Thursday, March 7, 2013

TEDxYouth [Syd] :: The future is your internet(s)

[FEB 2013]
- speaker notes from a talk I gave at TEDx Youth (Sydney).
explaining the future of internets, information and devices to a bunch of 17yr olds

tl;dr Notes on the future of information, about the last 20yrs and the next 20 years; differences between old-school served pages and fluid big data; move from websites to streams, tools and signals; move from machines to wearable technology, enchanted objects and totems;  about the difference between integrated and disintegrated models for all this and finally on the possibility of openweb and multiweb scenarios.... and why this is cool.

[A marvelously well organised and enjoyable affair at Scotts School, organised by a student Lachlan and his crack team. It was just great to be a part of. I ended up giving a rather loose rendition of some thoughts on the future of the internet and I thought I'd put them up here].

BERG's little printer. Enchanting. 
Except when it feels naughty..
hi, My name is tom, I am 37 which probably makes most of you here at least half my age.

I don't have any videos, no new phones, no driverless cars. I don't even have any Google glasses to show you. I do have a pen. 


When I was your age the web was a few years old, there were only 10k servers and 10million web users.
It was the autumn of 1994, I had just had my first html lesson and I got my first email address.
Now there are  2.5 billion web users and  blah blah internet blah, huge. 

Not important.

What is important that it is a very specific kind of web - built on urls, servers, and websites.
we are still close to the physical technology of it. addresses and pages etc

I'm going to talk about your internet
I don't have any answers - but I do have a question - what you are going to do with it?

because the world doesn't stop here.  This, is not it
We don't stop the world and use screens and tablets and phones for the rest of time.

So let's just explore that world for 10 minutes.

The one filled with information that flows around you like magic, that appears in the most unusual places. 
I want to talk about this enchanted, magical world filled with information.

I'm going to talk about what information looks like:: Streams and Tools and Signals

AND how we get it ::
augmented vision, enchanted objects, totems, and, well, screens.

And I want to talk about what that might mean for you.

let's back up.


 between us, when I actually look at the internet I still feel I would rather make a drawing. I am back in that classroom in 1994 going - "this sucks". 

Maybe that's why we keep pushing because we're not happy with where we are yet. 

In 1999 I just gave up trying to be an artist and I joined a dotcom startup. The idea was cool, a sort of social network for elite universities. But, you know, it didn't take off. 

Timing is important. 
Plus no one had thought up the idea of a social network yet. So, in 2001 the bubble burst, we all lost our jobs and I sat in my back garden, with a borrowed laptop, trying to work out what a server was, and building my own web pages.

Now I work at Google for a group called the Creative Lab. 
it is filled with young, cool, incredibly smart people who really want to make a difference in the world.

Generally I work with culture, and what we can do with artists and cultural organizations around the world to find new forms in their practice using the internet and digital tools.

Not so much digitizing old culture - but instead creating new culture that could only exist using the internet. 

what does that mean?
I got to work with famous orchestras and musicians for our YouTube Symphony project, 
with curators at the Guggenheim showcasing video art, 
I went to Sundance to launch a film we made with Ridley Scott called Life in a Day. 
I was lucky enough to work with the Google Art Project, 
and we've worked with the Opera House here in Sydney on festivals like VIVID and Graphic. 

At the moment I am working with the Royal Shakespeare Company on a play about some fairies; a new way of teaching history, a book about maps…you know, stuff.

We get to play about at the intersection between the arts and digital .

And, frankly, sometimes that looks a little clumsy

How many of you have your own web page? (& I don't mean Facebook). 
That you coded and host?  It's pretty easy right? 

Now who has a smart phone? 
Who has coded an app on their phone? 
No me neither. Frankly that seems much harder. 
Which seems a shame because that was one of the things I liked the most about my internet.


But it does make me look at links in a new light. 
Who thinks the link is a great invention? By that I mean the hyperlink. the url, the button. the click?

It is the simplest, most elegant, universally comprehensible  way to initiate an action. 
The internet, my internet, was a series of pages on computers connected by links that you clicked.
Sounds old fashioned - but incredibly successful in organizing the worlds information. OLD SCHOOL.

In your  internet, on your phones, this is much less clear - can you click from one app to another?  What about in the real world? Do you want to be able to just click things in the real world? well I do and I wonder why I can't. I am frustrated.


The swipe, the scan, the press, speech, shake, bump, gesture, or better still - 'it just knows'?
[PROP:  I need an apple or a drink]

Now try to think of all the other things that could trigger an action.
If the device knows a few details that you choose to share, like who you are, where you are going, where you came from..
- if it has some context.

Then it could use your location, or the temperature, PROXIMITY, sounds, velocity, weather, signal strength, density, face recognition, emotion recognition, key words, the time, or any combination - all these become the equivalent of a trigger, a "click".

And they can work in combination with data from your calendar, social networks, your browser history, your preferences. 
There are gazillions of ways to click. 

As the internet becomes less tangible there is a lot more space to invent. Things can happen, just because. 
You no longer need to click a button. 

In your internet just being in a certain place at a certain time in certain weather could be enough to order you a frappacino or a large hot chocolate. TExt your girlfriend, or text your mum. 

So let's recap that:
In my internet the information was fixed in code that had to be read by browsers on a screen. 
In your internet the information is an endless flow of data that appears to you only when it is needed, where you need it.

