“You can only live in the future”: an Interview with Bruce Sterling

Blogging about new technologies, we have the chance of glimpsing a lot of “possible futures” through the new gadgets and inventions we discover everyday. But in some way this is a fragmented vision, pieces of an uncertain world to come. Not many people dare to describe “possible futures” as a whole, with a proper sense. And less people even dare to point out the things that, presenting themselves as “The Future”, are not more than the last funny gadget of the season… Bruce Sterling is really an exception: sci-fi writer, lecturer, blogger, contributor to relevant media as Wired (his farsighted Beyond the Beyond posts were memorable), professor and “visionary in residence”, he is most of all an extremely discerning wise man, capable of understanding the lights and shadows of the future where we are heading towards. When we had the chance of interviewing him, he completely captivated us, not just for the lucidity of his ideas, but for the intensity of his speech, and the profound, naked truth of his vision of technology, humanity and the future.

P.N. You said that we should design futures… but how to see these new futures? Actually, you are an expert on that…

B.S. An expert? Well, sort of. Usually I do two things: I write fiction and I research what’s going on. So the two kind of play one with another, to try to find the grain up the material what seems to be happening. Then you kind of exaggerate it and take the ranges that seems that might go. So, commonly I like to write fiction about an specific scenario, but when I’m thinking about things I usually split them up in the future as quandrums because I think it helps quite a lot. So, let’s say you are worried about high-speed access and privacy, you just have four future worlds: one that has low speed access and low privacy; low speed access but high privacy; high speed access and high privacy; or high speed access but no privacy. And then you can break up the people who would like to be at one quandrum or the other, and the situations where it’s going to happen: sometimes it enables you to figure out where and what scenario would be set.

P.N. So in some way it is all about context: there is not a single setting to place an specific idea, but several problems in different contexts that lead to different possible stories.

B.S. You get brought down in the sort of large abstract issues… It is like where’s the actual harm on that there’s not privacy. If you actually ask who has no privacy you get a kind of a better situation, a better hand on the situation. For instance, a baby can die from privacy. Babies really have to be watched all the time: they are naked, they don’t go to the toilet, they scream all the time… It’s not like “let them have their dignity”, because you know they are not autonomous actors. A baby can’t speak, can’t make adult decisions, he needs to be under surveillance, he needs an adult literally within arms reach. And elderly people don’t need privacy either, they need dignity but they don’t really need privacy, because they could fall over, they can hurt themselves, they need help under certain situations, maybe they need that someone bring them food, they feel isolated because they have lost a lot of their friends, or don’t get out very much… Ok, so they want to be seen, and maybe even looked at, but what they don’t want is to be spied upon or marked.

Bruce Sterling showing new futuristic materials

Bruce Sterling showing a 3D printed material

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Hardware Freedom Day: Barcelona 2015

The Hardware Freedom Day is a yearly worldwide event aimed to spread out the possibilities of free and open hardware. Every year, open hardware enthusiasts gather to share their projects and interests through activities such as workshops, talks, presentations and competitions.

The 2015 edition took place last Saturday 17th January, with an array of events around the world. At Barcelona, for the first time ever, the Hardware Freedom Day was celebrated with an event organized by Caliu and electronics.cat in the area of El Clot, a former industrial neighborhood, looking for its place in the new industrial revolution of which Barcelona takes part.

We spoke there with Rafael Carreras, one of the promoters of the event, and he told us that being, since many years ago, an organizer of the Software Freedom Day, this year he had decided to take the initiative to join Barcelona to the Hardware Freedom Day too. He looked satisfied and pretty surprised by the amount of public attending.

The event, held at the Escola del Clot, was divided in two main spaces, one for talks and presentations on topics like 3D printing, Internet of Things and the platform Sentilo; as the other one was dedicated to more practical activities like workshops of Open Source Hardware, 3D printing and Arduino.  Workshops were run by Jordi Binefa.

Xavier Pi at Hardware Freedom Day Barcelona

Xavier Pi presenting Sentilo, the open source sensor platform designed by Barcelona City Council

As Barcelona becomes a worldwide creative production center, this kind of events shows the relevant role that DIY and Open Source communities can play in the open new world underway.

