#BVE19 under the threat of the #Brexit?

Although media industries have always been driven by technological development, it’s interesting to see how digital tech companies are making their marks at #BVE19.

This year’s BVE focused on machine learning, AI, OTT and platforms. Content making these days is tighten with online platform delivery. AI has been applied in many aspects of media content production: sorting out content, organising metadata, making business plan. Despite promises and possibilities of machine learning and AI to transform content production and operations, it seems that most media workers are sceptical and resistent of the implementation of AI and machine learning. Not only because of job loss, but also the not-so-perfect jobs done by machines.

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#BVE19

Audience is another keyword that kept being mentioned in the talks. Having access to cutting-edge technologies has advanced content production, but how to successfully target and communicate with audiences remains a big issue. Commissioners from MTV International, BBC Three, and Channel Four discussed their thoughts on what’s next for 16-34s. Each channel has its own focus and remits (in BBC and Channel Four’s case). For example, BBC Three’s ‘Abused by my girlfriend‘, and MTV’s ‘True Love or True Lies‘ are considered quite popular amongst young audience. But Channel Four’s ‘Shipwrecked‘ appeared to be a disaster due to content targeted for different generations of audiences mixed together.

And, data is at the heart of everything people do. To understand audience behaviours, BBC requires users to log into iPlayer so that they can monitor them. YouTube/Google is partnering with BT Sport to explore how subscriptions (data) can be turned into revenues (new ways of monetising models through targeted advertising).

But I have to say that the talk that I enjoyed the most at #BVE19 was the lecture ‘The grammar of film directing’ delivered by Patrick Tucker, an internationally acclaimed Stage and Screen Director. I am not a director and has no interest in directing a film. However, the participatory and theatrical approaches he used in delivering his lecture made it so engaging and animating. As an educator, I learned a lot from watching him teaching others. Of course, I learned one or two grammars in relation to film directing, too, such as ‘Don’t cross the line unless there’s a conflict’, and ‘how to resolve “unmotivated zoom”‘.

Yesterday when I walked into the exhibition hall at London Excel, I did not sense the usual buzzing at BVE. The damaging effect of Brexit has started to show. A big theatre for keynotes and a central stage normally occupied by a shiny new motor and cutting-edge industry-standard cameras were absent. No Sony (probably expected because of this. Instead, I observed a gazebo dome tent being used as a theatre venue, and unusual sponsorship from Skype, Dropbox, Barclays.

But perhaps the Brexit is the red herring here. Perhaps it’s to do with the changing nature of media industry marketing and publicity. For example, Sony’s PlayStation decided to pull from this year’s E3 event, ‘moving away from benchmark physical events designed to attract traditional press coverage and toward dedicated fan events or online broadcasts, aimed directly at consumers and YouTube influencers’.

I do hope that there is going to be a BVE2020 as this event is a great place to network, and to learn the state of art in media industries. It may not be as big as the IBC Show in Amsterdam, but it is significant and symbolic in the UK context.

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After the session ‘The grammar of film directing’ at the Cinematography & Lighting Theatre Day 1 #BVE19

Panel discussion #BVE19
Panel discussion: A new breed of sports broadcaster (chaired by Keshav Nagaraja of Cognizant, with Russel James from the FA, Ben Gallop from BBC Sport and Ben Napier from Google)

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The commissioners: What’s next for 16-34s #BVE19 (A panel chaired by Jason Mitchell of The Connected Set, with Nasfim Haque of BBC Three, Craig Orr of MTV International)
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Adobe workshop #BVE19
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A panel on eSports chaired by Neal Romanek (FEED magazine), joined by James Dean (ESL UK), Andrew Lane (FACEit) and Jonathan Lyth (ES Broadcast) #BVE19
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Adobe workshop #BVE19
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The Datafied Self

I gave a guest lecture entitled ‘The Datafied Self in a New Media Society (新媒體社會中的數據化自我)’ at the Institute of Communications Management at the National Sun Yat-Sen University in Kaohsiung, Taiwan on 21st December 2018.

