Education vs Automation

Technology and learning go hand in hand throughout history. Better tools enable individuals to challenge large enterprises and level the playing field for small nations; on the other, quality education provides the backbone for technological innovations and empowers the harnessing of possibilities that technology brings. My recent reunion with two old friends, whom I haven’t seen in ages, may very well lend some answers to this question.

My friends and I had studied together. After graduation, we moved to different corners of the planet but kept in touch. The recent career moves these two gentlemen made, say a lot about the promises and perils of automation at work.

Different Jobs, Same Work
One of my friends recently left his job at an established company where he led a small team to join a tech startup where he works alone. To my surprise, he mentioned that the nature of his work hasn’t changed much. He explained that the same tasks he used to ask his subordinates to help with are now handled by a suite of tools that his more technologically enabled startup has developed.

My other friend has just opened a small retail business that sells quality culinary supplies. Unlike his parents who employed several people, my friend does his business alone. I asked him how he manages to juggle the operations, to which he replied – his bookkeeping app keeps his books for him, his email and customer relationship management (CRM) tool push sales, and all marketing activities are supported by user-friendly digital platforms. According to him, his small operation generates more revenue than his parents could ever imagine.

Education > Automation
In both examples, emerging technologies have enabled them to do more and better work faster. However, even as automation enables them to express their ideas in new ways, education appears to be the common factor that drives future success.

In fact, my first friend told me that he would gladly hire and train his former team when his company grows bigger. Similarly, my other friend doesn’t think he will work alone forever. As the business grows, he envisions that he will require people with deep domain expertise in technology, sales, and marketing. My entrepreneurial friends are optimistic about the future of work. And it is apparent that they are basing their positive outlook on training programmes they are building, in anticipation of their business growth.

Education First and Last, but Not Least
Actually, these same circumstances are also playing out at a macro level. Education has been one of the driving forces which establishes Singapore as a hub for entrepreneurship and deep tech disciplines such as artificial intelligence, smart urban infrastructure and healthtech.

Building on the momentum, Singapore has recently enlisted SCS’ help – with the launch of the Digital Proficiency Programme (DigiPro) – to enhance its national effort of upskilling digital competencies. The programme, which features cybersecurity, data analytics, digital content creation and personal branding courses, will equip professionals with the skills to leverage digital tools to grow their careers.

And the conversation with my old friends has definitely put the interplay of technology and education in perspective. Their stories are not only inspiring, but also evidence new opportunities technology creates and the role of education in transforming technology into a powerful creative force.

Travel Safe in the Digital Age

The growth of affordable airlines and global businesses in recent years has made jet-setting lifestyle a thing of the now. Traveling with several digital devices is also commonplace. At the same time, situations on the road can sometimes get unpredictable, and it’s always worth adopting healthy paranoia to ensure that both the gadgets as well as the traveler can return home safe and sound.

For me, I make sure to observe a few simple rules every time I travel.

Use Discreet Bags
Instead of choosing bags for aesthetic reasons, opt for a plain model to avoid unwanted attention. Also, make sure the material is sturdy enough to weather the journey and any attempts to pry it open. In my case, while my ultra-strong composite fabric carrier never wins any compliments from hipsters, it is not just water and cut proof, but also very functional. Similarly, I keep my mobile gadgets in old and beaten cases to make them look like they are way overdue for an upgrade, as new devices are highly targeted for their resale value.

Encrypt Your Devices and Avoid Open WiFi
It is estimated that less than half of the phones, and even fewer laptops, are encrypted globally. But there is really no excuse for not doing it since most modern operating systems have intuitive one-click encryption options, which doesn’t take a tech geek to turn on. That said, it’s possible to get hacked even with a strong encryption. WiFi Pineapple is one such platform. Cheap, easy to set up and allow anyone to execute a “man in the middle” attack to collect information passing through, WiFi Pineapple is like a regular hotspot that has been modified to execute network attacks. Therefore, get a local sim card the next time you travel. Most countries today have decent 3G or 4G networks.

Exercise Caution when Making Card Payments
The “man in the middle” attacks are also prevalent in credit card transactions. Although wireless payments are very convenient, they also allow thieves to perform undetected Near-field communication (NFC) micro-charges. It is also not uncommon for hackers to attach fake microchips on top of real ones to fake terminal transactions.

