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Sunday, 25 October 2015

DG CONNECT classifies and symbolises technologists as the uncreative ones!

Following last week’s ICT 2015 event in Lisbon, and the publication of the European Commission’s new call for ICT research proposals, in the END, ICT-ART CONNECT, or STARTS as it would now like to be known, appears in the new Horizon 2020 Work Programme 2016-2017 in the area of Information and Communication Technologies with a very traditional and very European approach, which STARTS with Classification and Symbolisation.

There are, we are told, two classes: technologists symbolised as the uncreative ones, who are suffering from a creativity deficit, which must therefore be corrected through collaboration with artists and creative people, symbolised as the carriers of the much sought after creativity (the weighty mystery). Yet what evidence is there for this creativity deficit? I look forward to reading the report that documents this evidence. I have searched for it using Google, but strangely, it does not seem to exist. Why could that be? Perhaps it is a secret report, only accessible to those with special positions, and not to be shared with invisible people such myself?

We are also told that arts are gaining prominence as a catalyst for an efficient conversion of S&T knowledge into innovative products, services, and processes. Again I searched on Google for the evidence of this. Truly there is a vast amount of information available about artists using S&T knowledge to create art which is what artists do, but innovative products, services, and processes? I also looked for evidence of this in the ICT & ART CONNECT study report. Nothing! And what a truly empty piece of work this is. It is one of those reports where there is so little content of value, that material that would normally be relegated to appendices has been included in the main body of the report.

So I am mystified by this talk of efficient conversion of S&T knowledge into innovative products, services, and processes, and even more so when I read, for example, the Digital Humanities manifesto, which clearly states that "in the vast majority of cases, scholarship and art practice are not-for-profit endeavours whose actual costs far exceed real or potential returns." This corresponds with my own perspective and that of most of the artists I have encountered.

So it seems that artists are to be recruited to become the handmaiden's of the economy and of technologists, to create unconventional and compelling new products. Interesting opportunities here perhaps for some subversive activities to comment on the attitude of mind in government agencies, that, on the one hand does not prioritise or value artists, but which, on the other, seeks to appropriate them to the demands of an economic system that is failing and which has no place in a sustainable future.

"But there is 6 million euros available", is your response. To which I would ask by way of reply, "just how much of this will find its way into the pockets of artists?"

What is most likely to be the outcome of this exercise is that the bulk of the money will end up in the hands of the usual organisations that live well off European funding, but which have tenuous connections with domains such as the arts. What artists will most likely end up with, are the crumbs that fall from the table at which these organisations are dining at public expense. Be aware too, that the 50,000 euro experiments referred to in the text of the Call for proposals, is an upper value (the words used are "typically below the range of 50,000 euro), and the amount is for the experiment, not for the artists. In other words, it will be shared among those participating in the experiments – artists and technologist, and perhaps others too.

You will not find in this new addition to the ICT Work Programme, any reference to the creation of art, which is what artists want to do. Nor is there any reference to the use of artistic criteria as part of the assessment of the entries for the STARTS prize, which seems, I must add, to be more about the European Commission in the form of DG CONNECT, seeking to acquire kudos from the arts. There is also no mention of artistic criteria in the selection of the experiments. And perhaps most noteworthy, no mention of using art to do all the important things that, at this moment in time, at this point in humanity’s short story, are most necessary if we as a species are to have a future worth having.

Words one associates with art that are missing: aesthetics, artistic processes, art as a way of knowing the world, art practice as research, artistic freedom, imagination …

So what becomes of artistic freedom, when vainglorious technocrats in state institutions decree how art should be used and what subjects are legitimate? No need to answer the question for the answer lies in history, with communism providing a modern example. And what to say about the notion of developing common work practices and identifying concrete Research and Development and Innovation problems that artistic practices could help address? Much in fact, but this will do:

What is the point of the first, when the value lies in that fact that the approaches are very different, and for the second, well this is something that you should already know, if you really understood and had taken the trouble to document the state-of-the-art and understand what art is about and how artists work. Which brings me to the sum of things: it was evident at the START that the European Commission did not understand; it was evident during the course of the development of ICT-ART CONNECT that the European Commission did not understand and did not want to; and it is evident at the END that they do not understand. STARTS, END, they are both the same, and an opportunity is once again lost. Never mind perhaps in 25 year's time the European Commission will take a fresh look, as they are doing with Social Sciences, to discover that which they have already been told, but have chosen to ignore. Only in 25 year’s time it will be too late.

