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Tag: internet of things

The Internet of Garments

Here’s a brief treatment I wrote on the concept of an Internet of Garments [IoG] and the notion of provenance which is a key effect of IoG implementation at scale.

Throughout history clothing has played the role of a medium signifying the wearer’s status, identity and group belonging. Clothing often acts as the first, and sometimes only, signifier of the wearer’s socio-economic status, occupation, class position, ethnic group, tribal affiliation, religious denomination, or subculture.  As a piece of wearable media, clothes communicate this information through their shape, color, arrangement, pattern, the combination of garments, and even the nature of the fabrics being worn. For example, Mediterranean antiquity associated silk and the purple dye with royalty and high social standing, in the case of purple die due to its rarity and in the case of silk due to its unique provenance.

Our identity is inextricably tied to our clothing

Similarly, Medieval Europe understood very well the role of clothing as wearable media, with sumptuary laws regulating in detail the clothing appropriate to one’s social status, and prohibiting well-off merchants from wearing clothing associated with the nobility. Even today, from corporate executives, to schoolchildren, soldiers, and prisoners, we rely on uniform clothing and a set pattern of garments to signal status and identity. In that context, our garments should be understood as always already talking about us, relentlessly and incessantly.

Importantly, the ongoing revolution in wearables and Internet of Things (IoT) related objects, is leading to the emergence of smart garments and a paradigm of connected clothing – an Internet of Garments [IoG]. The IoG involves scenarios in which garments might consist of all or some of sensors, advanced materials, antennas, memory, and processing power. Such garments inevitably become uniquely identifiable and capable of communicating with their environment, therefore transitioning from analogue clothing to computational media.

While the IoT ostensibly talks to you, for example through devices such as the Amazon Echo, the IoG primarily talks about you, for example through data stored in your garments. Every physical product in this new paradigm has a digital history, allowing consumers to trace and verify its origins, as well as attributes and ownership. Ubiquitous connectivity allows the precise mapping of production processes and the tracing of materials from animal to distributor and consumer – in other words, establishing provenance.

Provenance

The notion of provenance stands for the process of establishing and authenticating a record of origin, as well as the logistics of production, distribution and usage of a given fabric. In the context of IoG, it stands for the garment’s entire life cycle across the supply chain, from the fabric’s prehistory with a specific animal (in case of wool) or collection of materials (synthetics), through its conversion into a garment, its travels through the logistical chain, its interfacing with a specific customer, and its history afterwards.

In the IoG a merino wool sweater’s provenance begins here. Everything from living conditions to food and ethical treatment is part of the provenance ledger.

In the case of wool garments for example, this involves all available data about the source animal [date and place of birth, conditions of life], all data about the producer [location, labour practices, ethical treatment of animals, supply chain], all data about processor and distributor [location, labour practices, quality of process, supply chain], as well as the consumer [location, wearing patterns, etc]. Moreover, the ability to map and access at will logistical information about a product gives us a level of high provenance granularity acting as a guarantee of ethical and certified location, as well as ethical production processes.

The process can be visualized conceptually as consisting of two distinct phases: establishing provenance and authenticating it. In the context of the wool industry, the establishing phase allows a wool producer to map and follow the entire logistical chain from animal to distributor, while the authentication phase allows distributors and customers to continuously verify the provenance of a fabric or garment. Therefore, when viewed over time in the context of IoG, provenance acts both as an interface between producers and users, and as a marketing/semantic interface between different user groups. Importantly, in both of these roles provenance acts as a dynamic bill of existence or ledger for a garment.

The final provenance interface and the main platform for a provenance-based reputation system in fashion.

In its role as an IoG interface between producers and users, this ledger offers an animal-to-shop perspective, and a way to inject ethical and sustainable production practices throughout the process. In its role as a marketing/semantic interface between different user groups, the ledger acts as a passport, certifying the provenance of the wearer within the context of an ethical standard and fashion statement/brand identity. Understood this way, when provenance is considered dynamically over a time period, what emerges is a reputation system based on the publicly available supply chain information, the quality and ethical positioning of the source materials, labour practices, etc. In that context, the concept of provenance should be understood in terms of expanding quantification and the emergence of a dataistic paradigm in wearables, as well as specifically in the garment industry and fashion.

Future networks lectures

This is a YouTube playlist of my lectures in BCM206 Future Networks, covering the story of information networks from the invention of the telegraph to the internet of things. The lecture series begins with the invention of the telegraph and the first great wiring on the planet. I tie this with the historical context of the US Civil War, the expansion of European colonial power, the work of Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace, followed by the work of Tesla, Bell, and Turing. I close with the second world war, which acts as a terminus and marker for the paradigm shift from telegraph to computer. Each of the weekly topics is big enough to deserve its own lecture series, therefore by necessity I have to cover a lot, and focus on key tropes emergent from the new networked society paradigm – i.e. separation of information from matter, the global brain, the knowledge society, the electronic frontier – and examine their role in our complex cyberpunk present.

A conversation about the Internet of Things

This is a conversation on the Internet of Things I recorded with my colleague Chris Moore as part of his podcasted lecture series on cyberculture. As interviews go this is quite organic, without a set script of questions and answers, hence the rambling style and side-stories. Among others, I discuss: the Amazon Echo [Alexa], enchanted objects, Mark Weiser and ubiquitous computing, smart clothes, surveillance, AI, technology-induced shifts in perception, speculative futurism, and paradigm shifts.

