Talk at Emerce Tech Live in Amsterdam

Last Tuesday I gave a talk at EMERCE Tech Live on the main stage of the Beurs van Berlage in Amsterdam. It was a lovely event and it was fun being back in Amsterdam however briefly.

It was a business focussed practical riff on my ‘Designing Conversational Interfaces’ talk that may have blown some people’s minds. So it goes!

Tech Live! 22

Tech Live! 24

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Now on stage @alper on conv interfaces. The good and bad. The power of simplicity #tel17

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A possible agenda for a tech workers solidarity movement

The USA example of resistance against Trump in the form of Tech Solidarity quickly gained a following in the Netherlands with TechSolidarity.nl and here in Berlin with some Tech-Solidarity-Berlin. I’ve had a small role in both of those groups’ creation but I’m currently not an active participant.

Tech Solidarity’s success is of course unique to the local environment and Pinboard’s prior activism in tech. That said there are a lot of similarities that make similar movements over here possible and necessary. The Netherlands and Germany have elections this year and are faced with similar populist disruptions. The technology industries here are also very heavily dependent on expat workers who have specific issues and interests. The time seems ripe for people in technology to organize themselves.

The idea of the Berlin organization is not to duplicate efforts. There are already lots of initiatives in Berlin that address most parts of this agenda. What tech solidarity should do here is 1. posit an encompassing vision of what we want to achieve and that it is possible to achieve that together 2. function as a switching board to match people who want to do things with things that need people.

I’m associated with the Berlin meetup but I haven’t attended any of the American events so we had to piece together what we thought would be an agenda for our local context. I suggested these five points that I personally think are relevant and critical right now.

  1. Maintain the freedom of movement and other liberal values that make Berlin and Europe an amazing place to live and work.
    Europe is an unique place in the world—increasingly so, though not as unique as we might like to think. The high standard of living and freedom enjoyed here attract people from all over the world.
    Those positive qualities and the new people they attract are not seen as positive by all Europeans alike. Populist movements want to close borders, go back in time and tear down the institutions of our liberal open societies. These measures will affect foreign workers and immigrants much more than they will local residents.
    What can we do to maintain and strengthen our local social democracies, the institutions that make up Europe and how can we scale out these values?
  2. Make it so that foreigners in Berlin can and do participate in local civil society.
    This is not just a problem for foreigners but they suffer from much higher hurdles when it comes to this. Foreigners are often here temporarily, usually do not speak German and do not get to vote. It is harmful to both residents and to society as a whole for people to be disenfranchised.
    What can be done right now to circumvent those limitations and what needs to be done in the future to create a more vibrant and inclusive civil society?
  3. Support diversity initiatives of all kinds in the workplace.
    In most tech companies in Berlin diversity is neither valued or practiced. Diversity has proven benefits to everybody involved. Also by not starting to practice this now the industry is putting themselves on the back foot when it comes to the future.
    What can we do to increase the awareness and practice of diversity?
  4. Use our skills and resources to help local immigrants and refugees.
    People working in technology have access to an immense amount of economic and social opportunities. People who are new to Berlin or who have already lived here for a while should have access to the same opportunities and be able to contribute their efforts and perspectives.
    How can we educate and include people without traditional paths into technology and make the sector as a whole more open and inclusive?
  5. Formulate actionable positions on professional ethics (data retention, car exhausts etc.).
    We need to formulate ethical standards for people working in technology and back them up when they need to abide by them. The potential to do things that are unethical and harmful is increasing just as quickly as technology’s influence but not everything that is possible should be economically determined. Laws are not a sufficient protection since they can be weakened or removed due to changing political circumstances.
    What are ethical red lines that we can agree upon and what is practical support we can offer people?

ThingsCon Amsterdam 2016 Talk

Welt am Draht

I strolled through the massive exhibition ‘Welt am Draht’ at Leipziger Strasse this weekend. This is a selection of video art from the massive Julia Stoschek Collection exhibited in the former Czech Cultural center.

Like everybody says the quality of video art in general is extremely inconsistent. That is true in this exhibit as well. There are a bunch of works where it is not at all obvious why somebody finished it, somebody approved it and somebody paid money for it.

The works that were most interesting in this exhibition consistently were not the video ones but those created with a game engine. That may be my own novelty bias at work, but a fully digital workflow like that allows: 1. more and faster iteration 2. fully dynamic products, the combination of which leads to totally new kinds of things that can be produced.

Some examples:

I forget what this was, but despite the concept being more or less ridiculous it has a compelling internal consistency.

RMB City by Cao Fei is a rich and spectacular playground of randomness.

I can’t really argue with any of Ed Atkins’s work which stands out for the pure skill of the renderings combined with spoken word that is not trite (so rare).

Ian Cheng’s Emissary Forks at Perfection is an ongoing collage of elements in a dynamic simulation that looks like an edgy version of the large scale installations Theo Watson makes.

Why Käthe Kollwitz is one of Germany’s most important figurative artists

Today I got a tour of the Käthe Kollwitz museum in Berlin. I had wanted to visit this museum for a while but this proved the concrete reason to finally go (though the café next door makes some mean pancakes if you find yourself in the area).

I was recently attended to her existence by MacGregor’s series on German history (episode). I now believe that she is one of the most important German artists of the past couple of centuries. If there are any other significant candidates, I would like to hear about them.

What makes her stand out as an artist are:

  • Her mastery of both drawing and sculpture.
  • That she depicts ‘common’ people and social themes prominently. She thought these people were beautiful in their own way and that their plight was one that merited attention. For me this is a stark contrast with how current (artistic) elites try to ignore the ‘common and stupid’ people (like Trump voters).
  • The loss of her son and how that permeates her later work.

Our tour guide didn’t make the connection but I find it more than fitting that on May 1st we would be looking at for instance the Weavers cycle (one of which I have pasted below).

Kollwitz_Riot_Best

Tweet coverage of the 2016 Bot Summit at the V&A in London

I was at the 2016 Bot Summit in London a couple of weeks ago. I did my best to capture salient points from every talk in a tweet. Here are all of them in order.

Sleep by Max Richter

Kevin posted yesterday that he had an extra ticket for Max Richter’s Sleep at Kraftwerk Berlin yesterday. Without a moment’s hesitation I packed my sleeping bag and cycled there with him.

Kraftwerk Mitte is a disused power plant in the middle (Mitte) of the city that is now a club venue and host to a variety of events. The most striking features of it are large open spaces and lots of exposed concrete everywhere.

Max Richter I didn’t know before but I quickly confirmed that I would agree with his music. It had been one of my desires to attend a classical music concert while lying down being able to doze in and out of sleep as your mind and body dictate. Classical concerts tend to be long and uncomfortable affairs.

I hadn’t imagined I would get the chance to do this during an 8 hour overnight concert.

Preparing to spend the night here listening to music by Max Richter

The music is very smooth to listen to and it is a kind of music that Richter is known for (read this interview). I’m listening to From Sleep now as I write this. I listened to the first couple of hours and then fell into a fitful sleep until I woke up again at 07:30 to catch the end.

Sleeping on stretcher beds at a power station 15 minutes cycling away from home with a couple of hundred other people was a strange experience. It was for one one of the lowest key camping trips I have ever undertaken. Though I’m used to the occasional communal sleeping arrangement, those are totally different situations. Berlin’s club spaces facilitate experiences in between the intimate and transgressive but even then this is an odd one out.

I probably also wasn’t the only person in the room who considered it wry that we would pay €48 to sleep in circumstances similar to thousands of others in Germany right now.

I’m still not sure what to make of the event but it is a memorable experience that will stay with me for a while like a dream but more powerful.