The Future of the Rights Movement #79 #cong16

By Belinda Brummer.

We humans have relied on machines for centuries to help us with work. Wheel. Locomotive. Washing machine. We take these conveniences for granted when all things digital consumes our attention. We hardly notice just how hard the machines are working away. They are machines after all; not workers, right? And if they are not workers, they don’t have rights, do they? And if they don’t have rights then fair treatment, protection from exploitation and suffering don’t apply to them, surely? What we know, for sure, is that human understanding and knowledge grows. And with that, despite competing values and perspectives, life has improved for humanity. 

Machine capability is advancing. Rapidly. The more sophisticated and capable they become, the more likely we will face this fundamental question:  What are the incremental significant moments that will result in worker rights for machines? 

But humans have a sketchy record of dealing with the recognition of rights. Be they related to owning property or being owned as property; statutory or natural; being a woman, a child, LGBTQ, disabled, an immigrant, a human, an animal, or any other right we take for granted. As well as those we are still championing for or fighting to be recognised and protected.

A simple example of our sketchiness is how long it has taken the civilisations in the West to recognise the distinct rights of children. In 1802 Great Britain introduced the (first) Factory Act. This was a significant but small step (1) was taken to address the suffering of children brought on by the Industrial Revolution. (2)

“These were the real David Copperfields and Oliver Twists. Beaten, exploited and abused, they never knew what it was to have a full belly or a good night's sleep. Their childhood was over before it had begun.” 

It took another 50 years for real change to happen and for children, at least under the age of 10, to have the right to a better existence. The change came indirectly, targeting the enforcement of access to education. Only as recently as 1992 did Ireland sign up to the newly introduced United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. “The Convention changed the way children are viewed and treated – i.e., as human beings with a distinct set of rights instead of as passive objects of care and charity.” (3)  

It took almost 200 years of suffering by young, barely formed, lives to recognise the rights of the child – and that’s only a glimpse of the Great Britain / Ireland story. 

In 2013 I spent a year in South Sudan. All around me I saw children experiencing poverty and the abuse and ignorance of their rights that go hand-in-hand with hunger and instability. The world’s newest country had signed up to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, however in 2016 sections of that same government are ‘recruiting’ child soldiers (4) in renewed fighting. Globally, there are millions of child brides, child soldiers, child workers, child sex slaves and those genitally mutilated. The fight in their name continues.

Ask any minority group at any point in history about their struggle for rights. They will tell you that achieving recognition and protection of their rights is a long and often bloody affair – and never permanently successful. New regimes enforce their own personal values. Because rights, personal values and power are inexplicably linked.

New friends

Machines aren’t humans. If humans struggle to recognise fellow humans’ rights, what chance have the more sophisticated machines we create? And when are they ‘sophisticated enough’ to ‘deserve’ rights and the protection of them – and who gets to decide, if we even get the chance to do that? To begin to process those questions, we should understand just how sophisticated machines are about to become. 

Machine learning is a method of data analysis that automates analytical model building. Using algorithms that iteratively learn from data, machine learning allows computers to find hidden insights without being explicitly programmed where to look (5). 

* • Microsoft’s short-lived Twitter bot,, was an experiment in ‘conversational understanding’ that, well, became a racist Nazi within 24 hours of communicating with tweeting humans (6). 

* • The Google Neural Machine Translation system is now able to make ‘reasonable’ translations of languages it has never been taught to translate – and humans haven’t a clue just exactly how it does it (7). 

Machines are learning – in different ways and to varying degrees of success. And they are learning not just to work, but also to feel. 

* • Ellie is an ‘AI like-minded counsellor’, a virtual therapist taught to empathetically work with decommissioned military personnel suffering from PTSD (8). 

* • Nao and Kasper are two child-like companion robots who have been built to understand empathy and mimic it back to humans (9). Kasper in particular is used to help autistic children learn to connect with humans. Similarly, Pepper is an autonomous human shaped companion robot described by her makers, SoftBank Robotics, as “kindly, endearing and surprising … whose number one quality is to perceive emotions”(10). (I got to meet Pepper – a copy of her anyway – and asked her this very question here and here)  

And this is only the start. This is the now; not even the near-future. Machines, they are going to become very sophisticated, very quickly.

To boldly go where we have been before, just a bit quicker this time

Where there is light, there are shadows. Bradley Chavet’s Blowjob café (11), that he proposes to open in London, will serve coffee with a warm human-like robot-serviced blowjob. He has set the price, he says, at £60 so as not to undercut local human blowjob providers. The coffee is to keep the morning routine just that, a routine on-the-way-to-work grab-as-you-go activity.

Robot sex workers. Globally, the debate about the rights of human sex workers rages on. How does that debate change when the worker is a robot? And what then when the workers are robots and are vulnerable to exploitation and suffering - because we have taught them to feel? 

It is this vulnerability and suffering of others that drove our Industrial Age selves to grapple with the rights of the child. John Locke’s* work in the 1600s resulted in humans having a deeper understanding of identity, self, property and the value of labour. This understanding will have influenced the road taken by society at this critical juncture.  Who then will be the John Locke of the machine world and bring light to the rapidly growing shadow of machine identity and self? And will equal rights extend to all workers, regardless of how they are created? Perhaps, as was the case with recognising the rights of the child, an indirect approach will be more effective. Seeking the rights of sentient robots recognised as a first move will get us stuck in the mire of the “What-is-Life?” debate. 

A first steps might be 

* • to protect against the exploitation and suffering of robot workers and introducing legislation that targets this. 

* • to extend this to the right to reap the benefits / wealth of their own labour. 

The Right to Life for human-inspired sentient beings, well, that feels like more than just a leap for mankind.