The realisation of ICT-ART CONNECT in the new ICT work programme – a staggering lack of vision, imagination and creativity. Perhaps there is a creativity deficit after all, for here surely is the evidence. They should perhaps have practiced what they are preaching, and worked with artists to create an unconventional and compelling work programme!

ICT & ART CONNECT DISCONNECT – the decision to disconnect and to hack ICT ART CONNECT is one of the most fruitful things that I have ever done. And the reasons for this will become clear over the coming months and years. ICT-ART CONNECT, or STARTS, is about cognitive biases and deficit thinking, both being reinforced by artist willing to compromise their integrity for the sake of money. This is not the way forward for the arts.

So in the END you got what you wanted – money. Thus STARTS the rest of your life, without credibility and integrity. Enjoy the material rewards, for you have truly eaten of the fruit of the tree of knowledge.

And the END result will be an extremely noisy, highly schizophrenic circus, where all will be claimed to be a major success, but which will, in reality, be largely empty of substance, and once again the European Commission in the form of DG CONNECT will have demonstrated that it is truly a failing institution continuing to cause a huge amount of damage to the European economy.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

The VW emissions scandal, engineering ethics, and collective denial

Insects fluttering around the light that is the ICT research programme will be addressed in my next blog, for this week I make an unexpected detour into the murky world of the professional and ethical behaviour of scientists, engineers and technologists. This diversion is made necessary as a result of an editorial to the October (2015) issue of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) periodical that goes by the name Professional Engineer, which in the light of VW, is a somewhat questionable title for an occupation where people are willing to engage in using technology to cheat.

That engineers in VW were willing to participate in an act of fraud came as no surprise to me, for it is just one more example of the low standards of behaviour that I have come to expect from this occupation. And I speak from over 30 years of experience in which I have encountered more scientist, engineers and technologists than I am able to count and certainly far more than most other people.

While there are individuals among these occupations who do have high standards comparable with those found in law and medicine, the norm is set far below these professions. And the problem is a human one, where there is a tendency to follow the easy path, in situations where engineers are employees and are in effect, handmaidens, and have to obey orders. And all around them are people and organisations that serve as role models for low standards, and that includes academics, who are probably the worst when it comes poor ethics and professionalism, and also institutions such as the IMechE and the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Royal Society, who are just vested interest groups seeking power and willing to engage in unprofessional and unethical activities to achieve this.

And then comes collective denial and delusion, where all this is just ignored, and people start claiming, without any evidence, that the vast majority of engineers who are members of the IMechE, for example, comply with the guiding principles of that institution concerning such matters as professional conduct, ethics …, which is what the editor of Professional Engineer claimed; the equivalent to saying that the emperor is wearing a fine suit of clothes. And when a little boy speaks truth about the nonsense of this, it is not in the nature of humans to listen, but to classify and symbolise him as suffering from a deficit, and then to ignore him and to continue as though nothing were amiss.

I have come across many examples of poor professional conduct and unethical behaviour involving scientist, engineers and technologist over my career, and had to walk away from many activities because of it. The reality is that, there is such a thing as irresponsible research and innovation, and much bad conduct driven by the pursuit of personal gain and the Will to Power. One recent example is this thing called ICT-ART CONNECT, which has been shaped by the all too familiar, morally corrupt relationship that exists between the European Commission and its so-called experts and the organisations that engage with the Commission in pursuit of their own agendas, which usually have something to do with getting hold of public money. It is all about money, power and kudos, and this I will be exploring in some detail over the remaining weeks of 2015.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Insects are drawn to the light …

Continuing with the time theme and also following-up on the notion of Horizon 2020 as innovation nonsense

Many insects (not just moths) are drawn to the light. Researchers are like that too. Turn on a light (that is to say provide funding for a topic) and the insects will flutter around it. Turn it off and then switch on another light, and these very same insects will flutter over to the new light. Very rarely will any of the insects question the light or challenge whether it is appropriate. That’s because they are caught in a loop, constantly reinventing themselves in exactly the same form that they were the day before, only calling themselves by a different name. Deep down they are just the same people caught-up in western (European) ideology, and certainly not interested in exploring the taken for granted assumptions, values, etc. which all those so called ‘value-free’ researchers are not prepared to have exposed to the public gaze.