One of the student journalists has written up some very comprehensive notes about the lecture, nicely breaking down the big concepts I discussed. The article is available here) and I have copied and pasted the texts below.

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【行傳講座】解構數據社會 被編碼的日常生活? 

【記者王人豪/採訪報導】

隨著物聯網技術的提升,許多訊息以數據的形式傳送上雲端,並描繪出一個以數字為基底的社會觀。人們在大量的數據當中徜徉,並從中建構出自我。本學期開設「媒體與科技社會」的蕭蘋教授邀請到University of Roehampton的 Dr. Yuwei Lin,以科技社會學的角度,探究人們究竟如何運用數據建立自我以及對相關議題的批判思考。

We’re all Cyborg! 數據化的社會學議題

數據在現代生活當中無所不在,而數據化(datafication)是什麼?Dr. Lin 將其定義為「將日常生活的行為與活動,轉換為電腦可運算的單位與形式。」而大數據這個觀念,並非是近年來的新興詞彙,過去的史料、人口普查等,其實都是數據的形式之一。另外她也提到目前數據與過往的不同,在於數據形成的過程(What’s new is the process),而近年來由於穿戴式裝置興起,可供蒐集的資訊也愈發多元。因此,在討論數據資料時,仍需要釐清數據的形式與來源。

以推特帳號@middleclassprob為例,在文本數據化的過程中,質性資料被上傳到網路後,轉變為電腦可讀取的資料,以便供人採用。又如同在脫歐公投前,社群網站上的脫歐聲量就已經相當可觀,說明了脫歐事件透過文本數據化早有跡可循。而談到一般的量化資料,當前普及的穿戴式裝置,透過記錄個人的睡眠、運動時間、心跳糖尿病等健康數據,並上傳至雲端的伺服器,而能立即對個人健康資訊做出回應。

數據讓決策變得更加容易,卻有著不夠完善之處。當資料都轉換成為電腦可讀取的形式,亦即0/1的位元碼後,即成為非黑即白的二元對立,但在人類的世界中存在著許多模糊地帶,若將這些資料數據化後,就喪失了訊息本身的意義,可見數據化對於不同情境下的適用性值得探討。

如何數據化自我 電腦編碼的生活方式

Dr. Lin 以 Apple Watch 與 fitbit 的穿戴裝置廣告為例,指出現代人的健康生活與這些穿戴裝置相連結,人們可以依據裝置所偵測到的數據建立自我追蹤(self-tracking),並且透過裝置的提醒安排日常生活中的健康活動,甚至建立起個人化的生活風格,形成以數據溝通為主的社群。

透過數據所建構的生活形式,在社會學家的眼中也成為值得討論的議題。透過探究日常瑣事中所匯聚而成的資料,便能夠瞭解偏好。而以數據溝通、表現自我的社群或個體,將更進一步的剖析數據化自我的目的、動機以及意義。另外也以推特實際案例說明,有些人以日誌形式與不同的Hashtag表現不同的自我認同,透過不同的標籤,了解人們是如何在社群媒體上展現自我。

個人醫療品質方面,透過數據化的資料,人們得以藉由數據強化醫病關係當中的權力。病人如果能夠量化自己每日的活動,就可以透過這些資料去瞭解自己的健康狀況,並與醫生達成良好的溝通協調。

數據化還能做什麼? 反思數據化社會的價值觀

除了與個人攸關的數據之外,環境中的變化其實也可以是數據化的素材,有些創作者更透過這些數據資料進行藝術創作。Dr. Lin 以倫敦公共腳踏車的分布數據為例,說明這些公開數據是如何透過藝術的形式,去呈現倫敦市民的日常生活。她也說「大數據的創新,也使人可以有不同的方式重新瞭解自然與科技間的關係。」

此外,由於電腦普及化的關係,每個人都可以成為「數據公民」。她引用Haraway的名句「We’re all Cyborg」—我們都是可以化身為電子數據,徜徉網路的「賽伯格」,透過蒐集各式各樣的開放數據去表現自我、展現我們所認同的社群,甚至是由下而上的對官方文本提出質疑與批判。

最後,Dr. Lin 也針對了數據化社會提出了一反思與論述。在數據化社會下,雖然產生了新穎的價值觀、自我認同與表現形式,甚至是再分配,使人重新檢視大環境與民眾間的關係,但同學們仍要關切數據化過程中,人為建構的偏見、黑箱、歧視與隱私議題所帶來的後果,藉此反思數據化社會所帶來的正、反價值。

MozFest Weekend 2018

The highlight of MozFest 2018 was the MozFest Weekend taking place at Ravensbourne University’s award-winning building next to the O2.

