The robots are coming: friends or foes?

Originally published on Battle of Ideas.

There has been renewed excitement recently in the potential of robots, from automated machines including driverless cars to the potential of miniature robots to help diagnose and fight disease. Japanese firm Softbank has even developed a robot that can respond to human expressions and voice tones thanks to an ‘emotional engine’. Fuelled by competing investment and advances in miniaturisation techniques, networking technology and control systems, companies are fighting each other to claim the lead in both military and civilian uses. Some forecasts suggest that by 2025, the robots could render a quarter of jobs in manufacturing, construction and other similar areas redundant. Moreover, with Japan last year unveiling a ‘robot astronaut’ to assist the crew on the International Space Station, robots may soon start replacing even highly skilled human ‘knowledge workers’.

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The gamification of society: time to grow up?

Originally published on Battle of Ideas.

Video games are growing up: the average age of a gamer is now over 30 in the US and UK. Now, a new breed of socially conscious games developers is keen to prove that gaming could be good for society. ‘Gamification’ – the use of gaming techniques in real-world settings – has become a major force in recent years, first in marketing but increasingly in other areas, too. Whether it’s inspiring reluctant runners by getting them to share their progress with friends online with the Nike+ app or helping AIDS researchers solve long-running problems in cell classification by turning the problem into a crowd-sourced game, games are increasingly seen as a revolutionary and disruptive tool for social interaction. Some charities have offered the opportunity to ‘play’ as a homeless person or African farmer to better educate young people about the problems that people in need face.

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Social irresponsibility: thinking the unthinkable

From the recent backlash of Libeskinds’ claim to boycott working in China, to the call for a ‘Code of Ethics’ from Architects/Designers/Planners for Social Responsibility, the politics of the global built environment is undergoing perpetual debate. Some argue that ‘starchitects’ only have short-term political agendas in search for publicity stunts. Others claim that all designers and architects should be allowed to choose by themselves what they believe to be moral without the pressure of social responsibility.

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Evidence-based architecture

How often have you heard the phrase ‘research shows’ as a way of defending an architect or a designer’s scheme proposal? “Research shows”, they often say, “that so-and-so design is good for the environment/community/personal well-being”. By quoting some obscure research paper, a dubious design suddenly becomes unimpeachable”. This session explores whether “research” is being used as a way that designers can avoid having to defend their work in its own terms? For instance, in order to leverage money for green spaces, CABE research is commonly cited to show that ‘a walk in the park… has been proven to reduce the risk of a heart attack by 50 per cent’.

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3D printing: a new industrial revolution?

Originally published in Battle of Ideas.

Over the past two or three years, the idea of 3D printing has gripped the imagination of everyone from creatives in design and IT through to wider industry and governments up to and including President Obama. At a time when many business innovations are based around how the product is packaged and sold to the customer, it is indeed refreshing to see a technology-led boost to how material things are made in the first place, potentially transforming the production of everything from children’s toys to cars and even guns. Some go so far as to proclaim that with ‘additive manufacturing’, we are on the cusp of a new industrial revolution, one that will restructure society, make the means of production more democratic and give the economy a much needed boost.

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The rise of the clicktivists: will the revolution be digitised?

Originally published on Battle of Ideas.

Is the internet just another tool in the activists’ toolbox, accelerating normal protests, or has it brought about fundamental changes? If it has, for better or worse? Is it increasing the amount of debate and discussion around protests, or actually making protests more superficial; diminishing what it is to be committed to a cause and estranging campaigners from grassroots concerns? Does the new ‘leaderless’ form of organisation online mark the development of a powerful weapon against the status quo, or instead mean protests are likely to be fleeting, ineffective and chaotic? In his book The Net Delusion, Evgeny Morozov argues that the internet can just as easily be used by governments to counter protests and for increased surveillance and control. Hosni Mubarak’s faltering administration even shut down the internet in Egypt for a week, suggesting it would be a mistake to make activism too dependent on the web.

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