Pirating 3D objects

Interesting piece in The New Scientist about pirate file-sharing moving into the realm of 3D objects thanks to the growth of cheap 3D printers. Of course the usual folks are coming out to bat for each side, “information wants to be free” versus “lock down the IP”. It seems unlikely that this will play out in the same way, judging by this:

Perhaps such techniques will not be relevant. Michael Weinberg, staff attorney for Washington-based intellectual property (IP) advocacy group Public Knowledge, says that while text, music and video are automatically copyrighted, “the vast majority of physical objects aren’t protected by any sort of IP right”. Copying inventions protected by patents is illegal, as is replicating a trademarked logo, but measuring a desk and building a replica is not.

Panicking companies may push for stronger IP laws if 3D printing becomes more widespread, but Weinberg says this would be a mistake. He suggests companies learn from the media industry’s mistakes and embrace the new opportunities it affords, perhaps by encouraging the legal downloading of object files. “If everyone has access to a 3D printer I can go online, pick an object that I want, customise it and print it out,” he says. “That’s an incredible opportunity for companies.”

As we’ve witnessed with the ridiculous patent battle between Apple and Samsung, it’s unlikely that stronger IP laws would do a great deal. The “incredible opportunity for companies” is also an incredible opportunity for the planet if it helps cut down on shipping stuff all over the world. Let’s not try and cripple it straight away. At least a 3D pirate has to provide his own raw materials.

Higher Education is about to crash and burn, says Seth

I couldn’t help but agree with Seth Godin’s summary of the coming melt-down in higher education – it’s an almost perfect echo of the themes I have been harping on about for ages. I also happened to read it shortly after finding the short video of me talking about the dysfunctional nature of education at DOTT Cornwall (I was very jittery – too much coffee before speaking and a sand glass with only four minutes to get it all out). It’s nice to know it’s not just me thinking this way.

You should read Seth’s complete post, but here’s the summary of the main reasons:

  1. Most colleges are organized to give an average education to average students.
  2. College has gotten expensive far faster than wages have gone up.
  3. The definition of ‘best’ is under siege.
  4. The correlation between a typical college degree and success is suspect.
  5. Accreditation isn’t the solution, it’s the problem.

Out of all of these, the last point is key because it contains the other four. Higher education institutions have based the value of their currencies (the degree you leave with) on the quality of its education and what you can do with the proof of that education afterwards. That currency’s value, like any currency, is entirely based on its reputation and scarcity – it is pretty much divorced from the reality on the ground. The convergence of the points Seth lists – along with shifts such as aging populations, changing business structures, the shift from industrial command and control thinking to a more networked, service and knowledge mode of thinking – are very real and most likely to coagulate into a big shift behind most of the major player’s backs. Seth sums it up well:

The only people who haven’t gotten the memo are anxious helicopter parents, mass marketing colleges and traditional employers. And all three are waking up and facing new circumstances.

Does this mean there is no future for higher education (and that I am out of a job)? I hope not. It’s not that places like Cambridge or Harvard are going to die out, it’s just that they’ll end up the way that most people view politics (in the UK at least) at the moment – highly bureaucratic monoliths that don’t appear to be very relevant to anyone’s lives anymore. That doesn’t sound to exciting to the average teenage school leaver if you ask me.

I think there is a place for higher education, but I think institutions must think radically for them to remain relevant. Instead of thinking about accreditation – either of themselves to government or of the students – they need to think about the service experience they offer. It’s the experience of higher education that has real value, not the delivery of knowledge. That’s the reason behind the COTEN Project that takes a service design approach to thinking about innovation in higher education.

In the Event of My Death

For my mother’s 70th birthday celebrations, my sister-in-law, Naisha, put together a book of family photos ranging from my mother and father’s childhoods right through to the present day. The tools like iPhoto’s books and other services make this remarkably easy apart from the considerable time it took for Naisha to gather, scan and lay out the photos. We all looked through the book over and over again, rediscovering the joy of having photos in your hands.

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For a while now, I have been thinking about two issues in the event of my death and posted some musings about them on the IxDA list back in 2008. The first issue is what happens to all those passwords I have in my head and/or safely stored in my 1Password app if I get hit by a bus? I can share my master password with, say, my wife, but if she dies with me, then all the domain name registrations for my family and clients, e-mail accounts, Flickr, Twitter, Facebook, blogs, banking, etc. are lost. There seemed to be an opportunity for a service that handled all of this easily.

The second issue is one of an enormous personal archive. As I was searching for photos to give to Naisha, I discovered that I have 19,500 photos in Lightroom, which amount to around 43GB. What’s going to happen when I’m 70? Given that my digital photos start from around 2001, if I carry on creating photos at the same rate, my grandchildren can expect to be sifting through around 63,000 photos and that doesn’t include what will no doubt be a proliferation of video too. I have over 160 articles that I have written, not including my blogs plus all sorts of other collections of documents that might be a useful research resource (my collection of research papers and eBooks is around 4.5GB too).

It doesn’t make sense to me for most of that to simply disappear, especially the web-based material. So one option is to will all of my intellectual property to the creative commons. This all sounds good, but what about all the personal photos of me with other people who might object to them being public? Should I care once I’m dead? (Or, rather, should I care in advance of dying?). But there is another issue, which is how to make all those files useful to my children and grandchildren.

Entrustet seems to be a service that is half of what I was thinking about.

It has a service called Account Guardian to which you entrust your various online account details. Once your death is verified, the details get released to your Digital Executor (a trusted friend, family member or, I suppose, a lawyer, but who trusts them?). There is also an Account Incinerator, which does the opposite – it deletes certain accounts and information on verification of death before your friends and family get to have a look. And there is the possibility to set up an heir to your accounts, so you can nominate your grandson to take over your Twitter name, for example.

Potential problems with the service begs the perhaps unsolvable questions: Should I entrust all that information to Entrustet and do I really trust the person I nominate as Digital Executor?

The latter problem is solved by Entrustet requiring proof of death, so my trust of the executor is a moot point by then. I wondered if some kind of nuclear missile launch key scenario would work better, where two trusted people have to bring together the two halves of a digital key to unlock the account.

The trust-of-Entrustet is more problematic – I have no relationship built up over time with Entrustet and I have no idea whether they’ll still be around in 40 years time. The dotcom industry hasn’t got a great reputation for long-lasting brands. I probably wouldn’t trust Google (although I already trust them with plenty of log-in details). I might trust Agile because I already have trusted them with my 1Password details.

It still doesn’t solve the other half of my problem – who is going to sift through what will probably be a few terabytes of files by the time I croak, assuming I die of old age? Maybe there is a service opportunity for a book to be automagically created once a year of your best photos, blogposts and tweets based on something like Flickr’s interestingness. A kind of physical, cross-media version of Photojojo’s Time Capsule.

(Entrustet link via Crackunit via @mattonlymoore)

Don Tapscott on the Demise of the University

Don Tapscott has a piece in Edge today called The Impending Demise of the University. In it he takes the same line that I have been for some time in Designing Education’s Future, The Future Isn’t What It Used To Be as well as the idea that Google isn’t making us dumb, smart is changing. (Not that I’m saying Tapscott nicked my ideas, of course, but rather than great minds, etc., etc.)

The basic issue is that traditional education is broadcast – you tell a group of people to be in a certain place at a certain time and spray information at them. This is something that really hasn’t changed since the Victorians stopped beating kids and putting them down mines and stuck them in classrooms instead. The dressing has changed, but the pedagogy hasn’t. The culture of students has changed radically, however.

From the Edge piece:

Universities are finally losing their monopoly on higher learning, as the web inexorably becomes the dominant infrastructure for knowledge sweeney both as a container and as a global platform for knowledge exchange between people.

Meanwhile on campus, there is fundamental challenge to the foundational modus operandi of the University — the model of pedagogy. Specifically, there is a widening gap between the model of learning offered by many big universities and the natural way that young people who have grown up digital best learn.

The old-style lecture, with the professor standing at the podium in front of a large group of students, is still a fixture of university life on many campuses. It’s a model that is teacher-focused, one-way, one-size-fits-all and the student is isolated in the learning process. Yet the students, who have grown up in an interactive digital world, learn differently. Schooled on Google and Wikipedia, they want to inquire, not rely on the professor for a detailed roadmap. They want an animated conversation, not a lecture. They want an interactive education, not a broadcast one that might have been perfectly fine for the Industrial Age, or even for boomers. These students are making new demands of universities, and if the universities try to ignore them, they will do so at their peril.

When my colleagues and I wrote a paper about dispelling some myths of online education we touched upon some of this and it has guided our views ever since. I always had the feeling my other colleagues were mildly interested before mildly dismissing it as a fad and moving on. But a set of converging issues – declining student numbers, rising fees, an aging population, private institutions and more – are a very real threat to universities who are already closing down large departments and becoming ever more mainstream and homogenous. Although many academics scoffed at the idea of McDonald’s offering A-Levels the danger for them isn’t a dumbing down of education, it’s that McDonald’s end up doing it far better.

Many universities are already looking pretty empty on campus because they simply don’t offer a decent learning environment. Instead they’re intent on building grandiose teaching spaces, which nobody turns up to.

My prediction is that it is a race between two generational shifts – the student body and the faculty either expiring or retiring. Universities are notoriously slow at cultural change and tend to promote the dead wood. The prognosis doesn’t look healthy.

The future, like the past only more expensive

One of the aspects of the job of interaction design and strategy research is being asked the impossible task of predicting the future. It is a fool’s game, especially as the future never turns out to be anything nearly as interesting as the present.

I don’t read a lot of sci-fi for some reason, aside from the brilliantly prolific Neal Stephenson (how does he turn out those massive volumes so quickly?). But I was searching for a quote the other day and stumbled across this one from John Sladek, who I had never heard of before today, much to my loss probably.

“The future, according to some scientists, will be exactly like the past, only far more expensive.”

It seems to sum the situation up rather well. Apart from the interweb that is – everything is free online and must be true, innit?

Jonathan Harris on the Creative Review Blog

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I seem to have been writing about Jonathan Harris rather a lot recently. Following the piece on Flash on the Beach I wrote in Creative Review in November, an interview I did with Harris has just been published on the Creative Review blog.

He had some interesting things to say about the nature of software and blogging in terms of human experience – surprising, perhaps, given his use of both of those technologies in We Feel Fine. We were discussing the nature of blogging and its lack of emotional context on the micro level and I felt that the snippets of blog posts in We Feel Fine reminded me of the beauty of found objects and notes that are usually removed from their context. Harris replied:

“The reason why that touches is you is because micro is beautifully done. A found object is powerful because you found it in the gutter. If you saw a digital representation of the picture with the text in 12pt Times New Roman it wouldn’t have the same nostalgia, it would be like a blog post.”

Whilst I was at my parents over Christmas, I dug through all my old photos and I know it was a very different feeling from browsing my Lightroom archive. I wonder what kind of experience it will be for my grandchildren, or whether I will have generated so much digital data that they won’t even bother.

It is an issue that really hasn’t been dealt with much, but is going to be a future headache and/or interaction and user experience challenge. It is an issue much like wondering what will happen to my online presences in the event of my death. For some reason I have been thinking about this quite a bit recently – I have some ideas for potential solutions, but they would need funding and security expertise that I don’t have, should anyone out there be interested in taking this further.

Designing Education’s Future

I gave a presentation yesterday at Northumbria University’s School of Design’s staff conference called Designing Education’s Future: online, collaborative, playful and socially aware. I just found out it has been featured on Slideshare, which is always good to hear.

I’ll try and stripe the audio on it soon to help it make more sense. It’s an extension of The Future Isn’t What It Used To Be and goes into the Omnium projects quite a bit more.

Thank you to all of you at Northumbria who made me so welcome (and for the surreal conversation Aysar).

Paleo Future

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Image: Paleo Future

The future isn’t what it used to be.

Whilst looking around for an image of a flying car for a presentation, I stumbled across the fascinating (and amusing) Paleo Future blog. It’s a collection of historic attempts to predict the future with associated glamorous robots and other assorted imagery.

There’s also a Paleo Future Flickr group (where Matt got the name) and another one called In The Year 2000.

(It also lead me to a great set of images from legendary “visual futurist”, Syd Mead)

The Future of Broadcasting and the BBC

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Although I still agree with much of Mark Pesce’s take on the Future of Television, Stephen Fry neatly sums up the worth of the BBC in an interesting speech he gave:

You know when you visit another country and you see that it spends more money on flowers for its roundabouts than we do, and you think … coo, why don’t we do that? How pretty. How pleasing. What a difference it makes. To spend money for the public good in a way that enriches, gives pleasure, improves the quality of life, that is something. That is a real achievement. It’s only flowers in a roundabout, but how wonderful. Well, we have the equivalent of flowers in the roundabout times a million: the BBC enriches the country in ways we will only discover when it has gone and it is too late to build it up again. We actually can afford the BBC, because we can’t afford not to.

(Photo: Povoa_de_Varzim on Flickr)

Podcast of Creative Collaboration and The Future of Education

If you have been missing the sound of my voice (or have no idea what my faltering, mumbling sounds like) the podcast of my seminar at Urban Learning Space about Creative Collaboration and The Future of Education that I posted about a couple of weeks back is now available from ULS’s iTunes feed.

There’s a PDF of the presentation (which also had a lot of animation not in the PDF) that accompanies it.

It’ll be almost like you were there.