Industrial Revolution 4.0 – how smart is it?

There’s a lot of hype about it. There’s a lot of academic research about parts of it. But what is it?

The Industrial Revolution 4.0 is a part of a series. 1.0 was about manufacturing enhanced by mechanization and steam in the late eighteenth century. 2.0 was about manufacturing enhanced by the assembly line and electrical energy in the late nineteenth century. 3.0 was about manufacturing enhanced by automation and computing in the late 1960s. 4.0 is about manufacturing enhanced by cloud-connected computing today and in the early twenty-first century. 4.0 is about data. Lots of it. Analyzing and responding to events in near real time.

But as Dave Evans, CEO of fictiv points out in his recent SxSW talk, if you’ve visited a manufacturer lately, the 4.0 just isn’t there. Not only that, but you can see the problems that could be avoided if it were already in place.

So how do we get to 4.0?

Evans points to a framework developed by Michael Mandel at Progressive Policy in DC. Mandel proposes that we need to invest in technology that enhances three areas of manufacturing:

  1. Digital Machines – how might putting sensors right on the tooling enhance operations?
  2. Digital Distribution – how might we change distribution to maximize locations of connected factories?
  3. Digital Networks – how might we make the most out of manufacturing ecosystems by building networks that allow us to see them more clearly?

Seems like more investment in these areas would be great for the manufacturing sector. Plus, what’s exciting to me as a person interested in Industrial Ecology, is how these technologies might also be used to measure and respond to the environmental and social impacts of Industrialization 4.0.

Now that would be a smart use of tech.

TAKE IT FURTHER

The 4th Industrial Revolution – Kemp Technologies

Michael Mandel’s work at Progressive Policy

Inventor Spotlight: ecoLogic Studio

bio copy

Check out these living sculptures from London-based architectural and urban design firm, ecoLogicStudio.

ecoLogicStudio takes a multi-perspective approach to their work, seeking to integrate the slow process of natural systems with the speedy processes of technological ones.

I love it when a design firm posts a manifesto on their about page. Here’s a taste:

We are not satisfied with the current level of engagement of the discipline of architecture towards the global ecological crisis: we believe that a critical as well as active role for architecture is necessary in order for the discipline to have an impact; we believe this role can be achieved by refusing to hide into the production of fictional scenarios, and by engaging with the organisation of matter, energy and information across scales and regimes.

Multiscalarity is critical to this new systemic comprehension of architecture and the “city”; we can experiment with new regional planning protocols by for instance re-framing the growth or farming of micro-algal organism across natural habitats, inhibiting or stimulating their proliferation in the landscape or in custom designed artificial systems, while incubating the emergence of related business ecologies [see the Regional Algae Farm project presented later].

 

TAKE IT FURTHER

Responsive Landscapes

Inside Smart Geometry

Slow Design on wikipedia

The Economic and Environmental Impacts of Bitcoin Mining

zigzagpod
former aluminum plant via ZigZag podcast

The folks at ZigZag podcast have been reporting a series of stories about a bitcoin mine up in The North Country of New York State. The mine they are reporting on sits on the Moses Saunders Dam on the St. Lawrence River. This dam, built in the mid 20th century, attracted companies like GM and Reynolds Aluminum to build and operate factories there. Today these factories are being converted to bitcoin mines which on the surface seems kind of cool, but it’s worth a deeper look.

Economic impact. Bitcoin mines extract an insane amount of value for their owners. But as for labor, its computers that do most of the work in the mines, not people. This means that the job numbers that come with these mines aren’t as high as they were with aluminum plants. Even though we know we are in the age of automation, there’s some confusion in how town and city officials negotiate deals with incoming mine operators because they, the officials, have a hard time understanding bitcoin.

Here’s an idea for these folks: since the “new job” numbers are likely to be low in this sector, explore other options for extracting value from the mine for people in your town. If it’s not jobs, what is it? A one time expense for the mine, like a community baseball field, might not be the best fit. Look for ways to extract value over the lifetime of the company in a way that paychecks do.

Environmental impact. Mining bitcoin is energy intensive. Much more so than producing physical goods. However, this impact is something that most of us don’t think about because bitcoin and other crypto goods are digital and seem abstract. But make no mistake, the impacts they have on the physical environment and human health are real.

There is some hope if we use a triple bottom line lens for crypto. Triple bottom line considers economic, environmental, and social impacts of business activity. There are some experiments that use crypto to track the environmental and economic impact of its use, then use that data to make it better. But this innovation will only happen if we choose to do make it a priority. In the meantime, let’s be wide awake about the systemic impacts of bitcoin and other digital goods.

 

TAKE IT FURTHER

Energy cost of ‘mining’ bitcoin more than twice that of copper or gold
(The Guardian, Nov 2018)

on streaming:
Greenpeace says binge-watching all those TV shows is bad for the environment
(Quartz, Jan 2017)

a call for innovation:
Cryptocurrency mining could become the new face of energy storage
(World Economic Forum, Sep 2018)

Safety, Satisfaction, and Connection

I’ve recently recommitted to the habit of listening to one or two chapters of Rick Hansen’s Hardwiring Happiness each morning. In the (audio)book Hansen offers 21 focal points for mindfulness practice. As the title suggests, he argues that if you practice these meditations, you can carve new pathways in your brain so that when you are experiencing a challenging emotion, like fear, for example, your brain will make a connection to a positive emotion that will ease that fear. This theory that you can rewire your brain is called neuroplasticity. While I’m not a 100% believer, I do find this book very helpful.

The focal points are organized into three categories that target three different parts of our brain:

  • SAFETY  – Brainstem, focused on avoiding harm (reptilian)
  • SATISFACTION – Subcortex, focused on approaching rewards (mammalian)
  • CONNECTION – Neocortex, focused on attaching to “us” (primate/human)

All 21 focal points listed out below:

SAFETY

  1. PROTECTION
  2. STRENGTH
  3. RELAXATION
  4. REFUGE
  5. SEEING THREATS & RESOURCES CLEARLY
  6. FEELING ALRIGHT RIGHT NOW
  7. PEACE

 

SATISFACTION

  1. PLEASURE
  2. GRATITUDE & GLADNESS
  3. POSITIVE EMOTION
  4. ACCOMPLISHMENT & AGENCY
  5. ENTHUSIASM
  6. FEELING THE FULLNESS OF THIS MOMENT
  7. CONTENTMENT

 

CONNECTION

  1. FEELING CARED ABOUT
  2. FEELING VALUED
  3. COMPASSION & KINDNESS
  4. SELF COMPASSION
  5. FEELING LIKE A GOOD PERSON
  6. COMPASSIONATE ASSERTIVENESS
  7. LOVE

Multiple Forms of IoT

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a category of products and systems that use computation and web connection. It’s a tough category to describe because computation and web connection enable so many different things. One thing is for sure, these aren’t the products of the 20th century. They are something new. And they behave differently. Whereas many products of the 20th century were stand alone and kind of static, 21st-century products work in systems and get smarter over time. Here are a few forms that you might see or imagine:

SOCIAL. Some IoT systems allow you to coordinate tasks with other people. Uber is essentially an IoT system: it allows drivers and people who need rides to coordinate their goals. Another social IoT system that does this is FitBit. They have a “challenge” feature that allows you to set competitive goals with the FitBit community.

GEO-SPATIAL. For some IoT systems, location really matters. If you are tracking air pollution with on-the-ground sensors, for example, you are going to want to see that data on a map. Autonomous vehicles need to sense and respond to geospatial data too.

HUB and SPOKE. Not every single object needs full computing power on board. That would be a waste of money and energy. Some systems work better in a hub and spoke model. Philips hue, for example, has a hub that communicates with multiple light bulbs throughout a home. Yesterday my students imagined a cattle tracking system that had a light sensor device on each animal, and that data from those sensors would be gathered by a mobile hub (a drone).

BIO-SENSING. We have sensors that can sense and track living things. Fitbit, mentioned above, is one. Other systems for human patients or herds of animals are emerging and enabling easier, and more effective tracking of vitals. “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” wearables ought to be IoT enabled by now, yes?

SENSE and RESPOND. Mentioned above with autonomous vehicles, some systems not only gather data through sensing but enable the system to act on that data in real time. You could imagine a hydroponic farming system that can sense the temperature of the system and actuate heating and cooling as needed. If only the HVAC systems in office buildings worked as well!

What other forms of IoT can you think of?

Why Designing for Individuals is Problematic

Designing for individuals is a deeply rooted practice in our culture. When Keeping up with the Joneses is a major concern for customers, designers and advertisers exploit that. And while it’s certainly necessary for some products, it should no longer be the default.

Media theorist Douglass Rushkoff tells an interesting story about urban vs suburban design. When he was a kid growing up in the Bronx, folks in the neighborhood would gather on the street every Friday evening for a bbq and a block party. Each person would bring a dish or something for the grill. They’d bring music or games and it was a great time. But when his folks moved the family out to Long Island, no more block parties. Each house had a fenced-in yard equipped with its very own bbq cooker.

“Design for individuals” influences how we connect with one another. For example, I have a newish car with a real-time average MPG gauge on my dashboard. I track it and lighten my foot on the gas pedal to burn less fuel. It’s kind of fun, like a video game. But the driver behind me has no idea what I’m doing. They think I’m just driving slow and they are annoyed with me. But what if the design of my MPG gauge weren’t for my eyes only, but for the cars and drivers around me (displayed on my rear window or something). Then they’d be in the game too. The could use my gauge to burn less fuel in their cars. This public visualization of real-time behavior would help us work toward a common goal.

More consumer technology should be designed for community. More design should help people engage in, and get feedback on, collective positive impact. We have the technology. Let’s use it to its full potential.

 

Marketing Myopia

90% of new products fail. They fail because the team that designed the product paid more attention to their product and features and their own motivations than they did to their customers’ problems and worldview.

Take for instance that little voice-activated robot in my kitchen (Amazon Alexa). It’s crystal clear to me that the Alexa product team is much more focused on making shopping on Amazon easy for me than they are with my actual needs in the kitchen. It’s early days so I’m somewhat forgiving, but in the moment when I really need a reminder of how to make miso dressing, I get pissed off. Each time I have to put down my knife, wash and dry my hands, and walk over to my phone or laptop to get a recipe using my wet fingers, I just cringe. Alexa, why do you hate me?

 

I’m Ready for VR

I’m tired of orienting my computing toward a screen. I want to search the internet for recipes while I’m cooking and my voice-activated robot doesn’t accommodate that well. I want to write while I am taking a walk or in the shower–the best ideas come at those times. I want to watch a movie while stretching or lying flat on my back. I want to help my partner figure out how to do something online without having to look over his shoulder at his screen which is way too small for me to see clearly anyway. I’m ready.