projects

Then there are two “side projects” that have been especially fun this year: ThingsCon and Zephyr.

ThingsCon, our global community on a mission to foster the creation of a responsible & human-centric IoT, has been growing steadily. Milestones in 2017 include:

  • Another research trip to Shenzhen, the Silicon Valley of hardware.
  • We had a bunch of ThingsCon-labeled publications, including about Shenzhen and IoT trustmarks: View Source: Shenzhen, The State of Responsible IoT, A Trustmark for IoT.
  • We launched the ThingsCon Fellowship Program to recognize achievements and commitment that advance the ThingsCon mission of fostering the creation of a responsible and human-centric IoT generally, and support for the ThingsCon community specifically. Shout-out to our most excellent six initial fellows, Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino, Ame Elliott, Dries de Roeck, Iohanna Nicenboim, Michelle Thorne and Ricardo Brito. I hope we’ll get the fellowship program into full swing in 2018!
  • New cities with salons or conferences around the world. Let me use stats from November: At that point ThingsCon events have happened in 20 cities across 12 countries, from Berlin to Brussels to Amsterdam and Milan to London and Shanghai to Austin and Copenhagen and Nairobi.

I can’t possibly tell you how awesome this is for me to watch and experience. Learn more at thingscon.com.

Zephyr Berlin, the trousers/pants project M and I launched on Kickstarter just over a year ago, continues to be a lot of fun. Just a few weeks back we produced another small batch of men’s trousers, this time with super deep pockets to make things like cycling with large phones super easy. So there’s a new batch of men’s, and a very small number of women’s available. Check out zephyrberlin.com to learn more.

Conferences

A lot less conference work this year. What I did in terms of conferences was mostly for ThingsCon. I always enjoyed conferences (both the curation and the planning, but the curation much more than the planning), but not having a conference to plan isn’t too bad either, to be honest. A lot of my other work, especially the writing, would not have been possible if I had committed to another conference.

As a directly related note, without the fantastic, lovable, smart and endlessly committed ThingsCon Amsterdam crew and their annual ThingsCon event (it just happened for the fourth time!), ThingsCon also wouldn’t be what it is today. My eternal thanks go to Iskander, Marcel & Monique and their team.

Speaking

As part of my cutting down on conference travel, I gave just a few talks in 2017. Most of them focused on IoT and consumer trust.

There were a few at ThingsCon events like in Berlin and Shenzhen, others were at Underexposed, TU Dresden, Netzpolitik conference, DevOpsCon, and Transatlantic Digital Debates. There were also a few (paid) in-house talks.

Media

It was a pretty good year for media and writing. Among others, my thoughts or projects were mentioned/quoted/referenced/etc on CNN, SPIEGEL, and WIRED. I had some interviews—the lovely conversation for Markus Andrezak’s Stories Connected Dots stands out to me.

Things started and discontinued

Started:

  • Writing more, if you’ll forgive me going so meta.

Continued:

  • Zephyr Berlin, producing pants that travel extremely well.
  • ThingsCon as an event platform, and growing it beyond that into other areas of engagement.

Discontinued:

  • My Facebook account, just now as I’m writing this. Bye bye Facebook. You feel like Old Social Media by now, not worth having around.

Books read

Read an okay, but not great amount. I think it was pretty much these: WTF, Tim O’Reilly. Control Shift, David Meyer. The Rings of Saturn, W. G. Seibald. Wiener Straße, Sven Regener. Go: Die Mitte des Himmels, Michael H. Koulen. Babyjahre, Remo H. Largo. American Gods, Neil Gaiman. Death’s End, Deep Forest, The Three-Body Problem, Cixin Liu. Goldene Unternehmerregeln, Bihr & Jahrmarkt. Schadenfreude, Rebecca Schuhman. Rapt, Winifred Gallagher. Shoe Dog, Phil Knight. The Story of My Teeth, Valeria Luiselli. Snuff, Terry Pratchett . Deep Work, Cal Newport. Bonk, Mary Roach. The Power and the Glory, Graham Greene. The Industries of the the Future, Alec Ross.

Firsts & some things I learned along the way

Firsts: Wrote a ton of long form and launched it properly. Cut an umbilical cord. Diapered a newborn. Merged photo libraries.

Learned: How to communicate my work (focus, offering, structure) better (as the website will demonstrate). To make time for writing, thinking, processing input. Some Python. Some more about tech policy. These are all qualitative upgrades in my book.

So what’s next?

It looks like 2018 might bring a fantastic opportunity to continue some of my work from this year and before in a big-impact context; if this happens, I’ll be extremely happy. (If not, I’ll continue chipping away at the same issues with all the means available to me.) I hope to continue doing lots of research and writing. I’ll take some parental leave at some point, and otherwise spend as much time as I can with the baby. (They grow up so fast, as I’m learning even now, after not even a month.) Some travel, and hopefully once more a month or two spent working from a new place.

I’m always up for discussing interesting new projects. If you’re pondering one, get in touch!

But for now, I hope you get to relax and enjoy the holidays!

IoT & AI in the context of media studies

I

At the invitation of Prof. Sven Engesser at Technical University Dresden, I had the pleasure of presenting to the master students of applied media studies.

