This week I spoke at Interact 2016 – slides and script below – a rather intimidating lineup alongside digital and physical architects whom all I greatly admire. I’m very grateful to Nomensa for the opportunity – not only is every talk an immense learning opportunity in public speaking, but I value even more the work prior – for the rigorous synthesis and curation of empirical insights is a process all designers should engage within as a practice of communication and reflection. Enjoy!
Last night I guest hosted and organized an IxDA London event on Implicit Interactions at IDEO. Below is the event description.
As the Internet of Things infiltrates the mundane moments of our daily lives, ubiquitously embedding intelligence into objects and environments – our relationships with technology become increasingly dynamic, contextual, and intangible. Therefore as interaction designers, how do we design what could and should be the resulting invisible dialogues between people, places, and things?
This month we will shift our attention away from classic, explicit interaction paradigms – those that demand our attention for direct engagement and manipulation – to implicit interactions that seamlessly behave in the background. Join us for product, prototyping, and research perspectives as we hear from Hongbin Zhuang, CEO and Co-founder of Olly robot; Karey Helms, a Senior Interaction Designer at Zebra Technologies; and Alex Taylor from Microsoft Research.
Back in June I attended Practical Introduction into Artificial Intelligence by ASI Data Science as part of London Technology Week. The event was very well structured, and more importantly, perfectly distilled complex theories and processes into a digestible format for a novice like myself. I left feeling like an expert, and was able to confidently re-articulate the evening to others, which I think is very much a sign of a well run event and of course, great instructors. Moreover, as I’m navigating the world of artificial intelligence and machine learning in relation to my role and interests as an Interaction Designer, I’m being intentionally thoughtful regarding the Pareto Principle – I don’t actually need to be an expert, but do want a solid 20% foundational knowledge base.
Anyhow, the evening began with a history of artificial intelligence and the corresponding theories of influential scientists on the topic before launching into a hands-on session in which participants built our own handwriting recognition engine. Key takeaways included a clearer understanding of the relationship between artificial intelligence verse machine learning, a new comprehension of artificial neural networks (see slide below), and insights into what is and is not currently possible relative to real world applications.
Fast forward to this past Tuesday, when I attended a MeetUp by Udacity at Google Campus London on Machine Learning and Bots by Lilian Kasem. Very different content and structure but equally insightful. Lilian’s talk was centered around Bots specifically – from the definition of a bot, to a live coding demo of the creation of a bot in Microsoft Bot Framework, and best bot practices – all while weaving in the integration of machine learning if it adds value (I also appreciate her stress on the if). Her resources in the image below:
In addition to the obvious relevance of these two events to current interaction design trends, they are helping me formulate next steps for two of my current projects, one personal and one professional.
The personal project – Burrito, a marriage bot that analyzes messages between my husband and me to determine who is a better spouse – is currently being refactored into a formal bot for Telegram. Lilian’s talk in particular was very helpful as my project focus as transitioned from theoretical to technical as I am now seeking to create a higher fidelity product and implement better, if not best, programming practices.
The professional project, for which I will intentionally be quite vague, investigates the impact of implicit data on enterprise organizational and technical systems, and in particular, the transition from frictionless to exception based workflows. As an Interaction Designer, I firmly believe it is important to not only empathize with humans, but also technology and its corresponding data because the concept of user – who, what, or where – is increasingly being blurred. Therefore, ASI’s introduction into AI was particular helpful in how I understand, design for, and implement data into my professional practice.
Long story short – two great events! In the coming weeks, I am to write a followup post regarding my technical developments in regards to Burrito bot, but also an online course I began this week to formalize my programming skills relative the Internet of Things.
