CategoryResearch

Innovation Rankings

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This article is part of 20in20, a series of 20 blog posts in 20 days to kick off the blogging year 2020. This is 20in20:10.

So Germany was just ranked the world’s most innovative country as per Bloomberg’s Innovation Index. So, all good then, eh?

Somehow this doesn’t sit right with me. It just doesn’t quite seem to… capture what’s going on?

Sure thing, there’s a lot of innovation going on here. The manufacturing sector, the SME’s — Germany’s world-famour Mittelstand— has a lot going on in that sense. The Mittelstand companies in particular with all their so-called hidden champions are often really up to speed, working closely with their clients to deliver best-in-class, high-value products or components. This is great — but I’d file it under lowercase innovation.

Research spending in universities and the big R&D institutes (the Fraunhofer Institutes and their peers) is huge, and they do a lot more basic and applied research, or what seems more worthy of the uppercase Innovation.

So why does it feel a little off? Let’s first take this section in the Bloomberg article (the same as linked at the top of this post):

In the Bloomberg Index, Germany scored three top-five rankings in value-added manufacturing, high-tech density, and patent activity. South Korea lost its crown in part due to a relative slump in productivity, falling to No. 29 from last year’s No. 18 ranking in that category.
“The manufacturing sector is still highly competitive and a source for innovation,” Carsten Brzeski, chief economist at ING Germany, said in an email. “Germany’s performance in such indicators is still strong and much better than the recent economic weakness would suggest.”
Still, Brzeski cited several reasons why Germany shouldn’t be complacent about its innovation standing. Its services innovation is much less impressive, and about a third of research and development spending is in the auto industry, meaning “disruption and longer weakness of this sector could weigh on Germany’s innovative strength,” he said.

This really gets to the core of it. Sure, research spending and patents score high in this ranking — but that tells us about value capture and extracting more than it does about innovation.

The major role that the automobile sector plays here is worrisome because it might pretty much crumble. Germany’s flavor of automobile innovation is innovative within an old-school mindset of one car per person, which I don’t see persist. (I might be wrong, but I don’t think so.) Germany’s car makers had hit the breaks when it came to electric for ages, and still are only learning what to do with data & services. It’s like there’s a ton of brain power sitting there that has to be dragged screaming into the 21st century. I don’t see it leading in anything but efficiency and safety, if that. Not nothing, but not “most innovative country” level innovation.

The education weakness mentioned in the article is extremely worrying, as is Germany’s overall weirdly weak approach to immigration: There’s neither a master plan nor, societally, an agreed end point to when an immigrant has arrived, so to speak: When does an immigrant turn to an accepted citizen? Undefined! So it can’t happen. Yet, without immigration, many societal issues can’t ever be solved; and even if it immigration wasn’t about solving societal issues, it’d still need to happen, and with an approach that had a clear and desirable end point for any immigrating individual as well as society at large. But I digress.

To circle back to the more concrete: Our digital government services — usually a good indicator for innovation, I’d say — lag 10 years behind the state of the art as we see it in the UK or Estonia.

Add to that that patents are a standard but — I’d argue, flawed— indicator of real innovation, and we might just see a lagging indicator of innovation here. Because looking at where I see innovation happening in my professional peer group and looking at cutting edge stuff — literally innovation around the edges — that stuff happens rarely in Germany but also wouldn’t (yet) be measurable by those metrics because it’s too far ahead, too far yet from productization and hence measurable so-called productivity.

So overall, to me this seems like Germany might be leading in the “2 minutes into the future” category of innovation, especially where manufacturing plays a role. But certainly not in the “10+ years into the future” type, which to me is the one that matters.

We might need leading indicators rather than lagging once, to be able to determine who’s on a path to prosperity 10-20 years down the road rather than the next 1-5 years. Only then can we capture the type of innovation that really matters: The one that combines sustainability with productivity, and serves societal interests. The one that creates — positive-sum! — value rather than extracts it. The one that’s expansive in its returns.

Trustmarks, trustmarks, trustmarks

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This article is part of 20in20, a series of 20 blog posts in 20 days to kick off the blogging year 2020. This is 20in20:08.

A couple of years ago, with ThingsCon and support from Mozilla, we launched a trustmark for IoT: The Trustable Technology Mark.

While launching and growing the Trustable Technology Mark hasn’t been easy and we’re currently reviewing our setup, we learned a lot during the research and implementation phase. So occasionally, others will ping us for some input on their own research journey. And since we learned what we learned, to a large degree, from others who generously shared their insights and time with us while we did our own initial research (Alex, Laura, JP: You’re all my heroes!), we’re happy to share what we’ve learned, too. After all, we all want the same thing: Technology that’s responsibly made and respects our rights.

So I’m delighted to see that one of those inputs we had the opportunity to give led to an excellent report on trustmarks for digital technology published by NGI Forward: Digital Trustmarks (PDF).

It’s summarized well on Nesta’s website, too: A trustmark for the internet?

The report gives a comprehensive look at why a trustmark for digital technology is very much needed, where the challenges and opportunities lie, and it offers pathways worth exploring.

Special thanks to author Hessy Elliott for the generous acknowledgements, too.

Thanks and Happy Holidays: That was 2017

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.