Like I wrote in the last monthnotes, November to January are blocked out for research and writing. That said, there was a bit of other stuff going on outside heads-down writing, most notably the annual ThingsCon conference.
I also wrapped up my Edgeryders fellowship. I’m grateful for the opportunity to pursue independent research into how we can make smart cities work better for citizens.
I’ve submitted the final pieces of writing for a Brussels-based foundation. The final report should be out soon. This is roughly in the area of European digital agenda & smart city policy.
With a Berlin-based think tank, a research project is in the phase of final write-up of results and conclusions. This will likely take us well into January, then on to collect some more feedback on the final drafts. More updates when I have them. This is in the area of responsible AI development.
A more recent project around impact of smart cities on labor rights has kicked off in December. Lots of research and writing to do there well into January.
Earlier this year, Nadia E. kindly invited me to join Edgeryders (ER) as a fellow to do independent research as part of their Internet of Humans program. From June to December 2019 I was an ER fellow and had the opportunity to work with the lovely John Coate & Nadia, and the fantastic team and community there at ER.
On the ER platform, there’s a very active community of people who’re willing to invest time and energy in debate. It allowed me to gather a bunch of valuable feedback on early ideas and thoughts.
As part of my fellowship, I also had the opportunity to do a number of interviews. John interviewed me to kick things off on the Edgeryders platform, and I interviewed a few smart folks like Jon Rogers, Ester Fritsch, Marcel Schouwenaar and Michelle Thorne (disclosure: my partner), all of whom do interesting and highly relevant work around responsible emerging tech: In many ways, their work helps me frame my own thinking, and the way it’s adjacent to my work helps me find the boundaries of what I focus on. If this list seems like it’s a list of long-time collaborators, that’s no coincidence but by design: Part of how ER works is by integrating existing networks and amplifying them. So fellows are encouraged to bring in their existing networks.
Some of these interviews are online already, as are some reflections on them:
It was another intense year, but nothing compared to 2018. Just the new reality of having a kid combined with the old reality of two partners working in demanding and interesting jobs: There’s bound to be some friction, and so there is, and everyone in that boat knows how that can feel. That said, we’re lucky and privileged and so there’s really no reason to complain. If the world wasn’t literally burning right now there wouldn’t be any reason to worry.
The theme for 2019
Last year I wrote:
the theme was first and foremost impact. Impact through large partners, through policy work, through investments into research.
This essentially has stayed true for the third year in a row. I spent more time still on policy-related work — in fact I’d say my work has continued a pretty sharp turn upstream towards policy.
The space of emerging tech, responsible tech, and public policy has been maturing a lot, and those are all areas I’ve been working in for a long time. To see these three previously separate circles move closer together into a neat Venn diagram, so to speak, has been amazing. And it’s also given me a point of leverage for putting my expertise and experiencing to work, which I’m grateful for.
Friends & Family
A few close friends got married, some babies were born: In terms of friends and family it’s been a pretty good year. I’m ever grateful for the support of a handful of very close friends who’re there whenever I needed them; thank you, you know who you are. Now if only there was a little more time to spend with friends and family. Making that extra time goes straight on the priority list for 2020.
For a few years now, I’ve been trying to cut down on travel, specifically on flights. It’s been working so-so: As best as I can figure out from Tripit and my calendar, I’ve gone on 17 trips for a total of 85 days of travel, which is about par for the course. Around 20 cities in 8 countries. It was still 20 flights. However — small victories! — only about 30,000 km total. Which sounds… a lot less? The year before it was more like 90,000 km. Either my accounting is way off, or it was the fact that I didn’t go to the West Coast a few times this year. Either way, I’ll take it.
Speaking & Media
Punditry time! There was a bit of that. The website has lists of talks and media mentions; the top-level stats are: 12 talks & panels (including the occasional chairing/hosting) and 16 media mentions, contributions, or profiles about me. An interesting mix of publications, too, including Fast Company, a WEF publication, CHI, and Tagesspiegel.
What’s been interesting for me is that a lot of my talks and panels were at policy events. So that’s a bit of a new world for me, in a sense.
Been trying to get back to a more healthy routing of regular workouts, with mixed success. Tried my hand at CrossFit, which I’ll revisit eventually but have shelved for now, and Pilates, which seems pretty promising to ease back into it. Otherwise all good. Especially, we’re back to eating healthier after the hectic & chaos that was 2018.
Lots of reading and writing, lots of working at the intersection with the public policy work. I’ve been working with multiple foundations and think tanks on issues surrounding smart cities, AI, governance, tech policy. Some of this happens at the German level, much at the European or global level.
I’ve started my role as an industry supervisor in the OpenDoTT PhD program for responsible tech, and was a fellow at Edgeryders, where my research focused on smart city governance. Also, I went back on the jury for Prototype Fund.
