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The fast and the furious will become the slow and the autonomous

re:publica conference Source: Bosch

The re:publica is no ordinary conference. It’s huge: over 3 days, 450 sessions are held in as many as 17 rooms simultaneously, led by 850 speakers from 60 countries for approx. 6,000 attendees. No matter how much you do, you always feel that you’ve missed out on something, and that you can grasp only a fraction of what was discussed. And what was discussed offers plenty of food for thought. It is an event made by and for digital natives, bloggers, activists, storytellers (of course all transmedia), carchitects, evangelists, astronauts, journalists, makers of all kinds of things, and anyone interested in the future of the internet, media, and politics. It is a conference about transparency, freedom, hype, and change in digital life and business.

Watch this: re:publica 2015 – Ethan Zuckerman: The system is broken – and that’s the good news

A personal digest of the re:publica in Berlin

Below are some notes and thoughts on the sessions I attended. Read on to find out why it’s hard to negotiate with algorithms; why Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, doesn’t have his own office; why you want to have eye contact with an autonomous car; what fancy headgear can protect you from in cities; and what my favorite souvenir was from the conference.

Allow me to introduce your new boss: the algorithm

The Internet (of Things) is changing the work environment for many of us. When discussing these changes, one of the most oft-cited new business models is Uber. What if you, as an Uber driver, transport a moody customer who gives you a low rating, which results in the algorithm blocking you for a day? You basically miss out on a day’s earnings! Or what if Uber decides to promote discount weeks, leaving you with no choice but to offer your services for less? Keep in mind, an algorithm doesn’t look after your personal development either. And have you ever tried to negotiate a pay raise with an algorithm? There are plenty of questions that remain unresolved, as well as the call for regulation – not of the technology, but of the business models: human dignity is more important than profit.

Watch this (sorry, German only): Johannes Kleske: Mensch, Macht, Maschine – Wer bestimmt wie wir morgen arbeiten?

Linear TV and having an office is so yesterday

In 2016, two billion people will own smartphones – a device for consuming written, visual, and audio content, but also for producing or even live streaming content with services such as Meerkat or Periscope. This offers massive potential, but simultaneously is creating a headache for many people in media right now. Internet TV is continuously displacing linear TV. Self-made YouTube stars with enormous fan bases are becoming more and more independent, since they can easily generate reach by using platforms other than YouTube and finding creative ways to market themselves or their products. Netflix is one company that offers video content on demand and even produces its own exclusive content. And at least the CEO, Reed Hastings, has good working conditions: he doesn’t even have his own office anymore, so he can leave early without anyone knowing.

Watch this: MEDIA CONVENTION Berlin 2015 – Talk with Netflix CEO Reed Hastings

The slow and the autonomous vs. the fast and the furious

When cars start to drive themselves, the technological change will be tiny compared with the change in society. Since we won’t have to concentrate on traffic, we’ll have heaps of time to do other things, such as video conferencing with friends or colleagues, consuming media, shopping online, or simply relaxing. So it’s highly likely that at the same time, “speed” as a car feature will become less relevant. All this forces carmakers to think differently and may create a new market for “car furniture.”

Self-driving cars require that “human2car” as well as “car2human” communication be established. Imagine a car approaches as you’re crossing the street. You would certainly want to know whether it is autonomously driven. If it is, you want to be sure that the car “sees” you and gives you some sort of signal that it will wait until you have reached the other side, just as you would with a human driver. You used to do this by making eye contact with the human driver of the car, but now this has to be replaced by other methods, which need to be developed and established.

Smart and the city

Privacy and data protection were the most relevant topics at the conference. A lot of effort had to be put into sourcing data in the past, but nowadays people provide a wealth of data whether they know it or not.

Many cities and public spaces are installing more and more cameras that record data. Once that data is processed and evaluated, it generates profiles based on information such as gender, age, biometrics, and movement. It’s hard for people to opt out, but there is a movement afoot for creating strategies or even “wearables” to do so. They develop make-up styles that alter their biometric features, and hide from thermal camera recognition by wearing metallic clothes or putting on fascinators or headgear with disco ball elements. The irony is that everything that hides you in the virtual world recorded by the cameras makes you very conspicuous in the real world! So you have to make a choice.

There are many concepts out there concerning smart cities and using the data generated in a city to optimize traffic, make life safer and more responsive to citizens’ needs, prevent pollution or other environmental effects. For example, by making trash items traceable and observing their movement over time, cities can develop strategies for using, recycling, and disposing of waste more sustainably.

My favorite souvenir from the conference

For each of these topics, the same maxim applies: there’s more than one way to skin a cat. So many questions have to be asked, discussed, and clarified. However, there’s only one way to get a grumpy cat – attend the next re:publica! The waving cat figurine wears a mask with the face of the very well-known “grumpy cat” that became an internet phenomenon because of her dour expression!

The next re:publica is already on my calendar and I highly recommend that everyone come to Berlin for it! I’m also hoping there will be even more English presentations to attract more participants; not just from Europe, but from all over the world.

All videos can be found on the re:publica YouTube channel: