Secret Systems by Scott Smith

Flights cross SE Asia in the early morning hours.

Flights cross SE Asia in the early morning hours.

Visibility of unseen systems has been a recurring theme in the talks and research of my fellow travelers recently. And for good reason. Black-boxing of critical systems that support daily life creates significant long-term vulnerabilities for individuals, organizations and states. Two weeks ago I added a small piece to this conversation [now also available on Gizmodo], spurred by the uncertainty surrounding the disappearance of MH370, and the way the search for it has revealed systems and interconnections about which many average people are unaware. While experts sometimes have the tools to proactively probe and reveal the shape of these hidden systems, it often takes a crisis or wild card event to cast light on them for a public to whom they are effectively invisible.

The timing of the piece was serendipitous. Shortly after publishing (quietly), I was asked last week to chair the "Secret Lives of Systems and Services" panel at the end of FutureEverything in Manchester in Laurie Penny's absence. Filling in was a privilege, considering the panel was formed by Ella Saitta, James Bridle and Adam Harvey.  Their talks focused on reaching not just into technological layers to point to existence and potential abuse of the "architectures of control" Anab Jain invoked in her keynote, but also on the criticality of understanding and using political and cultural levers to push back and contest these systems when abuses take place, and making them visible even when there aren't abuses, in order to return power back to the individual.  

I'm hopeful that this ongoing focus on systems and infrastructure—and the assumptions and intentions embodied within them—will help steer a more fair and humane trajectory for the necessary elements of these systems, and I look forward to a great deal more discussion and action in this space. 

Algorithmic Spring by Scott Smith

Image: Flickr / James Evans

Image: Flickr / James Evans

It's officially spring, warmer weather is hopefully on the way, and my bags are packed for a busy few months on the road. Starting later this week and continuing into June, I have a full itinerary that takes me across the UK, Europe, possibly parts of South America (more to come) and then home again before Barcelona in the summer, as annual tradition now dictates.

Important events, workshops and research coming up:

  • Later this week I'll be with some of the crew from Near Future Laboratory that commissioned and created "Winning Formula," a project that I contributed to as part of an exhibition at the National Football Museum in Manchester, a piece of the Future Everything Festival, and soon to be at CCCB in Barcelona and at Fundacion Telefonica in Madrid as part of the Big Bang Data exhibition. John O'Shea and I will be running a workshop on Data-Driven Football as part of FutureEverything as well. This has been a fun project to work on as we turned scenarios about the possible future impact of data on sport into a newspaper from 2018. If you can't make it to Manchester or Barcelona, you can order a copy of the newspaper at the Winning Formula site.
  • It was just announced that I'll be joining the stage for Next14 in Berlin on May 5, along with Cory Doctorow, Miko Hypponen, and a terrific line-up of folks sketching the outlines of the New Normal—this year's theme. I'll be talking about unexpected impacts data may have on our lives and work in the near future. Watch this space for more details. 
  • Just after, I'll be talking at Media Convention, the New Media Congress, also in Berlin, May 6-7. 
  • I'm very pleased to be invited back to Media Future Week in Amsterdam in May 19-22nd. I was invited last year, and had a lot of fun working with design students from across the Netherlands to shape their future visions and talking thick and thin futures. This year I'll be talking about algorithms and their impact on creative futures. 
  • At the end of May, I'll be taking part in the Oxford Futures Forum at the Saïd Business School in Oxford. The convergence points of design and scenario planning are the key discussion points, and practitioners from several communities will be coming together to further flesh out these connections. Looking forward to seeing old colleagues and meeting up-til-now digital faces in person.
  • Another opportunity to work on a fascinating topic is coming along in late spring and early summer as I've been invited to collaborate with Lighthouse resident Georgina Voss on a project for Nesta on speculative futures, digital fabrication and sexual health. This project promises to cover some hitherto uncharted ground, asking in George's words, "What could digital fabrication and hyper-local manufacture offer to the provision of sexual healthcare?"

Deeper into 2014, as I mentioned, I'll be back in Barcelona leading a summer course in Innovation and Future Thinking, from July 21 to 31 at IED Barcelona, where I spent a few great weeks last summer with the Masters of Design program. If you are interested in understanding how the future can be folded into your design and innovation work today, and want to spend a couple of weeks with an amazing city as your canvas, give it a closer look.  

I look forward to seeing you on the road in the UK, Germany, Netherlands, Spain and beyond. As always, get in touch if you have a project collaboration, event, course, or workshop you would like to discuss.