Where Robot Cars Are Driving Us: Interview with Brad Templeton

During the recent Web Summit held in Dublin, Ireland, we were honored to speak with Internet pioneer Brad Templeton on topics like robot cars (self-driving cars), Internet of Things and on-line surveillance.

Canadian-born software architect Brad Templeton is active in the network community since late 70’s. He is considered to have been the first to suggest that Internet addresses should be in the form site “dot” top-level-domain. He also founded the first-ever dot-company back in 1989.

Currently, living in San Francisco, Templeton is a noted advocate of robot cars, having even advised Google on its driverless car project. This multifaceted entrepreneur is also a Board Member of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a well-known non-profit organization defending civil liberties in the digital world, Director for the Singularity University, and Board Member of the nanotechnology think tank Foresight Institute.

He made two appearances at the Web Summit, the first one on Day 1 to talk to a crowded audience on the Machine Stage, and the second one on Day 2 in a round-table format meeting. After that we met for this interview.

Brad Templeton at Dublin Web Summit 2014

Brad Templeton at Dublin Web Summit 2014

P.N. Robocars are one of the most expected technologies nowadays. Can they, in its current state of development, provide solutions for the car industry of today ?

B.T. I don’t want to say that the cars are good today as something you can sell to people. Although, there are some people building products, what you call advanced cruise control, but you still have to pay attention, you can take your hands off the steering wheel but still you have to be watching, so that is just a way of relaxing. Some of these technologies sprung out of researches on this, or some of the robocars researches sprung out of researches on building a system called ADAS. The interesting thing happening is a push for cheaper sensor technology, lighter technology, radar technology. All these technologies are getting more people interested in working on manufacturing high-end cars cheaper, which gonna help every kind of car.

P.N. How come you got involved with robocars ?

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Making Arduino: Interview with David Cuartielles

Is it possible to sense if an specific technological advance was made with genuine good faith? Talking with the founders of Arduino, you always have this honest impression. Some time ago we interviewed Massimo Banzi at Barcelona (you can read it here) and few months later we had the serendipitous chance of talking with David Cuartielles, co-creator of Arduino, as well as Electronics Laboratory Director at Malmö University and an active promoter of open hardware and education through technology.

Arduino is becoming something like a household name in electronics, being used widely by the Maker movement. For those who are not familiarized with it yet, let’s summarize saying that Arduino is an open source board of micro-controllers which has revolutionized the way of making interactive objects: easier, cheaper and backed on the community cooperation. A new way of understanding electronics, interactivity and our relationship with the world around us . As put in <<Arduino: The documentary>>: “It’s kind of like I’m taking one step up a ladder and helping other people go further up the ladder”. Talking with David Cuartielles in the Web Summit at Dublin, we better understood why Arduino’s community is unstoppably climbing the ladder of technological evolution.

P.N. Every day manufacturers are launching new “compatible with Arduino” stuff. It seems that it could happen in the future that everybody will say “an arduino” for any electronics board, as it is becoming like a generic…

D.C. Yes, something like this is happening and I must say that it is a honor to me, as we are changing the way people understands the creation of hardware and software.

David Cuartielles at Dublin Web Summit 2014

David Cuartielles at Dublin Web Summit 2014

P.N. How did you start working together in the Arduino project?

D.C. It’s a funny story. I started studying electronic engineering and working in the University, and I realized that even being a passionate of electronics in that moment I didn’t really liked the practice of it. I was 24 then. So I took the chance offered by the School of Arts and Communication of Malmö University, On January 1rst 2001 I took my car, all my things, and I drove through the bridge to Malmö, Sweden. In the University I gave Java lessons to Industrial Design and Interactive Design students: people who had no former education on technology, meaning that I was teaching to people who didn’t knew what an algorithm is, or discrete mathematics, or mathematic thinking at all. It wasn’t easy, I had to invent a full series of methods. Now it seems normal because many people is working on this, but back in the year 2001 there was nobody.

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Dublin Web Summit 2014 Day 3: Centre Stage

In the third and last day of Web Summit, the enormous tech conference celebrated recently in Dublin, Ireland, we headed to the Centre Stage to attend the talks of some noted speakers arousing our interest. Here, our highlights.

