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.

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.

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.

Microsoft Face.
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.

User feedback welcome.
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.


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 🙂

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

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


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

Beyond The Pedestrians

Dr. Morag Rose and colleagues at the University of Liverpool have put together an interesting interdisciplinary event ‘Beyond the Pedestrians‘ which focused on walking research, practice and culture on 26th July. It was great to meet so many energetic scholars and practitioners from a very diverse backgrounds working on walking or with walking.

Dee Heddon kicked off the event with a keynote on The Walking Library. I’ve also heard many interesting talks including the imaginative walk in video games, walking as performing arts, walking interview method (mobile methods), research on how pedestrians crossing roads, research on mud walking, night walking, and walking-tour pedagogy.

It was an inspiring and productive day. The community researching and practising walking is so vibrant and every delegate there had interesting stories to tell. I’ve learned so much and was really happy to make new contacts there.

Congratulations and a big thank you to Dr Morag Rose who has yet again organised something truly exceptional.

Live reporting from #TAMK2018

It is my fifth visit to the TAMK International Week (23-27 April 2018). This time, I am running a ‘live reporting’ workshop and delivering a talk on ‘artivism and teaching surveillance and privacy’.

Tampere Mediapolis
The entrance of TAMK International Week at the Tampere Mediapolis.

The programme of TAMK International Week 2018

The ‘Live Reporting’ workshop was semi-structured. It covers citizen journalism, live video production and live streaming. On Day One, we explored the concept of ‘being live’ (real-time). We unpacked the concept ‘real-time’ by looking into the definition of ‘reality’ and ‘time’. We played a Twitter Treasure Hunt game to get a grip of ‘real’ ‘time’. We looked into different kinds of live reporting, on the Guardian, on Twitch, Facebook Live, YouTube Live, Periscope, Instagram and Vimeo Live.

Day One of the live reporting workshop

Then, Day Two, we looked into some examples of live production both in TV broadcasting (e.g., NRK’s successful productions) and in live streaming industry (e.g., the South Korean lady who streamed herself feasting). We got our hands dirty starting live streaming). One team used Periscope while the other used Instagram. Students were encouraged when there were interactions and movement on social media.

Day Two at the Live Reporting workshop

After getting some experience, Day Three allowed students to take more control and intervention into the live video making, but talking, narrating and interacting with audience on social media. All the outputs from the three-day workshop can be found on Twitter by searching the hashtag #TAMK2018. The students now have a good understanding of live streaming technologies and strategies for developing content for live streaming.

Day Three at the Live reporting workshop

It has been three pleasant and productive days, working with six students, exploring the production of live video and live streaming. All students said they were camera shy, but they gained confidence by doing the workshop. They now have a better idea of how to appropriate the live streaming technologies for their own needs. Needless to say, I have learned a lot with the students.

Graham Cooper from the University of Lincoln also contributed to this workshop, sharing his experience with live streaming, as well as acting as an interviewee when we played ‘Who is Graham Cooper’. Thanks very much, Graham.

Graham Cooper (University of Lincoln, UK) talking about his new love ‘HQ Trivia’.

Graham Cooper and some workshop participants.

With the workshop ending with a positive note, I will go and prepare my talk on ‘artivism’. And if I have time, I will take a walk to the lake as it’s simply beautiful (and icy).

Data privacy

It could not be more timely to have my piece on data privacy published in THE SCOTSMAN amid the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal. It has become a constant struggle for modern days internet users not to be exploited by corporates, governments, and advertisers, and other malicious bodies. As the scale of digitisation grows, dangers and risks in a real society are increasingly reflected on the internet. We can no longer exclude ourselves from what happened in a virtual world as the intermingle of the virtual and the real society intensifies. Like it or not, data literacy is a must-have skill for survival today. The challenge is, data literacy is still very much in its infancy and is being updated everyday (if not every second). How do we keep ourselves constantly updated, informed and up-skilled?

Strava has revealed more information about their ‘Global Heatmap’ feature, which enables “athletes from around the world” to discover new places to be active. As of today, I found a pop-up window advising about the heatmap and the data it reflects before people click to view it:

The heatmap shows ‘heat’ made by aggregated, public activities over the last two years.
The heatmap is updated monthly.
Activity that athletes mark as private is not visible.
Athletes may opt out by updating their privacy settings.
Areas with very little activity may not show any ‘heat.’
Visit the Strava blog to learn more or close this window to explore the heatmap.

While this is helpful, I think more emphasis on data privacy should be placed in the blurb. Users need to know how this feature (and other features or the whole app) concerns their privacy. We need to push digital companies to look into the ‘P’ word (privacy) more.