Actually, attacks are not always too technically sophisticated. I recall a time when I made a payment to a shop attendant in one of the less secured airports. He claimed that the closest terminal was in another store and disappeared with my card for a good 10 minutes. I only realised much later that he had charged extra expenses to my account. Luckily, the loss was not too high and could be written down as a “life experience lesson”.

Long story short – use cash or services like Uber, which can automatically charge to your preferred payment method.

Watch out when Entering Passwords
Surprisingly, even the most adept tech professional may be susceptible to simple tricks such as video recordings of one typing passwords on phones and laptops. All it takes is a password to a service such as email, and a door will be created for hackers to access other resources. Hence, if you have to work on the go, find a private corner and always use protective screens. Password aggregators can also make logins more convenient and secure.

Feel free to try out some of these rules the next time you hit the road. Combine them with some common sense, and your journey might become safer as well as more pleasant and productive.

Spotlight with the Singapore Computer Society

This conversation took place between the Singapore Computer Society and me in the winter of 2017. I’ve been volunteering with SCS for some time and love what this organization does to promote technological literacy and empower people with tech. It was very fun to talk about AI and how it is transforming many industries, including the most creative ones, such as marketing.

Earliest Tech Experience: Playing games on a Pentium 386 (bought in Singapore, by the way)
Role Model: His father
Always Enjoy: A good book (mostly in audio these days); a good conversation; first person shooter, strategy and role playing games
Currently Reading: The Light of Other Days by Stephen Baxter
Current Pet Topic: AI in Marketing and Creative Industries

Q: Question
VK: Vladyslav Koshelyev

THOUGHTS ON AI
Q: What has inspired your interest in AI?
VK: As a teenager, I was an avid reader of Ray Kurzweil’s books and was deeply intrigued by his theories about the future of humankind and technology. In the book, “The Age of Intelligent Machines”, Kurzweil predicts how the intellectual capacity of AI would become comparable and eventually surpass that of humans. His belief that AI will one day enjoy a collaborative and symbiotic relationship with humans was awe-inspiring. That was when my interest in AI was first seeded. At the time, Kurzweil’s books seemed to be science fiction, however today we see that most of his predictions has come true. My smartphone today is more powerful than a mainframe computer in my childhood days. And it’s just a start.

Q: Can you share some AI developments that you are excited about?
VK: Sure. I am very excited about AI starting to help creative professionals. In a recent experiment, the advertising agency McCann Japan used its AI software to analyse a brief and successfully create a new campaign. While the project didn’t win any award, we should remember that digital technologies develop exponentially and will progress ever faster. More recently, a pop artist, Taryn Southern released a human/AI collaborative album. While the AI did the music composition, Taryn took care of the vocal melodies and lyrics. The result has all the ingredients of a good pop song – a catchy tune, a smooth progression, etc.

Both developments are very different. Yet, they not only hint at the potential of AI to do amazing work in time to come, but also showcase that it is indeed possible for AI and humans to work together hand in hand, side by side.

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Q: So are you looking forward to working alongside AI?
VK: I very much do. Although I should note, this doesn’t mean my work will become easier. It’s actually the opposite. When I first started working in the digital media industry, my job was much simpler. Every week, as part of my routine, I had to do the same three/four tasks. They were technically complex and time consuming, but repetitive. Once I figured them out, I was all set.

Today, there is an algorithm that takes care of these tasks. The good news is I don’t have to do them anymore. The not so good news is that my work has become more complex. Instead of doing these same tasks week after week, now my time is spent working with partners to understand their organisations, strategising how I can help them do better and finding solutions that provide greater value.

Work has become less predictable, more challenging – but also more interesting. I am not afraid of losing my job to an AI but I know for sure that I will have to work harder and learn faster than ever to adapt.

Q: Since AI can bring so much good, why do you think people are apprehensive about its rise?
VK: It is good to be apprehensive. Technology is always a double-edged sword. When used well, it can help us to do more and better. However, if used for the wrong intent, it can be dangerous. It is therefore important that we are aware of both good and bad possibilities – so that we can take proactive actions to prevent negative impact even as we enjoy the benefits AI brings.

It is understandable that people are concerned that AI may displace them. Although my own experience is that AI did change the focus of my work, but it did not replace me. In fact, it has given me the opportunity to dedicate my energy to more value-added work and hone my ability in aspects that truly matter. Similarly, in the example I shared earlier about Taryn Southern and her new album – she could focus on the composition and stories her songs tell while letting AI handle the more minute details.

