Data Pipe Dreams: Glimpses of a Near Future forms part of the Summer at ECA programme, with many projects coming out of collaborations with Tesco Bank.

What if your hairdryer could buy energy at 2am and sell it to people drying their hair on a Friday night? What if you could see how sharing your YouTube comments could affect your employability? What if the Blockchain could spark thousands of micro acts of kindness to transform Edinburgh for the better?

These are some of the questions being asked by students and researchers at Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) as they prepare for a showcase of work and ideas at the Design Informatics Pavilion this summer. Data Pipe Dreams: Glimpses of a Near Future brings together experimental and data-driven designs and prototypes for the general public to explore during Edinburgh’s festival season. The Pavilion, which will be on George Street 2 – 25 August 2018, forms part of the Summer at ECA programme of events, and many of the projects have been the result of collaborations with partners at Tesco Bank.

One such collaboration is LENS, which is a project about digital identity and personal data. Allie Turner, a Design Informatics student, is one of the collaborators on the project. “We want to put you in someone else’s shoes where you choose which data you would like to share to help them get a job,” said Allie, “The plan is to have an installation that’s interactive with all these different buttons that take you on a journey.”

“Everyone has been super supportive. We have had talks from University staff as well as from Tesco,” said Allie, “I now have a part-time job with Tesco Bank because of this – I can get a taste of the real-life industry and see how they do things.”

Design Informatics Pavilion 2018
Image: Chris Scott/Design Informatics
Design Informatics Pavilion 2018

“Once you figure out how to generate this information, you end up digging down underneath it and thinking: What is this going to be used for? What are the underlying implications? Now you have it, how do you be responsible for it?”

Mark Williams, Design Informatics student

Mark Williams, a Design Informatics student who is collaborating on LENS as well, is also working on a project which is looking at possible ways to quantify body language. Through machine learning, his programme is being trained to recognise different body poses when someone sits on a chair fitted with sensors. At the Pavilion, visitors will be presented with a visualisation of their pressure on these different sensors, and what that may say about their mood and emotions.

“I’m fascinated by the way that technology is evolving around Artificial Intelligence. We have this idea of what a robot is from sci-fi and books where the vision of the future is that we’ll make a machine that looks like a human, but it isn’t necessarily happening like that,” said Mark, “Most of the machines that we’re interacting with now, like Alexa and Siri, rather than being ‘embodied’ are actually disembodied.”

He is also interested in the way that we’re interacting with these machines: “We went with typing first, and now that we’re moving towards more human interactions we’re communicating through voice, as well some facial recognition, too,” he said, “So we’re teaching robots to hear and to see, and so I thought, ‘What’s the next sense?’, and thought that touch might be interesting.”

As with most of the Pavilion projects, the work isn’t just about how this data can be used, but it also considers the wider consequences of this kind of technology. “Once you figure out how to generate this information, you end up digging down underneath it and thinking ‘What is this going to be used for? What are the underlying implications?'” he said, “Now you have it, how do you be responsible for it?”

Data Pipe Dreams: Glimpses of a Near Future takes place 2 – 25 August 2018 in the Design Informatics Pavilion outside the Assembly Rooms on George Street. It is open 11am – 6pm.


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