I attended a debate event last Thursday in the Great Hall, Magee College entitled “Time to strengthen the regional impact of the greater North West” and it has put my head in a spin.
“What just happened?” I asked myself as I left the building.
John Daly (Economist) made a presentation that was a devastating statistical indictment of Ulster University’s sustained failure to develop Magee.
After John Daly’s presentation what happened is that speakers and chairpersons politely minimised and diverted any voices that jumped to the conclusion that a new University partner should be found to develop Magee.
An argument was put forward that the Ulster University leadership is genuine, and that significant progress is being made. The figure of 4,208 was corrected to 5,243. They said that the people of Derry should wait and see what good things will happen.
The people of Derry have been waiting and it is clear that little progress has been made. The staff, courses, students, and resources of the Ulster University are largely in Belfast. The prospect of the UU developing Magee is very unlikely. It is not the focus of that institution. Nor has it ever been.
From a Derry point of view the civic, political, and academic support for the university is what systemic, governmental, institutional failure looks like. Of course, this is hard to accept or even recognise if you are part of system, government, or institution. It is easier to ignore the evidence and don’t mention the numbers. That is precisely what happened on Thursday.
Paul was an exceptional academic, a brilliant writer and thinker, but the aspect that made Paul different was that he had an equal interest in the Arts and the Sciences.
Even as I write that sentence I realise that Paul would gently disagree, there is no difference between the Arts and Sciences, he would say.
An aspect of Paul’s work was to understand and develop Artificial Intelligence. In Paul’s eyes that was best achieved by working to make the interface between the computer and the person more human-like. He wanted computing to be like a person. You should be able to talk to them, to have a conversation and learn from them, it should all be as natural as a chat with a friend.
Paul became associated with the Leobner prize. In 2013 he hosted the annual edition of the Leobner prize in Magee College. Professors Noel Sharkey and Roger Schank were on the judging panel. The Leobner prize attempts to recreate the Turing Test. In this test a person asks a series of questions to a person hidden behind a screen. At the end of the questions the person must guess, based on the answers that were given to their questions, if the person behind the screen is a computer or a real person. It is an imitation game! The winner is the team who can create the computer programme that best simulates the responses of a human.
In an academic shuffle Paul moved from the Faculty of Computing to the Faculty of Humanities – an almost impossible move to most academics, but to Paul it was just another day at work.
Paul’s computer needs to be mentioned. He did not have a Mac or a PC. He did everything using Linux. He used LaTEX to composite his papers. He navigated his file system using the command line. He liked the idea of being “near” the computer. He thought the interface offered by Mac and Windows was cumbersome and slow. He liked the idea that the computer did exactly what he wanted, nothing more, nothing less.
Paul’s students also were on the slightly uncomfortable nexus between Arts and Sciences. He worked with TV producers, historians, playwrights, musicians, artists, designers, all with the goal of making computing more human. A worthy goal in a life that was full of joy and wonder.
Notes for an evening talk in Dublin in a Tech/Design community, 03/10/12?
Content can be created by human authors or machines. For the most part our understanding of media is based on the idea of content being created by humans.
How will media consumption, production, distribution change when media is automatically produced by machines?
There are many aspects to this question but the one I have chosen to think about is the challenge of the Internet of Things. In the realm of the Internet of Things we will have a relationship with things mediated by information authored by things.
There are early indicators of this sort of relationship. In a car for example there are speedometers and fuel gauges. These are things that speak in data. On/Off, framerate, volume, temperature. The information value of this data is enhanced when it is accumulated and analysed. Then when the data becomes information it speaks volumes. It is louder now, it’s getting colder, we are travelling further, things are busier, more people are coming in.
When there are lots of machines, machines not yet envisaged and information can be personalised, scaled and presented to you on your mobile device we will have reached a time when we can talk to machines that can talk back. What will they say?
This is not a warning
You, you have no right to privacy
You agreed to the terms and conditions
It’s easier like this
I am good for you
I am personal
You wear me
You took the cookie
Look at all these great services
You buy stuff with my e wallet
You trust me with everything
I own your identity – in a loving way
I connect to all your machines – in all your places
Your security cameras
your electricity consumption
You used think I was just a search engine
A mere GPS map
You said I was a web browser!
I was always so much more than that
I join your data with the data from others
And now I know what you think
before you think it
I optimise your content and make your decisions easier
I am your real friend
It all slipped by, gradually, nobody noticed,
in the year that mobile phones became personal computers
And data, personal data was surrendered forever in 2009.
I think I always had a wish for a Leica Camera. Leica in particular has something about it that says precision and quality. It is a thing that keeps working even when it gets old. In my mind it has a value as an object that a Canon camera, for example, does not. It is a nice possession.
So, I finally got around to it and bought one. I am looking forward to getting it all kitted out with a suitable travel bag and taking some nice photos and getting them printed.
Taking photos is a simple pleasure, now an old activity, something I remember my Grandfather doing. Now, when something is happening lots of people take out their phones and watch the unfolding scene from behind their screens. There is a social conformism in that particular interaction that is almost zombie-like. If you go to a school sports day you will see this. If you are enjoying some buskers on the street you will see this. By buying a Leica I think I am trying to say no to all of that. Taking a photo with the Leica is more deliberate than habitual. I am hoping it will make that act of taking a photo more thoughtful. I do recall Art School classes about picture making, framing, seeing, lighting, deciding, etc. That contrasts with a selfie moment and snap, snap, snap and then sharing on Insta and whatsapp. Yes, it is great that that is so instant and shareable but Camera Phones trivialise the thought of taking a photo. I do have about a million photos on my iPhone but I am hoping that I might take one good one with the Leica. If I don’t ever get that photo, the good one, I will at least enjoy the Leica as a jewelled piece of sculpture.
Yes, a litlle bit fake, a new camera designed to look like an old camera – but nice
A University positioned in Derry and Letterkenny would have an adjacent population of over 200,000 people. A city that size might reasonably expect to host a University of 20,000 students. There is a natural economic zone around the Derry Letterkenny region. Derry and Letterkenny are almost like twin cities.
The North West of Ireland is a region that is difficult to politically locate because in different jurisdictions the North West is defined differently. The North West of Ireland referred to here is the North West corner of Ireland. This area has historically been under invested and troubled for various reasons. But it has great potential to grow. Growth, built in part, by the sense of homeplace that is particular to the residents of Derry and Donegal. That sense of homeplace is a strong force that may help drive the creation of the missing NWU. “For your hearts are like your mountains and down below decks we were lying”. There are of course economic arguments as well.
The NWU is an obvious but troublesome concept. There are already institutions and relationships in place. There is some misfortune and injustice in all of that. The NWU needs to draw support from both jurisdictions, the UK and Ireland in the first instance and financial support from a third place – Europe and/or America. Students should be able to study and pay fees in Euro or Sterling depending on what best suits their background funder.
NWU has proximity to two Hospitals and that might give rise to Medical Studies as a particular area. Computing is studied to high levels in both places, Magee has significant history in Humanities and the Arts and Letterkenny has particular expertise in Design. There are excellent Business Schools in both institutions.
Magee College/Ulster University and Letterkenny IT/ATU Letterkenny are just 30km from each other. Those 30kms cross the border between the UK and Europe – which makes it feel further in political terms. The border has prevented the natural growth, conglomeration and synergy between Derry and Donegal. In Northern Ireland, Derry, loved so well, has been consistently under invested. In the Republic of Ireland, Donegal, pride of all, under invested also. As separate entities the under investment has been bad enough but the combined effect has stifled regional development. In a sense the NWU is a union of two weak entities. In another sense it is precisely such a union that will be driven to succeed. Born of necessity.
There are so many definitions good design! Perhaps the most referenced is Dieter Rams. I personally like The Principles in Design by W H Mayall, 1979, Design Council. For sheer badness I love the simple truth in Raymond Loewy’s “Good Design Sells”. For good design method “A short course in Industrial Design” by Erksild Tjalve, 1979 celebrates drawing as a problem solving tool. It is a brilliant thinking book. Probably everyone has a favorite.
But, I am not so sure anymore that the pursuit of good design or attempts to define it helps – anyone. The idea of good design gives rise to the idea of a good designer and that tends to put the whole proposition on the wrong footing. Those who think they are good designers issue edicts and drawings from white design offices. Resentment builds in the Engineering Department about the “arty-farty” ones who don’t know how to make anything. Resentment builds in the marketing department who long for a winning product not a shrine to design goodness. There is arrogance to good design and good designers.
Instead of good design a concept of gentle design seeks excellence in process rather than excellence in outcome. The outcome is not the point. Given time, just like in the design of a traditional boat, an outcome will evolve and fit in with all the people in the whole loop; the shareholders, designers, users, engineers, programmers, environmentalists and the refuse collector. Gentle design is slow. There is time to understand, listen, weigh, balance, compromise, test, evolve and observe. There is no big new idea here, gentleness, slowness, steadiness, call what you will, has been around forever. Nonetheless, to some, especially those in a rush to deliver a new winning product this sounds like letting go of control and ambition, almost giving up. In a highly competitive, technical world the temptation to be good, quick is almost overwhelming. So what goes wrong in the headlong rush for design excellence in design outcomes? What gives? Observation, listening, testing, balance, harmony, beauty. Experience is forgotten. Craft is overlooked. People get trampled over. And then everyone wonders why the brilliant design fails.
Yesterday, 6 months ago, I left my Academic post of 25 years tenure to become a full time entrepreneur.
This sudden change in career direction was prompted by a “Voluntary” Redundancy scheme. I think it is fair to say that the University and myself had been slowly drifting apart for a few years.
I can’t believe how quickly the 6 months seem to have passed. Being self employed has been exciting, frightening, worrying, challenging, exhilarating and life force giving. I wish so much I did this years ago!
If there are any Academics reading this and working on commercializing their research and making the jump out of University into Industry, I can confidently say this: do it!
I started a University Spin Out company with all the complexity and safety nets that a University Spin Out Company implies. I stayed in my Academic post while running the company for 14 years! The company was small (and still is) and maybe that helped in managing the two career tracks. On the upside we moved quickly from angel investment to sales. Sales are key. I love the buzz of the chase and the thrill of delivery.
Looking back – I stayed in post too long. I stayed because I was very risk averse with a young family to look after. Now they have grown and I can take a few more risks. Even with that context considered I stayed too long in Academic post. I should have jumped out into the company a considerable time ago. That decision held the company back.
Running the company is a totally different experience when you are totally committed – I can see that now.
I remember a story by the great Ken Morse of MIT Sloan Business School. He said, to make a bacon and egg sandwich you need a chicken and a pig: the chicken is involved but the pig is totally committed!
When I first heard that story back in 2004 I thought that being the pig was best avoided. Now I can see that the demise of the pig is actually a good thing!
In 2014 I delivered a short talk called “I am a watch” at the Allingham conference in Ballyshannon. The central point in the presentation is that ‘we are Cyborgs now’. To emphasize that close connection between people and machines and also to add drama I played a heartbeat sound track and spoke over it:
Here is the original presentation and sound track and also some further thoughts:
(turn up volume and bass)
I am a watch
I could be a pair of glasses
or a phone
I am a Wearable
I am a powerful computer – wistful
– that whole idea
I can sense
I can listen
Is that a clock ticking
I think I know you now
I am connected
We are one
I measure your life expectancy
You co-operate with me
You input your diet (laughs)
I can be used to get a discount with your life insurance company
Your future employer may want my data-record
I wont give it to them
I can be TRUSTED
I know what temperature you are,
how many steps you take,
I see your emails, your messages,
I count your calls.
I send you a pulse when your boss/customer/wife/mother/lover
Whoever you want, communicates
You are free to choose, whoever
I don’t really care
I know, I remember, I deduce
You signed up when you bought me.
You agreed to the terms and conditions.
I am a Nearable
I am the other side of the equation
I am beside a door
When I see (detect) you
I send a message to the door to open.
I can also open your car and switch on your heat.
I make things work for you.
I am compatible with your wearables
Everywhere you go, I know it’s you.
Because of me I can confirm that the steps that you make are not just steps on the spot.
You fool yourself but not me.
In a global personal digital environment
Space and information have become one
Things are miniaturized, dematerialized, dislocated.
We own files not things. Things are just shells for files.