Q: What is an area that you hope to see more AI developments in?
VK: I look forward to the use of AI in healthcare. Traditionally, we rely a lot on the expertise of individual doctors. This expertise is usually lost when the doctor leaves. By integrating AI with healthcare systems, this problem will be mitigated because the system can objectively analyse a huge library of different cases and identify best practices; it can possibly even suggest preventive measures.

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ABOUT THE MAN
Q: What do you love about working in the technology industry?
VK: History is defined by technology, influencing the rise and fall of great states. They rose because they developed advanced technology, and they fell because they were unable to keep up. As part of the industry, you get to be involved in the process and change the way people live, in the present, and for generations to come.

Q: What drew you to Singapore?
VK: I love the culture, architecture, landscapes and the climate among many other things. The weather makes me forsake my computer for the great outdoors, be it for a get-together with friends or a walk. The eclectic mix of towering skyscrapers and colourful shophouses combines with the many smart city technologies and ethnically rich population to make for a very vibrant place to live, work and play in.

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First published in the IT Society magazine by the Singapore Computer Society.

Advertising: The greatest art form of the 21st century

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Simple and Complex
Advertising became so prevalent that we often barely give it any thought at all. Everyone knows what advertising is – an endless stream of images, words and sounds on our screens, walls, road signs and, when it’s really catchy, in our heads. The essence of advertising is simple – it is about attracting people’s attention to products, services, ideas and concepts. It is at the same time a very complex industry that absorbs the latest advances in media, computing and psychology. Such nascent technologies as artificial intelligence and virtual reality were almost immediately adopted by marketers, way ahead of most other industries. Because of such rapid innovation, the infrastructure behind a simple ad is often so elaborate that only few professionals really understand it.

History Lessons
Advertising is perhaps one of the oldest professions that have ever existed. We can trace its beginnings to the ancient markets of Babylon, Greece and Rome where merchants from every corner of the Earth engaged in the activity that makes the world move – commerce. People always had to advertise – to barter meat for milk with neighbours, to sell new exotic spices from overseas or to rally people to settle in new continents.

First traces of advertising were found in the ruins of ancient Babylonia. These were simple road signs promoting the nearest tavern or market. The invention of the printing press in the 1440s revolutionized publishing. The print not only enabled a much broader distribution of books, but it also became a platform for new types of media such as newspapers. Because printing wasn’t cheap, publishers sold some of the pages to sponsors. Suddenly advertising could reach homes of every newspaper and magazine reader.

First newspaper ads were printed in France and quickly spread to England, the United States and then the whole world. As money poured in, marketing became a big business. First advertising agencies started as sales houses for newspaper ad space. With time, they expanded into copywriting, design and planning services, becoming the media giants of today.

A Digital Frontier
Personal computers disrupted the media landscape as fundamentally as the printing press. Mobile connectivity combined with rapid adoption of cheap smartphones enabled anyone to access virtually any information on the Internet. Marketers who have always been on the cutting edge of technology quickly realized that they could now reach their consumers anywhere in the world.

First digital banner ads on the world wide web appeared in 1994. While visually basic, their novelty attracted users who eagerly clicked through. Soon web pages were filled with an endless stream of colorful images. Ironically, the format that made digital advertising mainstream were simple text lines in search engines. Lacking any graphics but featuring the exact products people searched for, these ads could drive sales with much higher efficiency. During the early of the web nothing else could beat their simplicity and cost.

Soon enough, however, increasing processing power and higher cellular bandwidth enabled more sophisticated graphics. Rather than annoy people with endless popups, ads started to blend with native content and target people who showed specific interests and affinities.

Smartphones present the most abundant advertising platform that has ever existed. The latest generation of mobile devices has the processing and productivity capacity comparable with desktop PCs. Today, such pocket supercomputer has enough computational capacity to support immersive cinematic experiences. Whether as simple as a line of text or as complex as interactive as a game, the mobile media can tell a story and take people on a journey wherever they are. As of today, mobile digital advertising is the field where the most exciting innovations in marketing happen.

Media Is The Message
Most of us think of advertising as a way to sell us more stuff. This, however, is just a small part of the picture. As a form of media, it has always played a significant role in shaping opinions and promoting ideas. From pharaohs of ancient Egypt to today’s presidents of the United States, politicians use advertising to extend their power and influence. In fact, many attribute Barack Obama’s as well as Donald Trump’s presidency victories in 2008 and 2016 to their skillful use of social media and the Internet.

