Some ideas about artificial intelligence

This post is proudly sponsored by SkyNet™ from Cyberdyne Systems™

I am far from an expert in the field. This post – as most of this blog – is more to gather and share some ideas in a bar-table-conversation. Is that OK to you?

So come along.

First, deep learning is emerging strong. Long story short from this article:

It allows researchers to assign a task to computers and then sit back as the machines in essence teach themselves how to accomplish and finally master the job.

Basically:

[…] researchers can bombard computers with a flood of information and let the systems make sense of the data. “You show a computer 1 million images with chairs and 1 million without them,” Hotz says. “Eventually, the computer is able to describe a chair in a way so much better than a human ever could.”

George Hotz [the famous hacker who first cracked iPhone when he was 17] is teaching a car how to drive by just letting the computers watch himself drive around. And it is working. You can check the video.

It means machines can learn to do virtually anything by copying in a very efficient way. More interesting and useful than scary.

But then consider this TED talk from Susan Blackmore. Long story short. Natural selection force is unstoppable. Genes appears and, following natural selection rules, lead to complex animals. Complex animals – hi there! – have ideas, called memes. Such ideas make our culture, and now it is the second big thing fighting for survival following Darwin rules. Blackmore argues that technology is the third one. A different “replicator” fighting for survival, she call it technological meme, or teme.

She is not alone. We have plenty of science fiction dealing with the rise of the machines. In this New Yorker article the philosopher / futurist Nick Bostrom talks about his work around the risks artificial intelligence represents. He comes to a conclusion similar to Blackmore’s:

Such a system would effectively be a new kind of life, and Bostrom’s fears, in their simplest form, are evolutionary: that humanity will unexpectedly become outmatched by a smarter competitor. He sometimes notes, as a point of comparison, the trajectories of people and gorillas: both primates, but with one species dominating the planet and the other at the edge of annihilation.

It means that, sooner or later, artificial intelligence will grow far stronger than human capabilities. Then this new life-form can take care of “procreate” ignoring us the same way we ignore ants, plants and primates – not caring much about their annihilation.

Then Sir Tim Berners-Lee drops this bomb:

“‘Don’t ask whether it will happen; it’s already happening.The robots are already here and they’re called corporations”

The full argument is that since corporations have rights, can make decisions and many are heavily commanded by computers – specially investment firms – they might already be the AI we fear.

Ok? With me so far?

Thanks for all the fish

So please put your futurism helmet on and engage with this idea for a moment.

Corporations are the evil artificial intelligence.

In most countries they are “legal persons” or “artificial legal structures” that can behave and be seen in front of the law as a special type of citizen.

This artificial form of intelligence might have started with the first human groups able to organize themselves. Countries might be an early form of these structures. But corporations master this behavior.

In this documentary [full here] they explore the idea of corporations as if they were a person. And if people presented such behavior they would be called psychopath. Things like ignoring human suffering, not admitting guilt, focusing only on profits. In fact money is another invention that helps companies to drive and control us, like fences on a farm.

You could say “but companies are made of people”. Yes. But inside an organization people do not behave as they normally would. The whole complexity, power struggles and social rules of an environment can lead us to do things we would not do in a different situation. Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment and the usual “I was just following orders” phrase from soldiers are examples of this organizational power over individual will.

As a final piece of conspiracy theory the famous Bitcoin, the digital currency that allows anyone to pay anyone without banks or governments, makes the perfect tool for the technologically based artificial intelligence we call organization / corporation to control humans without any laws to follow. And we don´t need to stretch too much actually, since Satoshi Nakamoto, the credited inventor of it is completely unknown. As far as I know “he” could be even just an artificial intelligence in someone’s server.

So the final idea is:

Companies are the AI we always feared. They don´t have a “brain”, but each worker act as a “neuron” performing tasks they would not normally do in exchange for money, but not for long, since new processors and systems can easily outperform humans.

What do you think? Sense?

UPDATE:

The website I sourced for Sir Tim Bernes-Lee quote is out, not sure why. I will leave this other link here to document that actually happened.

 

 

Any | The shapeless mobile phone concept for the year 2020

In 2009 I was living in Curitiba and kind of bored. I found a challange online to design a mobile phone concept for the year 2020. You know, 2020 is the new 2000 in the collective mind for when-cool-things-gonna-happen.

I invited Kleber Puchaski and João Moldenhauer to design it together. After a lot of emails, a good secondary research and few meetings we came out with this concept – please forgive all 2009-ish design style and poor my poor English.