Despite some hiccups (e.g, journey delayed on Sunday due to the multiple signal problems on the Jubilee Line which led to a temporary suspension of Jubilee Line), I had lots of fun: physical games, data art installations, workshops, talks and conversations with those who shared the same concerns about internet health.

I had the pleasure of making acquaintance with Mozilla Fellows Sam Muirhead and Darius Kazemi, who both shared their insights into decentralised web with me.

It may be obvious to those savvy techno elites, but I did not know there are protocols other than http and https. Thanks to Sam Muirhead, I now have the Beaker Browser installed in my laptop and can access the dat protocol if I want to. I can also use patchwork to access a decent(ralised) secure gossip platform called ‘scuttlebutt‘.

Darius Kazemi wisely said in his lightning talk that ‘the decentralised web is becoming centralised’ and it’s worrying. Just because people don’t use decentralised social networking tools don’t mean that they are stupid. They may choose not to for various reasons. And decentralisation means more than just building yet-anther-Twitter to replace the current Twitter (or Facebook, you name it). It requires a change of mindset, a change of culture, a understanding of barriers.

Big organisations such as the BBC also engaged in this event, organising tech workshops for young people (e.g., the Micro:bit). For me, it’s particularly refreshing to learn about BBC CAPE, an initiative that aims to create a positive environment and to welcome neurodiversity at workplaces. Leena (@L1L_Hulk) and Sean from Project Cape (@S67Sean) gave a great workshop raising awareness of the importance of diverse talents and needs in the creative industry. You can learn more here.

The Mozilla Foundation has generously sponsored this first ever field trip for Roehampton’s BA (Hons) Digital Media programme. We received subsidized youth tickets and free educators tickets for our staff and students. There was a superb and free creche service on site. A big thank you to the Mozilla Foundation. We are looking forward to the MozFest 2019 already.

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Future Neighbourhood Technologies

At the Workshop: Trust, AI and Neighbourhood Technology led by Loraine Clarke from Dundee University, a small group of us were brainstorming emergent technologies for our neighbourhood communities.

We started by thinking of the neighbourhoods that we live in, described and drew the neighbourhoods. And then, we designed what information we’d put up on the community notice boards.

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My neighbourhood.

The brainstorming was driven by the problems we had at hand:

A vegan participant would like to share his veg box with his neighbour. To solve this problem, we thought a communal smart fridge or an Amazon locker would be a good way forward for sharing unused food.

Some participants pondered how to identify neighbours who shared the same interests or needs (e.g., for childcare). Social media appeared to be useful for such match-making purposes. And, increasingly, social media like Facebook is replacing the traditional function of a communal notice board. Our memory of advertising our lost cats on a lamp post will soon be forever gone.

I came up with an idea of having a driverless robotic cleaning truck shared by local communities. Thanks to the gov’s austerity policy, many local councils cut funding for street cleaning. Future communities may have to clean the streets themselves (well, with volunteer manpower). To access this driverless robotic cleaning truck, volunteers registered with the system will access the garage by scanning their face. In so doing, we also known who the volunteers are, and can honour them publicly.

One of the participants is living in the shiny new smart apartment in Portland in the US. Every apartment includes an Echo equipped with Alexa. He could use his mobile phone to unlock his flat, and switch the heating off or turn the heating on remotely. There are also lockers in the common space for easy delivery and pickup of packages from any sender at any hour. The system also told the residents about their neighbours. If we think about how long it takes to familiarise oneself with a neighbourhood after moving over there, it is scary to see how quickly AI systems offers the neighbour information that probably would take someone a decade to gather. But whether or not a sense of belonging and a sense of community can be enabled by AI is questionable.