Below: The Egyptian pharaoh and Barack Obama both use advertising to promote their leadership

Art can stir emotions and influence hearts and minds through great masterpieces. Any marketer knows that the “Creative” is the most critical part of the media. While over the years power has shifted between religious institutions, royalty, bankers and corporations, people in power have always supported artists and shaped their work. Just like the Church paid for Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, today banks and corporations sponsor art exhibitions. This delicate balance between the artist’s creative expression and the needs of their patrons has culminated in Advertising – the greatest art form of our century.

We can argue that the modern advertising is so strongly associated with consumerism for the sole reason that the modern society itself is driven by it. Marketers always follow people’s attention, not the other way around. In a way, advertising is no different from a hammer; it is but a tool that works equally well for selling junk food, helping someone get elected as a president as well as making people aware of important causes such as education, healthcare and environment. People should use advertising as a mirror of what their societies pay attention to while marketers should never forget what powerful tools they work with and apply them mindfully.

Are You Ready to Race Against Technology?

Will machines come for your current job someday? The answer is “yes” – and soon. There is only one way to stay ahead – keep learning more, better and faster. The great race against technology is on.


Artwork by Singapore Computer Society https://www.scs.org.sg/index.php

I started my career in digital marketing as a junior campaign manager. My job mainly involved analysing online advertisement placement reports, and then adjusting the system to deliver the best outcome. Even though work was tough and sometimes monotonous, I loved every minute and lived my dream of an Internet guru.

TECHNOLOGY AS A COMPETITOR
Yet in just a few years my first job has all but disappeared. Or rather, in technical terms, it has been automated. Today, the new generation of marketing platforms use clever algorithms to doa day’s worth of my work in a millisecond and, I have to admit, with a much higher quality. 

Concerns over automation are timely. In the past, many were sceptical of Artificial Intelligence (AI), which didn’t seem to deliver on its many promises. Yet, we often overestimate what technology can do over a short period of time and underestimate its impact in the long run. The new generation of AI, modelled after how human brain learns, is now becoming more capable of performing creative tasks that previously only highly trained professionals could do – writers, designers and even programmers. I can certainly feel how competition with machines is heating up in the marketing and advertising field. AI has completely taken over my fairly recent job. And I should be totally terrified, if… I actually had time to worry. 

TECHNOLOGY AS A PACER
Despite automation, I seem to have more work now than ever before. Hours got longer, plans more ambitious, conversations more passionate. It could be that, so far, I just managed to outrun the AI. Since my first job, I have used every opportunity to build my knowledge of commerce, technology and people, and thus developed a broader and  deeper understanding of my craft. Correspondingly, I also took on projects which are more complex, creative and rewarding. I am even grateful that automation took over my routine tasks and gave me time to focus on more meaningful work.

TECHNOLOGY AS A PARTNER
Many people are struggling to find out how they can stay relevant as AI gets better. I believe the answer could simply be to rediscover our humanity and become even more “human” – to feel, to empathise, to imagine, to excite and to connect. These things come naturally to us, but at the same time, they are most difficult to reproduce with technology. And our instinct to collaborate may very well be the key that will ultimately lead us to victory – working with instead of competing against AI. Together, with technology on our side, we can run faster than ever before. 

First appeared in The IT Society magazine and Infopier: https://www.infopier.sg/blog/-/blogs/are-you-ready-to-race-against-technology-

How science fiction becomes an everyday fact

As mobile supercomputers, intelligent cities, global networks and other wonders of our age become part of the daily routine and office furniture, it is easy to forget how things were once upon a time and the almost magical nature of this everyday tech that we have come to take for granted.

Well, this might very well be for the better – since it is only when these “gadgets” become mundane that we’ll aim for even more incredible breakthroughs. For someone who has lived through these exciting times, every time I pause and look around, I cannot help but marvel at how my yesteryear fantasies have become everyday realities today.

The Impossible is Already Here
As a kid, I liked to read science fiction. I could spend hours sitting under a tree, immersed in the distant worlds of the far future where people carried in their hands tiny but powerful supercomputers that could instantly deliver any information. They would go about their business on fast trains that navigated by themselves without drivers, and in cities with buildings as high as the sky. They could talk to anyone in the world through their video screens and get live news from any country and in any language. I thought: “If I could just go to such a place – I’d be the happiest kid in the world.”

When I read science fiction as a kid, I imagined buildings of the future to look like this.