This is just an exploration, a couple of ideas about how things might be in a couple of years from now. I really believe one of the “next big things” for the mobile world will be these “hardware apps”. The smartphone will not be a box with everything inside, but several devices connected that can be embedded in the same artifact or spread in one’s body.

That is my guess. Do you have any?

Updates and followup:

04/10/2016 – PoV videos might go mainstream with young people – Snapchat’s Spectacles: How Digital Eyewear Could Escape The Nerd Factor

 

Meteors, Culture and Natural Selection

You are probably aware of the meteor falling in Russia this week. You probably also watched lots of high-definition videos of the fire-ball tearing the sky.

As me you probably thought “how did they manage to get all this footage?”. In summary,  because of violent roads, corrupted police and skeptic justice system, dash-cameras are a must have in Russia.

A compilation of outstanding Russian dash-camera videos.

As we sometimes forget technology are tools serving people. People inhabit certain contexts that are important for what they choose or avoid to use. These contexts are made of different factors, but the global/local cultures are crucial to understand why certain innovations arise, are adopted and kept, or vanish away. Therefore, the right innovation needs the right context to flourish.

Just like living creatures in nature, new products/services are trying to survive following rules that resemble natural selection. If in Darwin’s theory the environment plays a major role – with predators, mating rituals and food scarcity – at the innovation field the socio-cultural context is the “environment” determining who thrives an who vanishes. In this particular case the Russian historical, social, cultural, juridical and economical context are setting a stage where small digital cameras fit perfectly.

The good thing about it is that using tools from social sciences (such as ethnography) we can study these socio-cultural contexts using findings to design products/services to fit in these scenarios. Is as if species could plan beforehand how they should be to have better chances of success in a certain environment. True intelligent design.

Guess:

Now that we had this deep impact on the culture of visual documentation, maybe the habit of 24/7 footage arise in other countries, both to better deal with lawsuits, or just to be ready in case pure awesomeness knocks at your door.

UPDATE: Why is it not happening in Brazil? 

With the famous corrupt police and technology adoption Brazil should be doing the same thing as Russia. Right? Maybe not.

I guess this phenomenon is not happening in Brazil because of the cultural context. Bribing is usually carried by the person committing the infraction, being the least interested on document it.

Talking about traffic fee for example. Usually the owner of the car is the one trying to get out of the situation. The driver would be the one using the famous “jeitinho Brasileiro” (Brazilian workarounds) to bribe the police officer avoiding a more severe fee.

As far as I know Brazilian corruption have a subtle, almost friendly spirit. A police officer will never openly ask a driver for money, instead what happens is a favor exchange. Starting with a small double-sense chit-chat to feel if the other side would prefer an “alternative solution”. This bribe is called “o dinheirinho da cerveja” or just “pra cervejinha“, which means just a change for a couple of beers (of course many times it is way more than that).

Roberto DaMatta is one of the most respected Brazilian anthropologists and wrote a lot about this behavior.

Extreme Documentation on Ethnography

ohboy

Big Data was one of the hottest topics in 2012, and probably will keep trending for sometime.

Maybe what make people so exited about it is the numerical proof of things we sometimes “feel” happening, but have a hard time explaining how we came to this conclusion.

At this post Andy Polaine talks about “Self ethnography and the quantified life”, referring to the vast range of products and apps helping people to have an Excel view of their own existence. He also links Gary Wolf’s talk “The Quantified Self” discussing how easy is to document our daily lives and how it have being changing the way people behave.

This week I came across this TED talk from the MIT researcher Deb Roy shows how he used powerful cameras, microphones and data servers to turn his house into a laboratory (Big Brother style). He fully documented in audio and video the whole process of how his newborn learned to speak. Amazing!

But where does it lead us? Are we close to a time where qualitative and quantitative data collection can turn our world in a high-tech version of Kitchen Stories?

Probably.

It can be frightening depending on your techno-phobia levels, but can kids who were born with their Facebook profiles care much about having their live documented 24/7? I guess they gonna love it!

Furthermore, I dare to say that somewhere out there someone is already trying this kind of extreme approach with a business/innovation focus.

 

 

Why Design Ethnography?

If I had a penny for each weird look I receive for the answer to “what are you studding”…

This post aims to show how getting these two fields together just make a lot of sense.

Firstly, “design ethnography” is formed by two terms. The well known “Design” and the not-as-popular “Ethnography”, which is for the anthropologist a basic method as drawing is for designers. Hence, to talk about this subject it is necessary to talk about both design and anthropology.