For all those feeling, thinking, autonomous, hardworking robots of the near-future, I hope it doesn’t take humanity 200 years to respond humanely to your exploitation and suffering. If it does, then despite our role as creators of your magnificent selves, we have learned nothing at all from our own suffering.

* John Locke (1632-1704) (12), a British empiricist philosopher, is often cited as the originator of the modern Western conceptions of identity and the self with his Theory of Mind13. He also introduced a Theory of Religious Tolerance in an era of extreme intolerance. And if all that wasn’t enough, he also introduced the idea that property is a natural right and is derived from labour in his Labour Theory of Value. Locke went where few had gone before, and he did so boldly and with immense impact – Kant, Rousseau, Hume and Voltaire were just some of those deeply influenced by his work. Locke grappled deeply with what it meant to be a human in the modern age. 


1.     UK Child Labour and Education Laws – A History, The Royal Geographical Society Website, Accessed December 7 2016:

2.     Britain’s Child Slaves, Annabel Venning for Mail Online, Updated 17 September 2010, Daily Mail Website, Accessed December 7 2016:

3.     Conventions on the Rights of the Child, UNICEF website, Accessed December 7 2016:

4.     Children and Armed Conflict – South Sudan, United Nations website, Accessed December 7, 2016:

5.     Machine Learning – What is it and Why Does it Matter?, SAS Website, Accessed December 7, 2016:

6.     Twitter taught Microsoft’s AI chatbot to be a racist asshole in less than a day by James Vincent, Updated March 24 2016, Verge Website, Accessed December 7 2016:

7.     Google’s AI created it’s own universal ‘language’ by Matt Burgess, Updated November 23 2016, Wired website, Accessed December 7 2016:

8.     Ellie and ICT Researchers in LA Times, USC Institute for Creative Technologies Website, Updated April 3 2015, Accessed December 7 2016:

9.     Empathy in AI Series, Part 3 – Impressive Artificial Intelligence Using Empathy Now by Cole Calistra, Updated September 7 2016, Kairos Human Analytics Blogs website, Accessed December 7 2016:

10.  Robots – Who is Pepper?, SoftBank website, Accessed December 7 2016:

11.  Bradley Chavet’s Blowjob Café will Also Serve Coffee by Gaby Bergado, Updated November 22 2016, Inverse Website, Accessed December 7 2016:

12.  John Locke, Wikipedia website, Accessed December 7 2016:

13.  An Essay Concerning Human Understanding by John Locke, Wikipedia website, Accessed December 7 2016:

“Live and Targeted” - The Future of Digital Video. #78 #cong16

By Greg Fry.

The Digital Video revolution is here and brands are struggling to keep pace with the changing technologies and the tactics required to execute video in an effective way.

I remember businesses flocking to Twitter in 2009/2010 as it became this amazing platform to communicate with their target market in “real time”. We were able to “follow” and consume content from celebrities and influencers and get to know them in a more intimate way than we ever could. I remember feeling like I got to know Britney Spears in a weird virtual way by reading her tweets prior to a concert performance in the US or reading her rant at recording studio. Twitter allowed us to reach and connect with an audience in a way we had been unable to do on the likes of Facebook or LinkedIn.

In many ways, I see similarities between Twitter back in 2009/2010 and the digital revolution, which is happening now. 

What do I mean? Well in a nutshell video is the most powerful, impactful way to demonstrate one’s expertise, passion and personality online. It is the quickest way to build a relationship with your target audience. Also, thanks to the likes of Periscope, Facebook Live and YouTube, we can now broadcast in real time. So, a viewer can witness and experience what is happening elsewhere in a way they never could before.

The big difference of course is that video is now popping up in different formats on all platforms and, in many ways, is changing the way we consume and communicate online. It seems silly typing this as I say it…….I will have to create a video version.

Despite the opportunity that video offers businesses and marketers, many have been slow to adopt and execute video effectively. Maybe they are waiting for the bandwagon to fill up before they feel comfortable enough to jump on. 

The key to success with Digital Video is to be “interesting” and brands need to make their video content stand out from the pack: So it amazes me how many Accountants are still producing “boring” Accountancy videos that people do not want to watch. A safe approach……...maybe……. but those 23 YouTube views are  not really going to generate any ROI for your video efforts.

Still not convinced about the Video Revolution? No article is truly complete without a few stats:

  • 96% of shoppers find videos helpful when making purchase decisions online.  - Animoto
  • Social Video generates 1200% more shares than text and images combined – Brightcove
  • Companies using video enjoy 41% more web traffic than non users – Aberdeen
  • 70% of marketers claim video produces more conversations than any other content -  Vidyard
  • Facebook is fast becoming a video social network with100 million hours of video being watched on Facebook every day.
  • 80% of Millennials use online videos when researching a purchasing decision  - Annimoto
  • Snapchat Users Now Watch Ten Billion Videos Per Day! 

So it appears the internet is going video, so much so that Cisco claim that by 2019 80% of World’s Internet traffic will be video.

So how will the current YouTube/Facebook type video evolve in the future?

  1. Video will become interactive: 

Not only will be able to view video content we will be able to participate in it. 

A great example of such an interactive video is Deloiite’s – Will you Fit Into Deloitte recruitment video. The video essentially tells the story of Deloitte’s values and ethics and challenges the viewer to make decisions throughout the video. The decisions you make help idenify whether you are a good fit for their organisation. These interactive type videos generate far more engagement than a regular video and a greater viewing time.

View the full video here or should I say participate in the video below -  

Other great examples include Heineken’s  Go Places Campaign -  


Very soon we will be watching videos or video ads that showcase a product or service and be able click and purchase the item with one click direct from the video. Trust me it’s coming……YouTube Cards are the first step towards making this a reality.

