“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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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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“The future will be ecosystemic”: An interview with Simone Cicero

After a brimming Open Hardware Summit, full of projects and ideas, we had the chance of talking with Simone Cicero, co-chair of the event and a sort of polymath of the New Economy: Blogger, Speaker, Digital Strategist, Event Designer, Facilitator, Dot Connector… Through his multiple activities and his blog Meedabyte, he analyzes the changes in society, economy and production in this new era of collaborative blossoming and disruptive technologies. This, together with his front-row activities as Connector at Ouishare, gives him a broad view of the advances that Open Culture and Sharing Economy, among other issues, are experiencing.

Simone Cicero at Innovation Week Rome 2014
Simone Cicero at Innovation Week Rome 2014

P.N. After Open Hardware Summit 2014, which are your conclusions of the event ?

S.C. My impression of the Summit is that it was a good start, but it is quite far from where I would like to be in terms of awareness and groundwork… That kind of event should be much more a community trying to lay out the world. I really think that we need to start to do more in terms of actionable knowledge and decisions, like a wiki, discussion groups, etc. –a real community, because there is no a real community engagement right now. And we are a big community, so we have to spread wider to discuss about real issues. What I see is companies flocking to this collaborating economy and open source, increasing blogging interest and so on, and it’s like the tipping point is finally arriving. This is reflecting that our community is growing exponentially. Finally, we are getting to the point that this must be changing as soon as possible, now the question is will it be possible to change everything in such a small amount of time …

P.N. But it is going really fast …

S.C. Yes, it is going fast, but also unfortunately that disaster where we are living is going pretty fast, probably faster, so when I think that we need to change everything in 15 years…

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Fab 10 Barcelona – Symposium

The Fab City Symposium took place on Monday 7th July, as part of the Fab 10 Barcelona Conference. Throughout this one-day event, noted speakers shared their experiences and insights on a range of issues related to digital fabrication, focusing on the role that technology, policy and society have to achieve self-sufficient and productive cities. Circular economy was also an important issue that some speakers addressed. The event was kicked off by Antoni Vives, Deputy Major of Barcelona, and Tomas Diez, head of Fab Lab Barcelona.

We were eagerly looking forward to hearing Neil Gershenfeld, head of MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms, and main leader of the Fab Lab movement. Of course, we weren’t disappointed: with his clear and condensed style, he explained the essential features of Fab Labs, their impact on society and economy now and in the future, and the roadmap of Fab Lab movement for the next years. Very aware of the transforming potential of these laboratories of fabrication, he emphasized their role as a tool to change the way we understand our relation with the day-to-day life and the objects around us. From democratization of fabrication tools to machines making machines, from programming of functional materials to the emergence of the personal fabricator, his speech guided us step by step by the road Fab Labs and Digital Fabrication will go through.

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Fab 10 Barcelona – Sunday, 6th July

Sunday opened with the “3D Printing” panel talk featuring Vik Olliver and Roger Uceda from RepRap, Joan Ravantós from Stalactite 3D, Harma Woldhuis from Ultimaker, Sénamé Koffi from Woelab, and William Hoyle (moderator) from Ethical Filament Foundation.

RepRap guys explained the origin and evolution of their project, as well as the revolutionary concept lying behind it; a free 3D desktop printer that can print replicas of itself.  Showing a firm support to openness (“evolution needs open source” they said), and highlighting the importance of the community for the success of an open source project, their talk was one of the strongest points of the day. They also commented on RepRapBcn, a Polytechnic University of Catalonia (UPC) project aimed to spread the use of RepRap technology in Europe. We spoke to Vik Olliver, core member of RepRap project. We will publish his interview soon.

Joan Ravantós from Barcelona-based start-up Stalactite 3D introduced us their 3D printer Stalactite 102, a high definition desktop resin printer with innovative technology and design looking pretty impressive. They just concluded a successful fundraising campaign on Indiegogo. Meanwhile, Harma Woldhuis from Dutch 3D printers fabricant Ultimaker told us the story of the company. Former participants of RepRap project, their founders launched this company in 2011, having had to go through a hard road to positionate it as one of the most successful open source companies within the Maker industry.

Finally, Sénamé Koffi from Woelab, a community of African makers and technology incubator center located in the small African nation of Togo, presented Wafate, the first 3D printer made of recycled electronic waste. By using these components, Woelab gives a solution to the problem of waste disposal while making 3D printing technology more affordable. This inspiring project deserved the first prize of Global Fab Awards this year.

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