1 – Design

The International Council of Societies of Industrial Design (ICSID) defends that:

 

Design is a creative activity whose aim is to establish the multi-faceted qualities of objects, processes, services and their systems in whole life cycles. Therefore, design is the central factor of innovative humanisation of technologies and the crucial factor of cultural and economic exchange.[emphasis added] 

 

ICSID also list a series of tasks delegated to the design field: 

  1. Enhancing global sustainability and environmental protection (global ethics)

  2. Giving benefits and freedom to the entire human community, individual and collective

  3. Final users, producers and market protagonists (social ethics)

  4. Supporting cultural diversity despite the globalisation of the world (cultural ethics)

  5. Giving products, services and systems, those forms that are expressive of (semiology) and coherent with (aesthetics) their proper complexity.

[emphasis added]

As presented by Brenda Laurel’s book Design Researchif they [designers] desire to attract and delight customers or audiences for their work, they need to understand the people for whom they design.” It is also defended that until the 1990’s it was quite simple, populations – people from the same country or region, for example – were, in general, exposed to the same brands, products and media references, hence, sharing the same culture. Well… we know that it is not as true as it used to be…

2 – Anthropology  

According to AAA (American Anthropological Association), “anthropology is the study of humans, past and present” and the “central concern of anthropologists is the application of knowledge to the solution of human problems”[emphasis added]. Anthropology can also be divided in four areas: Linguistic, Archeology, Biological/Physical – and Sociocultural.

The AAA describes sociocultural anthropology as a practice which “seeks to understand the internal logic of societies through ethnography”[emphasis added], define in more details they state:

 

Sociocultural anthropologists examine social patterns and practices across cultures, with a special interest in how people live in particular places and how they organize, govern, and create meaning.[…] Research in sociocultural anthropology is distinguished by its emphasis on participant observation, which involves placing oneself in the research context for extended periods of time to gain a first-hand sense of how local knowledge is put to work in grappling with practical problems of everyday life and with basic philosophical problems of knowledge, truth, power, and justice. Topics of concern to sociocultural anthropologists include such areas as health, work, ecology and environment, education, agriculture and development, and social change. [emphasis added].

 

 

3 – Design Ethnography 

Given these definitions, it is straightforward to come with a simple logical relation and conclusion: 

  1. if designers must understand peoples’ cultures in order to generate relevant and marketable solutions;
  2. if anthropology is the area of knowledge covering this subject;
  3. and both seek to apply their knowledge to create solutions to human problems;
  4. it is reasonable to suppose that designers could – or even should – apply social-anthropology methods – such as ethnography – to better understand the users of their future creations.

As AIGA’s Ethnography Primer summarizes “Ethnography is a tool for better design.”

And I think it is not just that. The extremely applied characteristic of design helps to turn research findings into down-to-earth outcomes as products, services and media.

For me it is this simple. What do you think?

The rise of the Washing Machine

As someone who tries to balance the “treehugger”, business and pseudo-anthropologist together getting involved in discussion with people from this 3 extremes it is always hard to explain or defend that:

  1. there is no way everybody will have access to the same comfort the developed word has today without a CRITICAL behavior and production change;
  2. people want to access it, in many cases because the western civilization sell them these values (in Manaus, in the middle of the Amazon, people turn air-conditioners on just to end up using duvets. Does it make sense?)

Hans Rosling can help me out:

As he points ou: How to deliver these conveniences to a greater population with the same or less materials / energy?

My bet is dematerialization, or turning products into services (yes, service design goes here).

However it is only possible if we manage to drive people into it, if we understand not just the direct practical need (washing clothes, as in his example) but the cultural values and possibilities behind that, like having more time as he pointed out, or even prestige in the neighborhood as I have seen many times in Brazilian laundries (Yep. Brazilian women are proud of their washing machines and other house appliances).

This my friend, is a work for us “design ethnographers” (or other label of your preference).

It reminds me the time when I used to design professional laundry appliances (2009 feels so long ago…)

Stainless Steel = Durability ladies and gents.

Man… I have spent a loooong time in this washing machine…

Yes, it is big.

 Cheers!

How can 3D printing really emerge as a trend?

Source

This time of the year we usually see many efforts to predict the future, to discover “what is next”. It is probably way older than that (as you can see in Paleo Future), but I believe Faith Popcorn’s Brain Reserve with the Cocooning in the 90’s got “trend hunting” on the hot spot and it is still there. Everyone wants to own the future by predicting what is next, but nobody wants to be the one to bet on something that will not come up great in a few months / years in order to keep their credibility. Therefore, we have many forecasters, designers, researchers and trend hunters predicting the predictable, coming up with obvious visions of a future very likely to occur, making these trends just common sense for those a little bit more informed.

