Friday Faves is our weekly blog series highlighting a few select pieces from the REG team’s reading lists. You can catch up on past Friday Faves on the archive.

The Creepy Rise of Real Companies Spawning Fictional Design

Anne says: This week’s selection of Friday Faves all seem to have an element of design to them – so keeping in that theme I’ll start the line-up with an article that can be somewhat unsettling on the one hand, yet inspirational on the other.

This article from Wired discusses how companies are designing for the future – our future – and the strategies that are being deployed. It introduces speculative design – the process of designing without constraints, with the intention to change the way we think about the world. It’s a sort of hypothetical design process – based on “What if” questions and can address both the dystopian or nirvana-esque future perspective.

Speculative design is not a new approach – particularly in literature where the dark side is emphasised to shape our thinking, for example, starting with Frankenstein and more recently Brave New World, Blade Runner, Black Mirror.

What starts to become disturbing in the article is when speculative design crosses over from literature into the corporate world and particularly the technology companies.  Enter Google and a leaked copy of a videoThe Selfish Ledger,  from 2016 and published on Verge recently. (It’s only about 8 minutes long – watch it – and consider the future!!). Although this video was produced in the Alphabet subsidiary X as something they call “design fiction” – it can also be considered as speculative design. Nick Foster, Head of Design at X, says it was meant to be disturbing – however, I think it goes further! These types of fictional speculations are possible, and some may argue in play currently – read Nat’s article in this selection and other Friday Faves (21April, 28 April & 4 August, 2017) where we’ve mentioned Tristan Harris (a former Head of Design Ethics at Google) that refer to how tech companies are intentionally designing to create addiction to their platforms over others.

Supporters of speculative design believe it’s a worthwhile activity IF it’s used to explore ethical or political implications AND it’s made public (not hidden and not intended for public view like The Selfish Ledger). 

Considering future scenarios and the ethical implications are conversations that are infrequently being exposed for public debate – just look at Cambridge Analytics and Facebook data incident. Once it’s happened it’s almost too late to put the proverbial cat back into the bag!


Technology is driving us to distraction

Nat says: For nine hours every third week, in three-hour chunks, I stand up in the middle of a room and give a performance to a room of 50 people. This performance, however, is nothing more than the exhausting teaching effort I must make to keep the attention and engagement of the postgraduate uni students who attend my class. It somewhat perplexes me that in each session I teach, students are glued to their devices; almost giving me the impression that they do not want to be in the room at all. Which, funnily enough, begs the question — why are they? If all they do when they come to class is sit scrolling through their Facebook news feed, why are they paying thousands of tuition fees for the privilege? However, there would be fault on my part to assume that students are “slacking off” merely because they are engaging with a device as I speak.

The shared article, promoting James Williams’ latest book, talks about the attention economy in the age of digitization; saying that our technological devices constantly serve as “distractions” and deviate us away from our task at-hand. Although I might occasionally complain about my students not “paying attention”, I think some of the assumptions being made in the article need unpacking. What the article sets-up as its main argument is that the devices themselves are what drive us to distraction. However, this idea seems to be premised on the belief that the attention we give to our devices is not what we “ought-to-be” paying attention to. This is where context comes to play a fundamental role.

From my teaching point of view, for example, yes some students are mindlessly scrolling their social media feed, or chatting with friends online — being “distracted” by the lure of their device which is much more riveting than my lecture, but many are using their device to make notes or look up more information based on what I talk about. My perception of student “attention”, as skewed with the presence of a device’s mediation, impacts the relationship that both me and the students come to have. Teaching and education are being changed precisely because of this involved technology, which itself challenges how we perceive the student-teacher relationship and what we think we know about attention as needing to be a singular focus. In other contexts, such as live television shows where you are encouraged to tweet at the same time, the social media element has been shown to enhance the level of engagement a viewer has with the television show. To an observer, however, attention would be seen as lacking as one moves between screens and does not give “full” attention to one specific medium.

In fact, the very nature of our conscious attention has always left out more information than it takes in. When you open your phone to check your bank balance, as an example, your eyes would “see” the digital clock displayed on your screen, but as your attention is not on the clock, you would not be able to recall the time, if I asked you what it had said on your phone, when you then put your phone down. Even without a device in our hands, what our eyes and ears pick-up is nothing compared to the infinite amounts of sensory information our body receives but does not give conscious attention to.

What the article is really getting to is not so much an issue of attention, but our usage of time. We have all these known worldly problems that need solving, but we somewhat waste time by being on our devices instead. One of my pet-peeves, for example, is people who go to a live concert only to watch and record the artist through their mobile screen, or people who go out in nature and just take photos instead of experiencing the views for themselves. We record our lives, in these contexts, which can be viewed as a lack of attention, but their very activity is based on wanting to capture a moment “in time” — to reflect back on the experience, or to share the experience with others at a later time.  Attention in this light is not so much a lack of it, but rather a demonstration for what matters to us; something that illustrates our attitude towards life (and technology) which we may or may not be reflecting upon, but perhaps we need to be. The rhetoric of the distraction of technology should therefore not be viewed under the guise of being attention-stealing, but rather our technology usage should make us question what we are currently valuing in our lives.