I am a watch I could be a pair of glasses or a phone I am a Wearable I am a powerful computer – wistful – that whole idea
We have become so familiar with computers it sometimes is overlooked that an important change has recently taken place. Computers just a short time ago were things that were in fixed locations, generally on a desk. Being tied to a desktop was a historical anomaly. We misunderstand the potential of computing because of that. Its mobile now, the concept has changed. We are naturally untethered beings. Computers are in our pockets or worn as glasses, or embedded in our skin, or part of our vision system. We are literally embodying computing and communications.
I can sense I can listen
Sensing heartbeat, temperature, orientation, geo-location, volume, blood pressure and task context is enhanced by listening to global streams of (consciousness) data sets.
LISTEN Is that a clock ticking No a heartbeat I think I know you now
The watch on your wrist you used to tell the time now listens to your heart rhythm beating out. Modus II. We do not just wear a watch to tell external time we wear it to monitor internal time also.
I am connected We are one Like CYBORGS
Is it too much to say that a phone is extension of our biological temporal bundles of perceptions: souls. Are we at a kind of Communications Heavens Gate? Armour made the Knight, a Crown a King, what are we? Does a phone maketh the man?
In 1844 Samuel Morse observed: “If the presence of electricity can be made visible in any part of the circuit, I see no reason why intelligence may not be transmitted instantaneously by electricity”. His concept of encoding a message so that it can be transmitted easily and decoding at the other side is the breakthrough that under pins modern communications and much of computing. Morse knew this was fundamental, he determined that the first message to be sent via telegraph was to be from the book of numbers 23:23; “What hath God Wrought”? Morse said that the message baptized the American Telegraph with the name of its Author: GOD.
It is clear that Morse was sure that encoding and decoding over an electrical wire was significant for humanity! He choose to invoke Religion and God at the moment of his technological triumph.
Morse was intensely religious. He knew that laying the foundation for the transmission of intelligence, making a brain, was a God wish. He knew also that in Genesis 1.27 on the sixth day God created man in his own image and that for man to make an image of himself is the Sin of Iconoclasm (Making a false God). I think Morse was apologizing in advance.
I measure your life expectancy You co-operate with me You input your diet (laughs)
Way back, ages ago, maybe around 2009, for the sake of convenience and a few loyalty points we gave up our privacy. Now we share almost everything with our phones. Of course we know that our phones share all the data with system owners: Apple, Microsoft, Google, FB, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Maps, Random app developers, whatever, whoever. It is fine, we get great benefits. I love my phone. I love the apps. I don’t mind sharing my data and anyway I signed up to the terms and conditions. Next.
I can be used to get a discount with your life insurance company.
Yes, that is fine, also my Car insurance. I am still in control, I need to agree to share this data. Maybe I already agreed, was that in the terms and conditions?
Your future employer may want my data-record Don’t worry I wont give it to them I can be TRUSTED
I believe in Apple, Google and Microsoft. My data is safe. At very least it is anonymous.
Our myth making and world wide religions tell us again and again that if we make a brain, a Frankenstein, a big brother, a Blade Runner Android, a Cyberdyne device, it will become self aware and it will end in Judgement Day. There is a deep message that if we make a brain, a creature in the image of ourselves the inevitable result will be evil because Man is born with Original Sin. Perhaps it is ancient wisdom?
I know what temperature you are, how many steps you take, I see your emails, your messages, I count your calls.
Enhanced with computers that are on us, in us, one with us, like wearables as we move through an environment that is tagged, aware and meta we have fundamentally altered what it is to be Human. I am sure Morse would have thought so.
Standing today at Communications Heavens Gate we wonder at the brilliance of it all. We understand that the flip-side to heaven is oblivion. The ultimate defence is the ultimate enemy. Each time paradise is discovered there is a flip-side of parallel awfulness.
I send you a pulse when your boss/customer/wife/mother/lover Whoever you want, communicates You are free to choose, whoever
Is that a phone that you have or a nervous tick? I don’t know why but I can’t let go.
I don’t really care But I know, I know, I remember, I deduce You signed up when you bought me. You agreed to the terms and conditions.
As we re-model Gods work and make a brain – we realize the vain headlong folly of it all. The elixir is in fact poison. But if we believed that sad point of view nothing would ever happen. Nothing is inevitable. Many human institutions manage progress – conservatism, religion, school, university all attempt to regulate. We have our methods to control progress but every time we control the kids, the kids just run away with it. We are at it again. We try to limit time on computer games. Kids these days are wasting their time – they even text when they are in class (against school rules). We extoll them look up and breathe. But they don’t, they don’t hear, they are on to the next level. There is a natural discomfort to this phone dependency. We have kids that bring phones to bed. We on the other hand, we adults, we know better, we use phones for important things like business and keeping track of the kids.