In general, these trend reports are just the consultancy version of advertising or free sample, trying to reach and attract new clients. Which is not bad, but I believe they could try some longer shots. They could risk a little more. Well… I have way less to lose so there goes my idea:

My guess for 2013: 3D Printing as a service

For a couple of years people have predicted the 3D printing as “the next thing”, that we are all going to download and print personalized objects at the comfort of our own home. Well… I strongly disagree with that. Not because of technology, but because of what people really want from today’s economy. There are several non-technological barriers for that:

  1. The usual term for this is “3D printer”. Well. We have paper printers, why not 3D ones? Quite reasonable. The thing is that we are not going to have an awesome 3D printer at home for the same reason we have no cutting-edge Xerox machine on our desks. You sure do some printing, but when it comes to serious business you look for a bureau, mostly to have someone experienced editing and printing something with quality.
  2. Have you tried to make a 3D model? It is not just software, you have to THINK in 3D, understand measurements (specially if you want to assemble it to something else). In the end, it is way harder to learn how to deal 3D objects than it is to type in a text.  The day might come, but still far away.
  3. It is still seen as a gadget, a toy, a garage ornament, but not a useful piece of technology in the daily life.

However, the technology is knocking on the door and as Frog’s report shows bellow the price of these printers are getting lower and lower, so:

Demand for personalized printed 3D objects MINUS proper skills or stronger need to have it a home EQUALS a 3D printing as a local service.

Firstly, we have to consider how complicated it is to deal with physical objects. As you know, with few colors you can make all of them. Since we still cannot rearrange atoms and molecules to make a different materials from scratch, and that by default a printed object will be smaller than the printer itself, we probably need a printer big enough and space to stock raw materials (several types of plastic, for example). People will need a person to help them deal with the technology = we need something like a Product Design Clerk. A product designer + a clerk ladies and gents. Someone to link the ideas in your head to the real world, and with enough technical skill to preview and “print” the outcome. With everything been manufactured Asia nowadays, I think there are some designers out there to take the position.

How it might look like? When we talk about products that are easy to visualize or evaluate just based on specs (e.g. smart phones) it is easier to do everything online. It could sound weird, but I believe this business shall work as a store providing service. A place where you can walk in and ask for something. As an experience, if I may. You could take your memory stick there or send a 3D file by email, have a look in their portfolio of printable objects or have just some sketches of what you want to be designed, then our product design clerk can take care of the rest (charging you for it, of course). After a while you can pick it up when it is ready, or ask to be delivered. As simple as that. It is also possible that the big printer and the branch does not share the same space. Having small branches with designer attendants around busy areas (city centers / shopping malls) and a print facility somewhere else with more space and lower rent.

Who can do it? If we are talking about starting big, we can obviously consider Amazon because of the expertise in technology and online commerce. Zappos could also be a good bet with their high-standards service culture. Personally, I believe it will come from the bottom and maybe it is out there already, an evolution of projects like MetaMaquina or Form1 and then spread as a franchise by tech-business savvy geeks – a lot of unemployed recent grads to fit the profile.

Barriers: There is a looong discussions on legal treatsForm1 itself got KickStarter on the spot but I am not going to wright further about it. What I can say is that the first company to succeed in this field will present a smart way to work around this matters, maybe like Apple did with iTunes, maybe going to “creative commons” options, but for sure not just ignoring it. Beyond that, there is a whole lot of brand and offer problems. How assure the printed object will last? Does it have to last? Is it recyclable? Can I just give my product back so it can be re-molded? If not, why not?

References: Frog’s Tech Trends for 2013:

JWTIntelligence – 10 Trends for 2013 in 2 minutes A printer big enough:

The Open Economy

First of all, thank you very much Claro Partners for hosting the informal economy conference providing such a nice environment to receive, connect and share knowledge.

This post is more about what I learned from the experience than a rigorous description, I will connect dots with other things I already knew, heard or expect to happen, witch may or may not be connected to what the panelists / speakers were talking about. But hey, lets have a talk here, right?

Among with these ideas is the title of this post “The Open Economy“, trying to bring a more positive yet realistic view of this economical phenomenon. (I found some guys talking about “open economy” but I don’t think they meant what I mean, so…)

UPDATES: I will post it AND keep righting it, so comment down there and we can keep the conversation going while I have some coffee and type my fingers off.

Lets the games begin!

Opening Keynote – Keith Hart

 

Keith Hart is one of the world’s leading economic anthropologists. He is known for having launched the study of the informal economy in the 1970s. He is Co-Director of the Human Economy Program at the University of Pretoria, South Africa; Professor of Anthropology Emeritus at Goldsmiths, University of London and Honorary Professor of Development Studies at University of Kwazulu-Natal, Durban.

