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Communications science & the internet of things

August 21, 2017 | By | No Comments

Recently, the University of Dresden confirmed Dr. Sven Engesser to be a professor. Among other things, he’ll be doing research into the Internet of Things (IoT). It’s 2017, there’s nothing unusual about a professorship in IoT. What stands out, though, is the discipline: Sven Engesser is a professor in communication science, which for a long time had somewhat dropped the ball when it came to IoT.

For full disclosure, Sven has been a long-time close friend of mine since we studied together in Berlin. While he pursued a career in academia a did tremendous research into social media and populism as well as climate change media coverage, I went on to work in the private sector as a strategic advisor and researcher in IoT and other emerging technologies.

Now, with his new professorship, I’m delighted to see that Sven will be researching how IoT changes communications, especially interpersonal communications, especially in and around the home. There’s a lot to dig into there: How do connected devices change how we communicate with each other and the built environment? What do personal assistants like Amazon Echo, Google Home, and Siri mean for the gatekeeper function to information? There are many, many questions worth pondering, and nobody better suited to do so.

As far as I can tell, communications sciences haven’t really dealt much with IoT. When I studied communication science at Freie Universität Berlin, I still had to struggle to even get an internet angle into my studies. This got better towards the end of my masters, as I had more freedom to choose my own subjects. (My final thesis examined the role of weblogs for the role of political journalists in Germany, ca. 2006. Spoiler: In Germany, they played practically no role at all, unlike in the US.) It was too early for IoT, of course, but I don’t think that IoT was covered much even since.

It don’t think it was always that way. Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) was, I believe, a hot area for communication studies and social theory for a long time, back to the 1960s. Then, with the advent of the internet, comms science seemed to zoom in on how the internet transformed media—meaning mass media, or the fracturing of the “mass” aspect due to personalized media consumption. But I digress.

I’m sure there is a slew of researchers from a comms sciences background pouring into this field, and I couldn’t be happier. This is a discipline that has a lot to add to this conversation, and a voice that needs to be heard besides all the computer scientists, interaction designers, and MBAs.

Personally I’m also very happy that Sven invited me to speak at one of the first sessions of his new fall/winter semester lectures on communications and IoT at Dresden University, where if logistics work out I’ll be chatting a bit about the practitioner’s side of IoT.

There’s a whole generation of comms science students who I hope I can give some relevant pointers to issues worthy of their research efforts: Responsible IoT, good data practices, inclusion & diversity, the gender angles of personal assistants, and dynamics of power & control in centralized networked services come to mind; there are many more.

Speaking about responsible IoT & user rights

August 9, 2017 | By | No Comments

Happy to announce that I’ll be speaking at not one, but two excellent conferences this fall about a topic I care deeply about: A responsible IoT and users’ rights. In other words, how we can make sure the Internet of Things works for everyone?

Das ist Netzpolitik!
On 1 September 2017 I’ll be speaking at Netzpolitik‘s annual conference Das ist Netzpolitik! (program), in German, about tensions inherent in the power dynamics of IoT as well as the regulatory environment: Das Internet der Dinge: Rechte, Regulierung und Spannungsfelder.

Underexposed
On 9 November 2017, also in Berlin, I’ll be at SimplySecure‘s conference Underexposed (program). My talk there is called The Internet of Sneaky Things. I’ll be exploring how IoT security, funding and business models, centralization and data mining, and some larger challenges around the language we use to consider the impact of data-driven systems combined all form a substantial challenge for all things related to IoT. But it’s not all bleak. There are measures we can—and through ThingsCon, we do—take.

I’m very much looking forward to both events, and to chatting with the other participants there. These are some great communities. If you’re there, please don’t be shy, so come and say hi!

08 Aug

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Monthnotes for July 2017

August 8, 2017 | By |

July was short work month: I’m just coming back online from a vacation that started in mid-July. We spent the time on the Spanish side of the Pyrenees and across Basque Country. Gorgeous and highly recommended!