So what happens when a light is turned on, but the light lies outside the spectral range of all those insects?

The above is a brief glimpse, into how to unleash the forces of creative destruction against the economies of the western world. People in China and India should take note of my past and future blogs about the nature of time, about Europe being cursed by Nemesis and condemned by Zeus, and about the Tao. Few of those with European/Western minds will understand what I am talking about. They still think that the whole world is going to play by their stupid Enlightenment rules! The new competitive advantage of the nation lies in culture and the empty materialist and soulless culture of the Western world has no future. It is time to change.

And all you binary thinkers note that this does not mean that I agree with the way that China deals with those who show dissent. But in this, they do what all with power do, the only difference between them and the West, is the trigger point at which they react and the means they use to enforce conformance. In the end all governments are evil – the point of difference is the degree of evil. And all will, given the right circumstances, hand to the dissenters, that phial of hemlock that Socrates preferred to drink rather than to surrender to the will of the small minded empty people who, in seeking power, find it in the institutions of the Nation State and now also supra level state institutions such as those found in the EU, and in particular, in the European Commission and its research programmes, and once more we are back to those insects and, next week, the ICT Research Programme, where there are many insects fluttering around lights.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

The sum of things

And now for what was, my final input to the FET proactive consultation:

Most people are familiar with the image of a kettle being heated over an open fire. The kettle in this image is a proven classic design whose origin is lost in time. The form of this kettle design is, the way it is, because of the requirement to be able to suspend the kettle over a fire, which, in the distant past, was how people cooked. The handle enables the metal body of the kettle to be suspended from a hook over the fire, and the spout of course provides the route by which the boiled water can be poured into another receptacle. Surprisingly though, this design survived the transition from the open fire to the cooking stove with its hot plates, and then, in the early 20th century, the transition to the electric kettle. By this stage though, the design was no longer relevant, because the source of the heat had been built into the kettle. Yet externally nothing changed. It was only in the 1980s that someone understood that this iconic design was no longer necessary, and then had the courage to propose a new design – thus the modern tower kettle was born.

A similar thing happened in the early days of the film industry. Early movies were just, in effect, filmed versions of stage plays that followed a linear chronological sequence of events, which represented the norm at the time. Yet in this case, very quickly people released that the camera liberated the script from the constraints of time and place, and that no longer was it necessary to follow a linear flow of events, and that also the camera enabled illusions that were not otherwise possible. And so it goes with literature too. For centuries people wrote novels as a linear chronological order of events, until someone, just after the Great War, wrote a novel that jumped about in a time sense, moving backward and forward, from present time to past time, and thus modernism arrived in literature.

The message of the above is clear – we are indeed creatures of habit. And what goes for kettles, films and novels, is also a summary of a large number of the inputs to the consultation on Global Systems Science – many just accept the kettle as it is and propose adjustments and refinements. A few people however have proposed radically new designs. These new designs consider: the use of art as part of the methodology; inclusion of what is called citizen science; adding behavioural (social science) aspects to the recipe; introducing time as a central element of GSS; generalising GSS towards a new way of undertaking scientific research; integrating Responsible Research and Innovation as an integrated aspect of method; moving beyond interdisciplinary thinking to encompass transdisciplinary operation in the sense of transcending the traditional organisation of knowledge; and shifting the focus away from policy towards the design of new systems.

So what is FET about? Will we stick with the kettle design as it is, or reinvent it completely? Which best captures the spirit of FET? Which is higher risk? Which is more visionary? Which is more likely to lead to transformational impacts and the much talked about disruptive effects? At this challenging point in Europe’s long history, what does Europe most need – an old design that is no longer necessary or a new one that can contribute to the making of a different future?

By way of a footnote, I add to what I originally wrote, by saying that the tale of the kettle is a metaphor for Horizon 2020 and explains why this is just innovation nonsense, and why all accounts of it being anything else are just the equivalent to saying that the emperor is wearing a fine suit of clothes. Normally such words are uttered by sycophantic people who have a vested interest in saying such stupid things.

This sets the scene for that which appears in the coming weeks …