 

Opening Keynote – Keith Hart “The Informal Economy goes mainstream” from Claro Partners on Vimeo.

Firstly, the seems very open and funny. I dont know why, but with the years passing by I just discover that the most interesting people are usually very nice too, and it was the case. Keith made a lots of jokes and also participated asking some daring question to the panelists  It was great!

So, for me the most interesting things on his talk was:

Informal economy makes unemployment manageable.

It is better to have informal jobs than no jobs at all, and if governments can’t solve it “small people” can because…

Informal is faster!

Crises are not easy to deal with and when it knocks on your door is very hard to do something about it if you are part of a big, lazy and slow institution – cof governments cof – BUT if you are a small, lets say, entrepreneur you are fast on dealing with changes and make shifts to fit to a new reality. In the informal economy it means to sell umbrella instead of the usual ice-creams sometimes.

Penguins vs Butterflies

Keith traces a funny relation between masculine and feminine ways to deal with dress code when doing business.

Men are like penguins, all looking alike, trying to hide in the crowd, and anonymous indistinguishable mass of black ties.

I was thinking about it… business men and politicians ALWAYS dress this way… so MAYBE it helps because people don’t pay attention anymore, when they do something wrong it is just a business man and a politician and they are supposed to be dumb asses anyway, right? Why bother? So as a mass of faceless evil doers they keep going unnoticed.

Women on the other hand are like butterflies. They dress in many different shapes and colors, they move around gracefully.

For me this relation can be extended to formal and informal economy. The formal is like men, rigorous, black-and-white and in control (or at least struggling to look like they are). Ant the informal economy is this graceful butterfly presented in many shapes and colors, flying chaotically, coming and going at the airwaves will, but as Edward Lorenz said, they can cause the butterfly effect, where a mere wing-beat can cause a huge impact word wide. Hence, as the insects, informal businesses are small and in so many formats that you can’t easily keep track of them.

Fortunately Hart gave a great advice on how to deal  with this kind of complexity, the kind of advice only an anthropological mindset can create.

Bird Watcher’s Manual

Tracking complex environments, systems and behaviors is not easy. As when you observe birds you surely can take photos, but since each time the bird is facing one side, the other, it can be flying, eating or nesting. In order to create a more true visual description of the bird you must draw them, creating an, like Plato would say, “Ideal” bird.

In this case the wicked informal economy universe an be seem as many smaller actors, but to me understood you need to make sense of their “shapes” and try to guess their true form.

The Negative Informal

In the end he said something very interesting. “Informal” is a term that carries lots of negative (even criminal) meanings. It is maybe holding back the true rise of the informal economy as an valid way of exchange values and live.

Considering that “informal economy”:

  • Is based on small people, companies and actions;
  • Have almost no rules besides those present in the ethics on each culture and “user”;
  • Changes very quickly;
  • AND is virtually open for anyone who wants to get into it.

I think we could call it “open economy“, avoiding negative meanings and opening it to more constructive approaches than “lets discover how to make these people pay more taxes”.

Panel 1 – Scope, Meaning, & Tensions

Alexa ClayThe Misfit Economy

It was a pity that Alexa couldn’t make it to the symposium, but at least we had the teaser video for her book / film that looks pretty amazing and you can be a sponsor on kickstarter.

 

THE MISFIT ECONOMY from invisible sessions on Vimeo.

Adam WhiteGroupshot.org

Adam White is the co-founder of Groupshot, where they work to bridge existing and informal systems with global patterns of innovation through technology, community, conditions and culture. Adam has worked on and consulted a variety of innovative development, infrastructure, and urban focused projects in over half a dozen countries.

Panel 1 – Adam White “Legible Economies” from Claro Partners on Vimeo.

Informalized X Formalized

He brings very interesting numbers, for example, right now unemployment reaches around 10% in United States, on the other hand in Thailand it is less than 1%. How could it be? Most of Thailandese are self-employed or entrepreneur  in fact, only 20%-30% say they have an employer. Which could mean, helping to get informal open economy business to rise can help a government to deal with unamployment rates – just like Keith said.

Extreme scenario

Adam talked about his experience in field, especially in Kibera, one of the most famous slums in Africa which is located aside to Nairobi, Kenya.

The place has between 200 thousand or 1.5 million people living in there – as an slum one could not expect very accurate demographic information right – but according to Adam in reality there is about 550 thousand people living in the area – that has the same size as the Central Park in NY.

As an extreme poor region, it is not strange to know that they have a HUGE amount of NGOs working in the region.

Unintelligible Business Systems

A big characteristic of this kind of environment is that is very hard to know what is going on. In this case Adam was studying the “transportation system”, an almost impossible to know number of vans – known as Matatus – that drive around the slum.

