Tag Archives: technology

Transformational Digital Infrastructure (“TDI”)

Last week, Shaun Fensom and I went to Birmingham for CBN to talk to Digital Birmingham about NGA strategy and developments in the wider City Region. We realised during a sequence of discussions with regeneration specialists and others that there’s been ‘language capture’ going on. The telecoms industry, in it’s usual way, has used the ‘naming of things’ to confuse the picture. So ‘First Generation Broadband’ aka ADSL was never really ‘broad’, and Next Generation Access is undefined, largely. But we’ve got ‘Superfast Broadband’ now; well, some of us have.  So that’s all right then.

There’s an overfocus on speed. And a lack of visibility of connection quality, the need for symmetry, levels of contention, latency and jitter. In the past, in Regeneration and Planning ‘connectivity’ meant roads, airports and rail. The good news is that there is increasing realisation on a regional and City-regional basis that Digital Connectivity is increasingly important and needs to be planned in; and not left to the industry to not-deliver it.

So we need a new term. and Shaun and I agreed we would blog about it. So here it is. We need “Transformational Digital Infrastructure” – it’s not just about the technology. And it’s not some false polarisation of the “Pipes and/or Poetry” mafia.

It’s a much richer picture of the human and technical networks needed to bring about Digital Britain.

Audioboo as a conversational medium – well, nearly!

I was on my way back to Piccadilly Station in Manchester last Wednesday evening when I heard one of @Documentally’s classic Audio boos – saw this:

And clicked on it and heard the Boo.  And this is the Boo:

So I thought, wouldn’t be good to tell @Documentally that I was in Manchester and I was sorry I’d missed him.  So I made this:

And then, of course, this being Digital Britain and all, I couldn’t upload it.  At least not until I got home.  Wifi on the train wouldn’t let me upload it and the 3G connection wouldn’t play ball either.

So we had this conversation on Twitter:conv

Using Audioboo as a discursive medium

And then I had another idea.  What if a group of us decided to use Audioboo to discuss a theme or topic, have a debate or argue about something.  We could tag them and listen to them, creating an archive of the discussion.  Next steps?  Find a few people to test it out?

Dystopia, myopia, fatalism?

Can we ‘hack’ our way to Environment 2.0 or are we too Human 1.0 to cope?

Adam Greenfield’s talk at Futuresonic last week was insightful; how cities will look and how we will use them once networked sensors are embedded in pretty much everything, pretty much everywhere.   I liveblogged it using scribblelive here.  You can see the way he developed the argument and the way some of the tweeters to #futr09 reacted.

Photo credit: Aeioux
Photo credit: Aeioux

But what really galvanised the audience and set the tweets flying was an apparently casual remark right at the end of his session in response to questions.  What most of us thought he said was along the lines that sustainability wasn’t possible and we should all just do our best to make whatever time we have left valuable.


This rather punctured the somewhat gung-ho ‘tech can solve it’ bubble blown by Jamais Cascio in his heckled-by-a-drunk-person and subsequently much-blogged opening keynote.  You can see a liveblog by Martin Bryant here which gives you a ‘feel’ for the gala event.  The idea that we can ‘Hack the Earth’ in some massive geo-engineering intervention is a big, scary idea and was presented in a deliberately provocative  way.  It seems to me that we’ve already hacked the poor old Earth about rather a lot.   Tech-driven re-hacking of what is a deeply non-linear system where we’re not too certain we can model next week’s weather carries perhaps a few additional risks.  But rather than get dragged into that, what I really want to focus on was both the reaction to Cascio’s thinking and the much more stunned interpretation of Greenfield’s remarks as being ‘we’re all doomed and there’s no point trying’.

The false poles of optimism and pessimism

We got back to Greenfield’s remarks at the end of Roland Harwood’s session on Deciphering Trust in Networked Innovation where there was some discussion and I raised the issue of ‘the guy from Nokia’ when Adam’s name went right out of my head at the crucial moment (sorry Adam!).  The following extract from the indefatigable Martin Bryant’s liveblog illustrates the point:


And from then on, we ended up labelling those who believe that we can ‘fix it’ with the support of wizzy technology, like Cascio, ‘the optimists’ and anyone holding a negative view, like Greenfield, ‘the pessimists’.  It wasn’t really possible to develop the arguments from then on – the labels stuck and the polarity increased.  Which was inevitable, I suppose, but a shame.

Deal with it ‘in the now’

Greenfield was trying, I think, to make a much more subtle and nuanced point – that feeling we ‘might not make it’ shouldn’t stop us doing the right thing.  That the future vision of the City with its open sensor-based networks and connected people could flip into dystopia.  That ‘optimisim’ could actually be myopia and unwillingness to confront the reality of our situation.  There is much more to this than ‘hacking’ our way into the Earth’s geocode; Cascio points out the risk of hubris in that.  The idea that we have enough control of ourselves, let alone sufficient understanding of the potential system impacts of what we do, to be effective may be an illusion.  So perhaps, the best we can do, is deal with what we can deal with and make sure we keep our values in mind.

e-static shadows at the Dana Centre

An exploration of electrostatics and their role in sensors, technology and art

static shadows installation
static shadows installation

A beautiful installation by Zane Berzina latterly of Goldsmiths called Static Shadows

Wide bands of specially made fabrics with >1,000 LEDs each controlled by a single transistor. Conducting wires embedded in the fabric pick up changes in the electrostatic fields near the fabric. As the fields change, so the LEDs change in brightness. Big changes (such as a charged rod) produce quick rapid changes. Small charges (from your hand say) produce slow shimmering changes. You don’t need to touch the fabric – it works because the fabric is sensitive to the electrostatic fields in the environment. Lovely analogue technology and completely captivating.

