Tony Stark on Etech

In the final pages of Iron Man #1, the reboot/takeover by Warren Ellis comes a scene between alcoholic billionaire technologist arms-dealer Tony Stark and Maya Hansen (who looks to be a central character in the 6 part series)

They are at a bar in the conference hotel, and Starck is bemoaning the lack of “Genuine outbreaks of the future” that he’s seen there.

They are at a conference called "WestTech", which seems pretty obviously to be O’Reilly’s Emerging Technology conference…

The line up for 2005’s Etech has been posted, and so far it seems like the same people talking about the same pet subjects. Not many ‘genuine outbreaks of the future’ so far.

Now, I know that I maybe jaundiced by the fact that I have been to every Etech so far – that’s 3 years on the trot (no blog-software pun intended, much), so perhaps take this with a pinch of salt.

There are lots of interesting things on the schedule, including what sounds like a great workshop by Tim Igoe and Raffi K, and m’colleague Chris on tangible computing. There are a fair few brits there again, including The Beatles of post-broadcast technology, Coates,Webb, Biddulph and Hammond (I’ll let you decide which is Ringo… but does it make Hill = George Martin?)

It’s just that the topics on offer: y’know – the copyfight, social software, bloody blogs, web services etc. might still be worthy topics for discussion, but I feel like I’ve been around those blocks quite a few times now, and I want some genuine outbreaks of the future.

Erupting technologies, not emerging ones…  Surely these topics have crossed the chasm to be at the front-of-mind of the business world, if not the consciousness of what might be called "the mainstream".

I thought with the advent of the Web2.0 that some of the stuff that Etech had covered so well in the past would be retired, moved over for the $2000 suits to chew over – clearing the decks for some really out-there stuff. The current schedule suggests this is not the case.

What would I have there instead? On the hardware side: more mobile! Might be heresy coming from me, but how about someone from Qualcomm? Or even better, Ningbo Bird! Fuel cell technology, flexible displays,  printed electronics, multiradio – Flarion, Wimax, Ultrawideband, and their implications for cities, suburbs and rural communities.

More robots, toy manufacturers, Rodney BrooksNatalie Jeremienko and/or Neil Gershenfeld as keynote…  On software and services: more simulcra and simulation… Ben Fry on working with bioinformatics and the genome, get Alan Kay again… or David Gelertner … 

What’s going on with agents and distributed computing, autonomic computing – is it on the way after the hype-cycle of the mid 90s? Artficial life and AI – what’s the state of the theoretical art and the practical applications happening right now?

NBIC – the confluence of Neuroscience, Bioengineering, Information Technology and Cognitive Sciences. Bioinformatics, biometrics, and exploring the ethics of engineering in these fields. Get some sociologists in – what are these sciences and the new fields of convergence they bring doing to their domain of study and it’s application to our collective future?

Which leads me to society and technology, the unacknowledged but most interesting part (for me) of etech usually –  some contrarians and tech-inspired creatives to prick the conscience: John Thackara and/or Michael Crichton and/or Warren Ellis.  Lessig and Shirky, much as I love them, aren’t the only ones who can deliver a tubthumper. Patch-ecologists, biologists, cognitive psychologists! Anyone but the same old silicon valley apologists!

I know there are a fair few months for big hitters and game-changers to find their way into the programme, so perhaps this is unfair – but the theme of the next conference is ‘remix’ and at the moment it seems to be much more of a ‘retread’.  Ok, rant over.

If I do go along I guess I’ll be getting pissed in the corner with Tony Stark.

Cleghorn’s foghorn

Paul on BBC2’s ‘Culture Show’
Originally uploaded by BeMa.

My old china plate Paul Cleghorn of Neuromantics and The Bunker fame was apparently on the BBC this very evening ranting about this podcasting mullarkey that seems to be the rage.

Hopefully a suitably time-and-placeshifted digital record of this unique cultural moment will be available to the expat community soon…

Walking City: 21st Century Mirrorworlds remix


^ Comparison of YRM/Tom Carden’s  ‘Destinations’ (Detail) with Ron Herron/Archigram’s ‘Walking City’ (reversed out-of-black by me)

Congratulations to Tom Carden on getting a piece selected for the architecture section of The Royal Academy’s prestigious Summer Exhibition this past year. It’s called ‘Destinations’ and is a beautiful simulation of passenger movements through an airport terminal over a day. 

Many things notable about this: that an artifact that is a simulation of flow through architecture is included in a celebration of the aesthetics of architecture, that these complex simulations of ‘people weather’ are not only working tools of large-scale architectural practice, but also now boundary objects that communicate to wider audiences, and that as David Gelertner put in his mid-90’s book MirrorWorlds, that now we have the power to make magic mirrors of what might be, how does that inform our actions – as architects, designers and citizens.

I was fortunate to sit down and have a chat with Tom this week in London, where we talked about simulation, visualisation, cities and agency and if those sorts of fields fascinate you, too, I recommend subscribing to his blog, Random Etc.

The other thing that struck me about Tom’s image was it’s superficial resemblence to Ron Herron’s iconic Walking City – appealing, as it’s an image of that peculiar 21st century transient city: the airport and it’s inhabitants – walking…

See also: Rodcorp’s "life in the walking city" [via Anne G. to whom I apologise for the non-ironic utopian, technological, democratic discourses I hope she keeps reading 😉

Design Engaged 2004

At Design Engaged in Amsterdam.

Had a very good morning… I’ve still to finish writing my presentation, but here’s a sneak preview of it’s lowbrow take on ubiquitous computing and embodied interaction; with apologies to Frans Hals, Paul Dourish and Richard Marks.


Dan Hill is about to speak about “self-centred design”

Update: My presentation, about embodied interaction, touch-technology, RFID, NFC and semiotics: “Being in the world: the long-now of RFID” is here

Rip, Mix, Melvyn!!!: “In Our Time”, in MP3

Dan told me that my favourite radio programme, Melvyn Bragg’s “In Our Time” is now available in MP3 format direct from the BBC. Ironically perhaps the first mp3’d programme discusses the discovery of electricity!

This is extremely good news… and great that the BBC are putting out high-quality original programming that they own the rights to, in flexible, non-DRM’d formats.

Now Dan, you just need to convince Melv and his merry band of academics to wrap their MP3’d thoughts in one of the newly launched UK CC licences, so that thousands of school multimedia projects around the country can resound with their honeyed tones…

I think I’m going to write him an email…

Just looked at the licence text on the download page, which says:

“You may not download, edit, or use this file for the purpose of promoting, advertising, endorsing or implying a connection with you (or any third party) and the BBC”

Does that mean that editing or using the file for something, like a school project, say is perfectly fine?