At the moment that data seems to exist in three forms: 
Streams and Tools and Signals

The first are streams:
We all understand streams - 
timelines are a stream, Facebook.  feeds are a stream, content streams, youtube streams, playlists, news and entertainment streams 

Streams literally move past you like they are fixed in time. Like standing in a river. You can go back and find it if need be (like this talk) but generally it moves past you, endlessly -  it is only of that moment

(hmm let's not get into finite streams (books) and infinite streams (facebook) and finite streams within infinite streams (looping news footage on 24hour tv stations).


Then we have tools. Tools are like, well, tools. Just like we have maps or a camera or a notebook - we have maps, and camera's and notebooks on our digital devices.

Anything that let's you do something functional. Games are tools. They distract you. You pick them up, they distract you, you put them down. They're just like knitting, except you can't knit on an iPhone.

So streams and tools - that covers most stuff. But the last one is the interesting one. 

SIGNALS or alerts. 
Stuff on your phone that happens because of where you are, or what time it is. All the stuff we were just talking about. Things that can predict that you will want to tune in to a stream, or let you know you can get a discount at the Maccas over the road, or that it's your friends birthday. 

Information that is specific to you at that moment. Like knowing you're about to miss the bus you take. That information is only useful to you - and that's what contextual data means.

Thinking that way changes the world you live in, so we need to change the way we think. 

And how do we get these signals?

At the moment it's your phone. But we are around the corner from some pretty interesting wearable technology,  
Glasses, watches, bendable screens, transparent touch-screens, digital ink.

or think about physical tech like the Nike Fuel Bands which put personal data on your wrist - like an invisible trainer.

Meanwhile - the Dutch are testing "vibrobelts" that deliver navigation to cyclists through navigational nudges -  buzzing gently in the direction you need to move. 

The solution appears to make cyclists more aware of the world around them - they see where they're going. That's good right?

Phillips are trying to get their machines to sing to us rather than just beep to let us know how they're getting on.

Will the future of digital be delivered haptically, or sonically? Guess what - you decide.

Let's start with wearable tech. Devices that mediate the world for you via watches or phones, or  clothes, or say, glasses, or anything really - even subcutaneous technology. 

THIS IS information delivered to you without interrupting the rest of the world. 

Discretely showing you useful info, or recording the world the way you see it, or checking a map on your wrist or maybe you have that nail varnish that tells the time and shows you text alerts?  

AND Speech becomes incredibly important, as we begin to use the same form of communication for computers as we do for each other - what happens there? Will language change? 

And screens? 
Well, that has been with us for years and isn't going anywhere in a hurry. 
But the kinds of screens we will get used to will change. If a touch screen can be a piece of matte, flexible, transparent or opaque, like, paper or a curtain... what kind of screen would you make? What would you use it for?  

Totems - any one here know about tamigotchi? Imagine a future with lots of little computers that feel very personal to you, like a pen that spell checks for you. a little heart that gives you relationship advice? Little computers that are more like friends you can rely on for the right information - musical boxes from Spotify.
In fact I am a fan of the physical world. 
We like stuff.  There's a theory about this called biophillia - that we like natural things over synthetic.
wood, not plastic; on the beach, not under strip lights… wearing natural fibre not nylon. 

& if you buy that then we won't be happy until we get all this knowledge of the internet back into organic forms

Natural objects that show us the bits of information that are most useful to us, on bus tickets or table tops, or in the margin of the book you're reading, or whispered to you by the tree you're under.

How about wallpaper that responds to your mood,  keys that tell you when to leave, coffee cups that give us diet advice, pens that record while I'm taking notes.

Maybe it's cause I am old but I want to go back the physical world of nice things and just make them magical.

A normal world filled with enchantment. 

Like magic pens…

And where might all this end up? 

Firstly- I have no idea.

But this is another interesting bit - if you take a big view of all this.
To get the best system for managing all this information that interacts with you all the time - then you would expect to use one giant integrated service that holds all of your information for you and can join it up. 

But, then you wouldn't. For the same reason we all have 174 passwords. Or 1 password on 174 different sites.

we use simple tools to create complex solutions, rather than complex tools to achieve simple solutions 

- plus, as a species, we are naturally competitive - 
so it seems more likely to me that we will end up with a non-integrated world with lots of smaller, competitive companies to provide simple services than one big one. 

Maybe we end up with a fully open web where you can easily move between tools and streams and combine your alerts on screens, glasses, coffee cups, wallpaper and tamigochi.

Maybe we will end up with multiple internets for different aspects of our lives?  like to subscribe to tv networks. you have different internets for different functions. 
That's a matter of infrastructure. But how would the world look if there were multiple nets? 
Would it be like multiple galaxies, multiple dimensions?

and when you think about this you realize we're actually at an exciting but clumsy launch phase of the next internet(s).

And what does this mean to you? This contextual and invisible internet that exists around you. 

Well, you use it...
I can't actually bring myself to wrap this all up into something that means something.

My personal request is that you make art, But, that's just me. 

Certainly you should be thinking about it, about building enchanted worlds - and…remember, you are now where I was then.

Back when I was looking at my internet 20 years ago and thinking - this sucks. That's where you are now… looking at your internet. So it is an incredible time to be your age - and the world you create is going to blow us, and your parents away. 

So you have to go out and create the world that you want. 

Personally I look forward to the day when we arrive in a physical reality that we augment with data, I think it will be soon and don't worry that augmented reality today sucks. 
Because, in your life times, in your internets, it won't. 

Thank you very much

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