Wednesday, June 19. 2013
Spacecraft could determine their position anywhere in the solar system to within five kilometres using signals from x-ray pulsars, say astronomers.
By Ben Waber
A new line of research examines what happens in an office where the positions of the cubicles and walls—even the coffee pot—are all determined by data.
Can we use data about people to alter physical reality, even in real time, and improve their performance at work or in life? That is the question being asked by a developing field called augmented social reality.
Here’s a simple example. A few years ago, with Sandy Pentland’s human dynamics research group at MIT’s Media Lab, I created what I termed an “augmented cubicle.” It had two desks separated by a wall of plexiglass with an actuator-controlled window blind in the middle. Depending on whether we wanted different people to be talking to each other, the blinds would change position at night every few days or weeks.
The augmented cubicle was an experiment in how to influence the social dynamics of a workplace. If a company wanted engineers to talk more with designers, for example, it wouldn’t set up new reporting relationships or schedule endless meetings. Instead, the blinds in the cubicles between the groups would go down. Now as engineers passed the designers it would be easier to have a quick chat about last night’s game or a project they were working on.
Human social interaction is rapidly becoming more measurable at a large scale, thanks to always-on sensors like cell phones. The next challenge is to use what we learn from this behavioral data to influence or enhance how people work with each other. The Media Lab spinoff company I run uses ID badges packed with sensors to measure employees’ movements, their tone of voice, where they are in an office, and whom they are talking to. We use data we collect in offices to advise companies on how to change their organizations, often through actual physical changes to the work environment. For instance, after we found that people who ate in larger lunch groups were more productive, Google and other technology companies that depend on serendipitous interaction to spur innovation installed larger cafeteria tables.
In the future, some of these changes could be made in real time. At the Media Lab, Pentland’s group has shown how tone of voice, fluctuation in speaking volume, and speed of speech can predict things like how persuasive a person will be in, say, pitching a startup idea to a venture capitalist. As part of that work, we showed that it’s possible to digitally alter your voice so that you sound more interested and more engaged, making you more persuasive.
Another way we can imagine using behavioral data to augment social reality is a system that suggests who should meet whom in an organization. Traditionally that’s an ad hoc process that occurs during meetings or with the help of mentors. But we might be able to draw on sensor and digital communication data to compare actual communication patterns in the workplace with an organizational ideal, then prompt people to make introductions to bridge the gaps. This isn’t the LinkedIn model, where people ask to connect to you, but one where an analytical engine would determine which of your colleagues or friends to introduce to someone else. Such a system could be used to stitch together entire organizations.
Unlike augmented reality, which layers information on top of video or your field of view to provide extra information about the world, augmented social reality is about systems that change reality to meet the social needs of a group.
For instance, what if office coffee machines moved around according to the social context? When a coffee-pouring robot appeared as a gag in TV commercial two years ago, I thought seriously about the uses of a coffee machine with wheels. By positioning the coffee robot in between two groups, for example, we could increase the likelihood that certain coworkers would bump into each other. Once we detected—using smart badges or some other sensor—that the right conversations were occurring between the right people, the robot could move on to another location. Vending machines, bowls of snacks—all could migrate their way around the office on the basis of social data. One demonstration of these ideas came from a team at Plymouth University in the United Kingdom. In their “Slothbots” project, slow-moving robotic walls subtly change their position over time to alter the flow of people in a public space, constantly tuning their movement in response to people’s behavior.
The large amount of behavioral data that we can collect by digital means is starting to converge with technologies for shaping the world in response. Will we notify people when their environment is being subtly transformed? Is it even ethical to use data-driven techniques to persuade and influence people this way? These questions remain unanswered as technology leads us toward this augmented world.
Ben Waber is cofounder and CEO of Sociometric Solutions and the author of People Analytics: How Social Sensing Technology Will Transform Business, published by FT Press.
Following my previous posts about data, monitoring or data centers: or when your "ashtray" will come close to you and your interlocutor, at the "right place", after having suggested to "meet" him...