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Outcomes from the brainstorming session for future neighbourhood technologies.

Microsoft Face

I learned about Microsoft’s Face at Loraine Clarke‘s Workshop of ‘Trust, AI and Neighbourhood Technology‘ at the MozFest 2018.

The software would profile the user after taking a photograph of her. I tried the software many times on two different terminals. The first time it thought I was 23 years old. Then 26, 27, 32. Luckily, never more than that. In addition to age, it also detected sex, hair colour, wearing glasses and make-up or not. One machine thought I was wearing makeup, and the other didn’t. And my face dimensions changed every time.

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Microsoft Face.
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Sample reading from Microsoft Face

No one at the workshop thought the software was accurate. And because it’s inaccurate, it could be biased when used. Unfortunately, I seemed to be so used to being profiled by AI or people that it is no longer an alien experience to me (sadly).

The software tried to be playful. Once it ‘guessed’ the user’s age, it’d play a tune that ‘commemorates’ that age. So a lot of these critical issues with profiling people with this AI algorithm are hidden behind the playfulness.

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User feedback welcome.
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User feedback welcome.

On Microsoft’s website, it also seems that the software is mainly aimed at white users (see e.g., Step 2: Create the PersonGroup in this user document where photographs of white people are used as examples).

Knowing how popular and accessible facial recognition software like Face is these days really worries me. My trust over those selfie photo booths available the theme parks or public places is completely broken. Who knows if the facial recognition algorithms embedded in these photo booths software are profiling me or not. Shall I sacrifice my privacy for exchanging for a fun experience? I guess not.

A DRM-free Day #IDAD

I do not like technology companies placing limits and restrictions on hardware and software I use. Today is the International Day Against DRM (Digital Right Management). I want to challenge myself to have a DRM-free Day.

This could be difficult working in the higher education sector. I don’t watch content on Netflix or Steam, so no problem with being locked down on these two platforms. However, a lot of ebooks and music these days are using DRM to prevent piracy, which is an argument I strongly oppose. “DRM is locking up the market for Amazon, Apple and Kobo“, said Jim Killock, Executive Director of the Open Rights Group.

A lot of devices and software implemented in the higher education sector are unfortunately “protected” by the DRM. For example, I occasionally fail to open DRM-protected PDF files even if I purchased or acquired them legally. I’d have to install the the latest Acrobat Reader in order to view these DRM-enabled PDF files 😦 ‘Fair use’ and ‘ideas sharing’ are out of the picture if DRM is implemented widely (see this article).

Copyright scholars have suggested that DRM was never completely credible as a weapon against professional digital piracy. Michael S. Daubs argues that ‘proponents of DRM in HTML5 essentially legitimises U.S.-centric copyright protections on a global scale and allows the future development of the Web to be dominated by a select group of media institutions‘. There are many other more effective ways of managing the rights of content producers.

For example, some book publishers appreciate DRM-free books: Packt, Leanpub, Manning Publications, OR Books. Creative commons is also rapidly changing the way we produce and consume content and knowledge. Indeed, having DRM-free books also means greater open access to a wide variety of knowledge and result in greater goods.

I hope this blog entry will contribute to a greater awareness of DRM, and lots of alternatives out there to help us continue to develop humanity.

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Infrastructuring parkrun

I gave my maiden talk at EMF 2018 at Eastnor Castle. It was a lightning talk, entitled ‘Infrastructuring parkrun‘. Quite a few people at my talk said they’ve heard of parkrun, and four of them went and did the Tewkesbury parkrun on Saturday the 1st of September, the day after my lightning talk. I’m hoping to give this pet / hobby project a bit more structure over the next few months so that I can give a proper talk at the EMF 2020 🙂

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Leaving the EMF2018 campsite for the Twekesbury parkrun on Saturday 1st September 2018.
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Runners briefing at Twekesbury parkrun on 1st September 2018

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Let’s run! (Twekesbury parkrun on 1st September 2018)
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Twekesbury parkrun on 1st September 2018

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Caution. Runners. Twekesbury parkrun on 1st September 2018.