  1. Video conversations become the norm.

Snapchat and WhatsApp have developed the ability to make one to one and group video calls on their platforms and the young audience are lapping the feature up. I only need to look at my eldest son and his mates to see the impact of video chat. In the past I feared that the world was getting very impersonal brands and staff members were hiding behind emails and tweets. However, thanks to video brands will be forced to communicate with customers through video. 

Let me think into the future and give you an example of how instant video could work. Imagine it is 1 year from now and I am looking to purchase a home and I am looking at a property on With one touch on the screen I have a video conversation with a Mortgage agent who gives me advice. No appointments needed and conversations are able to take place at the time and place I want.  This instant video will revolutionize communication and make websites and social media more personal and interactive.

There have been a number of attempts to do this already with healthcare. Virtual GP visits are now a reality through video.


  1. Customized and targeted video.   

I have been talking about this for ages and it is coming.  With all the data that is on the web and the personal information we leave on the web (such as our age, our interests, where we live, who our friends, what our buying habits are etc.) we are going to be targeted with highly customized personal video. In the near future we could all be watching the same sporting event on TV and see completely different ads. The ads that would be served up during a break would be totally customized for me. The data about us all is already here and with automation getting smarter generating multiple messages for multiple audiences is no longer an expensive and impossible feat.

  1. Influencer Marketing 

Video may have killed the radio star, but it is making some serious celebrities out of people who have adopted and built large audiences on platforms such as YouTube, Snapchat and Periscope. Brands are realizing that teaming up with new “Video celebrities” is a marketing necessity and a far greater way to reach a large targeted audience than traditional marketing efforts. Brands that team up and associate with “video stars” are not only reaching a large audience, but enhance they brand image and “likeability”. Whilst this is not a cheap form of marketing it is typically cheaper than traditional channels (TV, Radio and Print) that have dwindling reach. In many sense this concept is not different from Pepsi getting Britney Spears to hold their drink in a TV advert years ago. So ask yourself who is your target audience and who are the  “internet/video celebs” they watch and/or engage with online?


Brands in Ireland are already using internet celebs for Snapchat account takeovers and YouTube videos.

  1. Crowd Sourced Video

Always remember video works both ways. As brands video should not just be about broadcasting it should also be about collaborating. Or even listening.  Snapchat has looked at this functionality already. For example when watching the latest Conor McGregor fight I could send my Snapchat video to my story or to a collaborative Congor McGregor story that was made up of all the content shared by all the other fans around the world.  This type of video content is hugely popular as the viewers are also the participators.  A great Irish App to create crowdsourced video content is Shotclip -

The ultimate Crowd Sourced Video campaign. One third of the Irish population participated by uploading a video in a 2 week period.

  1. Drones and 360o Video

2016 has been the year for drones and 360 degree images and video on Facebook, however I don’t believe companies  have mastered the true art of using either effectively yet. In the near future you will see the cost of producing drone footage and create 360o video plummet and more people will adopt these video formats. The key to successful drone videos will probably be a “blended approach” a mix of regular and aerial footage.

 I think less will be more. Currently most drone footage (in my opinion) is shot too high and lacks integration with traditional video. I think where 360o video will become more normal is the viewers ability to watch/experience content from different angles. I think we will see videos giving viewers several different viewing options.  Jamie Oliver’s YouTube channel already has videos were I can watch his recipe being cooked from an aerial view, face on or side angle.


  1. Live Streaming

Facebook Live has taken the Internet by storm this year and it is clear that Mark Zuckerberg believes video is paramount to Facebook’s continued dominance. Technology is changing daily and brands are struggling to figure out how they can become broadcasters and build “live TV” type channels on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. We are going to see companies getting better at creating more “valuable” relevant content and use  tools that give broadcasters a slick branded appearance. One big development we will see with live streaming over the next year is better analytics and data on who exactly is viewing our live video content.  Some of the tools you may want to consider for live streaming are:

Open Broadcast Software (OBS) – Free software that allows you broadcast directly from a desktop computer. It allows you to add your logo to your screen, add text, and share your screen and more. You can broadcast live to YouTube, Facebook (pages, groups and personal accounts) and Periscope. 

There are lots of other similar tools out there. Including Wirecast, Blue Jeans and LiveLeap. If you were a fan of the recently deceased Blab you may want to look at or Firetalk.

So get on the Live Streaming bandwagon because it is only going to get bigger. Instagram have just jumped on and are allowing their community broadcast live to their followers via their stories feature.  Clever companies will plan and promote their live broadcasts in advance, create “valuable” and relevant content and broadcast on a schedule (much like a television network). 

  1. Search engines will index video better.

At present the use of srt files are great to add to your video. Thus files add captions or subtitles to your video that not only the viewer can read, but also the search engine can see. This helps search engines and Social Media algorithms understand and index your video. (A tool to create and add srt files to your video is Aegisub.

I believe that very soon we won’t need these and that the search engines and social media sites will be able to understand our video content, where it was shot and who it is aimed at.  

  1. Finally, brace yourselves for a VR revolution.

We will start to see and experience video that brings us into a virtual world. We got a great insight into the near future this year when Mark Zuckerberg used Facebook’s Oculus Rift to virtulally go home and check on his dog and whilst there call his wife and snap a selfie. All from a stage at a packed conference.

Eg. Travel agents in the future can show their customer that hotel in Thailand in a way never even imagined before.

Quite frankly, my brain hurts when I think of the possibilities for brands using video and VR.

Can you think of a 10th Point?

How do you think video will evolve in the coming years? There is no doubt it is changing the way the internet looks and I firmly believe it is helping the internet to become more real again. 

