Sunday, 17 October 2010

Digital Futures 2010 - Day 2

Microsoft's Andrew Herbert keynote launched day 2: 'New Technologies for the Digital Economy' on telemedicine, directing treatments to individuals (by mathematical proofs), e-science outputs, virtual worlds, ageing populations and Bayesian inference. Let's just hope Andrew didn't stick around to hear another presenter rant I hate Windows during her talk later that day...

The first session of the morning, entitled 'Digital Experimentation (In the Wild)', started with a team from Glasgow University on 'Mass Participation in User Trials'. Two mobile applications were presented: the World Cup Predictor and Hungry Yoshi. I just can't help thinking, are these really solutions to the pressing challenges that the Digital Economy was conceived to solve?...

SiDE Ph.D .student Kyle Montague talked about ‘Adaptive Design’, treating users as individuals and the IndoorNav project. He went on to point out that adaptive systems, like Amazon ‘remembering’ what you bought and recommending future purchases, actually have skewed models of who we are… since Amazon is completely unaware of his passion for BBQs!!

The session concluded with Adam Moore from Horizon talking about ‘Positioning in the Wild – Illustrating Emerging Issues’, augmented reality, navigate [the information space] by navigation, narrating the past and present by overlaying photos and annotations on mobile applications. The example shown centred around the now non-existent pub, ‘Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem’ – a great starting point for any research project!

This talk raised lots of questions for the geographers in the house, including: How do you define ‘place’?... Should we be adopting this kind of approach – real-time images, GPS, annotations, historical facts, and narratives – within the Enterprise & Culture or Natural Resource Conservation projects?

The morning session that followed, ‘Emergent Ideas’, took the quick fire format – ensuring the talks were snappy and engaging.

George Kuk presented the ‘Innovator’s Dilemma: Digital Inclusion vs. Innovation’ and ubiquitous computing, asking is such IT and Internet access a ‘right’. George also discussed codified knowledge – computer vs. information literacy – and posing social complementarity (i.e. reaching out to user communities) as the only solution.

Another topic with strong links to our Enterprise & Culture projects came from Ann Light, presenting ‘ and Ethical Marketing 2.0’. The talk focused on consumer interfaces and ethical information and the effort to make the provenance of goods more visible to all parties involved in the transaction, e.g. throughout the production, shipment and trade of, say, Indian coffee. Some key challenges arose during the project, including issues surrounding ethical credentials (which party gets what?), political sensitivity… and the question of the responsibility of researchers.

Paul Egglestone and Jon Rogers presented the next, rather refreshing, quick fire talk: ‘Bespoke: Increasing Social Inclusion through Community Journalism and Bespoke Design’. The title pretty much says it all! The Bespoke project puts the ‘grass roots’ approach into practice, asking the community directly about the types of products or services they would like. Paul and Jon achieve this, not by traditional methods such as surveys or questionnaires, but through the medium of journalism and community news as insight tools.

The Bespoke project trained up and commissioned community reporters, for the estate, from the estate itself. After distributing their stories in community newspapers and identifying themes, physical outputs were built. This culminated in the creation and deployment of ‘digital buskers’. Is there any scope for a Bespoke-type tool when engaging with, and conducting research in, rural communities?

A series of transport-related quick fire talks followed – are you listening Accessibility & Mobilities?... (Disappoint for John N though, no mention of taxis!).

SiDE reviewed their work on ‘Digital Transport: Using DE Systems to monitor and assess the technical and driving performance of electric vehicles’. Their research included identifying the related issues (power consumption/regeneration, driving performance, road topology, weather conditions etc). The end goal of mapping the perceived vs. projected range (e.g. how far can an electric vehicle travel along a particular trajectory) then considered all of these measurements and challenges... with surprising results! What was even more surprising was that after a day and half, this was the first mention of ‘rural communities’!!

Nikolay Mehandjiev’s talk on ‘Balancing Commuter Traffic with Agents’ continued the transport theme, introducing agents as transport segments (roads, trains, buses) and multi-modal routing. The agents regulate the segment load at peak times, negotiate with other, personal agents (e.g. journey planners) and enable ‘bidding’. The model is based around eco-credits, distributed as an incentive and able to be cashed in, for a tax return. Related issues of privacy and security need still to be addressed, while establishing the cognitive and social factors impacting multi-modal commuting is also outstanding.

It seems there’s considerable overlap between this research and, our: agents technology platform; our Accessibility & Mobilities projects; and the potential for developing associated business models and forging commercial partnerships with Royal Mail, local councils etc (i.e. our Enterprise & Culture projects).

Members of the Horizon DE Hub presented their talk on ‘User and organisational needs for ad-hoc car sharing’ and the socially connected journey, illustrated by two applications – car sharing and taxi sharing. Their findings include: the context of car/taxi sharing is important (another anecdote featuring line dancing!); car/taxi sharing is more found to be acceptable when occasional; time information is more important in the decision-making process than route information; the timing of setting up the car/taxi sharing is important; users are prepared to share their data; cost savings or incentives are well received. In terms of user interfaces and the delivery of information, it was reported that simple text messages were more valued, as opposed to complex geographical representations. So, what was their overall message? Technology can help, but within a social context.

Iain Buchan’s talk on ‘NHS e-Labs: Engineering Digital Health Economies’ doubled the number of ‘rural community’ mentions! I saw obvious synergies with our Healthcare projects and the topics Iain covered - chronic diseases, co-morbidities, the ‘what if’ policy simulator for planning and impact assessment, personalised and local healthcare.

The group from Cranfield University presented ‘Energy Harvesting MEMS: A promising alternative to power the digital economy’ and their potential use in sensor systems, the Healthcare sector and environmental monitoring. Maybe I was missing something pretty key but piezoelectric (quartz etc) and thermoelectric materials have been around for years... So I was left wondering what exactly was novel here? Meanwhile, Arjuna was left wondering if its possible to wirelessly 'share' energy between networks of MEMS? (Take a look here at one potential application, completely independent of the discussions which took place during Digital Futures.

The morning session came to a close and, rather frustratingly, I'd only just discovered the delegate list here. Hmmm... Surely an essential feature of any conference pack?

I managed a tad more networking over lunch which included an interesting discussion with a new SiDE student. Could the hosts of other Digital Futures work 'breakout sessions' into their programme? Even informal groups where, say, students are scheduled to gather for ~30 minutes for a short introduction could prove helpful.

dot.rural’s Director, John Farrington, chaired the first session after lunch, entitled ‘Digital Inclusion’. First up was Paul Watson on social inclusion in the digital economy, building up a pool of over 3000 users, highlighting strong links with our Healthcare project on chronic disease management and exclaiming we can't just solve this with a technology push. ‘Rural communities’ also got another mention, but hey, who’s counting?! At the end of his talk, I left wanting to know more about Culture Lab...

Lorna Gibson opened her talk on ‘Facilitating Appropriate Access to Consumer Healthcare Information’ with this stat: 68% of people in the UK have searched for health information online. Uh-oh...

The last talk of the session was Leela Damodaran’s on the subject of ‘Sustaining Digital Engagement: Some Emerging Issues’ and the Sus-IT project. Leela introduced the idea of a ‘virtual grandchild’ – a type of real-time, on demand reference ‘tool’ or person to assist older people with IT challenges... Great idea but where does it end? Would we need a ‘virtual great-grandchild’ to explain how to use the ‘virtual grandchild’ and so on... ‘The project is designed to prolong the independence of older people through IT use... of particular relevance for our Healthcare theme?

After the break, Edoardo Pignotti’s talk on ‘a provenance fabric’ included discussion on the security of data provenance and the need for an architecture to describe and uniquely identify artefacts, processes, organisations, people and social networks and to define relationships between these.

Martin Flintham from Horizon and the Mixed Reality Lab led the penultimate talk, on ubiquitous technologies, the power of crowd sourcing and the context of outside (i.e. not in a conventional TV studio) broadcasting where ‘we’ become the directors/editors). One example given was a Radiohead gig in 2009 where the audience filmed, edited and published the performance (crowd sourcing, citizen journalism and outside broadcasting in action). Some research examples given were based on the ideas of the viewer directing their own experience, mobile video-streaming platforms and marathons as ‘many spectators, many participants’ scenarios.

Chris Greenhalgh’s talk, ‘Towards a Platform for Urban Games’, lobby services on mobile devices and ‘exploding places’ concluded day 2.

Before dinner at Fothergills...

we had a rare few minutes to explore Nottingham's delights - well, the castle.

OK, the Robin Hood statue as well...

Day 3 is on its way...


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