We had the pleasure to attend Lift conference 2014 last february the 6th 2014 in Geneva. You can find our pictures there. Below follows our detailed report. This conference discuss the topics of innovation and the future from a societal point of view, shifting perspective on the design and technology industries.
This year themes were the following:
- Managing Innovation Cycles – Let Live And Let Die
- Bio Hacking Or Tinkering With Life
- The Futures of Work
- The Sharing Economy Backlash
- Algorithmic culture: new forms of expression
- Translating Traditional Family Business
- Counter Culture Inspiring Industries
From our point of view we isolated three problematics:
- How does our growing algorithmic environment shift our cultural and societal paradigm?
- How do companies and the economy (global as well as local) evolve in our technological era?
- What are the new methods and processes at work in today’s innovation and development cycle?
1. Growing algorithmic environment.
Alexis Lloyd, from the New York Times Research & Development group, gave a talk about the way we can interact with the algorithmic systems we encounter. She underlined the fact that more and more spaces (both digital and physical) are based on algorithmic intelligence, including public spaces. “We’re just one signal in the network”. Privacy controversies are no news, but we urgently need to learn how to adapt to that new environment, based on surveillance.
Lloyd points out that the user-centric paradigm is a problem: “As a user you shouldn’t be asked to understand how it works under the hood”, the systems adapts to your needs.
In fact, the “black box” systems are un-sufficient because they never can anticipate everything we want. New behaviours emerge: adaptation to machines and systems. When encountering an unknown environment, one needs to send a noise, or a signal, to get an idea of its shape and nature. She then shows three ways to negotiate with this situation:
- optimization (Create better outcomes for me, my group or the public);
- obfuscation (Hide myself or my details while still taking benefit from the system. eg. Using a specific hair-cut to block face-recognition systems, or ghostery.com);
- and Exaptation (Make a system do something for which it was not intended, mis-using it. eg. Fooling the system by covering ones house with license plates to allow google maps home-privacy).
She strongly advocated for a responsible attitude from the designer. This leads to three core concepts for the designers of such systems:
- transparency (giving to see the content of the data);
- agency (giving to see the mechanisms at use, just like ancient clocks);
- and finally virtuosity (allowing the user to misuse or reappropriate those systems, accepting the user alterity).
Dan Williams and Joanne Mcneil also expressed some of the concerns already discussed here: the need for a design philosophy avoiding the “black box”, and the influence of technologies to our cultural and societal background.
This echoes Thomas Landrain’s talk from the bio hacking session. Founder of La Paillasse, a DIY bio-lab, he evoked the fact that we’re given more and more technical possibilities – and just as much responsibilities and autonomy. “We’re lead to manipulate our own data”. Even our own dna.
Bio-hacking is seen as a democratic citizen counter-power. It also constitutes a promising technological progress – as well as a cultural shift and a complex field for ethics.
Technologies are never disconnected from their societal environment. And the overlap between human sciences and algorithmic systems is just as interesting. Frederic Kaplan presented his new project, The Venice time machine, arguing that “The past is the new frontier”.
Ian Bogost interrogated the meaning of the expression “algorithmic culture”, quoting Lev Manovich’s “software is a layer to our contemporary world”. If we, of course, do see the world through the lense of our technologies, this is nothing new. Sciences have relegated religions to the past during the passage to modernity.
He questioned the definition and notion of algorithm: it’s a step by step procedure, it gives a range of solutions but not the optimal solution in complex systems. An algorithm is a caricature, a simplification. An abstraction of something from the world, keeping only the logic and throwing away the rest.
When we use the expression of algorithmic culture, it’s a short-hand indicating that we treat computation theologically. It’s a symbolic system, just like religions, allowing to be reassured in front of a complex set of “data”.
His open question remains: do we really want that?
2. The second main problematic was the shape-changing economy and work forms
From Arnaud Bertrand and Joel Serra‘s talks about the difficulties of scaling companies based on the sharing economy (like the well-known Couchsurfing), and the new values companies need to be carrying (respect of alterities, values and identities) to Philippe Silberzahn about the companies live and die cycle and the correlation with their innovation capacities, a broad range of topics was discussed.