I firmly believe that other than face-to-face contact video builds relationships and “likeability “ faster than any other digital medium out there.

Do you agree?

Farming post EU Structural Funds and Subsidies. #77 #cong16

By Tomas Tierney.

Forget the report of the Irish Economy’s success.  Forget that employment is growing and that there are increasing tax revenues.  Ignore the continued projected annual growth rates and the endless prattle about our Economic Recovery.

Instead consider the facts:  Farm incomes are dropping and every year there are up to 7000 fewer farmers in the fields.  All this is happening despite huge structural funds and subsidies to allow the sustainability of primary food production.  These structured funds were initially set up to help put Irish farming in a position where it could survive of its own accord.  What has happened instead is that primary producers have become fully reliant on EU subsidies, as the market value of their produce is completely uneconomical.

Nobody is in any doubt that the EU Funds are running out (maybe Europe itself is running out...).

“The EU cake is getting smaller and more people want a slice”.  Remember that for the average farmer, 70% of his income comes from the EU and not from customers buying his produce.  In addition, there is increased pressure from outside the EU to abolish state supports for farming.  The World Trade Organization, for example, is vocal about the need to open up Europe to America, Australia and other food producers.

Perhaps it’s useful to look NOT at agriculture as a business, BUT at farmers as people......

The Future Post Subsidies

The future for primary production has to lie in a realistic market price for the farmer.  This year, for example, only 28% of organic lamb produced in Ireland was sold at a premium price – the remainder was sold as mainstream produce.

Why?  I don’t have the answers....

Who dictates the price for Irish farmers’ produce?

Is it World trade prices?  Dominant processors?  Major Retail Outlets?

OR is it ourselves as consumers.....?

Are we really willing to pay premium prices for premium products?  Or is the overall Food Industry going to continue on its race to the bottom....?

AND Is there a connection between quality Nutrition and Health?

Illness in the 21st Century

It is characterized by Chronic diseases, largely caused by eating a poor diet, being too sedentary and living time-poor, highly-stressed lives.

“Obesity in Ireland is a much worse crisis than HIV/AIDS in the 1980s and cholera in the 1800s”, says Prof Donal O’Shea, the country’s leading obesity expert.  

Along with obesity we have huge increases in the incidence of diabetes, cardiovascular illness and dementia.  Everyday foods (dairy, sugar and wheat) are often a major cause.  Mental illness is often avoided or alleviated by improved nutrition.

The foods we eat have often become severely depleted of essential nutrients – soil depletion has resulted in the loss of essential minerals, and vitamins are often lost because of the distance and time travelled for produce to get to its end user.

Food economics and agriculture must take sustainability into account.  This will result in better produce.  Intensive farming of animals necessitates huge amounts of grain/cereal production to feed these animals; with subsequent loss of grasslands rich in Omega 3 fats and essential minerals and loss of wildlife habitat (bees etc), not to mention the fossil fuels used in its production.  Use of low dose antibiotics in intensive farming also exacerbates a health system already in crisis – the rise of antibiotic resistant bugs etc.

We must think of food in an almost political way – what we buy, what we eat, the shops we support – it all relates back to sustainability, seasonality and local producers, and automatically gives nutritional value for money in return.

Perhaps there is life post subsidies for the farmers in Ireland – but it necessitates a major shift in consumer thinking and logic, and subsequently in market prices for the primary producers. 

After all “We are what we eat”. 

The Future of Child’s Play

By Sabina Bonnici.

A woman said to me recently: "I once caught my son compulsively playing on an iPad in the school library. My first reaction was to tell him to stop, and then I realised he was playing an algebra game called Dragon Box 2, and loving it!"

Children's play in the future will be using screens and devices, despite parent's concerns about kids spending too much time on them. This is inevitable in the same way that there are very few jobs today that do not use technology in some form. I think we'll be looking back on the current discussion about 'limiting screen-time' for children and wonder what we were thinking! Monitoring time spent using a screen or device, should take a back seat to finding out what children (or adults, for that matter) are actually doing with those screens.

This view is supported by Dr Brian O'Neill, DIT, who recently led an extensive study on how children use the Internet in Ireland and on the recent TV series Making Ireland Click, is quoted as saying: "We're not really making that creative and productive connection that we really need to. It's just reflective of some of the restraint that is unwarranted because young people do have good digital skills."

Leaving aside the screen-time debate, the woman's observation about her son playing a maths game on an iPad is also indicative of the many toys and games for children that have inherent learning experiences built in. In some cases, this even extends to monitoring. An example of this is an American learning platform parents answer questions about their child and invite other family members and care-providers to weigh in, and kids play brain games that target perceived areas of cognitive weakness. Highly personalised toys and games such as these, that are based on a child's cognitive skill-sets, are the future of learning through play.

The line between what constitutes play, and what is deemed to be work, is being blurred. The traditional view of play and work is that they are opposites: Play equals fun & unproductive, while Work equals serious & productive ( According to rules for national schools, school time only allowed for a 30min 'recreational interval', but now play is being integrated into classrooms as a recognised way to learn.

For teenagers playing with open-source electronics prototyping platforms like Arduino, in cities and towns across Ireland, it isn't 'work' at all as they create interactive objects and environments. They are literally getting to grips with the 'Internet of Things' (IoT), a description for connected devices that change the way we live and work, one that many adults are only just getting their heads around.

Similarly, in the 'not just for adults category', the maker movement (an umbrella term for independent inventors, designers and tinkerers) is providing plenty of opportunities for children to become involved. Giant toy corporation Mattel have recognised this opportunity and next Autumn will be releasing the Thingmaker, a 3D printer that lets kids design and create their own toys. 