Monday, June 17. 2013
An interesting conference that will take place at the ETHZ CAAD department next July that I'm fowarding here:
Via DARCH - ETHZ
By Manuel Kretzer
Dear friends, colleagues and students,
I'm happy to invite you to join us for the - international symposium on adaptive architecture
The full day event will be take place on July 8th, 2013 / 9:00 - 18:00 at the Chair for Computer Aided Architectural Design ETH Zürich-Hönggerberg, HPZ Floor F.
Speakers include: Prof. Ludger Hovestadt (ETH Zürich, CH) | Prof. Philip Beesley (University of Waterloo, CA) | Prof. Kas Oosterhuis (TU Delft, NL) Martina Decker (DeckerYeadon, US) | Claudia Pasquero (ecoLogicStudio, UK) | Manuel Kretzer (ETH Zürich, CH) Tomasz Jaskiewicz (TU Delft, NL) | Jason Bruges (Jason Bruges Studio, UK) | Areti Markopoulou (IAAC, ES) | Ruairi Glynn (UCL, UK) Simon Schleicher (Universität Stuttgart, DE) | John Sarik (Columbia University, US) | Stefan Dulman (Hive Systems, NL)
More info on the speakers, the detailed program, location and registration can be found on the event's website and the attached flyer. www.alive2013.wordpress.com
The symposium is free of charge however registration until July 3rd, 2013 is obligatory. Seats are limited. http://alive13.eventbrite.com
The event is organised by Manuel Kretzer and Tomasz Jaskiewicz, hosted by the Chair for CAAD and supported through the Swiss National Science Foundation.
Friday, June 14. 2013
By Jack Self
Rather than a mere folly, Sou Fujimoto's Serpentine Pavilion is sincere in his proposition about the future of architecture and its place in the world.
If Vivaldi’s Summer is the architectural high-season, then the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion is its opening refrain — a measured, majestic transition from the long British winter to the frenetic hyperactivity and crystalline skies of summer proper.
Perhaps for this reason the Pavilion always attracts a certain sleepy journalism, as though the whole press hadn’t yet had their morning coffee. One reads endless tales recounted as though written in a half-waking state — soggy with dream-like odes and fanciful metaphors, rambling and extravagant, but almost universally uncritical.
On the rare occasion that a pavilion does get bad press, it is invariably childish insults hurled at the architect with a kind of impertinent bad-temperedness: “Nouvel resembles an ageing bouncer,” (Edwin Heathcote, FT) “I smell Jean Nouvel before I see him,” (Tom Dykhoff, The Times) “A one idea building from a once extraordinary architect” (Ellis Woodman, The Telegraph). In fact, although Nouvel’s 2010 shape-shifting red pavilion was received terribly, it remains the only attempt to broaden public engagement beyond the over-priced Fortnum & Mason’s coffee bar. With free kite flying, table tennis, chess and checkers, it became for a short period the only building in all of Knightsbridge that didn’t force you to spend money to enjoy its amenities.
More importantly, critique of the Serpentine Pavilion as an institutional project is totally absent. Inasmuch as the media accept or reject this or that form, it amounts to whim. We must name the Serpentine Pavilion for what it is: a star factory whose elitist self-perpetuation typifies the vapid iconicity of the pre-Crash years. This is a massive work of architectural branding, or at best, architecture-as-sculpture.
At the core of the whole project is a profound question about the intended benefactor of all these pavilions. For architects, the project’s ambition of providing a platform for little-known practitioners operates like a last-chance saloon for the already established. The category of never having built in the UK only increases the uniqueness of the bijou. For visitors, the pavilions do not serve any obvious purpose beyond to be looked at. Yet most passers-by do not actually spend much time looking at all (about four to six minutes). Presumably many are put off by spaces always focussed around a hopelessly over-staffed bar of well-dressed waiters, patiently expecting you to buy a £3 Americano.
The only entity that really profits from the pavilions is of course the gallery itself. Beyond the empty rhetoric, it is publicity for the sake of publicity.
All this is unfortunate really, because Sou Fujimoto’s nebulous pavilion is possibly the finest yet. Rather than a mere folly, Fujimoto is sincere in his proposition about the future of architecture and its place in the world. A polite, quiet, deferential man, he speaks slowly, but explains himself with eloquence and a precise clarity. I quickly notice a pattern in the way he responds to questions: first a tactful and positive remark, then his opinion.