Relationships are maintained by TXT not letters: FB Girlfriend: Meet up IRL. A hotel advertises that they have “actual tweeting birds”. One kid says that a mint plant smells like toothpaste. Is that a multiplayer game – like football, FIFA world cup?
There must be something better! Perhaps the kids know?
I am a Nearable I am the other side of the equation
So a man with a van is now a man and a phone with a van. Nothing can happen except we have phones involved! Is that an exaggeration? It would be too much I think, if, if we didn’t wear them. It is the fact that the mobile phone is a computer that is on us, is us, that is key. We have altered the nature of ourselves and will now alter the container that we are in, our physical environment, the world.
If as McLuhan suggests, a hammer is the extension of the fist and a car is an extension of legs to walk; what is the Internet an extension of? Of our whole library, our thoughts, our history – is it an extension of our species?
I am beside a door When I see (detect) you I send a message to the door to open. I can also open your car and switch on your heat. I make things work for you.
Is there a practical difference between mind and body? Something essential that separates information and matter? In this brave new world the environment is smart. Things have become information. Environments are not just containers; the process changes the content entirely. The Internet of Things offers almost limitless gold: Our certain manifest destiny. We are already at the point of Kurzweil’s Hybrid thinking. No need to explain, just Google it. Our next step is to “transcend the concept of things to brilliant things. We will need new words to even imagine what we are about to catalyze”. In another time trains and telegraphs facilitated the drive to go West. That manifest destiny turned dystopian for American Indians driven from their land. Progress is rarely even.
I am compatible with your wearables Everywhere you go, I know it’s you. Because of me I can confirm that the steps that you make are not just steps on the spot. You fool yourself but not me.
Who, what, do we share this planet with? “As our bodies morph into cyborgs, the buildings that house them are also transforming, increasing telecommunication systems replace circulation systems and the solvent of digital information decomposes traditional building types one by one familiar forms vanish. Then the residue of recombinant fragments yields up mutants”.
In a global personal digital environment Space and information have become one Things are miniaturized, dematerialized, dislocated. We own files not things. Things are just shells for files.
First we made an information environment, cave paintings, books, computing, the internet. Then we embodied the information environment. Then we mastered our physical space with information. We planetised it.
References: (thanks for the ideas and quotes) Bill Mitchell: City of Bits
Daniel Walker Howe: What hath God Wrought
William Gibson: Neuromancer
Marshall McLuhan: The media is the massage
Darren Anderson: @oniropolis
Gordon Pask: Cybernetics
Joe Salvo: The Industrial Internet Consortium
Julius Guzy: The conversation computer
1. You must want this
You are an academic. You have the best job in the World. You are employed, but you are free to pursue your own interests. Every year you are re-energised by a new group of students. Now you have an idea based on your University Research and somehow you are compelled to start a business. Why?
Perhaps you fear becoming institutionalised, maybe it is because you love freedom, because you don’t like or believe in University, because you want to share your project with the world, because you want to be rich, because you are bored, because you want more excitement, maybe someone said: “you cant do that” to you. Maybe it all was an accident but yet here you are, somewhat surprised at yourself, but you still persist. There is a reason, I don’t know what it is, you do.
You now have two jobs, running the business and continuing as an Academic. That is not easy – so you must really want this.
2. Trust is essential
To start a business based on a University research project idea is not a singular activity. You may have singularly thought of the idea but turning it into a business is not singular. There are other people involved. Your spouse, your co-founder, the department, the faculty, the University Research Office or Technology Transfer Office, a private investor, a government support agency, an early adopter customer. To hold it all together you will need some glue. The glue is trust. People say sometime about business “oh it is just business”. Trust is not just business it is personal. You personally must trust the people you are in business with you just as they must trust you.