There is no “boss” so to speak, the whole thing seems to be run as a cooperative, and it works. They basically manage themselves to organize the business and do things like buy new vans and alike – apparently right now they have plans to start using buses.

Richard TysonCaerus

Richard Tyson is a Principal at Caerus Associates, a consultancy specializing on strategic design for complex environments and areas of conflict. His work is built on the idea that organizational success in a complex, uncertain world is more closely tied to ideas of resilience than to ideas of singular breakthrough success.

Panel 1 – Richard Tyson “Design Strategies for the Permanent Crisis” from Claro Partners on Vimeo.

Richard started saying that informal is not really an economy and there is a lot of negative things going on below these sheets.

He came with a with a very good question:

Why talk about informal economy? And why now?

That is simple. Because formal business are collapsing, and informal can be a response to it.

But the informal world is not just happiness. He talks about the MS-13, a gang originated in the 80’s in L.A., now spread allover California and other places, running businesses and running moving money from crime all around. Obviously, informally, in a “parallel economy”.

Not all flowers in the informal world…

Panel 2 – The Future of Money

Ben LyonKopoKopo

Benjamin Lyon is the VP of Business development of Kopo Kopo, a world-class platform to enable small- and medium-sized businesses to accept mobile payments and build relationships with their customers. Providing a safe and convenient gateway between M-pesa and merchants, Kopo Kopo aims to be the premier merchant acquirer for mobile in Sub Saharan Africa by 2015.

 

The thing is that in Kenya (as in many other places) the system simply doesn’t work, and again without official services, informal methods bloom, and there you have a very trustworthy payment – hello, why not banking? – system very efficient. I must say if it is as good as it looks I envy these guys, bringing money from Brazil to UK inside the same institutions was a pain – and a quite expensive one.

According to Ben one of the biggest problems at the small informal businesses – as restaurants, groceries and street sellers – is that it is very hard to keep track of sales. In fact they usually do not do it at all, sometimes the “translations archive” is a cup with a couple of receives. Not much right? Which brings a traditional management problem, “one cant manage what one cant measure”.

One important thing KopoKopo can do is to provide balances to business owners so they track not just how much money is coming in, but when – checking seasonality – and even knowing how loyal a certain costumer is! Basically, giving the information any cred-card company has – who spent how much where and when – back to the shop owner. How awesome is that?

This is also very good for governments and other institutions, because for the fist time they have a notion of how much money is running thought out the informal system, and who knows, maybe it helps to turn them into the new kind of formal someday.

Niti Bhan – Experientia and Prepaid Economy

Niti Bhan is head of emerging markets at Experentia Design and Founder of Emerging Future Labs. An established author and speaker, her research interests include the challenge of designing effective business and transaction models intended for those with irregular and unpredictable incomes. Niti also writes an inspiring blog on Prepaid Economy.

She is the head of Emerging Markets team at Experientia and have a lot to say about how people behave in places where the informal economy occurs and in the whole presentation Niti talked about how important flexibility is these contexts.

Firstly, “the only certainty is the uncertainty”. I know you may think this is almost an cliche, but in emerging markets it is more present, strong and impactful than other places – I should know, I am from Brazil right? – because one hardly know how much or when money will appear.

To deal with it people create flexible systems, such as the “prepayed economy”, which you probably have / had your pocket as a pay-as-you-go mobile phone. These form of purchases have a huge thing in common, the consumer controls it, not the companies.

This characteristic flows in these contexts based on the control of time – when you are going to pay – money – how much, many times by installments – and trust in the network – if someone will sell something to be payed after they must trust each other, right?

It reminds me of the classic discussion we had with foreign clients when talking about “price” in Brazil. After decades of economical crises, so many different currencies that it difficult to remember what was what,  Brazilians get used to installments and nowadays it is actually hard to buy something paying right away. It created an interesting behavior: people don’t recognize full prices anymore, most of the time they only recognize the installments value. For example, if you ask how much they payed fora TV they would say “around 100, 120 per month” for how long “around a year or so”. You do the math and see how much the difference is.

Following this logic stores present the installment value, not the full price – as you can see in the picture of the most famous retail chain in Brazil, Casas Bahia.

You can check her post about the symposium.

Scott Mainwaring

Scott D. Mainwaring is a senior research scientist in Interaction and Experience Research (IXR), Intel Labs. He co-leads the new Intel Science and Technology Center for Social Computing at the University of California, Irvine and chairs the external advisory board of the UCI’s Institute for Money, Technology, and Financial Inclusion.