The presentation below gives you an idea of the outline of the talk:

It’s great to see that communication science/media studies tackle IoT and human-computer interfaces as a field of research. I was impressed with the level of thinking and questions from the group. The discussion was lively, on point, and there were none of the obvious questions. Instead, the students probed the pretty complex issues surrounding IoT, AI, and algorithmic decision making in the context of communications and communication science.

It’s part of the master program, and of Prof. Engesser’s new role as professor there, to also set up a lab to study how smart home assistants and other voice-enabled connected devices impact the way we communicate at home—both with other people and with machines.

It’ll be interesting to watch the lab’s progress and findings, and I hope we’ll find ways to collaborate on some of these questions.

IoT, artificial intelligence, and digital transformation are all intimately related

I

Here at The Waving Cat, we’re in the business of analyzing the impact of emerging technologies and finding ways to harness their opportunities. This is why our services include both research & foresight and strategy: First we need to develop a deep understanding, then we can apply it. Analyze first, act second.

Over the last few years, my work has mostly homed in on the Internet of Things (#IoT). This is no coincidence: IoT is where a lot of emerging technologies converge. Hence, IoT has been a massive driver of digital transformation.

IoT has been a massive driver of digital transformation.

However, increasingly the lines between IoT and other emerging technologies are becoming ever-more blurry. Concretely, data-driven and algorithmic decision-making is taking on a life on its own, both within the confines of IoT and outside of them. Under the labels of machine learning (#ML), artificial intelligence (#AI), or the (now strangely old school moniker) big data we’ve seen tremendous development over the last few years.

The physical world is already suffused with data, sensors, and connected devices/systems, and we’re only at the beginning of this development. Years ago I curated a track at NEXT Conference called the Data Layer, on the premise that the physical world will be covered in a data layer. Now, 5 years or so later, this reality has absolutely come to pass.

IoT with its connected devices, smart cities, connected homes, and connected mobility is part of that global infrastructure. No matter if the data crunching happens in the cloud or at the edge (i.e. close to where the data is captured/used), more and more has to happen implicitly and autonomously. Machine learning and AI play an essential role in this.

Increasingly, artificial intelligence is becoming a driver of digital transformation

Most organizations will need to develop an approach to harnessing artificial intelligence, and so increasingly artificial intelligence is becoming a driver of digital transformation.

As of today, Internet of Things, artificial intelligence & machine learning, and digital transformation are intimately connected. You can’t really get far in one without understanding the others.

These are exciting, interesting times, and they offer lots of opportunities. We’re here to help you figure out how to harness them.

We relaunched our website

W

We just relaunched our website for more clarity and to better reflect our work, both recent and future.

So what’s new?

Less images, more text

At a glance you’ll notice that it’s a lot more built with text in mind. This reflects our output, and should lead to much, much faster load times.

Clear structure

A lot of cruft went out the door. This allows for a much clearer structure.

The front page still offers an overview of the company, but CLIENT SERVICES and IN-HOUSE PROJECTS are more visibly separated, and text highlights allow for extra quick skimming.

The ABOUT navigation item recently got their own STRATEGY and RESEARCH & FORECASTING sections, so that was all new and fresh and will stay this way for now.

Better navigation

What’s new is the navigation item OUTPUT. Clicked directly, it offers an at-a-glance overview of all the many outputs we produce, including REPORTS, BOOKS, THINGSCON, and also SPECIAL PROJECTS like Zephyr Berlin, Dearsouvenir, and other experiments and spin-offs.

Sub-pages of OUTPUT provide a higher-rez overview of PUBLICATIONS (for books & reports), PROJECTS (for highlight client projects as much as the results are publicly sharable), and SPECIAL PROJECTS (as mentioned before).

MEDIA & SPEAKING are still largely unchanged, just a little cleaned up. They work, and provide the most comprehensive log of my speaking engagements as well as media mentions and contributions.

By the way, I’m keeping the dual BLOG structure of COMPANY blog and PERSONAL blog (mostly the occasion travel log), which exists for purely historical/archival reasons. I simply didn’t want to move it to another server or domain.

Curious what you think. If you see something that looks broken, say something. Thanks!

New report: A Trustmark for IoT

N

Summary: For Mozilla, we explored the potentials and challenges of a trustmark for the Internet of Things (IoT). That research is now publicly available. You can find more background and all the relevant links at thewavingcat.com/iot-trustmark

If you follow our work both over at ThingsCon and here at The Waving Cat, you know that we see lots of potential for the Internet of Things (IoT) to create value and improve lives, but also some serious challenges. One of the core challenges is that it’s hard for consumers to figure out which IoT products and services are good—which ones are designed responsibly, which ones deserve their trust. After all, too often IoT devices are essentially black boxes that are hard interrogate and that might change with the next over-the-air software update.

So, what to do? One concept I’ve grown increasingly fond of is consumer labeling as we know from food, textiles, and other areas. But for IoT, that’s not simple. The networked, data-driven, and dynamic nature of IoT means that the complexity is high, and even seemingly simple questions can lead to surprisingly complex answers. Still, I think there’s huge potential there to make huge impact.