IMAGE: Thingmaker

Years ago, exasperated parents shouting at squabbling kids: 'Go outside and play!' might not have thought that smartphones would be part of that plan, but   today Augmented Reality (AR) games like Pokemon Go have changed that. AR technology has the potential to turn everywhere from your backyard to the public square into a playground. Location based games aren't new (Ingress for example, has been around for a while), but big brands like Pokemon have succeeded in making AR accessible to young and old.

Finally, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is another technology that I predict will, as well as changing the future of business, have an equally profound effect on the way children play. It's already started with Mattel recently partnering with tech company to create Hello Barbie the first conversational AI doll that kids can speak to. And bust my buffers, they've also gone and done the same with Thomas the Tank Engine!

Now enough of child's play, if you would like to read about the future of play for Adults, pop on over here...

The Future of Adult Play.

By Sabina Bonnici.

Firstly, from the title of this post you might expecting it to be about the future of the adult entertainment industry, well you'll be right, but not the X-rated sort -  sorry to disappoint! (Maybe that's next year's Cong post.) 

Silicon Valley entrepreneur Martin Ford argues in his book Rise of the Robots:  As technology continues to accelerate and machines begin taking care of themselves, fewer people will be necessary. Artificial intelligence is already well on its way to making “good jobs” obsolete: many paralegals, journalists, office workers, and even computer programmers are poised to be replaced by robots and smart software. Will the rise of the robots mean adults will have more time to play? The Industrial revolution in the 18th century brought about a leisure revolution, so perhaps a future with more play-time for adults is not so far-fetched. 

What sort of things will we be doing to fill our newfound free time as robots do our jobs and cater to our every need? Science fiction may give us some clues... though hopefully we won't follow in the footsteps of the recent TV series Westworld (based on 1972 movie of the same name). Westworld depicts a frankly terrifying future of a Virtual Reality (VR) adult playground, where the majority of people seem to take a huge amount of satisfaction of committing acts of extreme violence all under the guise of taking 'vacation' time.  

IMAGE: Westworld

So while we haven't yet got to the completely immersive environment suggested by Westworld, Virtual and Augmented Reality (AR) are, in my humble opinion, the technologies with the most promise for play in the future. 

VR experiences are being trialled and developed for a myriad of uses from journalism to therapy, but a natural fit is VR gaming, being able to step into unreal, or normally inaccessible, worlds.  

Another area of play that VR is taking over is fitness and sports. An example of this is a company called who are creating VR cycle experiences. Using your own bike with their VR kit, you can cycle across both real and fantasy landscapes, and natural or urban environments including cities like San Francisco.  

Most of us by now have heard the phrase 'Gotta catch 'em all' from the Pokemon Go AR game. Don't be fooled - while it looks like a kid's a game, it's the adults who've made this a smash-hit. A recent survey found that 71% of players are aged between 18-50. The possibilities for AR are constantly expanding as the new AR headset from Microsoft demonstrates, the Hololens (taking it's naming cue from Star Trek's holodeck), but the actual experience isn't quite like Captain Kirk's just yet.

Stepping out of VR and AR, and back in to the real world, one interesting observation I've noted is the recent increase in the number of 'escape rooms' popping up in cities around the world. These are real-life rooms, or sets, where you and your friends have to solve mental and physical tasks to escape the place you've been locked into. The nineties TV series The Crystal Maze is a classic example that was recently revived in a charity celebrity edition, and the Crystal Maze experience in London is booked out until March 2017, with another one being built in Manchester. In Dublin we have 'Go Quest'

There are also an increasing number of organisations and theatre production companies making immersive site-specific work: taking performance out of expected venues like theatres and putting them in places you'd never expect. Punchdrunk transformed a warehouse into giant film sets, Secret Cinema turned a parking lot into Back to the Future, Blast Theory create games and playful experiences in cities near you. And some companies even go beyond physical locations and attempt to dip into your psyche. Ontroerend Goed made a performance about what people's first impressions of you are, and gave you a DVD of their comments as a memento!

The common thread tying all the above experiences together is that as adults, we are demanding an ever-increasing amount of interaction and socialisation from our play activities. My armchair theory is that this stems from a deep-seated search for our own humanity. We play to try and make sense of the way we could be in a world that's changing rapidly because of technology.

That's enough of the adult stuff. If you would like to read about the future of play for Children, pop on over here...

The Future of Play. #76 #cong16

By Sabina Bonnici.

"How we play is related, in myriad ways, to our core sense of self. Play is an exercise in self-definition; it reveals what we choose to do, not what we have to do. We not only play because we are. We play the way we are. And the ways we could be." (Psychology Today)

IMAGE: PlayTheFuture.jpg (Image credit: Design Academy Eindhoven)

So when it comes to future of play, what's in store? Technology allows us to delve much deeper than ever before into 'the way we are' and the 'way we could be' and as a result, the options for what we'll play are becoming limitless.

To begin with, let's play a little game to see if it's child's or adult play that you're most drawn to.

Pick a number between 1 and 10...

If you picked an even number, read this.  

If you picked an odd number, read this. 

Look to the Past to Determine the Future #75 #cong16

By Gavin Duffy.

We live in an environment comprised of multiple layers of order and dis-order.  Ordered elements like night and day are predictable because we know it happened yesterday and indeed everyday for as long as mankind can remember.

There are more chaotic oscillations in our system like the weather which are not so predictable.  Yes, we can make short term predictions via technology and our understanding of the atmosphere however meteorologists tell us it is impossible to predict with any certainty anything beyond 10 days.

