Do you remember where you were in 1995 when you found out that Andy Cole (alright, ‘Andrew’ Cole) had signed for Man Utd from Newcastle? Probably not, but I do. I’d just got home from school with my brother and we heard the astounding news on 5 Live on my Mum’s kitchen radio.
I reckon the main reason I remember this momentous occasion in the Guerrieria household is because it was so much of a shock. Newcastle’s best player had signed for Utd in what seemed like a heartbeat. No news or rumours about a possible transfer had leaked out before the deal was done and this made it a big, shocking story in the football world. Even Cole’s team-mates didn’t know and the fans definitely didn’t (particularly this one).
The heady days of the truly surprising football transfer may be numbered if not over now though. In today’s digital age in which there are so many ways to disseminate news, often most football transfers (or the potential of them) are known about by the wider world well before an official announcement is made by club or player.
Take the Gareth Bale transfer debacle this Summer for example as he moved from Spurs to Real Madrid. Everyone knew it was going to happen sooner or later because all of the involved parties were using the media (and in particular, digital media) to leak rumours and information for their own benefit. All of the major news outlets were also using their digital channels to add further rumours about potential price tag and timing of the deal in a bid to break the story first. This resulted in the whole process dragging on all Summer and by the time it did actually happen, everyone had completely lost interest (including me).
So it seems the spread of digital news has spoiled the fun for all of us who love a big football transfer shock out of the blue and that’s a shame. The Andy Cole transfer was one of the last of a dying breed.
Do we all prefer it this way though?
Let me know your thoughts below.
NB: For the record, Cole was a big success at Utd on the pitch, although the same can’t be said off it - as demonstrated below (*).
(*) If you can watch this all of the way through then you’re clearly tone deaf.
Me and the wife dragged ourselves out of bed at an ungodly hour this Saturday morning and headed down to Shoreditch on the ginger line (obviously the best line on the underground) for Nesta‘s FutureFest event at Shoreditch Town Hall.
Ready to start
The slogan of the 2 day event was ‘shaping things to come’ and it was positioned as both a provocation and experience to encourage those attending to think about the future.
This sounds dangerously like working on a Saturday, but I’m glad we made the effort as it was great to hear and learn from such a wide range of speakers on so many diverse topics.
On arrival we fought our way past the weird ‘Artliects’ outside who were ‘humourously’ trying to scan your mind (massively annoying) and took our seats (or rather, backbreaking stools). There was a definite buzz of expectation in the eclectic crowd and a bloke behind us was loudly proclaiming to have seen Gilbert and George knocking around in there. Big wow.
‘Get out of my way’
The speaker slots were divided into 20 minute blocks meaning a lot was packed into the 3 hour morning session. We missed a couple of talks as we went for a wander around some of the demos downstairs to recover from what was effectively the stress position we were sat in on our stools, but see below for a quick run through of what we did see.
There were 3 more half day sessions over the course of the weekend which were all also sold out, but we only went to this one.
The morning started with a brief intro to set the scene from another one of those bloody Artilects.
Brief intro from Tilda Swinton (not Tilda Swinton)
One thousand and twenty-four times stronger than today
I’ll be honest, I was still half asleep at 9.30am (and it didn’t help that Nick looked like he was still wearing his PJs) so I found this quite hard to follow.
He was an entertaining speaker though and despite flying off at tangents left, right and centre he raised some interesting points.
He started by saying that we haven’t been overly positive when talking about the future over the last century, but he feels that predicting the future is difficult as we have to be extrapolatory and this is quite hard when the speed of change is increasing so fast.
He illustrated this by applying Moore’s Law to change, pointing out that year after year things are becoming ‘more changey’, ie: the speed of change in our environment is increasing exponentially.
This has an impact in several interesting areas like life expectancy. If we live longer due to the speed of change in biomedical science for example, this affects how much we care about problems that might affect our future selves as we’ll be around for longer.
He also challenged the audience to ‘be wrong in interesting ways’ as it will encourage others to try new things and have new ideas. He gave an example of a famous Arthur C. Clarke quote (“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.“) that he disagreed with, but found useful as he felt the author was wrong in an interesting way.
The posthuman condition
I’d woken up by this point and it was just as well as the next talk was by a man with the most advanced prosthetic limb in the world.
Bertolt Meyer is an extrovert social scientist born with a rare condition that means he has no lower left arm, hence his prosthetic replacement that can do a full 360 degree rotation at the wrist as a party trick.
His condition inspired him to do a lot of ‘mesearch’ and piqued his interest in societal difference.
He recently starred in the Channel 4 documentary ‘How to build a bionic man’ which investigated the current state of bodily enhancement by attempting to build a complete bionic man using currently available technology.
Bertolt showed a clip from the documentary and the ‘bionic Frankenstein’ complete with his face which was frankly petrifying and Terminatoresque,
‘Bionic Berthold’ = no sleep for a week.