Ordesa Valley

Ordesa Valley

Ordesa Valley

Ordesa Valley / Torla

A quick note: I’ll be doing the fall planning over the next few weeks, and as of now there’s some availability. If you’re looking into expanding your markets, creating new products, or understanding the environment of connected products & users better, get in touch now. First come, first serve!

So what happened last month and what’s coming up?

Writing, talks, media

Stories Connecting Dots

Podcast: Stories Connecting Dots

Markus Andrezak of überproduct kindly invited me to his excellent podcast Stories Connecting Dots. This is episode 12, titled “Ethics for The Internet of Things”. (Read my blog post.)

We had a lovely, intense chat about ethics for the internet of things (IoT) space, how to start new projects, and lots more.

Quoting from the show notes:

That lead to getting to know the community around the Internet of Things, which again led to organising the first Thingscon in Berlin. An epic experience in starting a conference, low on budget, high on energy and even the attention of Bruce Sterling.
During the conversation, you will hear a lot about how Peter sees the world. And as I did not choose Peter by chance, you will hear a lot of things on
  • how to start things off
  • how to open things up for a larger community
  • how to be inclusive
  • how to have impact as a person or a small boutique
  • how to work in early phases once things are in genesis so that your impact may still be there when things grow to utility

Learn more about this episode and subscribe to the podcast (RSS, iTunes)!

Markus decided to split up our chat into two episodes because we covered a lot of ground. Where this one focused on the topics above, the next one is going to be all about Shenzhen.

Future-proofing your org / forecasting, IoT, AI

Recently I gave a presentation for a large retailer on how to future-proof the organization. I focused on forecasting as a method, Joi Ito’s motto Compasses over Maps, and an eclectic selection of signals from the world of IoT, AI, and humans & machines working side by side.

It’s somewhat anonymized/cleaned up from concrete references. It’s also an elusive, rarely spotted set of slides in German!

ThingsCon Report: The State of Responsible IoT

Thanks to Bruce Sterling, our ThingsCon report on the State of Responsible IoT was featured on WIRED. Yay!

Bruce Sterling featured our report on WIRED
Bruce Sterling featured our report on WIRED

Read our ThingsCon Report: The State of Responsible IoT.

View Source: Shenzhen

At the most recent ThingsCon Salon Berlin, Shenzhen was featured heavily.

Among other things, we screened The Incredible Machine’s documentary of their quest to build a smart lock as part of a more responsible bike sharing service. This film was created as part of our joint research trips to Shenzhen that I also documented in View Source: Shenzhen.

So for context, I gave a brief introduction to Shenzhen.

My slides and the recorded talk:

Here’s The Incredible Machine’s documentary:

Learn more about View Source: Shenzhen.

Trustmarks for the Internet of Things

I’ve been working on two projects directly related to trust in IoT. I wrote up some thoughts on the underlying issues and challenges that are relevant to both here.

Trust and Expectations in IoT
Trust and Expectations in IoT

So what are the two projects?

The #iotmark initiative, co-founded by Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino and Usman Haque (both friends, collaborators, and ThingsCon alumni) tries to develop a consumer label for IoT products. Follow along and get involved at iotmark.wordpress.com. Together with Laura James of UK charity Doteveryone, my role is to look into governance structures. Some early thoughts about the kickoff event here.

For Mozilla, I’ve been doing research into the potential of trustmarks for IoT. The report should be done by the fall and will be published in full. (Disclosure: My partner Michelle Thorne works for Mozilla.)

ThingsCon

July was a big ThingsCon month!

With four ThingsCon events (Amsterdam, Berlin, Cologne, Darmstadt), we have a new record of events per month.

Above, you’ve already seen the publication of the video documentary that came out of our recent Shenzhen trips.

Our non-profit structure was approved in Germany (an e.V.) and just received its tax number. This being Germany, the tax number unlocks all the next steps, like opening a bank account, and essentially being able to conduct any official business.

We’re in conversations with local teams about (hopefully) founding several new ThingsCon chapters in Asia and Africa. This is super exciting to me! More on that soon. I’d love to see more chapters around the world, especially in the global South.

Zephyr Berlin

Get yourself a pair of Zephyr Berlin pants now—there’s only a few left.

