Posts by Thomas van Manen

About Thomas van Manen

Thomas van Manen is a researcher with a focus on the impact of new technologies and is part of the VINT research program on Big Data, Internet of Things, Gamification, Wearables and Disruptive Technologies. As a innovator Thomas helps organizations translate new technologies and digital trends into ideas and ideas into concepts using research, workshops and pilot programs. Thomas is also Chief Editor of the VINT research blog, part of Sogeti Labs community of technology experts and was voted to be part of the HOT100 in 2012, a yearly selection of the most promising alumni in Media & Arts studies.


$100 Android phones are a way bigger deal than the Apple watch

“The future is already here, but it is not equally distributed”, William Gibson once said. Well, the present (or at least what we call the present) isn’t equally distributed as well. While China is testing out walking lanes for people who are lost in their screens while walking (THIS IS NOT A JOKE), I was looking at a mapping of connectivity data. This map, created by John Matherly of Shodan, shows all the connectivity in the world today.


He used a stateless scanner to send a Ping request to every public IPv4 address and kept track of which IPs responded with a Pong. After the Pong he would find out where the IP is physically located using a GeoIP library (i.e. translates from x.x.x.x -> latitude/ longitude). The map clearly shows some darker areas in which connectivity is not as dense as what we are used to in Europe and the US, or not even existing (although there are some non-populated areas of course).

The next 4 billion connections
That’s why Google’s announcement of a $100/80EU fully packed smartphone is a way bigger deal than Apple’s addition to the growing list of not that impressive smart watches. While the Apple Watch is just adding even more connectivity to those that are already connected, these phones are paving the way for the next 4 billion new users of the internet. With all this talk about disruptive trends, this one truly is disruptive; both culturally and economically.

Culturally, this is about not easing into technology like we did; moving from a computer in the office to computers at home, laptops, dumb phones and eventually smartphones and tablets. This is going from local stories and information to Google’s entire web index. Economically, this is about going from doing business within a 50km radius to connecting to a web that is more and more about transactions and trust. And while $100 smartphones have been around for a while now, they usually do not come packed with functionality like the Android One.

This disruption will only take place if we handle key necessities like devices, content (in native languages), connectivty, power and some kind of transactional/financial protocol like Bitcoin to facilitate money transfers and trust management. This disruption will not take place tomorrow and devices like the Android One are just a start, but this kind of technology news is getting me much more excited than adding a screen to my wrist while still needing a phone to make it work.

The Digital Layer: Enchanted Objects

Cover-designDavis Rose is a MIT Media Lab’s researcher and entrepreneur. His new book Enchanted Objects: Design, Human Desire and the Internet of Things came out recently. Last year we sat down wit David to discuss what he calls enchanted objects, or ordinary things, made extraordinary.

To answer the important question of which things we should start to enchant, you just have to study the history of the future and scan for fantasies like the autonomously driving car. Primal wishes are revealed though fables and fairy tales, for instance the talking mirror. Enchantment creates better affordances, like the ambient umbrella which lights up blue when precipitation is likely to occur.

Enchanted objects satisfy our six latent drives, dreams and wishes: omniscience, telepathy, protection, immortality, teleportation and expression.

Asked what special abilities enchanted objects offer, Rose mentions eleven categories: glanceability, wearability, useability, loveability, tangibility, learnability, expressability, gestureability, ingestability, affordability, sociability, and even the smokeability of the Blu electronic cigarettes. Eventually, Mr. Rose is certain, there won’t be a product category unaffected by enchanted objects.

Check out the interview we had with David at last years Sogeti Executive Summit on the internet of things in the videos below.

We talked to David on how adding connectivity to things enables us to build an emotional relationship with objects.

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Are we nearing a tipping point for consumer Virtual Reality?

I think we are getting closer. And by close I mean, still a few years away. Like the Palm smartphone was in 2003. Although this technology has a long history, it never did quite made it out of the realm of academics and technology enthousiasts. However, times are changing. Pricing is coming down, the hardware to use VR might already sit in your pocket and mainstream media are slowly starting to hop on the bandwagon.

In the early days of VR in the 1990s when gloves and goggles were super cool it was all about big head mounted displays with a lot of clunky wires and cables. In 1965, Ivan Sutherland (a computer scientist and internet pioneer) wrote an essay titled The Ultimate Display. He envisioned “a room within which the computer can control the existence of matter.” He demonstrated an extremely preliminary iteration of such a device, a periscope-like video headset called the “Sword of Damocles,” in 1968.


VR has come a long way since then. Today, two companies stand ahead of the pack, ready to put a virtual reality kit in the hands of regular consumers: Sony and Oculus, the latter was bought by Facebook for two billion dollars. Is VR ready for the mainstream market? No. Are we heading there? I think yes, here are three reason why. [Read more...]

Next-Gen Chips Mimic Functions of the Human Brain

A computer chip designed to mimic the performance of the human brain? Yes. The chip is developed by IBM together with Cornell Tech and could prove a big step forward in the future of computing power. The chip is called SyNAPSE, which stands for Systems of Neuromorphic Adaptive Plastic Scalable Electronics.

So whats the human brain part about?
This chip is capable of 1 million programmable neurons, 256 million programmable synapses and 46 billion synaptic operations per second, per watt. IBM has also tethered 16 of these chips together in four four-by-four arrays, which collectively offer the equivalent of 16 million neurons and 4 billion synapses, showing that the design can be easily scaled up for larger implementations. Unlike traditional chips, who follow the lines of the von Neumann-architecture meaning that they process information step by step, this chip is able to be active on different levels and actions.


