What we read this week (5 Apr)

Flip through our favorite articles this week to find transforming dresses, bots and self-replicating code set for world domination, a possibly more promising approach to economy, and a healthy helping of the New Aesthetic. Happy Easter and enjoy the weekend.

Quotes of the week

All our metaphors are broken.

James Bridle

This is a universe of numbers with a life of their own, that we only see in terms of what those numbers can do for us.

George Dyson

Articles of the week

  • Bruce Sterling: An essay on the New Aesthetic
    In an epic essay, Bruce Sterling dissects the fundamentals of the New Aesthetic, a kind of art movement coming out of London and one of the most fascinating developments recently. Must-read of the week. Chris Heathcote chimed in with his take (and Pinterest set) on a “new fashion aesthetic”.
  • The Guardian: How bots are taking over the world
    This is a kind of follow-up to last week’s Wired article on the Weavrs. Dan O’Hara and Luke Robert Mason, two of the researchers behind Weavrs, look at all the evidence of bots taking over: “The internet is becoming a post-user environment, regulated by something much more uncontrollable than humans.” Another bite of future shock for your Easter break.
  • The Hames Report: Economies of scope
    If there is one thing that we learned out of the current financial situation, it’s that economies of scale are finite. We can not assume that the way we lived up until now can be sustained even for the foreseeable future. What might be the alternative? Michael Bauwens describes what economies of scope might be and why they are better.
  • Dezeen: Intimacy 2.0
    The fashion industry is, from time to time, a good area to look for exploration of new social constructs. This dress that becomes transparent with an increased heart rate of the person wearing it is a good example of how to explore new social behavior.
  • Edge: A universe of self-replicating code
    George Dyson is one of those people that have a valid credibility to discuss the things that most people are not thinking about. In this conversation with Edge, he dives deep into the universe of self-replicating code & biology.

By the way, we put together an article with a list of the most interesting articles from our blog. So if you want to catch up on what we’ve been thinking about in the last 1.5 years, check out the Essential Third Wave Reader.

Cyborgs, identities & asking the right questions

We’re all cyborgs, says our friend Sami Niemelä in a talk he gave at Playful Conference in London the other day. Some thoughts on how human and machine identities, and why we can’t find answers just yet.

Our friend and former CoCities speaker Sami Niemalä (of Nordkapp fame) gave a talk at Playful. Sadly we had to miss it, but he posted his slides online:

I love the way he dives into the discussion if (and how) we qualify as cyborgs. More importantly, though, he shows nicely how the future isn’t the polished thing it was expected to be back in the olden, black-and-white days. Instead it’s gorgeously broken and bursting full of weirdness (tweeting plants are just the top of the iceberg).

As he points out, designing machines and household appliances to behave in a human way (if that’s even desirable) is hard:

Should every single thing at your house have needs and feelings? Would you like to have an emo couch or the more rational one. Is this a question you want to think about?

We’re still figuring out the right questions

This is something we need to think about much, much more. While we in the industry are experimenting with certain types of behaviors, and the industry as a whole is going through various stages of learning, it’s important that we remember that we won’t solve any of these questions. In fact, I believe we’re nowehere near a point where we can even try to answer any of these questions, and are rather at a point where we’re still trying to figure out the right questions.

And we see this popping up all over the place: Sami collected a few great examples of weirdness and Uncanny Valley in his presentation. We’ve been discussing software agents that (seem to) emulate human behaviors like Foursquare check-ins, Retweets and (re-)blogging with David Bausola. (He builds some of those software agents. They’re called Weavrs. I set up a few to experiment, and they’re roaming the web freely, which is fascinating to no end.)

Identities

Speaking of identities. While software, services, products have long since started to develop identities that at least emulate human behavior, we haven’t even figured out how to project real human identity on the web.

Above, you see a talk by Christopher Poole, aka moot, founder of 4chan and its tamer brother Canvas. At Web 2.0 Summit, he explored the different ways that the big services like Facebook and Google approach identity. And he (rightfully, I think) smacks them left and right:

Google and Facebook would have you believe that you’re a mirror, but in fact, we’re more like diamonds.

The current model on the web is to assume that you have one identity, and that you just need to be able to share different bits of information with different groups. But our online identities should be multi-faceted, since that’s how it works in the physical world as well. As Chris Poole states, it’s not about who we share to (as Google+ assumes with Circles, and Facebook with lists), but who we share as. Am I posting this as a friend, coworker, son?

This is a hugely complex topic; yet, it’s one of those big questions that we need to work out. In our work, when we talk to clients, we often don’t have simple answers for these questions. (In fact, if anyone claimed they had simple answers, I’d be seriously suspicious.) What we try, though, is to work out the right questions, and then take it from there.

We produce more data, more and different data trails; we can access big data & aggregated data; increasingly personal data, too. When you look at building a service or product, make sure to look at the different aspects & contexts of data and identities, of how your thing might be used in different contexts. And allow for plenty of experimentation – you might not yet be asking the right questions. We’ve been exploring this cluster of topics and data trails (ranging from web data to city data to body data and beyond) in various formats, from Cognitive Cities Conference to talks and workshops at PICNIC and WINnovation, and we’ll keep digging. Follow this blog and our tweets for upcoming workshops.

What we read this week (21 Oct)

We made a nice reading list for you, featuring online music, Bitcoins, the Pirate Party, and a serious disruption in online identities.

Have a great weekend!