We’re back in tinker mode. We prototyped new, extra-deep pockets. This was by far the most requested feature.


A few extra centimeters of depth.


Deep pockets are deep.

I'm pushing down the phone in the pocket so you can see the outline a little all the way down. Those are deep pockets!
I’m pushing down the phone in the pocket so you can see the outline a little all the way down. Those are deep pockets!

By the way, if you already have a pair and would like to upgrade, there’s no need to replace your current one: We had this change done by our local tailor and would encourage you to do the same. It’s easy, it’s just a few bucks, and most importantly it means keeping your clothes in use longer.

We’re still looking for examples of how people have modded, hacked or repaired their Zephyrs. If you have, send us a pic, please?

What’s on the horizon?

Outside the ongoing client projects there are a bunch of conference presentations coming up that I’m very much looking forward to:

I’ll be speaking at the conference Das ist Netzpolitik!. At the request of the organizers, even in German! The preliminary title of my presentation: Das Internet der Dinge: Rechte, Regulierung & Spannungsfelder.

Also, I’ll be at SimplySecure’s Underexposed conference to talk about The Internet of Sneaky Things.

Last but not least, I’m planning to head to Mozfest later this fall, too, for all of the stuff related to IoT labels and trustmarks mentioned above.

23 Jul

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Interviewed for Stories Connecting Dots

July 23, 2017 | By |

stories connecting dots

Markus Andrezak of überproduct kindly invited me to his excellent podcast Stories Connecting Dots. This is episode 12, titled “Ethics for The Internet of Things”.

We had a lovely, intense chat about ethics for the internet of things (IoT) space, how to start new projects, and lots more.

Quoting from the show notes:

That lead to getting to know the community around the Internet of Things, which again led to organising the first Thingscon in Berlin. An epic experience in starting a conference, low on budget, high on energy and even the attention of Bruce Sterling. During the conversation, you will hear a lot about how Peter sees the world. And as I did not choose Peter by chance, you will hear a lot of things on
  • how to start things off
  • how to open things up for a larger community
  • how to be inclusive
  • how to have impact as a person or a small boutique
  • how to work in early phases once things are in genesis so that your impact may still be there when things grow to utility

Learn more about this episode and subscribe to the podcast (RSS, iTunes)!

23 Jul

By

ThingsCon Salon Berlin July videos are up!

July 23, 2017 | By |

On 14th July we had another ThingsCon Salon Berlin. You can learn more about upcoming ThingsCon events here.

Here’s the presentations!

Gulraiz Khan

Gulraiz Khan (@gulraizkhan) is a transdisciplinary designer who works on civic engagement. As an urbanist, he is interested in developing grassroots engagement methods that can help communities thrive through political and environmental flux. He is currently working as a Lecturer in Communication & Design at Habib University in Karachi, Pakistan. Prior to this, he received an MFA in Transdisciplinary Design from Parsons The New School for Design in New York. He also serves at the Assistant Director for The Playground, the Centre for Transdisciplinarity, Design and Innovation at Habib University.

Peter Bihr

Peter Bihr (@peterbihr) gave a few remarks about the trip and available for an informal chat about Shenzhen.

Screening of View Source: Shenzhen

We screened the brand new video documentary about the ThingsCon trip to Shenzhen. Produced by The Incredible Machine with support from the Creative Industry Fund NL, this is the video counterpart to the written View Source: Shenzhen report we just published and shows the journey that The Incredible Machine had when trying to build a smart bike lock in Shenzhen.

Hope to see you soon at a ThingsCon event near you!

23 Jul

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14 Jul

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ThingsCon Salon Berlin & Shenzhen

July 14, 2017 | By |

Last night we had the third ThingsCon Salon Berlin (see all ThingsCon events).

To set up the Berlin premiere screening of The Incredible Machine‘s Shenzhen video documentary, I shared some impressions from the hardware ecosystem in Shenzhen, Huaqiangbei market, and our experience there. The slides consist mostly of photos, but I hope you’ll enjoy them.

The documentary is based on our recent joint trips to Shenzhen, as is the report I wrote about it, View Source Shenzhen.

Here’s the documentary, too: