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09 Mar

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Connected doll Cayla, connected TVs & the legal status of IoT in Germany

March 9, 2017 | By |

Over the last few weeks there’s been a lot of discussion around the security of connected toys. One case stood out not just because of insufficient security practices but also because in Germany it was declared illegal by Bundesnetzagentur (BNetzA, Germany’s Federal Network Agency).

BNetzA referred to §90 of the telecommunications law which states, among other things, that surveillance equipment is mostly illegal and that everyday appliances may not be equipped for surveillance (i.e. no audio/video recording “disguised” as everyday devices that purportedly serve a different purpose). Cayla, so BNetzA’s argument (English version) roughly, is a spy tool disguised as a toy; what’s worse, the kids using it have no chance of knowing what’s going on, and neither do the parents:

The Bundesnetzagentur has taken action against unauthorised wireless transmitting equipment in a children’s toy and has already removed products from the market.

“Items that conceal cameras or microphones and that are capable of transmitting a signal, and therefore can transmit data without detection, compromise people’s privacy. This applies in particular to children’s toys. The Cayla doll has been banned in Germany,” says Jochen Homann, Bundesnetzagentur President. “This is also to protect the most vulnerable in our society.”

Concealed surveillance device Any toy that is capable of transmitting signals and that can be used to record images or sound without detection is banned in Germany. The first toys of this type have already been taken off the German market at the instigation of the Bundesnetzagentur and in cooperation with distributors.

There is a particular danger in toys being used as surveillance devices: Anything the child says or other people’s conversations can be recorded and transmitted without the parents’ knowledge. A company could also use the toy to advertise directly to the child or the parents. Moreover, if the manufacturer has not adequately protected the wireless connection (such as Bluetooth), the toy can be used by anyone in the vicinity to listen in on conversations undetected.

Further products to be inspected The Bundesnetzagentur is to inspect other interactive toys and, if necessary, will take further action. In this respect the requirements of section 90 of the German Telecommunications Act must be met: Objects must, by their form, purport to be another object or are disguised as an object of daily use and, due to such circumstances or due to their operation, are particularly suitable for intercepting the non-publicly spoken words of another person without his detection or for taking pictures of another person without his detection. This also applies to customised devices.

Ever since reading the bit about concealed surveillance in objects of daily use I’ve been wondering about where to draw the line. Smart fridges? Connected TVs? Game consoles? Smart home hubs?

I decided to send an inquiry to BNetzA’s press office and picked two: Connected TVs (because they are disguised as an object of daily use) & smart home hubs (because they are particularly suitable for intercepting the non-publicly spoken words).

They replied promptly and were very helpful. Here’s what they said (Original German reply below):

Regarding the devices you named, the crucial point is the question if they are suitable for recording non-public conversations unnoticed or for recording images of a person unnoticed.

In other words: Is it clear to everyone that the device has a microphone or a camera? According to the current interpretation of §90 of the telecommunications law this is the case, for example, for cell phones and baby phones.

For devices that are controlled by voice or gestures we haven’t come to a final assessment yet.

So that’s pretty interesting and shows just how much we’re in a transition period we are with this. One one hand it’s a matter of reasonable consumer expectations: Would a regular consumer reasonably know what they’re buying? The other is a question of interfaces: If this is how a thing is controlled, is it then an obvious (or obvious enough) part of using the device to make it ok?

Ame on UX   security for iot   thingsconAMS
Ame Elliott making the case for UX & IoT Security at ThingsCon Amsterdam. (Watch her presentation.)

For designers and makers of connected devices that include a microphone or camera, this is tricky terrain. For a while, expect some level of uncertainty. This is something to keep an eye on. In the meantime, obviously make sure to maintain good security practices. No matter what the legal ruling on this larger question ends up being, if your device isn’t secure you got much bigger problems to begin with.

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Here’s the original reply from Bundesnetzagentur’s media relations office in German:

“Hinsichtlich der von Ihnen genannten Geräte ist ein entscheidender Punkt die Frage, ob sie dazu geeignet sind, das nicht öffentlich gesprochene Wort eines anderen von diesem unbemerkt abzuhören oder das Bild eines anderen von diesem unbemerkt aufzunehmen.

Andersherum gefragt: Ist sich Jeder darüber im Klaren, dass das Gerät über ein Mikrofon verfügt oder eine Kamera eingebaut ist? Nach der Gesetzesbegründung zu § 90 Telekommunikationsgesetz ist das zum Beispiel gegeben bei Mobiltelefonen und bei Babyphones.

Dies ist von der Bundesnetzagentur hinsichtlich Geräten, die mit Sprache oder gar Bewegungen gesteuert werden, noch nicht abschließend bewertet.”

05 Mar

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Monthnotes for Feb 2017

March 5, 2017 | By |

February came and went quickly, with lots of conversations about robots & algorithms as well as upcoming projects. Also, plenty of planning, writing, admin. Let’s jump right in…

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27 Feb

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Would you live in a robot?

February 27, 2017 | By |

Would you live in a robot?
“Would you live in a robot?” One of the lead questions at Vitra’s Hello, Robot exhibition.

“Would you live in a robot?” is one of the questions posed at #hellorobot, an excellent current exhibition at Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, Germany. The overall theme of the exhibition is to explore design at the intersection of human & machine – here meaning robots, algorithms, AI and the like.

Have you ever met a robot?
The entrance to Vitra Design Museum during the Hello, Robot exhibition, February 2017.

It’s rare that I travel just to attend an exhibition. In this case it was entirely worth it as #hellorobot addresses some themes that are relevant, salient, and urgent: How do we (want to) live in an age of increased automation? What does and should our relationship with machines look like? What do we think about ascribing personality and agency to machines, algorithms and artificial intelligence in their many forms?

These are all questions we need to think about, and quickly: They are merely early indicators of the kind of challenges and opportunities we face over the next decades, on all levels: as an individual, as businesses, as a society.

Coupland
One of Douglas Coupland’s Micro Manifestos at Vitra.

The above-mentioned questions are, in other words, merely a lead-up to larger ones around things like agency (our own and the algorithms’) and governance, around the role of humans in the economy. A concrete example, if robots take care of the tasks we now pay people to perform (factory work, cleaning up the city, doing research, generating reports…) and if then (under the current model) only 20% of people would be in jobs, what does that mean, how do we earn a living and establish our role and status as a productive and valued member of society?

This example of robots doing most of the work doesn’t strike me as an abstract, academic one. It seems to be blatantly obvious that we need to rethink which roles we want humans to play in society.

This example of robots doing most of the work doesn’t strike me as an abstract, academic one. It seems to be blatantly obvious that we need to rethink which roles we want humans to play in society. All vectors aim at an economy which won’t require—nor be able—to employ 95% of the working-age population full-time. Yet, at the same time per-capita value creation rises and rises, so on a societal level—big picture!—we’re better off. So either we figure out how to handle high double-digit unemployment rates or we reframe how to think about less tasks requiring humans to do, how to unlock the potential of all the newly freed-up time in the day in the lives of millions upon millions of people, and what we want the role of people to be going forward.

(Ryan Avent’s book The Wealth of Humans seems like a good place to read up on possible scenarios. Thanks to Max & Simon’s recommendation in their newsletter The Adventure Equation. I haven’t read it yet but it’s the top of my to-read pile.)

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Have you met a robot?
“Robots are tools for dramatic effect.” Bruce Sterling quote at Vitra.

hellorobot provides a great snapshot of the artistic and commercial landscape around robots and AI. From artistic explorations like good old manifest, an industrial robot arm perpetually churning out algorithmically generated manifestos that’s been in ZKM since ca. 2008 or Dan Chen’s much more recent CremateBot which allows you to start cremating the skin and hairs you shed as you go through your live, to the extremely commercial (think Industry 4.0 manufacturing bots), everything’s here. The exhibit isn’t huge, but it’s sweeping.

Dan Chen's Crematebot
Dan Chen’s CremateBot at Vitra.

I was especially delighted to see many of our friends and ThingsCon alumni in the mix as well. Bruce Sterling was an adviser. Superflux’s Uninvited Guests were on display. Automato (Simone Rebaudengo‘s new outfit) had four or five pieces on display, including a long-time favorite, Teacher of Algorithms.

Trainer of Algorithms
Automato’s Teacher of Algorithms at Vitra.

I found it especially encouraging to see wide range of medical and therapeutic robots included as well. An exoskeleton was present, as was a therapeutic doll for dementia patients. It was great to see this recent toy for autistic kids:

Therapy doll
A doll for dementia therapy from 2001 at Vitra.

Leka smart toy
A toy for autistic kids at Vitra.

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One section explored more day-to-day, in the future possibly banal scenarios. What might the relationship between robots and babies be, how could parenting change through these technologies? Will the visual language of industrial manufacturing sneak into the crib or will robots be as cutesy and cozy as other kids toys and paraphernalia?

My First Robot
My First Robot at Vitra.

My First Robot
Will the visual language of industrial manufacturing enter the baby crib?

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When the smart home stops
What happens when your smart home stops or fails? Lovely photo project at Vitra.

“Would you live in a robot?” The question was likely meant to provoke. Even though clearly some of the older and more traditional German and Swiss visitors around me seemed genuinely to be challenged to consider their world view by the exhibition, I’d go out on a limb: In 2017 I’m not sure the question is even a bit provocative, even though we might want to rethink how we consider our built environment. We might not all live in a robot/smart home. However, I kind of arrived at the exhibition in robots (I had flown in, then taken a cab) and I constantly carry a black box full of bots (my smart phone). Maybe we need updated questions already, like “How autonomous a robot would you live in?”, “What do you consider a robot?”, or “Would you consider yourself a cyborg if you had an implanted pacemaker/hand/memory bank?”

“What makes a good robot, one you’d like to live with?”

Or maybe this leads us off on a wild goose chase. Maybe we just need to ask “What makes a good robot, one you’d like to live with?” Robot, of course, is in this case used almost interchange with algorithm.

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hellorobot is great, and highly recommended. However, the money quote for me, the key takeaway if you will, is one that I don’t think the curators even considered—nor should they have—in their effort to engage in a conversation around automation and living with robots.

It’s a quite from a not-so-recent Douglas Coupland project, of all things:

Coupland
One of Douglas Coupland’s Micro Manifestos

“The unanticipated side effects of technology dictate the future” — Douglas Coupland

I think this quote pretty much holds the key to unlocking what the 21st century will be about. What are the unintended consequences of a technology once it’s deployed and starts interacting with other tech and systems and society at large? How can we design systems and technologies to allow for max potential upside and minimal potential downside?

This is also the challenge at the heart of ThingsCon’s mission statement, to foster the creation of a human-centric & responsible IoT.

Go see the exhibit if you’re in the vicinity. You won’t regret it.

ps. For more photos, see my Flickr album. Also, a heads-up based on personal experience: The exhibition opens at 10am, as does the café. There’s no warm place to hang out before nor a cup of coffee to be had, and the museum is in the middle of nowhere. Plan your arrival wisely.

23 Feb

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Living with Alexa

February 23, 2017 | By |

I’d like to make a case for being careful with spreading second- or third-hand stories and rather on gathering first-hand experience of interesting products and services. I believe it’s the best way to feel our way into a future shaped by emerging technologies, and to make informed decisions about them. So in the name of science, I lived with Amazon Echo/Alexa for a week. Here’s my experience.

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We talk a lot about smart homes, about connected domestic devices, about conversational interfaces and artificial intelligence. A surprising amount of what’s talked about and what’s reported on is word of mouth: I heard somewhere that Amazon Echo ordered a thousand doll houses and boxes of cookies after someone mentioned it on TV! The makers of the doll houses couldn’t believe their luck, and consumers are screwed!