On a much longer time scale we can say with relative certainty that we will have another Ice Age, an ironic fact given all the discussion on global warming.  The reality is that the predominant climate of the northern hemisphere over the past 2 million years has been an icey one and we are simply in an interglacial period.  How long it will last is uncertain but it is generally agreed our 'warm period' could last anywhere between 5,000 and 50,000 years, determined by Milankovitch cycles (wobbles in the Earth's orbit around the sun), and the as yet unknown affect of human activity.

Of course there are occasional traumatic 'unforeseen' events, which Nicolas Caleb calls 'Black Swan' events.  They tend to be life changing events, but what we can say is there will be more of such events in the future.  The Jurassic extinction event is largely believed to the result of a meteorite strike.  It was sudden, traumatic and had a profound effect on the planet.  Carl Sagan once said "If the dinosaurs had a space programme, they would still be about".  However the dinosaurs did not have such insight, and Swan's never mind Black Swans were yet to come in to existence!

Some people however try to claim certain events are Black Swan events, when in reality they are not.  They were entirely predictable if people took the time to look in to the past, and recognise similar historical circumstances.

One such example was the recent traumatic economic collapse of Ireland.

I still recall the reaction of one of my friends in the mid naughties when I said I missed the boat to get on the property ladder but I was happy to wait until the boat came back again and prices become more affordable.  The idea that prices might fall was completely incredulous to my friend, and indeed not just to him but by society at large and the so-called experts, who predicted a soft landing and certainly not a fall in prices.  I am not an economics guru.  I did not foresee the credit crunch and did not know when the brakes would be applied, just that a time would come in the not too distant future that the prices would stop rising and in that event would certainly fall.  Why? Because 35 out of the previous 36 property booms around the globe ended in bust.  Soft landings are not the norm, so why should Ireland have been any different.

I would like to suggest that human societies have oscillatory patterns much like the physical environment we inhabit.  The rise and fall of empires, the spread of religions, disease, periods of enlightenment and periods of repression are all part of the same circular cycle of the human experience, and as the saying goes, 'it's a big wheel that doesn't turn full circle'.

Politically western society is in a state of flux, demonstrated by the rise of fascists parties across Europe, the Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump as the next President of the United States.  This political turmoil follows a period of economic turmoil across Europe and North America where the middle and lower working classes have suffered disproportionally whilst the gap between the wealthiest and the average workers wage has widened.

Such political upheavel normally occurs a short period of time after the sudden reversal of general prosperity which had extended long enough for people to become used to it as 'the norm'.  The swinging 1920's were followed by the depression of the 30's, which was closely followed by political upheavel in Europe and ultimately war.  Many have drawn similarities to our current changing political landscape and those currently holding the centre in politics would be foolish not to take these warning signs very seriously.

Policies which view society as economic entities rather than social ones have failed to recognise the ghetto-isation of Muslim communities in France, Britain, Belgium and Germany and the lack of jobs and services supplied to such communities.   Media likes to focus on the threat of radical Islam to western society but the biggest threat to our stable society lies within us.

Supposedly educated people making uninformed decisions because they have not looked in to the past will unfortunately insure that this inevitable cycle continues, unless we can develop policies for the many and not for the few and educate people on the real outcome of following populist policies which defer to fear and isolationism.

"Artificial Intelligence - The robots are coming to get us and other such stories.” #74 #cong16

By Ciaran Cannon.

I must admit that I am a technophile. I firmly believe that digital technology will facilitate profoundly positive change over the coming centuries. So when I read recently that Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates, Elon Musk and Steve Wozniak had co-signed a letter warning that artificial intelligence could potentially be more dangerous than nuclear weapons, I had to sit up and take notice. When some of the world's greatest minds, who have been to the forefront of global innovation, begin to question how that very same innovation could ultimately threaten the survival of our species, I feel obliged to dig a little deeper to test that hypothesis.

As you might expect, and more than a little ironically, there are thousands of pages of debate on this very issue to be found on the internet and in the next thousand words or so, I will try to give you a little insight into the challenges and opportunities that lay ahead for us all.

Just a few short miles from Cong, in the fields of Athenry, Apple is planning to spend €850m on developing a new data centre. Apple is also building a similar one in Denmark. In fact all of the world's largest tech companies are falling over themselves to develop additional cloud storage simply because the amount of data being generated globally is expanding at an unprecedented rate.

By 2020 there will be over 20 billion devices connected to the internet and generating a unrelenting torrent of data every second of every day. Cisco predicts that global cloud traffic will reach 8.6 zettabytes by the end of 2019, four times what it is today.

  • A zettabyte is roughly 1000 exabytes.
  • An exabyte has the capacity to hold over 36,000 years worth of HD quality video.

Our data storage capacity is increasing at an incredible rate and it is being matched by the computing power required to analyse it at a forensic level. For example the servers that power the Xbox in 2016 contain more than the entire world's computing power available back in 1995.

In fact if the world’s total computing capacity could be directed at running minds as efficiently as those of humans, we would currently have the equivalent of 1500 extra human minds available to us and by 2030 it is predicted that we will have around 50 million such "minds" thus increasing the world’s effective population by about 1%.

However it is important to point out that despite the availability of unprecedented computing power, no one has managed to artificially create something that can function as well as one human brain. Computer-based neural networks, which try to mimic the brain, are still a long way from replicating what their human counterparts can achieve. Even the biggest current neural networks are hundreds of times smaller than the human brain.

However there is no question but that at some point in the future a computer, or an array of computers will have the intelligence of a human brain and then it is only a matter of time until such brains become ubiquitous and perhaps more importantly, sentient.

So the question we must ask ourselves is quite simple. As we feed every minute aspect of our lives into these newly minted minds, will we be creating the perfect ally or the perfect adversary? 

As you might expect, opinion is deeply divided on this profound question.