Is Australia ready for Androids to walk among us?


Joel says: To promote the launch of the recently released “Detroit: Become Human”, PlayStation Australia have conducted a social experiment around the streets of Sydney to see just how people react when in the presence of androids and what they think of the potential future application of them.

For the experiment, a realistic-looking Android was created modelled on the in-game CyberLife Android protagonists designed by the game’s creators, Quantic Dream. The appearance and character of the CyberLife Android were brought to life using a trained actor and prosthetics by an internationally renowned and award-winning Australian special makeup effects studio.

The test showed an overwhelming response of mistrust and concern around the prospect of Android helpers in everyday life. People’s powerful, and often hilarious, reactions reinforced the principle of ‘Uncanny Valley’; when robots look close to, but not quite, human, people develop a sense of unease and discomfort.

“We might be creating the species that replaces us.”

“It’s a bit freaky isn’t it? He’s not very friendly.”

Watch the social experiment for yourself in the video below:


Careful, Alexa might hear you.

Helen says: If ever there was a reason to hold off on purchasing the very latest in AI gadgets, Alexa may have found one.  Last weekend Kiro7 reported that a couple’s conversation was recorded by Amazon’s Alexa and sent it to one of their contacts, all without their knowledge.

The story goes like this.. the phone rings,”The person on the other line said, ‘unplug your Alexa devices right now,'” she said. “‘You’re being hacked.'” That person was one of her husband’s employees, calling from Seattle. “We unplugged all of them and he proceeded to tell us that he had received audio files of recordings from inside our house,” she said. “At first, my husband was, like, ‘no you didn’t!’ And the (recipient of the message) said ‘You sat there talking about hardwood floors.’ And we said, ‘oh gosh, you really did hear us.'”

The cause of this turn of events sounds more like a comedy of errors. According to Amazon, “the Echo woke up when it heard a word that sounded like “Alexa.” “The subsequent conversation was heard as a ‘send message’ request. At which point, Alexa said out loud “To whom?” At which point, the background conversation was interpreted as a name in the customers contact list.” ”

Amazon will of course continue to refine Alexa but in the meantime, if this little surveillance device is part of your family, you may want to find out how to disable it from sending private conversations to contacts.


Why You Need to Map the Employee Journey

Jakkii says: I spotted this piece linked on Twitter, and the title of course piqued my interest immediately. Yes! Employee journey mapping! LET’S DO THIS.

Overall the premise of the piece is solid: in the author’s words,

the customer experience and the employee experience are inextricably linked, and you can improve both if you take the tactics you use to manage the customer experience and apply them to efforts to engage employees.

Hallelujah – someone singing from our hymnal!

Where I think the piece falls down however – and, indeed, this is something we see not only in the digital workplace but also at times in the customer experience space – is that there’s no discussion of research with actual employees. Instead, the piece suggests “segmenting” the employees and then getting stakeholders in a room to dictate where these segmented employee “personas” interact with each part of the business.

I don’t think this is good enough – I’d argue you need to be making a genuine investment in your employees, from discovery through to co-design to iterations and continuous ongoing discovery and evolution. Developing journey maps based on assumptions is a poor starting place and, frankly, isn’t so dissimilar to the way organisations have made technology and workplace decisions in the past. To make better decisions – and to improve the employee experience – you need to develop contextual understanding of your employees and their work, from their perspectives. This deep understanding built on real, rich data will allow you to make evidence-based decisions for everything from technology and design, to communications and guidelines.

If you are truly committed to great customer experience, you must invest in great employee experiences. That doesn’t mean ping pong tables and bean bags, but it does mean time, budget and effort expended on helping them be effective and empowered employees with a suite of tools that let them work best.


Sydney Business Insights – The Future This Week Podcast

This week: putting solar on the map, batteries have a dirty secret, and buses. Sandra Peter (Sydney Business Insights) and Kai Riemer (Digital Disruption Research Group) meet once a week to put their own spin on news that is impacting the future of business in The Future, This Week.

The stories this week:

You can see China’s solar farms from space

Batteries have a dirty secret

Electric buses are hurting the oil industry

Other stories we bring up:

Morocco’s giant Sahara thermosolar farm

China’s solar might be too much of a good thing

What happens when we consume more solar than we can use?

China’s BYD has overtaken Tesla in the battery and electric car business

The idea of leapfrogging, previously discussed on The Future, This Week


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