(For the record: In reality, it was likely “a handful” of dollhouse orders; it’s not trivially simple to order—let alone unknowingly—via the device; and Amazon has a full refund policy for physical products ordered this way.)

Word-of-mouth information is bad for all kinds of reasons

This word-of-mouth information is bad for all kinds of reasons. (One could cynically argue that it perfectly fits our times of so-called “post-factual” news and politics.) I believe there’s plenty of reason to be critical of connected services, and even more convinced consumers of (or everyone exposed to) connected services should be able to make informed decisions about their use.

For that reason, I think we should expect from both journalists and everyone in the tech scene (expert peer group!) to be careful about what information and narrative we spread: Instead of rumors we should focus on facts and first-hand experience.

I make a point of frequently testing emerging technologies even when I’m not convinced they’ll be a good fit for my life

This is why I make a point of frequently testing emerging technologies even when I’m not convinced they’ll be a good fit for my life, but that are misunderstood or discussed heavily but with little informational basis. This way I’ve kickstarted smart watches, worn fitness trackers, spit in tubes to have my DNA analyzed. None of it killed me; a lot of it was bland and boring; every time I learned a lot, even if it was only that these technologies offered a lot less risk & reward than the hype suggested.

So we lived for a week with an Amazon Echo and it’s voice-controlled assistant Alexa.

First, for clarification: Amazon Echo is the physical full-size device; Dot is a smaller version; Alexa is the software backend that’s also available as a platform to build apps (in Amazon speak, skills) on through an API.

Second, I’d like to acknowledge that this isn’t exactly pioneering work: the Echo has been available in the US since mid-2015; only in Germany it didn’t come out until fall of last year (Wikipedia). I’d had the chance to learn a bit of its design process and decision making earlier at conference (like Interaction15), so I had a fairly good idea what to expect.

Now, what’s it like to live with a device that aims to be a smart home hub, that is often said to listen in on you permanently (partially true, but likely not in the creepy way often suggested), and that might follow you around on the web: More than once in conversations about Alexa people mentioned that other people had experienced online ads after mentioning a product in front of Alexa. This latter was always related in a friend-of-a-friend context: Nobody could point to a source or documentation, it was all hearsay. Case in point.

So from experience I can say that yes, Alexa might respond to things on TV, but it’s very rare. In an interview I recently gave for RBB Kulturradio (DE) on smart homes and their implications, the host half-joked on the air that ordering Alexa to play their channel during his show might boost their listenership stats; alas he failed to get the syntax right. (I tried to replicate it later by playing his recording to Alexa. Nothing happened.)

Much more annoyingly, it often responds to mentions of similar-sounding names, like Alex. But what might be the most frustrating is that fairly frequently it simply wouldn’t respond when I addressed it, because I wouldn’t stick to the exact tonality of the voice training I had done during setup. And if it did, it often would misunderstand—this may be partially because I mumbled or got caught up mid-sentence while trying to get the syntax right, or because I wasn’t familiar with what orders were OK to give and what was out of scope. I imagine this is part of a learning curve; a week in I could play most music without a hitch (except M.I.A., see below).

It got really, really bad once we switched Alexa to German. Playing music got really tricky. The music streaming service default I had set up before in the English-language interface (in this case Spotify) had to be set up once more. English band names would have to be pronounced in English (they’re names after all), but often would be misinterpreted. Trying to play M.I.A., Alexa would always, 100 percent of the time, play German band Mia. (If you compare the two, you’ll agree this isn’t a mixup you’re likely to enjoy.) It’s perfectly understandable this is a tough nut to crack, but hey, it really shouldn’t be the users’ problem.

How seamlessly the voice and screen control go hand-in-hand is really a thing of beauty: If it works, this is a glimpse into a near future that I’d kinda like.

That said, in English playing music was quite pleasant. The interface is OK enough to make it work. If there’s a mix-up, it’s easy to correct or change course through the Spotify app on your phone. How seamlessly the voice and screen control go hand-in-hand is really a thing of beauty: If it works, this is a glimpse into a near future that I’d kinda like.