I asked him who the structure was really for, and what was its purpose. He said, “It is for the people of London, and visitors of many different nations, to behave nicely in this park.”
After a pause he added in a lower tone, “Of course, we have some other ideas which are not about today but about the future urban environment. A pavilion of this size should not be concerned with super-practical things, because that can limit its life to the present. It should not be for now, but for 20 or 50 years later. People can imagine how such a living environment could be the future city, or future house, or the future park. I like to create such imaginings, and I hope people just casually enjoy this dream of architecture’s potential.”
He spoke about Corbusier, and how influenced he had been by the Modular. A simple unit based on the body, he said, had great power to harmonise, or integrate, differing scales. Corbusier was also remarkable for how he used small projects to express powerful ideas. Then he spoke about how Toyo Ito’s 2002 pavilion generated a lot of interest in Japan, heightened by SANAA in 2009. I got the impression that for Fujimoto the pavilion represented a platform; a coded message; a statement of intent pointed at his own country (as much as to anywhere, or anyone, else). When I asked if he had plans to build again in Britain he gave me a look of slight bemusement. “I like the UK a lot, and I feel very welcomed here.” The pause. “I do not have any current intentions of building here.” Would you though? “My work for the moment is in Japan.”
For an outsider, Japan’s complex social order can be at times impenetrable. Certainly though, something that has always struck me is the traditional continuity between generations of architects — where in the West each younger generation has to forcefully overthrow, reject (even denounce) their elders, the Japanese seem harmonious and respectful.
On the contrary, Kengo Kuma told me recently that just because he goes for Sake and Karaoke with Ito and Sejima (his words), it doesn’t mean he won’t take advantage of any opportunity to distinguish himself and declare his independence. As the youngest Japanese architect to do a pavilion, how did Fujimoto relate to this type of culture, with respect to Ito and SANAA?
“Actually, we have a nice relationship between the generations. I myself didn’t work for Ito-san, or SANAA, but they are very open and generous. They appreciate and elevate the young. They like to know what’s next, and what is the younger energy. That’s really great. We get such nice support.” Pause. “At the same time, we discuss architecture.”
I asked if that made it difficult to disagree? “We don’t have to just say yes. Sometimes we propose our opinion or objections, and that makes the relationship founded on mutual trust. If you just say yes all the time, it means that in a different condition you might say no, and that damages trust. We can enjoy these types of talks. They’re not fights. I am now 41, and the younger generation is coming up, and some of them are quite talented. So we have a responsibility to those who are younger, to support them and encourage them, just as I have seen Ito-san, or Sejima-san’s attitude to make the whole atmosphere of architecture in Japan more energetic, and more active.”
As you manoeuvre around the pavilion the form changes quite radically, and in a sense it is quite hard to say what shape it is. Normally, the architectural press (and Serpentine Gallery) don’t like shapeless pavilions, as though each building must be reducible to its own 32-pixel icon. Unlike Nouvel, the response to Fujimoto has been overwhelmingly positive, which led me to think there might be different kinds of formlessness.
“I agree. I personally saw Nouvel’s pavilion,” says Fujimoto. “From far away, it was a red square on a green background; it was quite beautiful. Inside, you couldn’t easily understand the form, or how the structure worked, or how the spaces were made. It was just red, and then less red, and then more red... I really like such an approach to architecture, that doesn’t focus on the form of the object, but on the qualities of the subjective experience, and I was fascinated by that.”
He continues. “For me, it was important to produce a structure that definitely had a shape, but one that was ambiguous. If you are outside the pavilion, this shape should be blurry. From different directions you should have completely different impressions. If you are inside, the object should disappear, it should be a gradient of shifting densities and transparencies. From some directions it is more like a floating cloud, and then from others more of a forest, or a group of trees. These are harmonious qualities, but they must be approached very carefully, it cannot be too strong. Harmony cannot be obvious.” Jack Self (@jack_self)
Tuesday, June 11. 2013
By fabric | ch
I came back from Beijing more than a month ago now and before Christian Babski will return next week to China for fabric | ch during another month to finish our residency at the Tsinghua University (until mid July), I'm taking a bit of time to write a follow-up about the short workshop/sketch session I headed there with the students of Prof. Zhang Ga, at the Tsinghua Art & Sciences Media Laboratory.
