Connected Nation - Interview: Chris Speed, University of Edinburgh

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Chris Speed is Chair of Design Informatics at the University of Edinburgh, where his research focuses on the Network Society, Digital Art and Technology, and the Internet of Things.

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Chris Speed, University of Edinburgh

So I brought along the Connected High Street project today, which is a collaboration with Edinburgh, Dundee and Northumbria, and we've been looking at what happens when we think about a connected High Street. A lot of people are walking through the high street with mobile phones, but it doesn't mean to say that any of those smartphones are connected with the databases in the shops or with the practices in the shops. So we’re slightly aware that although we talk about a ubiquitous and connected world, the High Street really hasn't changed. So we’re particularly looking at how design can open up, reconnect, rewire and re-configure perhaps how we might understand the high street.

We got two design prototypes today. We've got one which is a mirror and we've been working with the local opticians, and the designer they're like to use retro frames for his customers. So this mirror, you jump on the mirror and it spots your face and it does a quick facial recognition and it scans it for your age. So it guesses your age and then it plays music track of when it thinks you were 14. So I jump on and I might get Adam and the ants when I was 14, so it begins to be a kind of cosmetic experience and when you look in the mirror it takes you back in time and lets you become the thing you want to be.

The second prototype and looked at kind of receipts actually. We've been giving away lots and lots of data to the large supermarkets and they take the data and then give us a receipt and they often give us a little token to redeem against petrol or other goods. We found that people do reclaim the big stuff but for many of the small stuff we just throw it away. So what we’ve got is a small device that allows people to scan – there’s another one - scan the bar code and then send that loyalty point to a local charity. So it’s incredibly simple but it just allows people to rebalance the reciprocity in this data and digital economy.

So we’ve used some social science methods to really understand what the stresses are, and it's crystal clear that buying isn't, isn’t that easy. And I think we enjoy some of buying, I think we enjoy some of the interactions, but it's also incredibly complicated buying others. The way that we have to negotiate other people's expectations and how shops, to be honest, are not really even as good as Amazon recommendations, and we're not really happy with Amazon recommendations. So shopping hasn't moved on to really understand how it could interoperate across some of the data silos, the patterns; I don't feel I'm connected to a shop at all. So we're trying to understand how people feel, and what is the best way to understand those concerns, those sensibilities; and how to build a couple of interventions which give them hope, opportunity to find a different way of connecting to the high street.

So I guess we've done well out of engaging across disciplines. We’ve really enjoy working with disciplines where we learn. And although it's a challenge, although writing a grant with a stranger is, isn’t easy to get on the same hymn sheet, but the rewards in terms of difference, impact and breakthroughs are just quite profound. So I guess the biggest clues to the potentials is finding and working in spaces where you have some unknowns. Working in the known knowns you tend to reveal probably what you do know and it's the unknown unknowns where you really get exciting work. So work with strangers - it always uncovers some unusual relationships.