Smart fabrics and networked clothing

I am working with a team researching the networking of carbon-nanotube [CNT] woven garments, and recently we published a position paper on the concepts of smart fabrics  and networked clothing. We are interested in developing a coherent conceptual framework for what is, arguably, a paradigmatic shift in networking technologies, physically bringing human bodies online.

Object Hierophanies and the Mode of Anticipation

As I posted earlier, I am participating in a panel on data natures at the International Symposium on Electronic Art [ISEA] in Hong Kong. My paper is titled Object Hierophanies and the Mode of Anticipation, and discusses the transition of bid data-driven IoT objects such as the Amazon Echo to a mode of operation where they appear as a hierophany – after Mircea Eliade – of a higher modality of being, and render the loci in which they exist into a mode of anticipation.

I start with a brief section on the logistics of the IoT, focusing on the fact that it involves physical objects monitoring their immediate environments through a variety of sensors, transmitting the acquired data to remote networks, and initiating actions based on embedded algorithms and feedback loops. The context data produced in the process is by definition transmitted to and indexed in a remote database, from the perspective of which the contextual data is the object.

The Amazon Echo continuously listens to all sounds in its surroundings, and reacts to the wake word Alexa. It interacts with its interlocutors through a female sounding interface called the Alexa Voice Service [AVS], which Amazon made available to third-party hardware makers. What is more, the core algorithms of AVS, known as the Alexa Skills Kit [ASK] are opened to developers too, making it easy for anyone to teach Alexa a new ‘skill’. The key dynamic in my talk is the fact that human and non-human agencies, translated by the Amazon Echo as data, are transported to the transcendental realm of the Amazon Web Services [AWS] where it is modulated, stored for future reference, and returned as an answering Echo. In effect, the nature of an IoT enabled object appears as the receptacle of an exterior force that differentiates it from its milieu and gives it meaning and value in unpredictable ways.

Objects such as the Echo acquire their value, and in so doing become real for their interlocutors, only insofar as they participate in one way or another in remote data realities transcending the locale of the object. Insofar as the data gleaned by such devices has predictive potential when viewed in aggregate, the enactment of this potential in a local setting is always already a singular act of manifestation of a transcendental data nature with an overriding level of agency.

In his work on non-modern notions of sacred space philosopher of religion Mircea Eliade conceptualized this act of manifestation of another modality of being into a local setting as a hierophany. Hierophanies are not continuous, but wholly singular acts of presence by a different modality. By manifesting that modality, which Eliade termed as the sacred, an object becomes the receptacle for a transcendental presence, yet simultaneously continues to remain inextricably entangled in its surrounding milieu. I argue that there is a strange similarity between non-modern imaginaries of hierophany as a gateway to the sacred, and IoT enabled objects transducing loci into liminal and opaque data taxonomies looping back as a black-boxed echo. The Echo, through the voice of Alexa, is in effect the hierophanic articulator of a wholly non-human modality of being.

Recently, Sally Applin and Michael Fischer have argued that when aggregated within a particular material setting sociable objects form what is in effect an anticipatory materiality acting as a host to human interlocutors. The material setting becomes anticipatory because of the implied sociability of its component objects, allowing them to not only exchange data about their human interlocutor, but also draw on remote data resources, and then actuate based on the parameters of that aggregate social memory.

In effect, humans and non-humans alike are rendered within a flat ontology of anticipation, waiting for the Echo.

Here is the video of my presentation:

And here are the prezi slides:

Authenticity for internety things

I think that the Internet of Things [IoT] for the masses will first manifest itself, paradoxically, through branded and high-end objects, because that is the usual vector for popularizing a new technical affordance. The entire nascent industry of trackers, from the Nest line of ambient ‘see everything’s’, and the FitBit ecology of wearable trackers, to the SenSe Mother household tracking hubs, the trajectory is to appeal to the aspiring [and lately shrinking] middle class and above. Enter Remy Martin IoT bottles for the Chinese market, positioned around the notion of authenticity. How do you get authenticity in this age of fakes? You connect to the internet of course, and personally register your bottle for that extra bit of authentic stamp of approval that someone somewhere has recognized your conspicuous consumption.

I think the two big trajectories along which we will be experiencing the IoT are nicely illustrated by this ad. The lumpen-proletariat gets the surveillance end, the middle class and everyone above gets the authenticity and personalization.

Drone Aviary

To understand the effects, affordances, and contextual implications of cars one has to imagine not a single car, but the mindbogglingly dull commute in a suburban traffic jam. Similarly, to understand the affordances of drones and UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles – a terrible term] one has to imagine the sky-air permeated by networked machines; from micro-drones suitable as toys and message relay, to massive permanent-hover drones suitable for advertising, surveillance, and – inevitably – policing. Enter The Drone Aviary – an R&D project from The Superflux Lab.

The Drone Aviary reveals fleeting glimpses of the city from the perspective of drones. It explores a world where the ‘network’ begins to gain physical autonomy. Drones become protagonists, moving through the city, making decisions about the world and influencing our lives in often opaque yet profound ways.