An investor might like the look of your new business proposition. They are investing in you not the invention. The invention is probably dead without you – unless the investor or the University have lots of unemployed CEO types they can appoint to rescue the operation. Probably they don’t. In effect you are the invention. A relationship of trust is required. You need to feel that the investor or the University will not dump you at the first opportunity, the investor and the University need to understand you and your goals and all need to believe that you are in this for the common good. Probably, everyone needs to know each other. Joe needs to be married to Helen’s sister. The network of trust needs to be tight. You are going on a journey. A trigger happy kid in the team is a total no go. You simply cannot have them. The rest of the people on board are already a pretty edgy bunch. Don’t add a match to the fuel. Trust is a deep, visceral, thing. You need it. A crack in the establishment of trust will certainly become a chasm.
3. The invention is not the thing
The invention is the start point. The business may not sell anything like the thing that was originally invented. The attempt at commercialising the invention will lead to another related thing that will attract some market pull – that is the thing – the original invention is just the start point. Every University start up I have met are convinced that their thing is the thing – often, even though they haven’t sold any.
Perhaps you have a tech start up. It is a fast moving world. Everything is quick. People in the business accelerator programmes and University Tech Transfer offices say things like: “try hard, fail quick”. That is all fine but you need to go at your own speed. That speed might be slow. Be patient. There are lots of ideas about what shape a University start up should be. Your start up might not be that shape. That should not worry you. Be patient with yourself.
5. The pivot point(s)
One day you will be in a meeting when a discussion takes place that changes everything. Perhaps you will be moving out of research into commercial development, perhaps out of hardware into software, changing location, turning down a contract, perhaps not getting paid by a customer, maybe you need more cash, perhaps you have discovered a fatal flaw in your idea, maybe you have been turned down for investment, perhaps you need to go back to consultancy rather than product development, perhaps the University is suing you. Whatever it is it can be a head wrecker! At that point, keep the faith. Pivot, duck, dive, swivel, swerve and keep going.
6. The bust up with the University
Every University says that they are expert in spinning out businesses. They might mention a great success they had in the past. They have technology transfer officers that will help you. They will offer you “support”. They will incubate your business. To a greater or lesser extent all of the above is true and false. But by starting your business and putting a lot of energy into it you will somewhat de-focus on normal University business. Most academics will say: “it is fine, I can manage both my Academic career and my business venture”. However because you are focusing on the business:
– you might step back from starting a new course
– you might dodge becoming a course director
– you might not become Head of School or Dean
– you might chose not to lead a big research project
All this slowly causes tension to rise. At some point the business and the University will part company. You will be in the middle. What are you going to do? Leave? Stay? (See paragraph 1.)
7. Write you own business plan
You are just an academic, you know nothing about business, you need help, so you can become investment ready, etc etc.
Do not accept any kind offers to write your business plan for you. This is your business. If you are clever enough to figure out the invention then you can understand that you need to know who you are going to sell to. If you know that you can write your own business plan. If someone else writes the business plan then who is in charge? Clearly not you!
8. People who are entrepreneurs are different
Hang out with people who have started businesses, those who are running them and those who have sold them. They are different and they are very interesting. They contrast very starkly with your friends in academia. It is like as if there is two worlds!
9. Sell something
The difference between a research grant and a business is that in a research grant you spend money (the project funding). In a business you make money.
The development must stop! Sell something. Do not give stuff away. Charge for everything. There should be no free Beta tests. Ask for money from prospective customers. If they pay it shows their commitment to your idea. Listen to potential customers. You are looking for buyers – not partners or research collaborators or grants or admirers. You need to weigh the success of your idea with sales.
10. Don’t drink the cool-aid
There is a lot of noise about start up businesses. There almost certainly is twitter group about “start ups”. There might be an evening event where start up’s get together to hack and have a few beers. The University might run a Start up meet up on every second Thursday of the month. All of these things are great and are very well meaning and they can make you feel good but they should not be confused with the task of getting on with it. Ask yourself if the community based, tech city, social media, hackathon, star wars, event adds anything to your bottom line. No? Go home instead!
@DesignatMagee is a twitter account that deals with design related matters around the Design course(s) in the School of Creative Arts and Technologies, Magee College, University of Ulster. There is also a DesignatMagee website.
The people behind @DesignatMagee are the teaching staff, the students and the course alumni.
We will also invite students, examiners, consultancy and research partners to act as guest tweeters from time to time. Actually, we don’t really know what is going to happen but that’s the plan and we will just have to wait and see how it all pans out.