I’ve had a pretty busy week at work but the last two days were abfab! Thanks to a youth friend of my wife, I got invited by NanoSoc to participate in a workshop about Nanotechnology. It was the first workshop in a row of four they organized and it was about the smart environment. The organizers; University of Antwerp, Leuven & the independent research center for micro-electronics and nanotechnology, IMEC invited us to ‘La Foresta’, an original Franciscan monastery.
Due to an agenda problem, I missed the introduction but I was just on time to join the group for the exercises. First, the citizens group was split in two. My group got a story about a ‘Nano adolescent’ in 2025. The objective was to read it and to understand what the adolescent thought and felt about his environment. He was implanted with an identification chip when he was 4 days old and later he got an UPAD (Universal Personal Agent Device). This UPAD organized his life and contained an personalized educational program, GPS, health program, … His privacy and autonomy was only guaranteed if the parents allowed this.
An actress played the kid and the reunited group was again split in two. A couple of us were directors, the others were spectators. The actress played the kid until she didn’t know what to do. Then she asked the directors “And now?”. The play gave us insights in his life. The whole exercise got a little out of hand but got the group in a lively discussion. How did he experience his life while being controlled by technology? What values were important to him? What were the values in 2025?
As the time was very limited to really imagine oneself, the composition of the group enforced our negative thinking. Innovation is not something we are asking for. Why can’t life just be like it is. Although we thought there were a lot of rational advantages, our emotions run away with it. The conclusion after this first exercise was rather negative, mostly because I think people are afraid of the unknown. They fear the future while not having guarantees it will be better.
At the bar, I talked with Bart Van Poucke, a nano expert of IMEC, to hear what I missed of his introduction. His statement: “I work on a basis that the whole thing just works” was really inspiring, certainly after the red wine… 😉
The road to a smart environment in 4 steps (by Bart):
– 2010: Everything always & everywhere (multi mode communication systems)
– 2012: Adaptive anticipating personalized systems
– 2015: Technology disappears in the environment
– 2020: Artificial intelligence augment through interaction with the environment (User Interface with Artificial Intelligence)
I don’t agree fully with Bart. I agree on the fact that these things will happen but not so slowly. Most of the technologies are already available, but are still very expensive. The way technology is created, and if used in the right way, people will always benefit from it. But the great risk remains likewise all innovations; if used for wrong purposes; people could get oppressed & manipulated. As one of my group members outlined: “People were driving around in circles on earth until someone thought; why not go to another planet?” Perhaps it wasn’t possible but someone thought of it and people made it happen in collaboration with technology. “It will not be better or worse but the interpretation will be different.” The experience will be different. I don’t think technology will change our values. They will evolve like they always did. People as such do not change but the tasks they perform change by their drive of pushing boundaries.
New exercises, based on acting & improvisation, gave us new insights:
We thought that these technological innovations are inevitable coming and that they will be developed to ease our lives. Automatic registration & fulfillment in a personalized way to educate ourselves, keep our health level high, consume, etc. Connected domotica systems will enable us to manage our time in a more efficient way. The time that we win will be filled again with, or quality time, or more work… These technological innovations will be indispensible. But we should always be careful with it. It’s not only about content and economics, but also about emotional skills & creativity. What we think, feel & do.
I’d like to thank to whole team that supported this workshop and hope that the results are satisfying. Good luck with the next workshops. I think it was a success in every way. I’ve got new insights, get to know very interesting people and technology that I never imagined.
The results will be presented in the Flemish parliament on November 10th. If you can, check it out and subscribe to the NanoSoc newsletter.