A view from the audience at the Web Summmit Centre stage

A view from the audience at the Web Summmit Centre Stage

An hour of code

Hadi Partovi, co-founder of education non-profit Code.org, introduced us to the worldwide campaign “Hour of Code”, an initiative aimed to demystify computer science and inspire millions of school students to learn to code. The campaign, born in the U.S. in 2013, is backed by technology leaders like Google, Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, and many others.

The Iran-born entrepreneur said that even if computers are everywhere, increasingly impacting every field of human activity, computer science is just on the recovery from a 10-year decline. In the U.S., there are fewer computer science students than 10 years ago, meanwhile in Europe only 11 countries have science/coding in the schools’ curriculum, at the same time as “every single industry is desperately trying to hire programmers”.

Initiatives like this Hour of Code try to address the matter. Even if anyone (teachers, parents, etc.) can host an hour of code anytime, the next milestone will be happening during the week of Dec. 8th – Dec. 14th, when they plan to achieve the goal of tens of millions of students around the world trying an hour of code.

Hadi Partovi introducing the "Hour of Code" initiative

Hadi Partovi presenting the “Hour of Code” initiative

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Dublin Web Summit 2014 Day 2: Machine stage

Here, our recap of Web Summit Day 2, the vast tech conference that took place at Dublin, Ireland in early November. As in the first day, we chose to stayed focused on Machine stage, where world class speakers talked about projects into areas that catch our attention: maker culture, 3D printing, open hardware, DIY, crowdfunding, Internet of Things, and many others.

The long tail of making

Since its foundation in 2007, 3D printing company Shapeways is aimed to make 3D printing accessible for everyone. During his enthusiastic talk, Peter Weijmarshausen, CEO and co-founder of Shapeways, showed us the expanding possibilities of 3D printing, currently being possible to design and print, for instance, custom phone cases, model trains, jewellery, board games, etc. As he put it, “only your imagination is your limit”.

Shapeways provides services and tools to the members of its community to create and print their own objects, even for those without prior knowledge on 3D technologies. On the other hand, Shapeways is also a marketplace where makers and designers can get profit by selling their own designs.

Weijmarshausen also talked about the recent partnership agreement with Hasbro, Inc, to produce 3D printed models of characters of My Little Pony. That could open a path to further agreements with other licensed media companies as both, companies and their fans, benefit. It helps fans, because they can choose and decide about their most beloved licensed products; and it benefits companies as well, saving huge amounts of money in marketing and testing campaigns. Though “we still need something like Spotify for 3D printing”, he finished assuring that “in years to come, we are going to see the profound impact of these technologies”.

Peter Weijmarshausen

Peter Weijmarshausen announcing profound changes to come

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Dublin Web Summit 2014 Day 1: Machine stage

Technology conference Web Summit was held in Dublin from 4th to 6th November, an impressively huge and very well organized tech event, where around 20,000 attendees from more than 100 countries met. During three intense days, we found gathered a great amount of insightful speakers sharing their ideas, enthusiastic startups willing to met investors, as well as countless workshops, roundtables, network sessions, presentation pitches, demos, stands, and also night parties.

Actually, the event featured several summits happening at the same time: Builders, Enterprise, Food, Machine, Marketing, Music, Sport, amongst others. The first day, we mainly attended the Machine Summit, where a line-up of noted speakers discussed about topics like the Internet of Things, smart cities, wearables, robotics, 3D printing and human-machine interaction.

Web Summit

The Web Summit beehive

From Hollywood to the real world

In the morning, one of the first speakers that impressed us was the interface designer John Underkoffler, pretty widely known for his work as science advisor on SF films like “Iron Man” and “Minority Report”. This MIT Media Lab alumni gave us a visionary glimpse of where human-machine interaction is heading. It looks like definitely you can forget your mouse, keyboard and other devices as 3D space UI is becoming the emerging trendOblong Industries, the company where Underkoffler serves as a CEO, has been working since more than a decade to make real the cool gesture-based data interface technology featured in the film “Minority Report”, and they are almost there with G-Speak, an spacial operating environment, whose first commercial application is the conference room solution Mezzanine.

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