But beyond playing music, we couldn’t find any real use case for Alexa. Our house doesn’t have many smart home appliances, and none of the ones we do can interact through Alexa—as far as we know, that is. Alexa apps (“skills”) are legion, but not discovered easily.

Setting a timer is also easy, so in the kitchen these two things alone—playing music and setting timers hands-free—might make for an appealing use case. Almost anything else I found a little disappointing: “How long to get to Hot Spot Restaurant?” failed to produce a result because there’s no routing or mapping services available by default. (Or if there is, I couldn’t find out how to find it.) Online searches for anything are likely to return sub-par results as they’re not powered by Google but Bing, and I still find the difference enormous.

If you’re after dad jokes, you’re in luck.

Alexa is choke-full of easter eggs, like “Alexa, tell me a joke.” So if you’re after dad jokes, you’re in luck.

Otherwise, I noted that most people who hadn’t spent any time with an Echo were a little cautious (“Is it safe to speak in front of it?”) or curious to test the interface (“Alexa, what’s the weather?”, “Alexa, how are you?”, “Alexa, buy a doll house and some cookies, haha!”). This kind of breaks the fourth wall, but of course only highlights how much of a learned behavior it is to interact with a voice-controlled digital assistant. A voice controlled digital assistant is very emphatically not an intuitive interface because we don’t usually talk to our appliances.

A voice controlled digital assistant is very emphatically not an intuitive interface because we don’t usually talk to our appliances.

This is a point that Alexander Aciman makes very clear in a rough take-down of Alexa on Quartz. There he argues that the current manifestation of Alexa isn’t the future of AI, it’s a glorified radio clock, and I tend to agree. Partly it’s that there are some essential default apps missing, including a better search engine integration (where Google obviously has a huge advantage, but competition between the what Bruce Sterling calls the Stacks means Amazon won’t use Google’s search): “Her response to 95% of basic search queries is ‘I can’t find the answer to the question I heard.'” But even once a skill is activated, describes Alexander point-on, “You can’t say ‘Alexa, find my phone,’ but instead must ask say ‘Alexa, ask TrackR to find my phone.’ And God forbid you should accidentally forget the name TrackR, you’ll need your phone to look it up.”

This makes for a rougher-than-necessary user experience. The Alexa companion app tries to make up for this by constantly surfacing new skills and tutorials. This is necessary for sure, but also total kludge.

In short, I found myself using Alexa only to play music—an activity we were set up for perfectly before Alexa. Despite the maybe rough criticism above, there’s something interesting there. It’s important to look at this as an early technology. Things will likely improve and start working just a little better. Interesting use cases might emerge over time.

Alexa is a little too much like simply having a physical token of Amazon, the company, in your living room, like having a print-out of a corporate powerpoint framed on your wall.

As things are today, Alexa doesn’t feel particularly smart, or threatening. Instead Alexa is a little too much like simply having a physical token of Amazon, the company, in your living room, like having a print-out of a corporate powerpoint framed on your wall. What it’s not is a solution to any problem, or a great convener of convenience. Instead it feels very explicitly like it’s the stacks, manifested.

19 Feb

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Founding ThingsCon e.V.

February 19, 2017 | By |

Note: Cross-posting from the ThingsCon blog.

We’re happy to announce that we’re setting up ThingsCon e.V.—a Germany-based membership association—to further promote ThingsCon’s mission: To foster the creation of a human-centric & responsible IoT.

It’s a not-for-profit structure with 7 founding members (as German regulations require) and will be open for new members once the registration process is completed, most likely in April 2017.

A few days ago, we gathered the founding members to kick off the official process (in alphabetical order):

Having this not-for-profit structure will help us interface with other organizations more easily in terms of both advocacy and funding. After all, it’s easier for any organization to interface with another organization rather than a lose network of collaborators backed by a small company as has been the case before.