Almost every generation of humanity has experienced what it perceives to be major technological change and with that perception comes a deep fear of the unknown. Every century or so we whip ourselves into a frenzy and predict that some new technology will threaten our very existence. What is even more surprising is that with the benefit of hindsight, and the fact that we are still around, we cannot resist making similar doomsday predictions over and over again. Every generation succeeds in convincing itself that it is confronting a new technology that far surpasses the power of others experienced by previous generations.

So you could argue that the whole Artificial Intelligence (AI) debate is much ado about nothing. However there is already enough evidence to suggest that AI is indeed the change we should manage very carefully, the one that could break the rule of those centuries of experience. And it is because of the rapid pace of development of computing power and AI that we are being advised to proceed with caution.

Place a wheel from 1016 beside a wheel from 2016, well they look pretty much like wheels. The electricity that boiled your kettle this morning is much the same as that which powered Mr. Edison's bulb in 1879.

However the smartphone you have in your pocket today contains 2.7 times the processing power of the Cray-2 supercomputer developed in 1985. A Cray-2 was the size of a family car and cost $16m dollars, thus putting it out of the reach of most humans. It was used by NASA, Ford and General Motors amongst others to carry out millions of very complex calculations. Now millions of humans have double that computing power in the palm of their hand. That pace of technological change is unprecedented in human history and it is increasing in speed, every day.

I believe fundamentally that AI will be a powerful force for positive change. With that kind of computing power at our fingertips we will see a blurring of the lines between man and machine. AI will bring together the complementary talents of people and computing systems. It's already happening.

AI-enabled devices are allowing the blind to see, the deaf to hear, and the disabled and elderly to walk, run, and even dance. In 2011 gamers playing a protein-folding game called Foldit helped to unlock the structure of an AIDS-related enzyme that the scientific community had been unable to unlock for a decade, a feat that neither people nor computers working alone could come close to matching. The solution represents a significant step forward in the quest to cure retroviral diseases like AIDS.

Professor Geoff Hinton, known as the godfather of deep learning, has recently said that we are only at the dawn of AI and attempting to second-guess where it may take us is "very foolish".

In his words; "You can see things clearly for the next few years but look beyond 10 years and we can't really see anything - it is just a fog."

As we negotiate our way through that fog it would seem sensible to do so very carefully and by laying down some basic ground rules. If we get those rules right from the very beginning, I believe that we have little to fear and much to look forward to.

Many modern AI experts, rather strangely, fall back on a simple set of guidelines devised by science fiction writer Isaac Asimov who was remarkably prescient when he wrote a short story called "Runaround" 1942.

Asimov proposed three laws of robotics - taken from the fictional "Handbook of Robotics", 56th edition 2058, and they are as follows:

  • A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm
  • A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the first law
  • A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the first or second laws.

To me, that seems like quite a good place from which to start.

A Smarter Home is Here and Now. #73 #cong16

By Susan Crowe.

Think of a world in which we can turn on our electric blanket on the way home from the pub, our central heating from the bus, your music in the kitchen from the bedroom and answer the courier at your door from your workplace.  This is no longer an image of the future but a picture of the present accessible and affordable now in a way many would and could not believe 10 years ago. 

Smart home technology is here with us today and accessible to all in a way we never previously thought possible. All of us are used to using Wifi in our homes and this same technology is being used to connect us to all sorts of devices in new and exciting ways. In Ireland, today the average number of household connected devices is 5 but in the UK, this is 10 and that is not simply computers, phones and laptop but our TVs, entertainment/music systems our central heating and services such as Netflix and more smart homes technologies. 

Smart homes, as we understood them of old, were for the rich, living in new builds, that required miles of cabling and their own detected servers, at a huge cost and with a level of IT connectivity beyond most of us. Now it is available over Wifi and Radio frequency using sophisticated communication protocols, both accessible in price, easy to install and in particular easy to retrofit to our existing homes. Many of the systems are controlled via a box no bigger than 4 bars of chocolate. This makes the market endless as it is no longer confined to the rich and those fortunate enough to be able to build their own homes.

Your home router, smartphone and Wifi modem are now the centre of the current and future smart home systems. All of this has been made possible by growing broadband penetration, higher connectivity speeds and the growth in smartphone penetration. 

What and why would I want smart home technology? All of us are now seeking greater convenience and control of our lives and the technology around us. The smartphone has allowed us to do our banking from the couch and change channels on our TV via the phone. But with the right systems I can now turn on the heating from the same seated position as well as turning off the light and streaming my music from my phone. But where this gets interesting is not in the smart fridge but when I can install a wifi camera in my elderly parent’s home to be notified by movement of the fact they have got up at 10.00am and entered the kitchen. To then even have a visual of them presented to me and allow me engage in a two-way conversation remotely, being able to greet them, ask them how they are and remind them to take their tablets all from my smartphone at my work desk. This is how Smart home technologies enhance the quality of our lives and those we care most for.

Many are entering the smart home market unconsciously as they seek out simple solutions to their own “communication” issues.  Lots of us have faced the problem of poor internal Wifi signals in our homes, due to the growing number of devices and connected users. Alternatively, we seek better performance for our now Smart TV we thus enter the market looking for wifi boosters or as the industry calls them range extenders and power lines. How many of us with children have wanted to be able to listen to them in their room when asleep, using baby monitors. This market has now expanded from pure sound, to sound and visuals but additionally accessible over our Smartphone remotely. All this is users entering the smart home market in different and ever increasing ways. 