Now I have grown up. I was scrolling through the live newsfeed from Asia, USA, and Europe with my smartphone in hand when I sipped my cup of coffee this morning. I hopped on the fully automated Downtown MRT Line train to ride to the Singapore downtown where the sight of towering skyscrapers never ceases to take my breath away. Because my phone is always connected to the Internet, along the way, I researched on the latest marketing trends for my client meeting. After work, I had two video chats – one with my mom in Europe, and another with a good friend in South America – as if we were in the same space and time zone.

The Power is in Your Hands
As it stands, the cheapest modern smartphone today is more powerful than the famous Deep Blue, the gigantic supercomputer that won a chess game against the world champion for the first time – big story during my childhood. It is as capable of controlling a spacecraft as the entire room of transistors that sent Apollo 11 to the moon. But if you’d rather stay in your couch, the phone can generate virtual reality experiences that would make the Neuromancer graphics pale in comparison.

An OEM supercomputer, $50 per piece

That is barely the full story of what technology can do too. These days, we can have video calls virtually anytime, anywhere and on any screen. The 4G wireless connection enables video streaming with remarkable quality on our sleek tablets as compared to clunky tethered devices protagonists of futuristic movies from the 90s used. Thanks to technology, people today can even build careers and manage organisations using nothing more than a few online collaboration tools. It is foreseeable that as fast connectivity continues to spread, meeting, working and playing with people even as we move around the globe will become even more seamless.

Tech is in Play Everyday, Everywhere
It may not be immediately apparent, but advanced cities such as Singapore have already implemented fully automated rail systems capable of controlling and coordinating vast train fleets over many kilometers. Not only does the system continually optimise schedule times, braking points, accelerating speeds and other parameters, the trains are also connected to an even wider transport network of thousands of vehicles through sensors that add real-time data and make the city smarter with every passing minute.

Everyone is a Change Agent
Truth is, the modern Metropolis is a living and breathing information system, buzzing with intelligence, always connected, always learning and improving. And each of us contributes to enriching the data – simply by going about our everyday life. I am humbled by the opportunity to build a reality that people of the past couldn’t even dream of.

These days, I no longer need to read science fiction to fuel my imagination – I just grab the latest issue of a science magazine, such as the one you are holding now. And I become again that little kid, staring in awe at the world right in front of my eyes.

First appeared in The IT Society magazine and Infopier: https://www.infopier.sg/blog/-/blogs/how-everyday-tech-has-changed-without-you-realising

How Technology Changes the Way We Tell Stories

We perceive the world around us through stories. Stories shape moments into days, days into years, and eventually merge them into lifetimes; just like letters become words, words become sentences, and then finally a book. Stories give meaning to the mechanical routine of the mundane. With technology on the verge of making another great leap forward, will the way we tell stories be changed forever?

Over the course of history, storytelling has been closely linked with technology. In many ways, technology defines how we express ourselves to make our narratives more vivid. We scribbled our first chapters on cave walls before swapping crude pieces of coal for ink and paint. Literature and art enabled people to express their deepest thoughts, ideas and feelings. Analogue and digital imaging made storytelling visually realistic for the first time. These subsequently evolved to bring us photography, cinema and – combined with revolutions in telecommunications – the modern Internet. If the present technological trends are any indication, these three developments are set to define the future of storytelling.

Co-Creation
Before the emergence of the Internet most people were passive consumers of art, literature and music. The arrival of social networks provided a means for us to create content together. Since then, many art forms have embraced online collaboration – now writers, musicians and filmmakers can fuse their inspiration on common platforms regardless of the distance. Collaborations are not limited to creative work, they can happen in play too. The new generation of video games such as Minecraft VR allow players to build virtual environments together, pointing towards an entirely new level of collaboration – the co-creation of stories in digital worlds.  

Presence
Today, most popular storytelling media is linear and passive. We can immerse ourselves in a great book or be captivated by an exciting movie but there is little we can do to change the story – we can only observe. In comparison, the gaming industry – while still in its infancy – shows how people can be part of the narrative through interacting with its characters and changing the world around them. Actually, “games” perhaps may not be the best name for this new art form. After all, as it stands, the depth of stories people “play” can already rival Hollywood blockbusters and even novels. With the promise of virtual reality going mainstream, in no time, people will have the ability to feel physically present in the stories. 