Talking mostly about how easy is to track, store and transport huge amounts of data nowadays Scott argues that simply “anything that can be measured will be”.

As mentioned before, one of the biggest problems with the informal economy is the lack of information generated in the process – making it harder to track and to tax. A big innovation in this category is a  class of credit-card reader gadgets that can be plugged to smartphones, the most famous is Square, but Scott mentioned PagPop, which for my surprise is Brazilian – I’ve never heard about them before.

Scott also pointed out the concerns about data generation and the rise of movements like WeTheData aiming to discuss data generation and use by different institutions – from governments to companies.

Ignacio Mas

Ignacio Mas is a consultant on mobile money and technology-enabled models for financial inclusion.  He has been Senior Advisor in the Financial Services for the Poor program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and at the Technology Program at CGAP. He was previously Director of Global Business Strategy at Vodafone Group.

The first thing he did was to sign – in a very funny way – how some people think that real-time payment can magically lead to social inclusion.

In his opinion what between the various institutions surrounding this theme – financial services, business organizations, informal entrepreneurs and social networks between people – need a very important ingredient to coexist: trust. And the lasts are much more trustworthy than the firsts on the list – who can truly trust huge banks nowadays?

So, to create and move value one need to trust the system, meaning that it comes first. But what happens when the system doesn’t work or even doesn’t exist?

Well… than you start by the trust factor and build from the button-up. As in the case of M-Pesa – a good niche and a good value offered in a trustworthy community.
The lack of formal institutions leave a space where flecxible innovators can act, and this is what they do in these scenarios.

Panel 3 – Innovation & Opportunities

Steve Daniels

Steve Daniels is the Editor-in-Chief of Makeshift, a quarterly magazine and multimedia website focused on street-level ingenuity and invention around the world. Makeshift was inspired by research Steve conducted on informal systems of innovation in Kenya, published in the book Making Do.

 

Makeshift is a magazine focused on unexpected innovation sources – interesting enough  it was funded thought Kick-Starter.

(I lost most of this lecture because I was having a conversation after coffee, sorry guys).

Tim “Tai-Pan” Brown

Tim “Tai-Pan” Brown while born in Canada has been living and working in Asia for over 15 years in the mobile device & hardware component industries. He is the Editor-in-Chief of Shanzai.com a website dedicated to tracking the products, trends and reach of China’s local consumer electronic products with a particular focus on Chinese tablets.

This is the Tim Brown you are used to see promoting innovation, and ironically enough this one talked about copycats.

The expression “shanzhai” comes from the Chinese characters for “mountain fortress” or “mountain bandit” – Robin Hood? – and describe the coping culture Chine have experimented in the technology business, strongly present on mobile phones and increasing in size and power since Android allowed a more trustworthy system with millions of apps available, making it easier to any hardware manufacturer have their own device. The whole Shanzai market – from gadgets to fashion items – represents 600 billions problem in piracy. Not easy to ignore…

But are they only Ctrl+C – Ctrl+V machines? According to Tim, they are not.

They surely use big brands fame as a stair to sell their products, but with the time they improve and experiment in ways that the mainstream would never try – like a mobile phone with a lighter, razor or as a belt.

A very interesting – and provocative – argument is that Shanzai is more common in uor lives than we imagine – or like to accept.

Disney – Copied and re-branded classics of the literature, stories that people have been told for centuries, now repackaged – under copyrights – in such a way that it anyone make a princess doll as they were described in the old fairy tales, it is possible to Disney just sue the hell out of the person.

Zara – Lots of copycats (or at least look-alike) clothes hitting their stores worldwide.

And obvious the last big case… Samsung, which made the risk move of “coping” some of the features on iPad and have being sued by Apple since them, BUT keeping a very profitable part of the market with their many sizes variations. Now, how much a rounded rectangle glass can be a copy of another OR how much of a copy is the new Apple mini-iPad or how dumb is to call innovative a device slightly longer than the predecessor… Well… this is another story…

Here is a Wall Street Journal article mentioned by Tim called “In Praise of Copycats“, arguing that coping is not just harmless to many industries, it really can drive it to a better more profitable position.

Scott Smith

Scott Smith is the founder of Changeist, a foresight and innovation lab that develops and explores speculative futures. Scott´s work on macro trends and emerging scenarios focuses on established, informal and emerging practices, and is used by commercial clients, non-profits and NGOs to explore new opportunity spaces.

Firstly, he was very funny, a thing I admire on speakers, maybe because I like to make jokes myself…

Scott talked about informal and formal as an vivid interactive ecosystem, focusing on examples where the fast hacking thinking of the informal economy uses standard systems, sources and parts from the formal universe to create something new, such as the english supercomputer made out of Lego parts, the Open Source Satellite Initiative and  DIY (Do It Yourself) Biotechnology – yes, you are reading it right.