Simultaneously, our friends in the Netherlands have also set up a foundation for ThingsCon Amsterdam. So we’re very happy that our little rebel alliance for responsible IoT keeps growing and maturing.

It now includes a “core” ThingsCon group made up one association in Germany and the Netherlands plus local organizers, plus (helping out wherever needed) the founders’ companies (The Waving Cat in Germany and The Incredible Machine & info.nl in the Netherlands). And we work very closely and side-by-side with a number of other organizations with aligned values and mission statements including the Just Things Foundation, Mozilla’s Open IoT Studio and others.

With this organically grown, trust-based setup and two associations that make it even easier to join and support our shared cause and mission, we’re in a great position to do what we set out to do: Promote a responsible IoT and make sure that IoT works well for everyone.

16 Feb

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Interview: ThingsCon & responsible IoT on RBB

February 16, 2017 | By |

RBB Kulturradio RBB, a public broadcast radio in Berlin, invited me to chat about smart homes and responsible IoT. So I put my ThingsCon hat on and headed over to their studio earlier today. You can listed to the stream (in German) over on their website:

RBB Kulturradio Tagesthema: Wie intelligent sollen unsere Geräte werden?

A few things were noteworthy to me.

  • Of course a short show like this (with two interview partners and call-in listeners) can only ever scratch the surface.
  • IoT in general and smart homes are areas both simultaneously so vague and concrete that everybody has an opinion and projects all kinds of hopes and fears. (Which is why I advocate breaking IoT discussions down into the most concrete areas—or arenas—possible.)
  • Lots of fears are of course proxies in which one particular technology or feature stand in for a larger personal or societal fear, like unemployment through automation, loss of control, or invasions of privacy.
  • Somewhat unexpectedly to me, Roombas featured prominently. The show’s host, at least one caller, and I all have a Roomba at home and it seems it’s one of the most relatable, most universally considered “useful” appliances in the connected home. That is, if you want to include a Roomba as part of the connected home suite – after all, most models aren’t connected to anything. However in conversations before, during, and after the show people mentioned the issues with the complexity of formerly extremely easy-to-use appliances like connected TVs or radios.

This show is as consumer-oriented a show as there could be rather, so listeners are unlikely to be involved in shaping IoT as practitioners. So we didn’t get to talk much about ethical or responsible IoT as much as I’d hoped to. But it’s also very clear that the topics we’ve been tackling with ThingsCon are arriving in the most mainstream circles, and that there’s a lot of work to do.

Users/consumers/citizens don’t really trust connected systems, and maybe they shouldn’t. Or rather, they shouldn’t unless they know these systems have been designed deliberately to be responsible, ethical, and built for humans. Which is exactly what the ThingsCon community works towards.

During the interview I also mentioned labels or trust marks for connected products/services/systems. A consumer-readable, simple labeling systems to allow for better informed decisions is, in my mind, essential going forward. I’ll certainly try to poke at this and see if we can make something happen, one way or another. I think this won’t be easy, but is far from impossible given the right partners—and I’m confident we can find them.

13 Feb

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Top Projects of 2016

February 13, 2017 | By |

2016 was a tremendously productive year. It’s particularly great to see the range of projects The Waving Cat was involved in. Here are projects that I’d like to highlight.

ThingsCon global

For ThingsCon it was a big year. When I co-founded ThingsCon none of us had any idea about how big this project might grow within just years. From a single conference in Berlin, ThingsCon has grown into a global community (and dare-I-say, a movement?) of practitioners with the mission to foster the creation of a responsible & human-centric Internet of Things. It’s also spread to 20 or so events around the globe, from small meetups to full-blown multi-day conferences. Going forward we’re working on expanding beyond events and into knowledge sharing (our LABS program), advocacy (figuring out how to work with policy makers and consumer protection organizations) and lean into other opportunities as they present themselves. And the global event footprint keeps growing, too! On top of local meetups we’ll see ThingsCon conferences in Amsterdam, London and Shenzhen. <3

Smart Cities & the German federal government

One of the most fascinating client engagement of the last few years was to provide research and policy recommendations to the Federal German Government on how to think about smart cities from a perspective of citizen-empowerment. So Prof. Dr. Christoph Bieber and I co-authored a report as part of a big government publication on urbanization in the 21st century. (Details and an executive summary in this blog post.)

