Who tells the stories?
This year’s opening and closing keynotes focused on two fields of storytelling: the technologies we use to tell ourselves stories, and the stories we tell ourselves about the technologies we use. When artificial intelligence is able to ‘read’ our reactions and instantly generate customised narratives designed to keep us clicking for more (keynote/discussion: William Uricchio, Massachusetts Institute of Technology), and when narratives of privacy and agency are dominated by a militaristic terminology of firewalls, shields and watchdogs (keynote: Denis ‘Jaromil’ Rojo, Dyne.org foundation), what is left of our lofty goals of personal agency and collective harmony?
Who owns the data?
In the morning, participants could take part in a data walk through the civic space of Rotterdam (workshop: Centre for BOLD Cities), photographing, taking notes and making maps, and seeing for themselves how IoT devices actually collect data in the city. In the afternoon, they could join in a game called Make Me Think! (discussion/workshop: Maaike Harbers, Creating 010 and Bas Krommenhoek, Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences) that confronted them with the mechanisms of how social media, targeted advertising and even news are defined by ‘filter bubbles’ that also influence our behaviour in the real world.
Who makes the choices?
Two inconvenient truths (lecture: Florian Cramer, Willem de Kooning Academy) about the ‘singularity’ hype: data is never ‘neutral’ since it always requires interpretation which is by definition biased; and why should the tech industry go on making IoT devices smarter when it can simply make the real world dumber? On a more optimistic note (workshop: Jasper Schelling, School of Communication, Media and Information Technology), how is data-driven research currently providing us with new ways of designing products and services?
Who controls the algorithms?
From self-driving cars, buses and trucks to self-piloting boats and even pizzas delivered straight to your balcony by drone (lecture: Alwin Bakker, Future Mobility Network), the future of transportation is closer than you might think. But there are also darker scenarios: how easy is it nowadays to build a ‘killer robot’ (workshop: Ornella Schavemaker-Piva, Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences) using only cheap, readily available electronics?
Who builds the networks?
As the products with which we surround ourselves become increasingly active partners and assistants in our daily lives (lecture: Elisa Giaccardi and Iskander Smit, Delft University of Technology), how much can we rely on them to perform tasks and make judgments on our behalf? And as healthcare becomes increasingly reliant on networked data technologies (discussion: Ron Bormans, Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences), who will we trust to monitor the quality of processes that affect our individual and collective well-being?
Can we stay in charge?
We rarely stop to think about all the data flowing through our houses. During this year’s hackathon (Federico Bonelli, Dyne.org) four teams of contestants worked on designing applications – based on the free and open source software Dowse – that allow users to visualise the data collected by the increasingly smart appliances and other IoT devices in their homes… and thus hopefully to stay in charge.