The theme of IxDA London’s June event was Algorithms, Machine Learning, AI and us designers – an evening of great discussions that prompted me to dig up reading material on The Uncanny Valley and Subconscious Biases. Both these topics were strongly present, the former directly and the latter indirectly, in Ed and John’s presentation on designing for IBM Watson. They discussed the ‘Uncanny Valley of Emotion’ as a third line on the curve in addition to ‘still’ and ‘moving’ in the traditional model of the uncanny valley. While I understand their intent in creating a third category – accounting for the invisible systems, agents, and interactions not visible or physically accessible – in retrospect I disagree with the characterization. Emotion, or lack of, can by explicitly betrayed by movement. From my understanding, subtle asynchronous or unnatural movements directly related to emotional responses expected by humans are a key ingredient in the Uncanny Valley. Therefore, I would rename the ’emotion’ curve suggested by the Watson team to ‘implicit,’ thereby retaining emotion as a criteria for both explicit (still and moving) and implicit interactions.
The second subtopic, subconscious biases, greatly concerns me. A recent article in the New York Times – Artificial Intelligence’s White Guy Problem – sums it up perfectly. As designers, how do we build into our processes accountability for subconscious (and conscious) biases relative to algorithms, machine learning, and conversational interfaces? I don’t have an answer but I would like to find one!
Relevant links and resources:
The Uncanny Valley
Uncanny valley: why we find human-like robots and dolls so creepy
Navigating a social world with robot partners: A quantitative cartography of the Uncanny Valley
The Uncanny Wall
Artificial Intelligence’s White Guy Problem
This past weekend I spent most of Saturday volunteering at Somerset House for the InMoov Robots for Good project, and an open source 3D printed robot connecting children in hospitals with the London zoo via augmented reality. I personally find the project fascinating on so many levels – from open source robotics facilitated by Wevolver to the meaningful avatar application of technology – that I really wanted to take part. Not sure how much I helped, attempting to trouble shoot the Oculus Rift and tighten some knuckle joints, but I definitely enjoyed contributing and getting to know the Wevolver founders. Needless to say, I highly recommend stopping by or chipping in before the build is over!
And on a technical note, also check out MyRobotLab for an excellent open source Java service based framework for robotics (as well as plenty of community support).
Though work has been keeping me busy, I’ve still been able to partake in a lot of exciting design events around London this past Spring. Some of my favorites being:
- Google partnered with Women Techmakers to host International Women’s Day Summit 2015. Raia Hadsell from Google DeepMind gave an inspiring talk both on Reinforcement Learning as well as presenting her inspiring non-linear career path.
- Gravity Sketch presented their process and prototypes at IxDA London April’s Augmenting space and place. Though I find their product potentially more exciting as a tool for non-creatives, I strongly appreciate rethinking the creative process and mediums of communication and collaboration.
- Chryssa Varna had me feeling all sort of nostalgic for architecture as she presented her beautiful thesis Industrial Improvisation – a poetic combination of robotics and graceful human interaction.
This past Monday I attended an event at Fab Lab London organized by RSA The Great Recovery on Pushing the Bounds of Materials and Information: Tracking and Tracing in a Circular Economy. Though the event was advertised as a workshop, it unfolded as a speaker series as the majority of the day was devoted to a range of practitioners working within the overarching theme. The morning began with Tomas Diez of Fab Lab Barcelona, who in addition to presenting a variety of relevant works with a focus on the open source Smart Citizen project, gave a presentation on societal transformations throughout the different industrial ages and highlighted the shift of consumers to producers in contemporary society. Next up was Alan Dukinfield of S2S Lifecylce Solutions, during which he and his colleague provided an insight into the technical installation, usage, barriers and potential futures of a RFID material tracking system in a commercial context. After lunch we took a turn into textiles, hearing from Rien Otto from Dutch aWEARness, and Dr Kate Goldsworthy and Miriam Ribul from Chelsea College of Arts and TED (Textile Environmental Design). The former focused on current practices of their own Circular Content Management System from a larger industry perspective and introduced new textile sorting technologies used by others. The latter focused on the designer’s role and the importance of their understanding of the potential implications regarding material choices and design decisions. In addition, Miriam presented an interesting research project investigating the potential of individual textiles fibers embedded with dynamic information. The day wrapped up with a short introduction into setting up and gathering data from the Smart Citizen kit.