IBM calls this cognitive computing because of a dynamic that attempts to mimic the interactions of neurons and synapses in biological brains. It offers more of a organic approach to problem solving, based on hypotheses, past experiences and trail and error. Similar to a human brain. [Read more...]

Summer Sum Up: Top 10 VINT posts in 2014 So Far

You are probably on holiday of either just got back or patiently waiting to go.. In this post I wanted to highlight some of the great articles that have been published this year on the blog so far. A summer reading-list, I hope you enjoy it.

The trends in topics are clear: everything internet of things and wearables related was really popular. Also a good sign: our new research topic for 2014/2015 called Design to Disrupt already claims three spots in this top 10.


Real Disruption Happens When Technologies Combine

Disruption is the most recent rhythm of the technology debate. The uberization of everything if often mentioned, so is the disruptive potential of abundance. However disruption is also about finding the right product-market fit.

In a new report, the Institute for the Future argues that:

“technological change is increasingly driven by the combination and recombination of foundational elements.”

So to imagine the future, it is not just about advances in technology, like in computing power or miniaturization, but it is also about the intersection of these technologies. The intersection might be the disruption; completely new oppurtunities and new markets all together.

The report presents a technology horizon map that is designed to help anticipate the future of combinatorial innovations emerging at the intersection of distinct territories. The map presents 20 new innovative combinatorial forecasts you can use to navigate the future as it unfolds. The bigger picture: a more interconnected technology landscape.

Schermafbeelding 2014-07-28 om 10.40.20So click around on the map in 13 “territories”–what it calls “frontiers of innovation”–and then examine the overlaps. Here are a two to get started. [Read more...]

The Smart City Needs To Deal With The Same Problems As The Internet

The analogy between the internet and the smart cities I wrote about a few weeks ago is not only based on the similarity in opportunities. Much like the internet, the smart city is also subject to social and cultural dilemmas like privacy and security. A city tracking its citizens, even for helpful reasons, impacts the personal liberty we count on in public spaces.

Smart city projects rely on sophisticated infrastructure that governments aren’t capable of creating themselves. The crucial software systems and networks that underlie city services will likely lie in private hands. Smart grid utility-metering systems, for instance, collect and transmit detailed energy consumption information, which help consumers understand their energy use but can also reveal their habits. As such, they have come under fire for threatening privacy and civil liberties. This could be as simple as your Nest Thermostat being part of the Google Ecosystem and they might use your Nest data to serve better ads, or your Nest data ending up in the analytical software of NSA-like parties.

There are at least three classes of security and privacy issues that may result:

  • protecting the connected assets from attack;
  • protecting the data gathered from those assets from misuse;
  • protecting the privacy of individuals whose assets may be supplying the data (via, e.g., electric meters or connected cars).

A big challenge for smart cities is combining with, and migrating away from, legacy systems throughout the city. The smart city is as good the software it uses is therefore a common saying. However, the same goes for privacy and security.

A smart city is as secure and private as the software it uses.

The World’s First Family Robot

As I wrote last week: the robots are on the move. And they might show up at your doorstep early 2015 if you head over to IndieGoGo and pre-order Jibo, the world’s first family robot.

Specifically, Jibo is a social robot. You talk to it, ask it questions, make requests. It talks back and provides answers. It sort of like the physical embodiment of Siri, Google Now, or any of the voice-activated assistants services available on our smartphones or tablets. Jibo however,  tries to act like more of a participant than a tool.

Check out the early demo.

Smart Cities and the Internet of Things: Follow the Money and the Data

smart-cities-1As we introduced here on the blog earlier, our next (and last) installment of our four reports on the internet of things will be all about the concept of smart cities. After our initial exploration of the internet of things in the first report, the personal (and wearable) internet of things in the second report, and the third report on the industrial side of IoT and the integration of Information Technology and Operational Technology, cities are a logical next step in which all these concepts are converging. And cities are a huge piece of the Internet of Things-pie.

All big themes associated with the internet of things, like efficiency gains, predictive maintenance and ubiquitous connectivity, have a enormous relevancy towards cities. More than half of the world lives in cities, and by 2050, it will be two-thirds. This rapid increase in population coupled with financial constraints, the convergence of technologies and a desire to reduce environmental impact is creating new challenges and opportunities for cities in areas such as energy use, mobility, security, infrastructure, healthcare and governance.

That’s where the IoT comes in.

We all know the staggering predictions about what economical impact the IoT will have on the world. In terms of numbers, the loudest drumroll is currently being produced by Cisco that, in June 2013, estimated the present potential of things at 613 billion dollars, and presumes that the market will amount to no less than 14,400 billion dollars in 2023. In this context, Cisco is talking about savings — the reduction of waste — plus the direct sale of products. McKinsey assesses the economic impact of the Internet of Things at somewhere between 2700 and 6200 billion dollars in 2025, with the healthcare sector, infrastructure and public sector services as the most promising domains. 

If we zoom in on these numbers we end up at cities (or urban environments) pretty fast. A more recent research by Bosch titled  “Capitalizing on the internet of things” talks about 5 key markets as where the estimated 596 billion in IoT-revenue will come from.


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Disruption and The Valley of Death

From our Design to Disrupt event: Gerd Leonhard on the Valley of Death, The New Normal and Disruptive technologies.

Gerd Leonhard on Disruption @ VINT Symposium Design to Disrupt from VINTlabs – The Sogeti Trendlab on Vimeo.