ThingsCon is still going strong, we just had our 6th anniversary. As is my semi-personal newsletter Connection Problem, which I’ve been enjoying writing a lot.
29 books on my list, including some contemporary sci-fi (Kim Stanley Robinson, Eliot Pepper, Tim Maughan) but also classics like Vernor Vinge. Some fiction, like Ted Chiang’s Exhalations and John Hodgman’s Medallion Status. Some more random stuff like So Many Books by Gabriel Zaid, Lost Japan by Alex Kerr, A Pattern Language, Fewer better things by Glenn Adamson and some Dalai Lama; How to do Nothing by Jenny Odell, essay collections like McSweeny’s The End of Trust and — a bit surprising to me! — I found myself ripping through the full 8 book arch of The Expanse. Overall a quiet enjoyable mix.
Also, still lots of unfinished ones in the “ongoing” folder that might or might not ever be finished.
Firsts & some things I learned along the way
Firsts: Indoor Skydiving. Waterball (Water zorb?). Learned some Ukulele basics. Baked a bread. First time in Valencia. Took a boat to travel for business. Reconciled an old awkwardness. Applied for a job I was genuinely interested in. Looked at 20,000 year old cave paintings. Rode in two autonomous buses.
Learned: Prioritizing a lot more harshly. Identifying opportunities for leverage/impact better (I think).
So what’s next?
2020 will start with wrapping up a number of ongoing projects, and a new collaboration which feels pretty exciting. I look forward to continuing my work at the intersection of responsible tech & public policy, and finding the most effective points of leverage to really make sure my expertise can be meaningfully applied.
November to January have essentially been blocked out for research and writing.
My work with a Brussels-based foundation is in the final stages of editing. I expect the final report to be published within the month. Expect lots of smart city / digital agenda thinking there.
With a Berlin-based think tank, we’ve had another workshop on Europe’s capacity for developing ethical/responsible AI. This brings the research phase slowly to its end and now it’s time to synthesize and write up the findings. Probably to be published in January, or February at the latest.
A new project is ramping up with a global labor group to explore the intersection of smart cities and labor rights.
I was kindly invited to participate in Forum Offene Stadt, an event jointly hosted by Körber Stiftung and Open Knowledge Foundation. The event brings together civil society, government & administration, and the private sector. It’s good to see these gatherings as there’s still nowhere near enough exchange at those intersections, especially where topics around the impact of emerging technologies are discussed.
Kompakt Magazin (by IG BCE) did a longer interview with me to talk about technology and how we must ensure it doesn’t discriminate against people, and shouldn’t be treated as if it’s pre-determined. The interview is in German: Technologie darf Menschen nicht diskriminieren (online, e-paper).
Lots of research and writing this month and next. But I’ll be more than happy to take a quick break from it all to head on over to Rotterdam (12/13 Dec) for ThingsCon, my all time favorite community event. Learn more about ThingsCon here and join us!
October was busy, heads-down. Also, a number of events I had planned to attend and had to miss on short notice — most notably, Mozfest, which I had attended almost uninterruptedly since its first prototype event, Drumbeat, 10 years ago. I was really bummed to have missed that one, but such is life.
That said, lots happening:
A longer project around a progressive digital agenda and especially smart cities / citizens rights with a Brussels foundation is slowly moving into the final round of edits and workshops. The final results should go public soon(ish). Certainly before the end of the year.
Research into the ecosystems supporting the development of ethical/ responsible/ trustworthy AI in Europe together with a think tank is moving along nicely. Here, we still have some work to do. There are workshops to host, writing waiting to happen. So there, the results will probably be published either just before the end of the year, or first thing in the new year.
I had the immense pleasure to speak at the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung event Digital Capitalism about smart cities and how to make them work better for citizens rather than vendors. It was an honor and a delight so share this panel with Elvan Korkmaz (member of parliament, SPD), Katharina Meyer (Prototype Fund) and Hans-Martin Neumann (Austrian Institute of Technology).
In largely unrelated news, a quick reminder: If you’ve shared sensitive data about you with a startup about you, take a moment to see if you still want that data there? Fitbit just made a splash with the announcement that Alphabet acquired them (and the data along with the company). When I recently, on a whim, checked out 23andMe I realized they had started aggressively integrating partnership offerings (“Explore your ancestry through Airbnb” and other non-sense that could hardly be more absurd). To me this is a big red flag that they’re likely to fold. So I pulled a copy of my data and requested data and account deletion, which feels like the right thing to do once things change in that direction.
In parallel, btw, I continue to write a newsletter pretty actively. Not sure if/how this should be integrated more closely in this blog. For the time being, the newsletter format works pretty well for me (and I need to find out why that is, but here you to). It’s about tech & society, business & culture, plus an eclectic mix of updates on projects. Besides Twitter, that’s also where a lot of my thinking-out-loud happens: Early ideas taking shape, trying on new arguments, that kind of thing. You can sign up to that here.