When asked what it is that people want to control remotely the most, their top answer not surprisingly is their home heating. As more and more of us live unstructured lives with little predictable routine (compared to our parents’ generation) as such we want and desire great flexibility and control of the likes of our home heating, lighting and security systems. Fixing the heating on a set routine to come on at 6.00pm in the evening is not useful or beneficial. All this can and is available on the market today in many different forms but via many plug and play systems. Will this market catch? I hear you ask yourself. This I would say is like saying why would I want or need a remote control for my TV. The answer is you don’t need it but you do want it. Can you imagine now a manufacturer selling you a TV without a remote control? No. So, to the future, neither will light switch or plug socket manufacturers, or heating controls be sold without the ability to connect and control them via our smartphones or tablets. This technology will become omnipresent, driven by demanding consumers. 

If I can finish by painting a picture of the future, where I wake to the blinds in my room being slowly raised while the music on my radio starts playing, the heat has been thermostatically set to 21 degrees for the kitchen and living space and the kettle has already boiled by the time I come down to the kitchen. On leaving the house the lights turn off and the alarm automatically sets and I can monitor the house from my internal and external cameras. The future of these systems is not a smart kettle, Smart Fridge a smart washing machine, or smart central heating systems but a seamless connection of electronically controlled devices all remotely controlled and monitored from my Smartphone from anywhere in the world. Today we have this technology and the costs and accessibility is only getting cheaper and more omnipresent. 

As a Wifi connected home, welcome to the smart home market you are already a player and participant without knowing it, now take control for yourself and learn more from the soon to be launched

A Faster Horse. #72 #cong16

By Paul Killoran.

If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.

Henry Ford.

Every single day we put humans in pressurised tin cans, we elevate them to 35,000 feet and we suspend them there for 8 hours while they enjoy a transatlantic crossing. We give them limited legroom, recycled air and reheated processed food. 

If you treated a dog like this you’d be arrested. Yet 8 million humans pay for this experience every single day and nobody bats an eyelid.

In days gone by, Irish people travelled to the United States in a 3-week coffin ship. 

Today, our smug superiority scoffs at our ancient historical hardships. Instead we’re content that our barbarian ways are now solely confined to the history books.

My brother lives in Australia. My mother will never go and visit him because she could never face the 24-hour journey. Will someone tell me why it takes so long to get to Australia? Particularly when the International Space Station orbits the Earth 16 times a day?

We’re stuck in the past. We’re flying on technology that was originally derived in the 1960s and when you consider we’ve been to the moon and back since then, it begs the question:

Why does it take 8 hours to get to Boston?

Of course we witnessed Concorde’s first commercial flight in 1976 but we subsequently resigned that majestic bird to the history books in 2003. And today as an almost taunting embarrassment to our evolutionary dreams, one of her flock proudly serves as a visitor attraction at Manchester Airport’s conference center.

Concorde failed for two reasons. The first was that its sonic boom shattered windows and ultimately confined its top speed to trans-oceanic routes. The second was the public lost confidence in the aircraft after multiple safety issues and a fatal crash at Charles de Gaulle Airport. The first is an engineering problem. The second is a PR problem. Both of which are solvable.

So given all the progress we’ve made in science and engineering over the past 4 decades, why have we not built a new and improved supersonic domestic aircraft? Why have we given up on the dream of supersonic flight?

Looking the other way, it takes 260 days to travel to Mars from Earth. Leaving aside financial considerations, this sort of journey time makes interplanetary travel impractical for domestic passengers. 

Ultimately I believe that the human race is travelling at a sub-optimal velocity and we don’t appear to have any desire to change this. It’s hampering our evolution and its forcing global inaccessibility on 7 billion people.

It would be rude to write an article about accelerated human travel and not mention Elon Musk and the work being done at SpaceX and Hyperloop. Musk has unequivocally proven that accelerated human travel is possible and more attainable then we previously thought.

Now that supersonic travel is no longer a thing of science fiction, it raises another fundamental question: Do we care? Or are we happy to let our apathy and lack of ambition sustain our market of faster horses?

Then again, maybe velocity isn’t the problem at all. The laws of kinetic physics describe the relationship between velocity, distance and time. And let’s not forget Newton’s second law of force, mass and acceleration.

velocity = distance / time

force = mass x acceleration

Maybe we’re taking the long road? Could we dig tunnels through the Earth instead of going around the perimeter?  Imagine a subsea transatlantic Hyperloop.

What would happen if we increased human life expectancy to 170 years? Would 260 days to Mars be such a long time then? After all, time is relative. 

Or does our boredom threshold define the length of a trip? I have fond childhood memories of a 4-hour car journey to Cork that seemingly lasted an eternity (and required an endless supply of drinks, sweets and NOW17 tapes). 

Could we accelerate faster if we were lighter? An electron can travel at the speed of light. What if human beings weighed a tenth of what they do today?

Maybe we’re just afraid of change? How many people would be willing to walk away from the tried and tested 1960s aircraft technology to try out a new untested supersonic aircraft?

How many entrepreneurs and investors would be willing to take on a venture so ambitious that nobody would take them seriously? Are we too fixated on 3-5 year horizons to commit to a 20-year development plan?

At the end of the day there are lots of questions; more questions than answers. I don’t pretend to have any of these answers. Instead, over the past few years I’ve repeatedly asked myself these questions and at some point in the future I want to solve some of these questions. This is my starting point.

I believe that we’ve succumbed to a lethargic attitude of solving the immediate problems surround us and we’ve placed marketplaces like the AppStore at the center of our universe. 

I’m jealous of the ambition we had in the 1960s when we decided to land on the moon. Today we’re so fixated on global trade economics that I believe we’ve lost all appetite for evolutionary ambition. I think we need to raise our horizons, summon incredible courage and solve more problems that benefit the human race (and not just our investors).

Maybe that’s slightly utopian. But if we don’t dare to dream then we’ll be forever breeding faster horses.

© Eoin Kennedy 2017 eoin at congregation dot ie