He pointed out that it’s pretty much possible to improve every part of the human body, including the brain and that this throws up a lot of ethical concerns. Many of the engineers who are pushing the field forward aren’t best placed to discuss the ethical implications which is very worrying.
The cost of some of this possible augmentation is also very high which throws up another question – who is entitled to it?
Bertolt highlighted the story of a teenager who approached Mercedes to pay for his prostheses as his family couldn’t afford it and it wasn’t available on the NHS. In return he offered them a ‘lifetime ad placement’ on his arm. Mercedes paid for the arm, but to their credit didn’t take up the ad placement (although they did get a shit load of free PR).
There will also be a point at which this augmentation will be demanded by the mass market as it will improve an individual’s performance versus the norm. At this point there’ll be lots of money to make for those companies meeting this demand meaning ethics could go out of the window.
Interestingly, this may also mean that in the future, disability may be an unfair advantage. Oscar Pistorius was used as an example in that his prosthetic limbs could be seen as a form of ‘techno doping’, ie: they confer an advantage over those without them as he can run faster than they can.
Probably still not quick enough to outrun the law though.
From STEM to STEAM – keeping the arts at the heart of innovation
Peter talked about the importance of taking the time to develop skilful technique, how important this will be in the future and then applied this to his own musical skill.
His worry is that we’re currently creating a dangerous future as we continually focus on speed and acceleration to maximise returns and that by rejecting ‘slow and steady’ we’re losing out.
He argued that taking the time to refine and truly learn a skill is very important and doesn’t always need to be driven by a ‘learn to earn’ mentality and that our current economic burden can dangerously constrain our imagination.
He then proved his point by playing a jaw dropping piece on his cello which stunned the crowd into silence.
Now that’s skill.
We went for a wander round ‘The Basement Interface’ downstairs at this point as my back was about to snap in half due to the wonderfully comfortable stools.
The first thing we saw was the brilliant Cell Slider project from Cancer Research UK which aims to find a cure for cancer using the cognitive surplus of everyday people. Superb idea and check out the site above.
Next we had a look at the BBC’s ‘Surround video’ demo which was pretty cool. Demo’ing it with a video of a tube train was pretty dull though it has to be said…
The future of cybersecurity
Next up we went back into the main hall and checked out Sadie’s talk.
She pointed out that the lines between the physical and virtual worlds are blurring and that this has massive implications for cybersecurity that will only become increasingly important in a future where we’re all citizens of cyberspace.
She said we should start thinking about cyberspace as a physical environment with it’s own highly protected areas that need to be kept safe for the good of all of us and that we should all be assessing our carbon footprint equivalents in cyberspace to ensure that it’s preserved for future generations.
This preservation process is going to be very hard due to the constant evolution involved.
It will also be key to be friends with the Blue Man Group.
Key areas that will impact cybersecurity in the future will include:
The protection of value from data.
The future is about the ideas and intelligence we can generate from data, not just data itself. Anyone will be able to access data as there will be so much of it, but garnering understanding from it will be hugely valuable and the protection of this understanding and value will be very important.
If we all share everything with 100% transparency who should control the information? If we’re all citizens of cyberspace surely we should all be its custodians too?
In the future it’s highly likely that we’ll all have some form of computers or tech as part of our bodies. If this is the case then we’ll be susceptible to digital attack in the form of ‘digital superbugs’ akin to today’s hospital viruses. Prevention and protection of the individual need to be thought about pretty quickly then, but who is responsible?
Is it the government, the maker of our artificial body parts, the individual or a private protection company, the equivalent of today’s McAfee?
A designer’s critical take on synthetic biology
I bloody love science so this was the best talk of the day for me, but there was so much packed into 20 minutes it was rapidly paced and quite hard to keep up.
Daisy talked about science and technology and how they can influence function and the future of design and the fact that collaboration between commercial design and science is hugley valuable and will only grow in importance in the future.
She said that great design should be about possibility, not just problem solving. The reason for this is that lots of problems that have been solved by design, but this can just create more problems. A good example is the energy saving lightbulb which yes saves energy, but creates a disposal problem as they have to be recycled very carefully.
Daisy talks synthetic aesthetics
She also talked a lot about synthetic biology, a new form of genetic engineering that aims to make biology more predictable for the benefit of all and to make the world a better place. This is achieved by attempting to apply digital logic to biology.
A project she mentioned which investigates this further is synthetic aesthetics. This is run by the Universities of Edinburgh and Stanford and brings together synthetic biologists, designers, artists and social scientists to explore collaborations between synthetic biology, art and design. Have a look at the site, some of the work produced is staggering.
10 trends impacting the future of education
Tom is program director of education at Nesta and shared a few trends that will impact education in the future.
This man knows a lot about education.