I was very happy when Mozilla picked up on that idea and commissioned us to explore the potential of consumer labels. Mozilla just made that report publicly available:

Read the report: “A Trustmark for IoT” (PDF, 93 pages)

I’m excited to see where Mozilla might take the IoT trustmark and hope we can continue to explore this topic.

Increasingly, in order to have agency over their lives, users need to be able to make informed decisions about the IoT devices they invite into their lives. A trustmark for IoT can significantly empower users to do just that.

For more background, the executive summary, and all the relevant links, head on over to thewavingcat.com/iot-trustmark.

Also, I’d like to extend a big thank you! to the experts whose insights contributed to this reports through conversations online and offline, public and in private:

Alaisdair Allan (freelance consultant and author), Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino (Designswarm, IoT London, #iotmark), Ame Elliott (Simply Secure), Boris Adryan (Zu?hlke Engineering), Claire Rowland (UX designer and author), David Ascher, David Li (Shenzhen Open Innovation Lab), Dries de Roeck (Studio Dott), Emma Lilliestam (Security researcher), Geoffrey MacDougall (Consumer Reports), Ge?rald Santucci (European Commission), Holly Robbins (Just Things Foundation), Iskander Smit (info.nl, Just Things Foundation), Jan-Peter Kleinhans (Stiftung Neue Verantwortung), Jason Schultz (NYU), Jeff Katz (Geeny), Jon Rogers (Mozilla Open IoT Studio), Laura James (Doteveryone, Digital Life Collective), Malavika Jayaram (Berkman Klein Center, Digital Asia Hub), Marcel Schouwenaar (Just Things Foundation, The Incredible Machine), Matt Biddulph (Thington), Michelle Thorne (Mozilla Open IoT Studio), Max Kru?ger (ThingsCon), Ronaldo Lemos (ITS Rio), Rosie Burbidge (Fox Williams), Simon Ho?her (ThingsCon), Solana Larsen (Mozilla), Stefan Ferber (Bosch Software Innovation), Thomas Amberg (Yaler), Ugo Vallauri (The Restart Project), Usman Haque (Thingful, #iotmark). Also and especially I’d like to thank the larger ThingsCon and London #iotmark communities for sharing their insights.

German federal government adopts an action plan on automated driving

G

For a while we’ve been debating the ethics of algorithms, especially in the context of autonomous vehicles: What should happen, when something goes wrong? Who/what does the robo car protect? Who’s liable for damage if a crash occurs?

Germany, which has a strategy in place to become not just a world-leading manufacturer of autonomous vehicles but also a world-leading consumer market, just announced how to deal with these questions.

Based on the findings of an ethics commission, Germany’s federal government just adopted an action plan on automated driving (here quoted in full:

The Ethics Commission’s report comprises 20 propositions. The key elements are:

  • Automated and connected driving is an ethical imperative if the systems cause fewer accidents than human drivers (positive balance of risk).
  • Damage to property must take precedence over personal injury. In hazardous situations, the protection of human life must always have top priority.
  • In the event of unavoidable accident situations, any distinction between individuals based on personal features (age, gender, physical or mental constitution) is impermissible.
  • In every driving situation, it must be clearly regulated and apparent who is responsible for the driving task: the human or the computer.
  • It must be documented and stored who is driving (to resolve possible issues of liability, among other things).
  • Drivers must always be able to decide themselves whether their vehicle data are to be forwarded and used (data sovereignty).
  • The Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure’s Ethics Commission comprised 14 academics and experts from the disciplines of ethics, law and technology. Among these were transport experts, legal experts, information scientists, engineers, philosophers, theologians, consumer protection representatives as well as representatives of associations and companies.

///

Reading this, I have to say I’m relieved and impressed: These guidelines seem entirely reasonable, common sense, and practical. Especially the non-discrimination clause and the principle of data sovereignty is good to see included in this. Well done!

This bodes well for other areas where we haven’t seen this level of consideration from the German government yet, like smart cities and the super-set of #iot. I hope we’ll see similar findings and action plans in those areas soon, too.

We need to approach Smart Cities as empowerment tech for citizens

W

Doing some research-related reading this morning had me go down a bit of a rabbit hole that led to this Twitter thread. The points hold up, I think, so here it is in easier-to-read-and-reference format:

Smart Cities are often framed as part of industrial #iot. I think we need to frame it as empowerment tech for citizens instead.

This industrial #iot framing is only natural: Most vendors of smart city tech come from that background. But I think it’s not healthy. A technology that impacts, by definition, all citizens needs to be framed, regulated & designed accordingly. Meaning: If there’s not opt-out (and there isn’t, in public space), we need to make sure this works for everyone, can be understood & queried.

We need strong democratic oversight on smart city technologies and the algorithms, processes, vendors powering them. Which is why we need to follow the principles that made the early open web so strong & resilient: decentralization, open source, etc.

Only if we reframe our thinking of smart cities from industrial to citizen centric can these technologies unfold their positive potential.

///

This echoes the position we developed for a report for the German federal government a while ago as part of research into how to best make smart cities work for citizens. The findings of that report are summarized here.