Are we really developing and encouraging a sharing economy? Scott Smith underlined that it doesn’t look like it, and isn’t truly changing the liberalist social contract. Bracken Darrel, president of Logitech, insisted on the need for any company to stay democratic. Porter Erisman, Jerry Michalski, Isaac Nii Noi Nortey and David Fauchier‘s talks were around the shift from hierarchical to conversational markets, in term of companies politics and reputations. On the other hand, Che Wagner, Narkis Alon and José Achache discussed the present and futures forms of work. Either advocating for the unconditional income, or for an education system encouraging entrepreneurship, the general idea was that the job of the future will be self-tailored – and that all of us will have to build it for ourselves. Which is quite similar to the contemporary family businesses presented by Ramia Marielle El Agamy, Olivier Audemars and Hans Raffauf.
3. What about the new processes of conception?
They seem to involve new methods, ranging from design to citizens-based initiatives. Philippe Méda asked for a real definition of the role of design in today’s businesses. Retro-ingeneering was discussed in various talks, as a way for users to reinvest the technologies in their environment. DIY, either in bio technologies or any kind of other field is definitely one of the most impressive movement of the last years. Sean D. Goff, a teenage hacker was presenting his project. The ability to develop our own tools, no matter our field of competences, will be crucial in the coming years, as stated by Fabio Gramazio in the case of architecture and his experiments with industrial robots.
Or should we look into the power of LSD for developing the companies of the future? It seems, at least, to be one of the element that lead the counterculture from the sixties to the Silicon Valley of the 90’s, according to David Pescovitz. Counter or underground culture are a place of high innovation drive.
But shouldn’t that future stay imperfect, as staged by Andres Colmenares?
Next to the talks sessions took place the workshops.
Workshop “Narrativium”, attended by Max:
Thorsten Michael Kreissig AKA TeeKay ran the Narrativium workshop to explore how people get involved with stories and memes, he endorsed us with the task of defining what a Meme is.
He starts by settling the workshop rules: stand-up to make sure that you have an audience; don’t talk to the workshop guy, talk to everybody; no idea or action is wrong, the workshop is what you make of it. As an introduction he presents Terry Prachett books and the “Discworld” one where he coined the word narrativium. Narrativium is:
- one of the most common element on the disc (Discworld);
- not included in the standard five elements (of the DiscWorld, which are…);
- earth, fire, air, water and surprise.
There is a strong connection between Meme and Narrativium. A meme is:
- an idea, behaviour or style that spreads from person to person within a culture;
- it comes from the Gene. Ref. “The selfish Gene” by Richard Dawkin (1976);
- meme are like genes; they pass on and reproduce, eg. Catch-phrases, Building arches, melodies, fashion, food-meals.
In order to compare meme and narration & stories, David shows how stories began around the fire, connecting sound with movement and mimicking. Stories are dependant to the culture, for instance the concept of “self” in japan goes outside-in (ouatachi-wa) instead of inside-out like in other occidental cultures (Me, Moi, ich, etc.). The narration is controllable, for example Wagner found a way (at his time) in his compositions, to avoid people applause between theatre acts. He keeps the narration going along until the end. Stories are things we share, we come together to tell stories, like taking drugs around fire with a priest. But today our drug are movies, series, he says. And the memes nowadays are peace, hope, political gathering, etc. and storytelling places are google, facebook etc.
After the introductory presentation we began the activities:
- Collect Memes! (pictures, logos, buzzwords, icons, stories)
- Choose one (or propose yours) of these themes (life, love, freedom, fear, etc.)
- Group of 3 people, fill up a paper board with post-it notes (memes/symbols on your theme)
- Select your 3 favourite and, if relevant, reproduce it on other paperboard (on other themes)
- New groups of three, come-up with your definition of a meme
- finally back to your original group, make a meme out of your paperboard
And here is the definition of a meme we came up with. A meme is an element that affects you (emotions, message, ideas) which:
- doesn’t have to be tangible but can be expressed through many media,
- is spreadable, replicable (not limited in quantity while the original doesn’t matter),
- has his own life cycle (ephemeral),
- is often subject to appropriation, mutation,
- and therefore defines a group while ignoring current borders,
- its spread depends on the network size (often relying on a techno), and on its emotional evocative power (good or bad).
A part of our team also attended Alexis Llyod’s workshop (below the video).
Design Research Meet-up.
Finally Sociable Media organized a meet-up on Design Research to start a discussion with part of the community. It was a great opportunity to meet and share experience, and maybe soon to collaborate.
One of our team member, Jeremie also participated to the Lift Experience exhibition in collaboration with HEAD-Geneva Media Design.
That´s all folks!
You can find videos of the talks here.