1 – All students will have a connected device.
2 – Strong wi-fi connections in schools will be a necessity rather than a privilege.
3 – Teachers will need to be experts in tech.
4 – On demand video will play a key roll in the classroom. Teachers will spend more of their time with pupils 1 on 1 and video will be used for mass education topics e.g. today’s Khan Academy.
5 – 3D design and printing will have a huge impact on school projects.
6 – Games based learning will grow in importance.
7 – Better assessment and accreditation will be possible. This will mean fewer exams that just test memory.
8 – Virtual schools will teach pupils remotely. There are already 200,000 virtual school pupils in the U.S.
All in all this was a great event and massive kudos to Nesta – I only wish that we’d got tickets for all 4 sessions and that I’d taken an armchair with me.
A welcome surprise was how few hipsters were in attendance at the event given it was in East London and this definitely added to my enjoyment.
It’s definitely made me think about the future and there’s going to be a hell of a lot of change in the next few years.
My biggest short term priority though is to get a ‘robo hand’ that can rotate 360 degrees at the wrist and scare the crap out of kids.
The goody bag – a back brace would have been a welcome addition.
The live blog of the event is here if you want some more detail and please share any thoughts you have below.
The slightly odd, but brilliant The Arcade Fire are at it again, promoting their new album ‘Reflektor’ with another great ad campaign.
They’ve been anonymously drawing symbols in cities around the world to create some buzz over the last few weeks – finally owning up last Monday.
This follows on from their nice ad work in previous years with their slick ‘The Wilderness Downtown’ Chrome Experiment and their weird interactive ‘Neon Bible’ website (both listed below).
All 3 are top examples of how well thought out pieces of promotion can really add to a new music release and although they look like they’re as far from Don Draper as it’s possible to get, they clearly know how to promote their tunes.
Fingers crossed ‘Reflektor’ lives up to hype.
(*) addendum added 10th September 2013: They’ve done it again with another great Chrome Experiment for Reflektor here. Move your phone slowly…
There’s been a lot of debate in the news during the last week about internet trolls and how best to deal with them and it reminded me of a story I read a while ago here which solved the problem brilliantly.
The targeted author first crowdsourced a ‘troll tip jar’ from his fans and then used it to make a donation to a set of charities of his choice every time he was subsequently ‘trolled’. He made it clear to his troll the impact his negative comments were having meaning they soon thought twice about continuing to post.
This simple, but effective tactic of turning negative comments into a positive outcome might be an approach worth considering as the whole debate moves forward.
Let me know of any other trolling solutions you’ve heard below.
After getting our badges from security, collecting our goody bags and dropping in our Brixton food bank donations we took our seats with the rest of the guests in the sell out hall (Brixton’s first public sauna come the afternoon heat) for a day of inspiration.
The goody bag
The aim of the organisers was to ‘Connect people across disciplines to create a local, national and international conversation around the theme of TRANSFORMATIONS.’ and this was definitely achieved despite the odd technical hitch.
I didn’t see all of the speakers and had to leave slightly early (*fortunately in time to see Clarke get out*), but I’ve done my best to summarise the best bits of what I saw below.
There were 3 broad sections to the day with there being a few speakers in each.
A team from Creative Connection turned up to immortalise the content in picture form which went down very well with the crowd judging by the paparazzi style line up around the poster between the breaks. I managed to elbow my way to the front to take the below picture.
Sam spoke passionately that there’s real potential in all of today’s youth and that if we can give them purpose, they can realise it.
One shocking stat he shared was that only 40% of kids in Britain today have met someone with a job they want to do. If this is the case, we’re not doing a great job at inspiring young people and giving them a sense of purpose.
He explained a bit about the ‘purpose curve’ they use at Livity which plots an individual’s ambition on the y axis and their inspiration on the x axis.
His underlying message was that he feels that purpose can be used to augment and improve education and that it can be a way of judging success rather than just assessing an individual’s performance in the traditional sense.
He was driven to create the project after realising that black people have been a part of British culture since at least Roman times and not necessarily in a slave capacity.
By educating young black people about their roots he hopes to generate a sense of belonging for them, one he didn’t necessarily have at that age.
(iii) Graham Hughes – The Odyssey
The first person to travel to every country in the world without flying and it took him 4 years to achieve – what else do you need to know?
Great speaker who showed that by being resourceful and creative you can achieve great things.
He said that his journey transformed the way he sees the world, completely restored his faith in humanity and that we should remember that our passport is a huge opportunity and open door to see THE WORLD.
He’s managed to get suppliers like Gregg’s and Pret a Manger on board and has worked with Livity as well as appearing in Channel 4′s documentary ‘Something for Nothing’.
(ii) Simon Woolf – The Brixton Pound
This was a great talk about the massive success of the Brixton Pound, Brixton’s local ‘pay by text’ currency.