LEDs react as fields change
LEDs react as fields change

Zane describes the blend of technology and craft fabrication as ‘High Craft’ as opposed to ‘High Tech’. The audience asked loads of questions about how and why it came about and the practical and esthetic applications of the approach.

Next Generation Web: tracking,storage and search

An exploration of how tracking technologies are enabling new ways of organising, accessing and displaying information on the web.

Spiral browser
Spiral browser

Presentations here: CLICK

Graham Kidde of Kodak (right) demonstrates a location- and time-aware spiral browser.  Newer images are presented at the front of the screen; older ones further back.  Spirals can be ‘rotated’ and examined from different angles.  Photos can be ‘tagged’ or grouped or organised according to the people or places they depict.  Cool!  Very cool!

The World HiTech Forum – Focus India

Inspired by Muhammad Farmer Director of ‘BITE’ (the British Institute of Technology and E-commerce) the forum and took place in London on 8 October 2008.

Shiv Shankar Mukherjee High Commissioner, Republic of India speaking of the role of government said

“The future skilled workforce of the world will be even more Indian than it is today” and called for better collaboration between India and the UK: “The UK is 3 or 4th largest technology provider to India. We need to deepen this collaboration.”

Speaking on ‘The Knowledge Gap’ Prof S Ramachandran, Vice Chancellor of the University of Madras, painted a contrasting picture of highly skilled people and poor people.

“While we produce a large number of graduates – it is the quality we are concerned about.”

He argued that India’s higher education system today does not produce all the skills required at the workplace and spoke frankly of the challenges faced by the Higher Education sector

“About 25% of our technical graduates are regarded as ‘employable’ – and while the others may be well educated, they don’t have the skills needed by the market.”

Here are more detailed notes of the event:

The Role of Government

Shiv Shankar Mukherjee, High Commissioner, Republic of India

Shiv Shankar Mukherjee
Shiv Shankar Mukherjee

India is still experiencing very high rates of growth. The future will be about moving away from the ‘heavy hand of government’ – liberalisation in India is as much about ‘mindset’ as it is about changing government or operational structures especially in innovation.

We all accept that technology change and innovation are key drivers of economic growth. Now we have self-confident global companies but we also have 300m of the world’s poor who need to see that the fruits of globalisation come to them as well. Nehru identified the use of science and technology for growth and this has continued. Diversity in India means we will have to constantly innovate.  Look at Japan and Korea as examples of the benefits of investing in education and technology.

India is emerging as a gobal R&D hub – over the past decade this has accelerated and contributed to economic growth. A large chunk of patents. Our advantage is the availabllity of highly educated english-speaking maths and science graduates.

The sustained growth of 8.6 to 8.8% over the past 5 years is as much about the development of commercialisation and research as it is about liberalisation.

“The future skilled workforce of the world will be even more Indian than it is today”

Skills and education are central – we produce more graduates every year than all of Western Europe combined. But while we have quantity, the quality is not uniform. We accept that this is a big challenge. The Knowledge Commission, which advises the PM, points out that while India has 300 universities, we still need 1,500 more if we are to meet the needs of the future economy. We will need to move very fast to improve provision and ensure quality. Skilled people are what we need and we need to get back to developing that. India is beginning to outsource to Mexico for example.

View from the Conference Centre
View from the Conference Centre

The role of government will continue to be central in terms of the priorities and spend on improving the spread of quality education across the land and to continue to provide the educated people we need. As well as the highly qualified people – we also need the ‘building blocks’ of technical and support workers – this is an area the state has allowed to become moribund.

“UK is 3 or 4th largest technology provider to India.
We need to deepen this collaboration.”

‘The Knowledge Gap’

Professor S Ramachandran – Vice Chancellor – University of Madras

Professor Ramachandran painted a contrasting picture of highly skilled people and poor people. “While we produce a large number of graduates – it is the quality we are concerned about.” India’s higher education system today does not produce all the skills required at the workplace.

“About 25% of our technical graduates are regarded as ‘employable’ – and while the others may be well educated, they don’t have the skills needed by the market.”

“Where we do produce good quality education this is also too expensive. If we want to sustain the growth we are seeing, we need to ensure access to high quality education. There is a potential for a ‘demographic dividend’ as we have large numbers of younger people. We can only turn this into an advantage if we can ensure the quality is good. Teaching quality is also an area for us to focus on. Need to invest more by paying good teachers better. The Knowledge Economy has to be supported by the update of core knowledge and update the curricula. Alongside the hard core of discipline knowledge, we also need to make sure we build on skills.”

A recent jobs fair which 30,000 students attended with 20,000 jobs on offer – yet only 25% of the students ended up in jobs. They lacked the skills needed by business – communications skills, verbal skills and synthesis skills were all lacking. It’s not that the students were poorly educated – they just weren’t what the businesses needed. This was a wake-up call and the University has worked closely with the Indian Confederation of Business to overhaul courses.

By 2010, we will have a shortage of 250,000 skilled graduates. And it’s very hard to find students who want to do a PhD and learn to develop new knowledge. Moral imperative for government to improve access to PhD courses through improved scholarships. Need improved support from Research Councils. While the education system is strong in the country we need to work hard to ‘fine tune’ it to the needs of both the economy and the need to generate new knowledge.

India needs 1,000,000 new teachers by 2010 – 2012.

Q – From the audience “What to do?”

A – Need to turn graduates as ‘job-seekers’ in to graduates as ‘job-providers’ of 5m graduates a year only 1m go into jobs. We need revolutionary reform to boost their confidence and make them more entrepreneurial and get them to generate new businesses and new jobs. Can’t happen overnight – the numbers are large but we need to make progress. The education sector is the most neglected and it’s difficult to attract teachers to teach – they don’t get paid enough. We have vacancies and they are generally applied for by teachers who are not qualified.