Understanding the Connected Home

Understanding the Connected Home

Together with Michelle Thorne, head of Mozilla’s Open IoT Studio (and full disclosure, my wife) I co-wrote a second, fully revised edition of our ebook Understanding the Connected Home—Thoughts on living in tomorrow’s connected home.

The Good Home

Teaming up with long-time collaborator and good friend Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino of Designswarm and Good Night Lamp we explored ideas for 21st century home living in The Good Home project in a series of workshops and exhibitions. I was very happy (and more than a little proud) that we got to exhibit as part of Fuori Salone in Milan, London Design Festival & the V&A, as well as Mozfest. Alongside the many collaborator projects we featured, I was personally most closely involved in one piece I helped put together: The Privacy Machines Project.

Google IoT Policy

Fascinating work for both the content and the scale of its potential impact: I helped Google HQ draft a global policy around IoT. Like much of the work here at TWC, details are confidential as the work is of an internal nature. Suffice it to say I’m quite proud of the final results and am looking forward to see the results roll out globally.

Co-chaired Interaction16 conference

Interaction, IxDA’s annual interaction design conference, is maybe the most relevant event in that space. I was honored (and very, very happy) to be invited to co-chair it along with Sami Niemelä, and run it together with the fantastic whole gang of the Helsinki chapter of IxDA. (For details see this blog post.)

View Source: Shenzhen

The majority of electronics and connected products (IoT!) are made in Shenzhen, China. So we wondered if it’s possible to leverage Shenzhen’s hardware ecosystem for ThingsCon’s mission—to foster the creation of a responsible & human-centric IoT. A fact-finding and relationship-building expedition was in order! So we got together a merry group of allies from that space: Our long-time collaborators and friends of the Dutch Just Things Foundation and Mozilla’s Open IoT Studio and went to visit Shenzhen. Thanks to our local contact (and now also host of ThingsCon Shenzhen) David Li of the Shenzhen Open Innovation Lab (SZOIL) we had the opportunity to see and learn a lot, and get a great first-hand experience of how stuff gets done (and made) in Shenzhen.

View Source: Things in Shenzhen (beta) from The Incredible Machine on Vimeo.

This short video shares some of our impressions. More importantly, we’ll be back in April to also show around a delegation of another 20 or so European IoT practitioners, participate in the ThingsCon Shenzhen conference, and document at much greater depth what we learn there in order to keep building relations between the European and Shenzhen IoT scenes and promote a responsible IoT.

Dearsouvenir

The company’s first official spin-off, travel and souvenir magazine Dearsouvenir is a joint venture between The Waving Cat, Netzpiloten, and Carry-On Publishing.

Zephyr Berlin

A bit of an outlier project at first glance, Zephyr Berlin is also a deep dive into learning about manufacturing and distribution of physical products. In a (very part-time) team effort, between three friends we designed, crowdfunded, manufactured, and delivered a small batch production of premium pants that are versatile, highly functional and stylish, and travel extremely well. If this was a one-off or if there’s more to come isn’t decided yet, but it was the best first-hand lesson about physical manufacturing we could have wished for.

And to top it all off, I was…

Listed as Top 100 Influencer in IoT

Postscapes included me in their list of Top 100 Influencers in IoT. (Thank you!)

There was plenty more going on, including roles on juries or as a reviewer; some smaller events I helped put together; and other, more low-key collaborations. But the projects above were real highlights for both the company and me personally. I’m incredibly grateful and happy for the opportunity to work on such a wide range of projects and with so many smart, dedicated, interesting people on things that matter.

If you think my perspective can help your organization, ping me. 2017 is shaping up to be a great and interesting year, and I will continue to promote the ideas of a responsible IoT as well as the notion that good ethics and good business go hand in hand.