Thoughts & Reflections:
While I was very impressed with the range of speakers regarding the circular economy, I wish there would have been significantly more time devoted to ‘workshopping’ – whether in the form of smaller group brainstorms or specifically diving deeper into the Smart Citizen kit. I say this not only because of my innate urge to get hands-on, but also because consistent questions emerged regarding the barriers of long term behaviour change, acceptance and implementation of these new processes, practices and technologies within society and systems. I felt these obstacles were begging to be explored. For example, in regards to the Smart Citizen kits, Diez discussed the challenges of engaging communities to sustain the use of the sensors, including creation of trust around the sensors and their data. Within tracking technologies, interesting points regarding disruptive human behaviours were raised, like the innocuous act of removing a clothing label from one’s own garment inaccurately deeming the end of a product’s lifecycle. At a more systemic level, I would have loved to learn more and brainstorm around the implementation of the UK’s PAS 141, a process management specification for the re-use of used and waste electrical and electronic equipment.
That all being said, I’m assuming they realized as well the difficulty of fitting in a wealth of content plus a formal workshop in a single day. Hence, a followup event once again at Fab Lab London with a much more hands-on focus.
Leaving Notes & Quotes:
- Diez – “Access to tools… to make tools… to make cities smarter.”
- Dukinfield – “Intelligent Product: A product whose information content is permanently bound to its material content and which is able to influence decisions made about it.”
- Goldsworthy – “Products as systems… impacts beyond the objects we design.”
Not really having any idea what I was signing up for, on Tuesday I attended the Sustainable Futures breakfast salon at the Somerset House by Editorial Intelligence as part of the Inside/Out Festival. The morning included three brief introductions by a guest panel comprised of Jim Haywood, Sandy Black and Olivia Knight followed by casual questions and discussion.
As my recent thesis incorporated similar themes regarding sustainability, consumerism and the individual vs the collective’s relationship with energy – I’m quite critical on the topic. That being said, I found Haywood’s and Black’s perspectives rather trite. While obviously an extremely knowledgable sustainability consultant, Haywood presented a wealth of environmental statistics and projections that I believe alienate the individual from personal action due to the unintentional cross-over into environmental scare tactics. I’m personally against scare tactics for their growing overuse and potential desensitization to the topic, as well as their portrayal of this ‘larger than life’ problem in which it becomes too easy for an individual to view it as a global issue in which that can’t have an impact. Don’t get me wrong, climate change IS a very large global issue, I’m just being critical on how we inspire and instigate behaviour change and collective action. On the other hand, Haywood’s concluding analogy was strong and on point – wish he would’ve played it through his entire talk. He compared sustainability to climbing Mount Everest:
- Take the first step up the mountain, beginning with individual action
- Rope in the other climbers, to summit the mountain is a join initiative
- Scale the mountain, but be sure to enjoy the view and see that its worth it.
Professor Sandy Blank spoke from a fashion perspective, bringing a specific vantage point rooted in the dichotomy between fashion as an embedded cultural construct and its complex lifecycle problems. She highlighted the competing paradigms of aspirational (think Oscar gowns) verses FastCheapNow (think Primark), and how a growing shift toward the latter is resulting in shocking amounts of textiles waste. I could be wrong, but I don’t remember her mentioning all the other environmentally unfriendly practices embedded within the entire fashion supply chain (disclaimer: strict time restrictions on the talks), and felt she shifted a bit too strongly towards defending the positives of fashion – enabling self-confidence, social communication, etc. While these are valuable points, and myself as a fashion advocate believe in, I was left waiting for a disruptive solution. Maybe its me, missing the purpose of these talks, because they definitely lead to valuable discussions, but perhaps I keep naively awaiting an effortless answer…
…which was given by the third speaker, Olivia Knight. And it made my day. Knight is the founder of Patchwork Present, a website where friends and family can contribute to the one gift you really want, rather than buying you 25 you don’t want. She is the first to mention that collaborative gift giving isn’t a new idea, she just made it digital and easy. While I find Knight’s business innovative for disrupting an timeless tradition (gift-giving) by both modernizing and making universally accessible an existing solution (collaborative consumption), hearing her clearly articulated thoughts on consumption made me want to run up and give her a double high-five. She began with the tension between want and waste, highlighting our human nature to need or covet things. And we do need stuff, but “we don’t want to feel bad wanting.” Unfortunately though, we often consume what we don’t need and show our love for another by buying even more things we don’t need. Patchwork Present addresses the latter by facilitating collaborative consumption of the things, or thing, you really do want. Through this smarter consumerism, want is in turn celebrated, while I believe also taking an actionable step forward towards a more sustainable future.
Needless to say, I was impressed with Knight, and though perhaps critical on the morning as a whole, overall enjoyed the diverse perspectives and discussions.
Since moving to London this summer, on the recommendation of friends, I’ve made a strong effort to be proactive in the London MeetUp scene as both an on-going learning experience and opportunity to get to know other designers and technologists. My experiences so far can pretty much be summed up by the regret at only not exploring MeetUp sooner! While I’m a member of quite a handful, my favorite so far have easily been Women Who Code London and IxDA London, both of whom are lead by obviously passionate and motivated individuals, which I believe is what makes their events so coveted.
The most recent IxDA MeetUp was on Wearable Interaction Design, and as one fellow friend and attendee summarized – a mini conference within a single evening. Guest speakers included Melissa Coleman, Kevin McCullagh, Becky Stewart and Duncan Fitzsimons – a diverse range of views regarding wearable technology.
While all the speakers had interesting and varied perspectives, I really appreciated Duncan’s broad and inclusive definition of wearable technology (as seen above). As the subject is too often discussed implying the modification of conventional jewelry with an LED, screen or accelerometer as the future, I believe zooming out and taking a diverse perspective is what will allow for true innovation relative to user-centered needs.
Points of discussion and other thoughts that sprang to mind or stuck included:
- Michio Kaku’s Cave Man Principle in relation to media excitement vs longterm commitment
- Great point by Melissa (if I remember correctly) about wearables not becoming permanently ingrained in our bodies akin to cyborgs, as with the constant release of new technology and versions become obsolete, we will fear our body becoming a technology wasteland
- Becky proposed a great list of suggested conversations to have between a designer and engineer when prototpying, including: tech specifications of data, who needs to see what and when, one way or two way communication, and power requirements among others
I found the most compelling topics either referenced or discussed in detail during the day long event, to be:
- Web Components
- Terminal (for creating GIFs! and changing your IP)
Last week I participated in the Registration Summer School, a three day workshop and lecture series held in Deptford, south-east London at the Old Tidemill School. Other than their kick-ass website, and despite a vague amount of information on the program of the three days, I was enticed to apply based on the simple objective – approaching problems in experimental ways – and the provocative theme – fear. And it was free, thus encompassing all my desired ingredients for an opportunity to meet and mingle with other London designers.
As the theme of the week was fear, within our applications we were asked to submit our greatest fear, mine being doppelgängers. While in recent pop culture a doppelgänger typically refers to your celebrity look-alike, their cultural and literary history is much more intricate and ominous, often alluding to impending death or the prevailing subconscious. Even within its simplest abstraction, a doppelgänger can imply an unknown commonality of yourself, the end of individuality.
We were also asked to write a threatening letter to ourselves. I used this quote from Edgar Allan Poe’s William Wilson:
“You have conquered, and I yield. Yet, henceforward art thou also dead – dead to the World, to Heaven and to Hope! In me didst thou exist – and, in my death, see by this image, which is thine own, how utterly thou hast murdered thyself.”
Creepy stuff, complimented by the chosen location – Old Tidemill School in Deptford. The former primary school is currently inhabited by London property guardians, a couple of whom ran the summer school and hence used the location as a dual reason to establish purpose to the old building and hopefully delay demolition. After getting used to the child-sized bathrooms and an odd collection of scattered relics referencing the previous use, it was quite a fabulous space, inside and out.