Augmentation
As computational power continues to increase exponentially, many technologists expect machine learning and automation to affect many aspects of life, including storytelling. Companies such as Narrative Science have developed software that analyses large volumes of information and creates magazine articles indistinguishable from those written by humans. Then there is the soundtrack for the game No Man’s Sky, which is dynamically rendered by a sophisticated composition algorithm based on the player’s actual experience. All said, however, even a very advanced computer still needs to be guided by imagination, ideas and intuition – that only people have. 

With the availability of new technology to augment human creativity, we will have the power to tell new stories like never before. The future of storytelling looks exciting and is limited only by our imagination.

First appeared on: https://www.infopier.sg/blog/-/blogs/how-technology-changes-the-way-we-tell-stories

Social Networks Today = Cities Tomorrow?

It is almost certain that cities will be very different 20 years from now. But how different? Take a close look at the present day social networks, and you could very well find the answer.

The legendary urban planner Jane Jacobs once wrote that cities are built by people for people . Without the meaning people bring to places around us, buildings, highways and bridges would just be empty stone shells.

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OUR CITIES TODAY
A modern metropolis is a complex social network of relationships, conversations and everyday interactions between people1. This network defines the place and explains the city beyond its physical form. As British urban planner and geographer Prof Michael Batty observed: places are important only inasmuch as they enable communication between people. The modern urban science is increasingly shifting its focus from physical locations to the actual social networks they support2.

By 2050, more than 70% of world population will live in cities, up from 3% in 18003. Such rapid urbanisation challenges planners to rethink everything they know about infrastructure, connectivity and social issues. Concurrently, exponential advances in technology make it necessary for planners to keep up with emerging computing, transportation, telecommunications and medical trends.

OUR SOCIAL NETWORKS TODAY
Notably, advances in telecommunications and computer technology have enabled us to bring practically all of our social activities online, blurring the lines between digital and physical worlds. Modern digital services such as Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn have become accurate representations of every part of our social networks – from relationships and conversations to events, commerce and idea exchanges.

As a matter of fact, our online social networks share many similarities with our cities. They present an accurate model of the city life that can inform urban design. The News Feed on Facebook could well be the downtown where everyone meets and catches up on the latest news and gossips, amidst the array of giant advertisement billboards, while Personal Profiles are cozy apartments that we return to relax and reflect about the day. As for the Groups, they are akin to neighborhood communities spread across the city – each with its unique vibe, style and supporters.

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SOCIAL NETWORKS AND CITIES ARE CONVERGING
At this stage, it is anybody’s guess how the city will look like in the future. Considering that physical urban megastructures develop over an extended period of time, it is tough to replicate agile planning and constant experimentation, which are fundamental to the success of digital companies. Luckily, the dynamism and flexibility of online social networks not only mirror urban interactions, but also offer planners an ideal platform for rigorous analysis and research. Convergence between urban development projects and online social networks is already apparent in recent urban development projects. The Urban Attitudes Lab in Tufts is analysing torrents of geotagged social data coming from digital media to contribute to the design patterns of communities and neighbourhoods in Massachusetts, U.S. In another instance, Honolulu, Hawaii, has redesigned some of its districts based entirely on interactions on social media platforms. By enabling hotspots around the area, Honolulu made the digital space indistinguishable from the physical location4.

THE FUTURE OF CITIES
Interactions on social media have gone beyond exchanges of information, and now influence urban, infrastructure and architectural design in important economic centres around the world. Singapore’s Smart Nation initiative is perhaps the most ambitious urban project by far. Through combining social media information streams with millions of data points from sensors, devices and geospatial analytics, Singapore is set to create a rich information model that guides the planning and design of the city5.

1Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Vintage Books, 1961
2 Michael Batty, The new science of cities, MIT Press, 2013
3 Population Reference Bureau, http://www.prb.org/Publications/Lesson-Plans/HumanPopulation/Urbanization.aspx
4 Timothy Schuler, Future of Urban Planning: A Hawaiian Neighborhood Born of Social Media, Autodesk, 2015
5 Peter Quek, Exploit Technology for Smart Urban Planning, Urban Redevelopment Authority Singapore, 2014

First appeared on: https://www.infopier.sg/blog/-/blogs/social-networks-today-cities-tomorrow

Design And The Flow

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Quality of a product, service or pretty much everything in life is an elusive concept that is hard to put the finger on. The recipe seems clear – use state-of-the-art components, follow the latest consumer trends, apply successful business practices, and you are guaranteed to produce a hit. Yet we have seen time and again that a great product is much more than just a sum of its parts.

