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UK Space Conference & the Internet of Things

UK Space Conference & the Internet of Things

This week, I took part in a Battle of Ideas debate at the UK Space Conference in Liverpool exploring the Internet of Things and its transformative potential. It was a pretty far reaching debate, but my main argument focused on the need to step back and imagine a world where the IoT is not imagined as something in the service of humanity, but something which may serve a wider notion of ecosystem well being. This doesn't mean ignoring the desires and needs of humans, but instead trying to come to terms with what might be afforded by this technology if we adopted a wider perspective. I went on to advocate the need to think about an 'Interstellarnet of Things', which takes us beyond the confines of our planet in imagining the potential of this technology, along with the importance of thinking about some of the consequences of artificial general intelligence and the possibility that objects becoming sentient. In this regard, the idea of an Internet of Things at all misses the point - they will not be things, but beings, entities which may have a certain moral status by virtue of its capacity for volition or self-actualization.

Finally, I talked about the importance of the open data initiative and the need to overhaul some of the conventions operating around digital platforms which restrict our freedom to roam by precluding us from exporting our data into some universal language.


Slavoj Zizek

In 2008, Slavoj Zizek was in Liverpool for a couple of days. I took a few photographs of him at a lecture, which have been published in numerous books about him. It is also the photo used within his Wikipedia entry and, today, another publication has used this image. I am very fond of this picture and am sure that its success is predicated on its being freely available online.

However, given the many uses to which it has been put, I wonder whether one may begin to describe it as an iconic image. The photograph conveys a lot about the  man, his independence of thought, his simple, but complex ideas and the bleak background also mark him out as a thinker who can be both celebrated, but also isolated at times, alone with his thoughts.

The success of the photograph makes me wonder whether our sense of what constitutes an iconic image has changed in a digital age. I don't really claim that this photograph has become iconic, but expect that the repeated distribution of a single, free image can create a singular impression of a person which previously may have been afforded by publication in leading periodicals.


Liverpool Riots

UPDATE 2011.08.09, 4pm: The streets in my neighbourhood (L8) are quiet, but there is news that shops in the city centre are closing early to be on the safe side and people are moving their cars from my road. There's a feeling that the Police are more on top of things today than they were yesterday, so I'm optimistic. There are still debates about why this happened, including discussions about whether social media was an important catalyst. Here's my take on it, sent to the website Seven Streets who got in touch after seeing my initial post.

Is Social Media to blame? No.

I think it is a red herring to point to social media as the catalyst for what took place in Liverpool last night. Undoubtedly, the use of private messaging and mobile communications played an important role in organizing the riots. However, it is important to distinguish this from social media, which tends to play out within the public arena. It works best when people can just follow a public hashtag on Twitter, for example. I think it unlikely that rioters were using disguised hashtags to organize themselves. It is more likely that social media reporting on Twitter and Facebook helped people understand what was taking place, than help the rioters organize.

Personally, without Twitter, I'd have been lost to know what was going on around my area. Most of the UK media were not paying attention enough - most likely because they did not have the resources. BBC News 24 barely mentioned Liverpool, the BBC Radio Merseyside do a great job during the day, but they're also limited in how detailed a knowledge they can give of our individual neighbourhoods where most of us are interested in the 7 streets surrounding where we are, as a priority.

What we need is a much more organized hyperlocal media reporting of what's taking place. Even the Facebook group on Liverpool Riots Updates isn't really doing the job it needs - it's managed by someone in Manchester and this morning promised more updates by this evening, which is absurd. We were up all night and today we want second by second updates on the Police's latest impressions of what to expect tonight and a clearer sense of why this cannot happen again. Such reassurances cannot be guaranteed of course, but communication serves to help people understand how city leaders are addressing the situation and this is already a help, just knowing someone is giving a lot of thought to what's taking place. In my street, we just received flyers for cars indicating that they are welcome to park in a different neighbourhood tonight, if people are concerned about the car's safety. This is the sort of action that matters to people, as does the Liverpool Riot Cleanup campaign, which has been widely reported.

Social media is not isolated from other forms of communication technology - from the high resolution CCTV cameras that will help the police to bring perpetrators to task, to the mobile phones which help people understand where to avoid or, indeed, where to go and watch the destruction. We have to accept both are a consequence of having the technology, but getting rid of it won't prevent it. After all, there was no social media in 1981.



Living on the edge of the area where the riots took place in Liverpool 30 years ago, it was saddening to have seen what took place here last night. I moved to Liverpool in 2006, when it was gearing up for the European Capital of Culture year in 2008. The city has changed dramatically in 5 years - for the better, in my view. Liverpool is beautiful again. However, last night brought home the fragility of our society, not just Liverpool. We were awake most of the night as gangs of youths roamed around the neighbourhood, helicopters flying over and I even had to call the fire service for two wheelie bin blazes that started behind our apartment around 3am.

This morning, nearby streets are eerily normal, with only a handful of burned cars and many more smashed car windows as evidence that something untoward took place. Seeing the crowds of youths around the streets at the early hours of the morning, seeing the photos of Smithdowne Road and watching coverage of what was happening on twitter - with the occasional 5 second mention on BBC News 24, it was apparent that the media - social or otherwise - still isn't optimal in these situations. What I'd really have liked to have access to was a live satellite camera, so I could see what was happening all around us.

That said, there seems consensus across all reporting that people do not understand why this has happened now, which makes it seem like a very difficult situation to diffuse.

Here are some pictures from this morning. I wonder where all those kids are right now.



Dreamspace is in the news again this week. It was the first art work i saw in Liverpool when I moved there. It subsequently blew away and killed a couple of people. My reportage is my most viewed selection of photographs on Flickr and it was a wonderful experience. I hope someone is brave enough to remake it one day. Sadly, the artist Maurice Agis died in 2009 soon after the case against him for gross negligence mansalughter was resolved. The court were unable to reach a verdict and he eventually received a reduced fine of £2500.

Mike Stubbs

  Mike's inaugurallecture was titled 'Anger is an Energy: connecting time and space through action, movement and memory'

Caja Thimm, From Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 (2008, April, University of Liverpool)

From Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 CajaThimm, Uni of Bonn

What is Web 2.0? -    user driven web -    less about technology -    no technological barrier – thing of the past -    web 3.0 prospect

New services -    advertising -    1.1

ME: how much of online advertising is web 2.0 platforms?

Wikis -    we restrict use of wikipedia as citations

ME: why restrict wikipedia citations?


Videocasts and podcasts

RSS – not used a lot

Does Gordon Brown have a videoblog?

ME: WebCameron, but problem is not, how do you know that the communication mode is not politically laden? Is this really intimacy or something much more staged?

‘self marketing’

participation – citizen journalists

never know how well researched, but do have professional control teams

Social websites and communities Virtual worlds – second life

Media literacy is a social competence -    ME: expand

SL is not a game, but virtual society

‘avatars are’ internet ‘users’ representation of himself’

rape in SL -    ME: Different from the rape in LambdaMOO?

Neal Stephenson – ‘snow crash’

‘when you click on the website in second life’ -    ME: but you don’t do this, it’s not a website, but a downloaded software

Preference to type, rather than voice in SL

Very global

Virtual self – virtual as compensation for real life

Pornography – went to a bar, not very populated - ME: what time of day did (s)he go?

Barak Obama does have an avatar. Hilary Clinton does not have an avatar.

G8 protests in SL

Free Burma in SL

The future


ME: why restrict wikipedia citations? What would wikipedia need to do, in order for it to gain the sort of legitimacy you seem to require ofit?

ME: what do we know about the demographics of web 2.0 users compared to Web 1.0

ME: what was your uni policy on citing wkipedia? What’s the objection, because you seem to celebrate the capacity of web 2.0 in most of what you say.

ME: how much of online advertising is web 2.0 platforms?

ME: WebCameron, but problem is not, how do you know that the communication mode is not politically laden? Is this really intimacy or something much more staged?

ME: expand on social competence.

ME: cannot write of technological limitations, since bandwidth and processor speed really limit use of SL.

What do you get if...? (2009 March)

I organized a 2 day event as part of the EPSRC Digital Economy cluster. The first was on Web 2.0 and the Arts, the second on Web 2.0 and Health.

What do you get if?

On 17th March, I'll be running an event at FACT in Liverpool on Social Media and Health/Environment funded by the EPSRC Digital Economy research cluster. For this reason, the event is free, but we have limited spaces. We are  now open to a general audience. For more information about the event, please link here. Drop me a line if you'd like to attend

Social Media and Health

Human Futures: Art in an Age of Uncertainty

Human Futures: Art in an Age of Uncertainty


30 October 2008 Symposium & Book Launch 10.00-5.00pm

Location: FACT, Liverpool, UK (which is also the location of Picturehouse Cinema Liverpool)

The world around us is changing. What will make the first century of the millennium different to the last? What will we love, how will we live, what will keep us awake at night?

Join artists, scientists, ethicists, futurologists as they explore questions, ideas and propositions that explore our changing environment and the challenges humanity faces in the future.

This conference brings together contributors from FACT’s Human Futures: Art in an Age of Uncertainty edited by Andy Miah which features work by George J Annas, Fiona Raby & Anthony Dunne, Norman M Klein and William Sims Bainbridge and Oron Catts.

An updated schedule of the symposium will be added soon, but for more information contact

To order the book contact

Tickets £25.00/20.00 (members and concessions)

Tickets available from 0871 704 2063 or (Liverpool, FACT)


Photograph at the Mathew Street Festival during the European Capital of Culture year.