The students originated from many different fields of design and sciences and worked in interdisciplinary teams. I must admit that the results didn't really reach my (probably too high) expectations and ended somehow into general and a bit precictable ideas. Especially because the students didn't have time to go any further than some rough sketches due to parallel academic activities. Nonetheless, the ideas developed during their week of work helped us discuss and clear some paths for our own project. We plan to finish it this summer.
The good related news that came out of this is that fabric | ch together with TASML plan to further develop the ideas that surround the subject of our workshop/residency (Deterritorialized Living): we will open a call on different university campuses and art schools in China (Tsinghua and CAFA in Beijing, the China Academy of Arts in Hangzhou and possibly Tongji in Shanghai) for interdisciplinary teams of architects, interaction designers, designers at large, artists and scientists next September. Mainly, this open call, so as our full residency work will become an Associate Project during the next and much anticipated Lisbon Triennale (Close, Closer) co-curated by Beatrice Galilee, Liam Young, Mariana Pestana and Jose Esparza Chong Cuy.
The purpose of our residency is to work around a new project in relation with the idea of "deterritorialization", understood in our case as a state of decontextualisation / dislocation / disembodiment / ... triggered by networked services, "clouds" of all sorts and intensive mobility (physical and mediated therefore), as well as through varied artificialization phenomena.
The physical figure of the data center appears undoubtedly behind this "state" that interests us, so far mainly (but only) as the infrastructure that holds it. Yet the paradox is, and that's where it probably gets more interesting, that "deterritorialization" is becoming very ambient these days... It's almost a new "context", a geo-engineered one (?) that follows us everywhere: a situation that is always potentially present, somehow proximate. We live in this "context" (too). The intention of our scheme is therefore to consider it and to develop artifacts within this frame of research.
At this state of evolution of this specific work, we plan that our residency project will end up into a proposal similar in its form to a previous project we did in collaboration with architect Philippe Rahm, back in 2001 (!) and 2009 (I-Weather): an open platform, a processed and networked atmosphere that everybody will be able to connect to, so to develop their own projects and devices. We hope to deliver an "ambient deterritorialization" in the form of a made atmosphere, the most elementary architecture according to us, that will also act in some ways as an information design about the global state of networks. This atmosphere will then serve us for more elaborate projects and installations.
The workshop we held with the students was considering the situation I roughly described above. Yet we decided to shrink it to a managable size: the computers cabinet (which could be considered as a very small, movable data center), but one that would be big enough to become permanently inhabitable though. The domestic inhabitability of this structure for one or two persons becoming part of our design brief.
Image of several servers' cabinets taken out of Clog: Data Space (2012).
... and one of the first general purpose computer, the Eniac I, back in 1946.
Due to its new "program", this extended computers cabinet would then have to combine some specific physical needs for the machines (i.e. to cool down the servers with fresh air and to expulse hot and ionized air outside, energy supply) and for humans (breathable air, livable levels of heat and humidity, comfort zone, etc.), possibly while trying to find some symbiosis between them AND to provide the frame for dedicated mediated services.
We added a twist to our fictional brief, which was the existence of a second "sun" in the cabinet... In our minds, this second sun would be one of the artifacts we planed to develop in the context of our residency: Deterritorialized Daylight, a permanent daylight, always on yet constantly and slowly varying in its intensity.
Step by step storyboard for the workshop: "Inhabiting the computers cabinet, with two suns"
(1, left) 9 square meters (in any shape) to inhabit. Height is free to define. Fresh air surrounds this area. This is the expanded space of the Computers Cabinet. (2, right) A certain number of servers populate this space, along with the person(s) that inhabit it. Machines and humans have to share this place. The space is connected to the nearby and far outsides (by the means of physical and network communications). It provides services of different sorts, physical and digital, local and networked.
(3) The 9 m2 Computers Cabinet is part of a larger network of connected cabinets that possibly create a distributed larger structure.