The music scene is the first example that comes to mind. The bowels of CD stores are filled with tedious junk recorded on the finest Digital Audio Workstations with expensive synthesizers by producers packing every catchy hook to their soulless tapes. At the same time, many of the greatest songs were written with nothing more than a simple mic and an acoustic guitar. Clearly, the most advanced technology does not guarantee that a song will touch people’s hearts. On the contrary, many albums suffer from over-production that makes them sound sterile and toothless.Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/opethpainter/3452027651

The smartphone industry is another good example. Despite rising competition, Apple continues to command higher prices for its iPhones than any other manufacturer. Many phones on the market are more advanced and boast better specifications. Samsung offers larger screens, Motorola cameras produce crisper images, Sony excels at audio quality while LG amazes with its curved design. So how does Apple maintain its premium factor? I got my answer after I recently switched from iPhone to an Android device. The screen is indeed great, the camera is sharp, and the sound is loud and clear. However, something is missing, something that we can only describe as the user experience. Instead of packing the latest specs into its devices Apple focuses on tailoring every component into a seamless ecosystem. This gives Apple products their fluid feel that gets technology out of your way. Source: Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IPhone_5

And how did Facebook become the most popular website in the world? When Mark Zuckerberg released the first version of his social network, its design was ascetic in comparison with MySpace, did not have as many features as Friendster and was limited only to Harvard students. Nevertheless, in just a few years, Facebook swept across the world, putting its competitors out of business and changing the way people communicate with each other. It was actually its simplicity and reliability that convinced people to trust Facebook with their personal profiles. While other services were bloated with features, Zuckerberg focused on a few things people wanted to use while keeping the interface clean and infrastructure stable. In the end, great user experience proved to be more attractive than the sum of features on other social sites.Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/gonzoonews/8694565705

I am writing this article while slowly sipping my morning espresso. In the past, I was able to sample some of the best blends of coffee in Spain, Italy and France, and my Starbucks cup today does not offer quite the same taste palette. Yet it is 8 am and every other cafe around is still closed. The coffee shop I visited yesterday to read my emails lacked Wi-Fi. The soundtrack in Starbucks is infinitely more pleasant than the radio junk around the corner and inside the decor looks nice. Starbucks kills it with a unique blend of superb interior design, great music and distribution. The experience of being in its cafes is beyond just espressos and lattes.Source: http://hoodlum-girl-rox.deviantart.com/art/Coffee-Music-Inspiration-212618609

The city-state of Singapore is one of the most livable countries in the world. It offers an unparalleled quality of life as well as opportunities for personal and professional growth. Yet Singapore rarely takes the top spot in any single “livability” category. European Nordics boast the highest GDPs per capita. Hong Kong is at a close proximity to rising China, wealthy Japan and innovative Korea. Tokyo and Paris offer exquisite culinary experiences. LA and San Francisco attract with their sophisticated movie, music and theater scenes. Endless stretches of sea and sand in the Gold Coast nurture the mind and the soul. Yet thousands of immigrants land at Singapore shores every year searching for a new home. The small red dot used the few advantages it had – its position on the intersection of trade routes and the cosmopolitan mix of people, languages and cultures, to which it added possibly the best infrastructure in the world to build the city that just works. The experience of living in Singapore is not unlike using Apple devices – it is seamless, built around people and, like every great ecosystem, is more than just a sum of its parts. © Vladyslav Koshelyev

I am a lifelong marketer, and I can’t help but to draw parallels between product design and advertising. I often hear that programmatic platforms will soon put sales and creative people out of work and leave it to a few engineers to run the entire industry. On the surface it is hard to argue with this forecast – programmatic solutions are cheaper, better targeted and offer access to more sources of inventory. Yet the most active proponents of these technologies such as Google also keep some of the largest sales forces in the industry. They understand that an ever increasing focus on technical aspects of advertising and eliminating the human touch is a race to the bottom that sucks all life out of the modern marketing. Just like it takes more than just technology to produce great music, phones, websites, cafes and cities, a good advertising campaign is more than just a perfectly targeted and efficiently delivered “call-to-action”. And while we are striving to “eliminate waste” we should ask ourselves if the proverbial half of advertising cost is indeed wasted or if it is indispensable for a campaign with a truly broad appeal that produces an iconic brand. Like every quality product, advertising is more than just a sum of its parts.