More Blending Of Physical And Virtual Spaces

One of the great creative opportunities, especially for cities, is the ability in today’s world to blend physical and virtual spaces.  This opens up possibilities for learning, collaboration, entertainment – and making new kinds of destinations that will attract people to a particular physical space.  

While the trend is not something that started this year – look at Times Square over the last few years – it is picking up steam as more of the physical places in the world are connected to the Internet.

So I’ve been tracking some of the more interesting examples as they’ve come along.  Perhaps the biggest announcement was Google’s new “glasses” that let you see an augmented reality.  There are other similar products from smaller companies, likely Oakley and Lummus.

And, to overcome the obviously geeky look of glasses, there has been developed a prototype of contact lenses that provide the same functions.  (I suspect, though, that government approvals will delay the contact lens version for a while.)

There are other examples, though, that might not have caught your notice:

Please let me know of any examples you come across, so I can share them with others.

© 2012 Norman Jacknis


Gotham Innovation Greenhouse Progress Report

G.I.G. is a group of creative folks from various fields who are trying to establish a 21st century version of the 17th century Royal Society – but with a deeper understanding of how innovation occurs and with the use of today’s collaborative technology.  

A number of people have expressed interest in the progress of G.I.G.  So I’ll be writing periodic updates here, especially after each meeting.

For the next few meetings, at least, people will be presenting various ideas/projects.  Mostly these focus on what is called social innovation.  Partly this is a reflection of the issues that the collaborators are interested in.  Partly this is a reflection of the fact that we have not yet worked out the intellectual property and other economic issues that are part of commercial product innovation.

It was clear from the presentations that there are three types: presentation of an idea for enlightenment or fun (kind of a TED talk); a presentation which asks for feedback, but is pretty much limited to discussion at the meeting; and a presentation which is really an invitation for one or more G.I.G. collaborators to participate in the project being presented.

The second and third categories are much like presentations made by entrepreneurs to panels of venture capitalists or angel investors.  Except in the case of G.I.G., the proposal presenters are seeking the creative ideas and energies of the other G.I.G. collaborators.

So last night, May 22, we had our second meeting, at which the following proposals were presented and discussed:  

  • Leveraging FlexSpace to Power GIG, and vice-versa. This was presented from the beta FlexSpace room in San Jose to the group in New York.  FlexSpace is an evolving set of technologies to enable distributed people to work together.  The solution is designed to facilitate the creative process by enabling virtual post-its, white boarding, co-creation of content and a fascinating blending of physical and virtual space. 
  • A real-time mobile logistics platform: to support on-the-fly coordination of large groups, while mitigating impact on other traffic. While initially focused on a bicycle event, this is potentially generalizable to all kinds of scenarios.
  • Open Line Studio: a collaborative distributed research studio about potential futures of waterfronts in Toronto, New York City, Bremen, Istanbul, and Busan. The project will serve as a proof-of-concept for intensive virtual sharing of physical plans as a way to improve local future-making.

There was also quite a bit of discussion about the process of innovation, how creative people can organize, etc. – all part of giving birth to G.I.G.

Our next meeting is Tuesday, June 19, where we will discuss additional projects/ideas.  

Please let me know ( if you are interested in attending or participating in G.I.G.

We’ll also be working on enhancing the website and including the PowerPoints from this meeting.

© 2012 Norman Jacknis


Fantasy Politics

Fantasy Politics

The Electronic Frontier Foundation And Municipal Arts Society In The Same Room?

Monday night in New York, there was a joint reception and remarks from @EFF and @MASNYC.  What would New York’s premier urban design organization and a digital rights advocacy group have in common?

It turns out there were several things in common, from the personalities involved to shared concepts.

First, the personal level.  Vin Cipolla, the President of the Municipal Arts Society, served on the board of the Electronic Frontier Foundation in an earlier part of his career.  And, although EFF is based in San Francisco, Esther Dyson, a New Yorker, was one of its original board members twenty-years ago.  (Ms. Dyson is a multi-faceted eminence in the technology industry – analyst, investor, guru, … )  She too attended and spoke at this reception.

The second reason is that EFF has been very much a part of the Silicon Valley scene and focused there.  As the New York metro region has itself become a new and large center of Internet and technology activity, EFF decided it was natural to ramp up its presence in New York.  

The third reason is the MAS has increasingly recognized the ways that technology interacts with and affects urban life and urban design.  For example, as I’ve noted in a previous post, the MAS Summit last year featured Betaville, online software that enables citizens to collaborate in urban design.

The fourth reason has to do with what is a shared philosophy, albeit historically in different domains of life.  EFF has championed the rights of individuals in cyberspace over those heavy-handed institutions that would restrict their freedoms; perhaps stating this more positively, EFF wants an Internet that empowers the individuals who use it.  

Similarly, MAS has championed the rights of residents to define and make livable their urban environment.  Building on the intellectual tradition of Jane Jacobs, MAS wants urban areas that empower the individuals who live there.

As the virtual and physical world of cities become ever more blended, it will not be so unusual that two organizations – like MAS and EFF – will work together.

© 2012 Norman Jacknis


Gotham Innovation Greenhouse

Talk about the need for innovation – in all of its various forms – is hard to escape these days.  It comes from the President of the US, nearly every other politician and, of course, most of the CEOs of the Fortune 100.

In response, there have been a number of grand announcements about the building of innovation centers.  Often these innovation centers are combined with attempts to build some kind of business cluster in a narrow field of technology.

Usually, the word “building” is quite literal.  All over the world, major edifices and “parks” are being built to employ people who will somehow manufacture innovation in these specialized clusters.  [Please excuse a bit of sarcasm about manufacturing innovation, but to read some of the press releases that accompany these building plans, you would think indeed that turning out new ideas is like turning out widgets.]

Some of the interest in innovation is due to the publication, in the last couple of years, of popular books on the subject.  There is, of course, Steven Johnson’s valuable book, “Where Good Ideas Come From”.  More recently, Jon Gertner’s book “The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation” has been a best seller as has “Imagine: How Creativity Works" by Jonah Lehrer, among others.  

The books are good, but I wonder how much policy makers have read them.

An important part of all this study of innovation is that it is not like industrial-era manufacturing.  The process is more organic and unpredictable.  It is social – as Johnson writes:

"That is how innovation happens … chance favors the connected mind.”

Or, in a more jaundiced view, attributed to Einstein:

“The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.”

Innovation arises not so much as narrow specialists talking to others in their field and delving deeper into their narrow specialties, but in people who can and do talk across disciplines.

While the city government has been pursuing its own copy of the “building innovation center” approach, the New York metropolitan area is filled with creative people who understand how innovation happens.  Too often they are working for institutions that are anything but innovative.

With all of this in mind, several of us have come together in what is initially a virtual experiment in innovation called the Gotham Innovation Greeenhouse – or G.I.G.  The use of “gig” is intentional as that expresses better the impromptu, perhaps not long term, combination of creative people that may lead to innovation.  

Imagine re-creating in 21st century, Internet-enabled New York, the 17th century Royal Society of scientists in London.

The initial instigators of this idea, aside from myself include Carl Skelton, director of the Experimental Media Center of Polytechnic Institute at New York University and Vin Cipolla, President of the Municipal Arts Society.  But the group is larger now and growing.

We are in the very embryonic stages now, but I’ll be posting more information as things develop.  For a look at the concept document, see 

© 2012 Norman Jacknis