The thing is that communication technologies are allowing people to get in touch and develop projects together as never before, and these people also have access to technology that allow them to build, test and improve the work they develop together, going beyond the limits that the regular industry seems to have.

Closing Keynote – John Thackara

Soon

Hipsters – The “new” old kids on the block

You probably know a hipster. A guy or girl too cool for a lot of things. It is very likely to you to pass by a considerable quantity of hipsters when you walk around, go to work or party at night.

But you are not a hipster. They are.

I must confess that with my heavy metal / punk / grunge background I always found these skinny jeans, fake eyeglasses, bright sneakers and keffiyeh users an awful subculture. Those mustaches, foldable bikes and pretentious taste for ANYTHING, like cupcakes for example… CUPCAKES. We ended up in a time when there is gourmet cupcakes!

  • What is this “hipster thing” all about?
AdBusters’ journalist Douglas Haddow wrote an article in 2008 called “Hipster: The Dead End of Western Civilization” where he describes his research into the hipster world. A participative careful observation I could say, trying to discover how the hipsters’ interactions work.
The main insights I got from his article are that hipsters:
  1. adopt previous movements music and aesthetic references, but not necessarily concerned with the values / philosophy that those movements defended.
  2. are too self aware to have spontaneous moments, everything (the cloths, the dance, the gestures) is planned to look cool (even considering that it is too hard to define what exactly make them cool)
  3. are the first, so to speak, cultural movement born under marketeers and coolhunters microscope, meaning that as soon as they almost create something barely new, the industry is already there to stole it and sell it back to them. The phenomenon of how industry does that is described at the book “Rebel Sell” PBS’s Frontline “Merchants of Cool”, both very good and critique.
  4. don’t call themselves hipsters, probably because having no labels is a very important characteristic, hence anyone who calls himself a hipster is automatically detected as non hipster in a Bourdieu-like way.
  5. have no flag or shared philosophy. Take this self proclaimed hipster Steve Aoki discourse.

Douglas Haddow defends that these youngsters are “the dead end of western civilization” 1-because of their shallowness and 2- because they are simply not capable of creative thinking, they are not creating anything new, there is no shared values and no flags to defend.

I used to think that way, even having some doubts. Now I see it in other way.

After a graduation in design,  more than 5 years attending to design events in Brazil (you probably have a clue about how many hipsters study design, right) and 2.5 years living in São Paulo next to Augusta Street (probably the most hipster street in town), I think I can put a new idea on the table.

I think previous movements and the hipster phenomenon are, in both cases, covering a phase of life called “adolescence”, but now the Peter Pan generation, with protective parents and the weak economy to keep these younglings home with mommy and daddy, ends to extend their adolescence to almost their 30’s. So different from punks who used to let the mohawk go on their early 20’s to find a job and raise kids, today’s young people keep the fun of adolescence for more time (counting on an look that makes them somehow employable). Which in my opinion makes a lot of sense, considering that with modern medicine these people will probably live until 120 years of age.

Hipsters are the first generation to be on marketeers’ spotlight this hard and consume power at the same time. They are also the first “movement” born under the information tsunami the internet brought us, having easily access to information, references, everything!

  • My guess.

Previous generations had few information and time to decide what they should stand for, what probably drove them to embrace some values and movements without thinking too much. The hipsters, on the other hand, have plenty of time and an ocean of information and references to choose from (but ending up with the same mustaches and keffiyeh, anyway…).

For me it looks like the whole hipster phase of a person might be a brainstorm of cultural reference and new stuff (considering “new” anything that is new FOR HIM, not necessarily new in general), in this way I feel that after the phase, on their equivalent of shaving the mohawk, they ended up with a better clearance of the differences of the world because they have experienced all that.
Older fellas like Douglas expect more creativity from them and do not understand that hipsters were just collecting information, and when they start creative projects it can end up with awesome things.

For example, we 80’s kids know how painful is to use an analogical camera, and we love the digital version because of it’s obvious advantages. These new kids, on the other hand, have no idea about how it was, so they prefer to experiment with it (hello Lomo), and after that they can use the “good side” of it (aesthetic effects) with the mobile phone convenience, and there you have instagram.

How iPhone 5 should be to address Hipsters needs.

The point is: it might be good to have this “identityless” long teenage phase of experiments, if when they come out of it they are more prepared to deal with our modern multi-faceted world.

Or not.

PS:. Thanks to @Cuducos for the comments and references.