“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

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

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.

Continue reading “Making Arduino: Interview with David Cuartielles”

“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…

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

“We are heading towards matter becoming software”: Interview with Vik Olliver

“Wealth without money” is one of the mottos in RepRap community. Conscious of the deep revolution that the creation of a self-replicating machine implies, they go beyond the technical issues and promote a new social philosophy based on openness, sharing and creativity. RepRap (abbreviation of replicating rapid prototyper) was born as a project with the clear goal of creating a 3D printer able to print its own components. Founded in 2005 by Adrian Bowyer, it was in September 2006 when a RepRap printed one of its components by the first time, by Vik Olliver. Next, Olliver built the first RepRap “child” –that is, the first completed self-replicated 3D printer in history.

Adrian Bowyer (right) and Vik Olliver (left) with the first self-replicated 3D printer
Adrian Bowyer (left) and Vik Olliver (right) with the first self-replicated 3D printer (First replication – CC BY-SA 3.0)

It was a huge step towards the Third Industrial Revolution. From then, RepRap community increased unstoppably, with around 15,000 registered users now. However, it is not possible to trace all existing RepRaps today, as they can develop by themselves… So when we had the chance of talking with Vik Olliver, we knew that we were talking with the “father” of a long-range movement. The funny thing of it is that he knows, too.

P.N. Even if you are one of the leaders of the RepRap movement, you always emphasize the great importance of community, and specially on the essential role of open source ideology. Do you consider open source a solid business project?

V.O.  Of course. Open source works because if you have two companies working on a project for you, it will be easier for everybody if they do it on an open source basis. It means that you can get more than one company to work on a project and share the benefits and share the experience, and there’s no worry that lawyers will descend upon anyone after the project is finished.

P.N. But on the other side copyright laws are being strengthened… Continue reading ““We are heading towards matter becoming software”: Interview with Vik Olliver”

Big Data in the Music Industry: An interview with Chris Carey

Much has been told about music industry blurry situation, the effects of the digital impact on the business and the trial-and-error approach to their future model. In such a context, a new sort of “fortune tellers” have aroused: Big Data specialists, holding in their hands some of the big expectations of the music industry.

Far from this image of “clairvoyant”, Chris Carey surprised us with his straightforward, realistic pitch. Nothing deliberately obscure or tangled in his answers, but a sincere interest in explaining clearly the role of Big Data as an useful tool to give some light in the nebulous scenario of music industry today. One of the more celebrated Big Data specialists on music business, Chris Carey co-authored the influential Adding Up the Music Industry papers at PRS for Music, leaded innovative initiatives as Global Insight Director in strong companies as Universal Music Group or EMI Music, and now he is the founder of his own company, Media Insight Consulting.

P.N. From a technical point of view, how are Big Data used in huge music companies ?

C.C. Working in EMI or Universal we put emphasis on making sure that all the important data were grouped together in a way that everyone could connect: sales figures, number of streams, e-mail responses… The biggest challenge in front of Big Data is to put them together in a way easy for people to connect. At that point you need to ask more questions of the data, and so we are careful of how we structure them to make sure that they can answer all kind of questions: artist level questions, album level questions, fans level questions… What this means is that for an artist you can say how his music compares to the genre overall, and so for instance an artist can have a profile of the standard rock genre. Comparing their behavior to a norm, to a genre group, you can see how they behave. You can take it even further and see what happens when you compare one artist to another, or compare one song to another.

Chris Carey at Sonar +D
Chris Carey at Sónar +D Barcelona

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“Future is written in our dreams”: Interview with Rodrigo Bautista (Forum for the Future)

Forum for The Future is a non-profit organization specialized in sustainable development. They work with companies, governments and other organizations to solve sustainability challenges. We spoke with UK-based industrial designer Rodrigo Bautista, member of the System Innovation team at Forum for the Future.

PN: Let’s talk about Forum for the Future

RB: We are an organization of around 100 people with offices in New York, London, Singapur, and many others. We help organizations and companies to be more sustainable. If they want to reduce their carbon footprint or improve their portfolio in terms of their products and services to be more sustainable, we have processes to help them. We could say we are like a think tank.

PN: But always focusing on sustainability, that is your speciality, isn’t it ?

RB: We have three big areas: Food, Energy and Sustainable Business. Regarding the Food area, we aim to change it, make it more efficient and reconnect producers with consumers. Nowadays our relationship with food is broken: we go to a supermarket and our relationship is packaged. Many children can’t even recognize fruits and vegetables. Concerning the Energy area, we address a lot of problems mainly related to the consume based in fossil fuels. We are interested in generating more circular economy models.

In Sustainable Business area we have rather an one-to-one approach. It is usually a long-term program,  to help companies by embedding sustainability in their internal processes. It is more like building capacities, it requires a lot of strategy.

We have some great tools to create future scenarios, this is also the reason of our name, Forum for the Future. For instance, Consumer Futures 2020 or Fashion Future 2025. One year ago we published the Informal City Dialogues, it was a project developed in six cities of the South hemisphere: Accra, Bangkok, Chennai, Lima, Manila, and Nairobi. We generated scenarios of how the informal economy could be by 2040.

PN: Explain to us more about how these future scenarios work…

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