Simon had noticed that Brixton’s high street is full of big, globally networked supermarkets (as is the case with pretty much any other in the UK) and that figures show 90% of the area’s food spend goes to them.
This means that lots of money was flowing out of the local area as the supermarkets don’t source their goods locally, unlike local businesses.
To combat this trend, Simon created the Brixton Pound. He’s calculated that 70-80% of money spent in local businesses stays in the area and that it has a ‘Local Multiplier Effect’ and therefore makes a positive impact – businesses, their supply chain and consumers thrive off eachother.
Simon demos how this all works below…
Taking the concept a step further with Lambeth council, their employees can now opt to receive some of their wages in Brixton Pounds which is pretty impressive.
The amount of currency in circulation in the local area continues to grow with there currently being over 100,000 and there being a target of getting millions eventually.
As well as adding financial value to the area though, the Brixton Pound has really helped to restore a sense of community pride, making it famous for once rather than infamous and this is a massive plus for the project.
(iii) Kibwe Tavares - ‘Robots of Brixton’
Played an award winning film based on the Brixton area and some of its history.
(iv) Aaron Sonson – the ‘Stop and Search’ app
A talk explaining an innovative new app that lets young people look up their rights when they’re stopped and searched, allows them to upload their personal experience and also view the number of stop and searches in their local area.
Handy video summarising the concept below.
We legged it up the road in the tropical heat to the awesome Wishbone in Brixton market. They accept Brixton Pounds, but we paid in cash (harsh) before heading back for part 3. (*At this stage, England are in trouble and the Aussies are bedding in for a long afternoon at the crease*).
Tasty chicken in wing, sandwich and Thai form.
Part 3: CTRL-ALT-SHIFT
(i) Sarah Corbett – Craftivism
Sarah see’s craftivism (craft + activism = craftivism) as a less aggressive and less confrontational form of activism which better suits her personality and those of others who are also passionate about burning cases of injustice and inequality, but are introverts.
The term was coined by Bettsy Greer in 2003 and Sarah thinks the movement can positively impact activism in a few different ways:
- It’s a very slow form of activism and focuses the mind to concentrate on the important issues while creating something positive.
- It allows people to be challenged in a transformative and respectful way. She gave an example of cross-stitching an MP a handkerchief with a message on which opened up a dialogue with her that she wouldn’t have previously been able to have.
- Something small and beautiful (like a small stitched banner) produced over time and placed strategically can be just as impactful as producing something big and brash. This is particularly true with the advent of social media given people love to share things they find.
On the back of her work, lots of people are now joining in and they’ve been encouraged to come together in groups and craft in public spaces. This gets passers by interested who stop and ask what they’re doing, enabling them to open up a dialogue. People are much more open to discussion once you’ve first piqued their interest by getting them to question something they see.
(ii) Mark Henderson – Science influencing policy makers
Mark’s talk centered around the value that science could potentially bring to public policy making and the fact that science is hopelessly under-represented in the current parliament (1 MP with a scientific background out of 650).
He feels that MPs are missing a trick when they fail to take on board Carl Sagan’s famous quote below:
He feels that public policies are not currently produced as evidence based, but quite the opposite, with MPs abusing the evidence they base policies on in 3 different ways (cherry picking, fixing and clairvoyance) all of which leads to poorer policies for us all.
Mark feels there is huge opportunity to use a type of scientific experiment called the randomised control trial to inform public policies for the better and gave the allocation of different types of recycling bin (the bane of all of our lives) as an example opportunity.
Why not randomly select 2 different groups of streets, allocate different types of recycling bins and bags to each and then compare the impact on total recycling of the 2 areas? Whichever method has a bigger impact is then distributed to the whole group.
Simple and effective, but in summing up he argued that this type of decision making will never happen unless we as voters demand it en masse from our MPs.
(*Cricket update and the Aussies are teetering on the brink as they lose some quick wickets*)
(iii) Janet Gunter – Restart Parties
Janet talked about the huge amounts of electronics waste we produce and the fact that this can be better managed.
Many of this waste is taken for recycling, but before it even gets to this stage she feels we should be doing a much better job of either repairing or re-using it.
In fact, 23% of the electronics we take for recycling is either still functional or repairable which shows the opportunity for impactful change to the current process.
As a result she founded The Restart Project which ‘promotes positive behaviour change by encouraging and empowering people to use their electronics longer.’
One way they look to do this is by holding ‘restart parties’ where people bring along their broken electronics for repair by a small team of experts. People are encouraged to learn what’s wrong with their product as they’re watching it being repaired which in theory has a positive knock on effect in the future.
Despite a bit of my usual healthy skepticism, from what I saw the overall quality of speakers was brilliant and a good mix of topic, background and agenda made the event a roaring success.
A couple of other Ted Talk videos were played during the day and both are well worth a watch: