Peter Hirshberg sees Marshall McLuhan everywhere. In a career that has included a long stint in Silicon Valley, a foray into the cosmetics industry, a reimagining of the social media world, and an engagement with smart cities, he’s applied McLuhan throughout his life.
Fifty years ago, McLuhan described technology as an extension of the self that enabled us to reach beyond our physical bodies into a space where we interact with the world. Today, we call this space the platform, and while we debate over how to define it, Hirshberg says, “McLuhan’s already been there.”
Hirshberg has been thinking about the platform ever since his days at Dartmouth in the ‘70s, when he first encountered computers as a tool for time-sharing. “You could actually see the seeds of social media,” he recalls. One college professor insisted, though, that “computers are for computing,” by which he meant that computers should solve the old problems of accounting, engineering and math in sped-up ways, but using computers for some form of personal communication was a really silly waste of resource.
Some artists are starting to blend statistics, computer graphics and visual design into a new creative pastiche
A couple of years ago R Luke DuBois, a New York composer and artist, joined a clutch of American dating sites. He was not, however, looking for love. Instead, DuBois scooped up data about the words that would-be lovers used to describe themselves online.
Then he fed the information into a computer, which identified the most popular phrases used in different locations of America, and superimposed these results on to maps to create a new type of “art”. “I have an abiding interest in using information to investigate emotional value and the way that we are connecting [to each other],” DuBois earnestly explained to an audience at the Aspen Ideas Festival in Colorado last week, clad in the geek’s garb of black T-shirt and jeans. Or as Peter Hirshberg, the head of Re:Imagine, the consultancy, added, “What [people like DuBois] are doing is trying to convey the secret life of data in a way that is elegant and exciting … we have gone from a very literal view of data to a very emotional view.”
The internet of things has the power to transform the way cities function. Elements of city infrastructure – whether lamp-posts or water pipes – can be hooked up to sensors that wirelessly generate data that can be used to inform decision makers and monitor real-time changes in the world around us.
This data could be used to anticipate problems or peaks in demand for city services, such as monitoring car parks and the number of disabled people trying to use civic amenities.
Given shrinking municipal budgets, increasing demand for services and pressure to cut humanity’s environmental footprint, the ability for municipalities to control existing infrastructure – and, by doing so, to improve efficiencies – will be critical. Indeed, urban developments have the potential to become laboratories for the creation of so-called smart city technologies.
Last week, representatives of many of the world’s leading cities – including London, Boston, Mexico City, Barcelona and Christchurch – came to San Francisco to learn from Silicon Valley entrepreneurs about how to make their cities smarter. One of the people behind this LLGA Cities Summit was the Silicon Valley entrepreneur Peter Hirshberg, formerly the chairman of Technorati and now one of the world’s leading pioneers of smart cities.
Citing innovative urban data startups like MotionLoft and QuickPay, Hirshberg believes there are now huge opportunities for entrepreneurs with products that can make a city smarter. We are just at the beginning of this thing, he told me, before explaining that the biggest entrepreneurial opportunities lie in the development of crime, healthcare and traffic data – particularly in terms of making this data “predictive”.
But smart cities are about more than just making money, Hirshberg believes. In the Sixties being a citizen meant we protested, he told me, while today the good citizen builds APIs that make a city more habitable. And that’s why, he insists, we have to make what he calls “smart architectural decisions” to enable the right level of anonymity in the 21st century city. Otherwise, he warns, the smart city of the future will be too smart about all of us, thereby destroying the privacy of its citizens.
A device made from parts of a toy and a cellphone could save the lives of firefighters.
Temperature surges are a serious cause of firefighter deaths, two were killed in a blaze in south England in 2010. Temperatures can rise hundreds of degrees in seconds if a fire is hit with a blast of air — for example when a window bursts. The risk has become worse as protection has become more effective leaving firefighters less able to sense sudden changes in temperature. A 15 second delay can be lethal.
A team of six people at the recent hackathon at Imperial College, London created their winning solution in a weekend. It had to warn firefighters when external temperatures reached 350° Celsius, had to be affordable, and had to fit within the firefighter’s existing kit.
“Given that firefighters already had audio alarms and that you don’t want to be confusing them visually, we needed a signal that would get through even if they were really stressed,” said Ross Atkin, one of the winning team.
Their answer: a cell phone vibrator, a heat sensor and an Arduino — a cheap computer often used in toys — built into a helmet that alerts the firefighter through vibrating the back of the neck.
“The positioning of it [the alarm] on the back of the neck was because we needed somewhere where the device could be exposed to ambient temperatures, but we had a reasonable route to a relatively sensitive part of the body.”
This solution could come in at as little as £5 ($7) if manufactured at scale, the team calculated.
The project will get funding of approximately £6,000 ($9,153) from the Urban Prototyping conference to make a fully-tested prototype. Key challenges involve sourcing parts that can work reliably at temperatures of 350° Celcius and above.
The hackathon was part of the Urban Prototyping movement founded by Peter Hirshberg in San Francisco two years ago.
São Paulo - The American Peter Hirshberg has spent the last 25 years doing a bit of everything in Silicon Valley . It was an entrepreneur, investor and executive of companies like Apple, where he held the position of marketing director in the 90s He spent much of his career creating ways to organize virtual information to improve the relationship between businesses and consumers.
Therefore, when analyzing large volumes of data systems - called big data - started to become popular, it has emerged as a leading authority on the subject. Today ahead of the Re: Imagine Group, which specializes in digital marketing, he says that the big data is, yes, the day to day business . But as important as the technology is to have people able to know what to do with this information. Hirshberg come to São Paulo in April to discuss the matter in HSM Forum - Management and Leadership.
By HOLLY FINN
It was sweltering last Sunday in San Francisco, but very cool on the first floor of the old Chronicle building. There was a keg, an ice chest full of spiked lemonade and 50 or so creative types in jeans, their knees bouncing, ready to present the results of last weekend's "makeathon." They'd been charged with reimagining a two-block pocket of the city at Fifth and Mission streets—in 48 hours or less.
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In the pantheon of Next Big Thing trends, the concept of “smart cities” is one of the trendiest.
The idea is that by harvesting the incredible amount of data “exhaust” that every one of us generates as we traverse a city, planners can optimize services in the city to make them more efficient, cleaner and cheaper. But there is a fear that such top-down programs may threaten the very vitality that attracts people to cities in the first place.
A very different kind of smart-city initiative has had success in cities as diverse culturally and geographically as San Francisco and Singapore, and is coming to Europe. Called Urban Prototyping, the movement approaches cities from a bottom-up—not top-down—viewpoint. Peter Hirshberg, who lives in San Francisco, is the man behind the drive, which aims to bring together programers, planners, activists, and even artists to use data and technology to solve problems in cities.
I'm a big fan of the Gray Area Foundation For The Arts (GAFFTA), a unique non-profit organization that has a fascinating approach to the arts and technology and its efforts to bridge the culture gap between the geek world and the arts, allied with a very strong civic focus.
It's situated in the historic Warfield building in the heart of the Tenderloin, one of San Francisco's poorest neighborhoods. Its innovative art exhibitions and educational programs are rooted firmly in the deep cultural traditions of San Francisco, an area that has consistently contributed to leading edge arts, literature, and ideas, nationally and globally.