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
@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.
Norbert Wiener defined cybernetics in 1948 as “the scientific study of control and communication in the animal and the machine.” Others define Cybernetics as the art of Steermanship or Helmsmanship. I prefer that idea, that is the idea of being at the helm is preferred over Wiener definition. I prefer it because I sail. When you are at the helm you are in control of a machine; the boat. The machine converts wind energy into motion. The helmsman directs the machine to where he wants to go and reacts to the changes in circumstances while underway. Sometimes sailing can be hard work as you fight the elements but a good helmsman knows his boat and allows the boat to do the work, to absorb the force and he sails on in good order. The machine and the man are in harmony.
Gordon Pask argues that Intelligence is evident when there is a conversation. Intelligence is developed as one person extends an idea offered by another in a conversation. The conversation does not necessarily need to be between people, it can be a conversation with oneself. When alone an intelligent idea is developed as it is discussed in front of the mirror of the mind. What is critical is that the idea is reflected between the initial internal idea and and the reflected external form. For example a day dream is firmed up when fully conscious and committed to memory. A poem is imagined and rehearsed in silence then spoken and then committed to paper in draft form. At each point there is reflection and revision.
In Industrial Design drawing is often used to help solve 3D problems. Typically the problem is difficult to resolve – at least that is, wholly, in one go. So a sketch is made and the problem is partially resolved, it can be worked on later, evaluated, it may be an inspiration for another concept, it can be shown to others, tested and developed and measured.
Design sketches can vary from those drawn on the back of a beer mat to fully rendered computer generated 3D models. All these design drawings are similar in so far as they are representations of a thing that is not made yet. The Designer is giving form to the new product. The Designer is using drawing as the tool by which he engages in a self conversation. The mental process is one where the idea forms in the head (corresponding to the project brief) and it is then drawn out. In the language of Cybernectics the initial idea in the head equates to the internal component of the new idea and the drawing is the external component of the idea.
It would be a mistake to try and separate the external and internal components of the idea because the original thought and the drawn image of the thought have a cybernetic relationship. The two (the internal thought and the externalised drawing) combined together are a machine for designing things. The linkage between the brain and the image is via the neck, arm, hand, fingers, pencil, paper. The reflection back comes via the eyes which see the image being formed and the completed image.
Donald Schon in his book the Reflective Practitioner describes the capacity to reflect on action so as to engage in a process of continuous learning. Gary Rolfe says of reflective practice that it is a process of; what, so what, what next. The process of developing a design is ideally that process; a loop of what, so what, what next that develops until a satisfactory design emerges.
Bearing in mind the Cybernetic aspects of design problem solving using drawing it is clear that there are several places that the loop can falter:
Does the internal idea get effectively encoded as an externalised drawing?
Is the drawing effectively re-internalised sustaining the design conversation?
Once re-internalised what is the next thing that happens?
The conversation hand-overs from one part of the cybernetic loop to the next are essentially the elements that determine the efficiency of the whole design machine (the person and the drawing). What practical actions can be taken to improve the efficiency of drawings?
1. Build a vivid internal picture. A design drawing is not like life drawing, there is no model in front of you. The thing you are trying to draw is in your head. Are you sure the picture you are about to draw is properly formed in your head?
Remedy: Think before you draw. (sounds easy, huh!)
2. Remember what you are drawing. Drawing instructions need to be sent from the head to the pencil via your arm. This is an encoding task. It is difficult to do, you need to concentrate. You need to place the idea in your memory until you have it drawn out. At the same time as remembering what you are about to draw you need to encode and send drawing messages to your hand. These two tasks combined can all just be too much leading to information overload. Information overload happens to some people, but for others there is a tendency to underestimate how much effort is required to think of something and then draw it. The result for either group is a drawing that doesn’t come out right – literally.
Remedy: Not only do you need to think of the idea but you also need to think of the drawing of the idea – before you draw it. By doing this you are consciously thinking about the encoding and giving yourself a better chance of making a fair drawing.
3. Practice Drawing skills. Assuming that the idea is well formed and the instructions have effectively been sent there is the matter of drawing fluency that can undermine the effectiveness of the drawing. Simply, if the designer can’t draw well enough then the drawing will not serve its role as part of the cybernetic relationship and the thought will fail.
Remedy: Practice. Nearly everyone can draw well enough to communicate their ideas about how something should be. Being better than others at it – as a professional designer might be – is a matter of practice.
4. Reflect on what has been drawn. The drawing is on the page but it is not examined or looked at. The drawing once made is forever forgotten. No reflection ever takes place. Perhaps the drawing is simply thrown away.
Remedy: Number the pages. Put a value on the sketches. They are not ‘just’ sketches, they are the externalised part of your thinking. Look for progressive change as one page develops into another page.
5. Fools Gold. There is a natural tendency to over appreciate ones own drawings and very often design drawings can be beautiful. When the drawing and the problem solving thinking are in harmony the ink on the paper almost seems to order itself into beauty. However vanity sometimes overtakes the greater good and we draw what looks good on paper rather than the drawing that really contributes to solving the problem.
Remedy: There is no remedy for this. It happens to everyone. We see what we want to see.
Jen goes to her computer [or phone] and says, I’m here, I want to go into the city. And it goes out onto this network and posts a request for bids. And the message that’s posted says, “Here I am, here’s where I want to go, give me your best offer.” And all the different taxis out there, they actually start making offers: I can do it for this price, I can do it for that price. Behind the scenes, Jen’s computer looks at what’s available and figures out what the best offer really is.
The car Jen hires, in turn, makes deals for road space with other cars, depending on her hurry level. All these cars, of course, drive themselves. But more than that, they’re autonomous business entities — they own themselves. If they prosper, they have “children,” by commissioning more vehicles; if they don’t, Hearn says, “they can’t recharge their batteries, and they die.”