(4) The 9 m2 livable Computers Cabinet, with its computers and racks (which modularity, organization and shape can also be redesigned) could be considered as the extension of a regular servers cabinet (5).
(6) Fresh air needs to enter the space and cool down the machines. (7) Hot and ionized air comes out of the computers. Not very pleasant to breathe. Ionized air triggers electrostaticity.
(8) A natural sun with its natural cycle of days and seasons runs outside. (9) ... as well as a regular night.
(10) An "artificial sun" or daylight is also present within the 9 m2 of the Computers Cabinet. It is always "on", yet at different strengths depending on parameters and live feeds. (11) This "sun" is called Deterritorialized Daylight. It's a daylight that is computed, artificial and triggered by the overall user's activities on the networks (both humans and robots). Therefore, it is some sort of reverse daylight: users and their activities/actions, so as other parameters, generate the amount of deterritorialized daylight (it has been historically --or naturally-- the reverse: people getting active when daylight is "on" --until fire, candles, gas and then electricity started to change the rules--).
(12) All in all, this is the full situation we asked to consider: a 9m2 space and XX m3 volume, an extended and expanded computers cabinet to inhabit, with two "suns" (and a set of other constraints/possibilities!)
Finally and that was the real purpose of the workshop, we asked the TASML students to develop proposals for this (not so fictional) context. Their projects could be dedicated to the overall situation if they desired, but mostly, we asked them them to think about smaller things that would help interact with the situation and that would take place within it: objects, devices, interfaces, programs, etc.
Group #1 addressed the complete situation, so as all the 4 groups in fact, and came up with the idea to combine two concepts: the soho (for small office - home office) and the otaku (to my wiki understanding a word that means both "your house" and a person dedicated to an intense individual hobby, recently linked to manga readers and gamers). The computer cabinet would become a space for somebody to live partly retired from the "real" world into his fantasies and some sort of minimal living and self-sufficient space. A screen device was envisioned too which would be understood as an artificial night sky with stars. Only the map of the "stars" would be the one from the location of other cabinets and their brightness their activity.
Group #2 focused its attention around a device that converts heat into electricity (note: a "thermopile", but that is not efficient enough yet to be used in everyday situations due to its low performance. So that was fiction too). They thought about transforming the heat coming out of the servers into electricity and therefore produce electricity for the Cabinet (which is not possible today, at least to really power some demanding devices). This heat would also serve to pre-heat the water. Servers were located under the ceiling and were creating therefore a heat zone. The overall proposal was then a self-sufficient space (bio-sphere like) with a cycle of funtions that would follow a logic of distribution from hot > cold, clear water > waste water. The water at the end of the cycle would serve to grow vegetables that would then clean the air, etc.
Group #3 had an interesting early sketch: they started to design the Cabinet based on the modular system of the actual servers cabinet. Extending it to the 9 m2 size and filling it with other domestic functions. A description of activities happening along time in this space started to suggest that there could be some migration within this space. I suggested they could try a mapping between time, location in the cabinet, functions and possibly heat, while Zhang thought about redesigning the modular aspects of the regular cabinet. These approaches could have triggered a very interesting singular project or dedicated devices I believe. Shame that they didn't continue!
Group #4 combined into one proposal (drawing) each of the four members' approach. The overall design was also a bit into the self-sustainable approach (bio-sphere oriented), yet with different devices: a decorative wallpaper (information design), a wall of vegetables (air cleaning and food production), a game based on a appartment bycycle that would produce electricity and a strange whilpool.
... and finally Group #5 stayed asleep on the day of presentation!
All in all, there were some interesting early sketches but that probably stoped too early or went in the wrong direction after the first presentation, into too applied or functional aproaches. That's why we discussed together with Zhang and Cheng Guo (TASML assistant) to plan a public call for students on different campuses, as the theme of work looks quite open for interesting interdisciplinary proposals. (More will follow about this).
One group still works on the project though and will deliver its semester work about it.
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fabric | rblg
fabric | rblg is the survey website of fabric | ch -- studio for architecture, interaction and research. We curate and re-blog articles, researches, exhibitions and projects that we notice during our everyday practice.