Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Susan's Day Out

Design Fiction by Anonymous

It was a sunny summer day. Susan was late with her council tax payment. She’s normally very punctual making payments – but had fallen behind because she was in hospital following a hip-replacement. Susan is 75, is an anxious person and doesn’t get on with technology – but she finds encounters with people stressful too. So it’s Hobson’s choice. Pay online or visit the council offices in person? After some thought she decides on the latter as she might have some explaining to do!

When she gets to the council offices, she finds there are two entrances to the department she needs to visit. One of these doorways indicates that she will be ‘sensed’. Information deduced about her emotional and physical needs and forwarded on to help with her request. Going through the second doorway would enable her to access services without being sensed – but she would have to wait much longer to be seen. Her grandson, who is studying computing, tells her stories about hackers and trolls that make her anxious. But she is in a hurry, and wants to avoid the need to queue – just to get it over with quickly. So she enters the doorway with Sensorised Customer Access. In the confined corridor, she can feel her anxiety escalating – the camera seems like a bloated eye judging her and she hurries to the exit door at the far end. Coming out into a lobby she looks around, and can see people queuing for assistance. But Susan, to her relief, is approached by a member of staff who regards her sympathetically and takes her to a vacant cubical where they both sit down. The clerk says that she realised that Susan’s is anxious, and helps Susan to quickly resolve the payment. She tells Susan that the computer notified her of her presence, and of her anxiety, and how she hopes that she is now reassured that everything is ok.

As Susan leaves, she’s so relieved and happy that she bypasses the display that it tries to attract her attention to ask if she wants the data deleted - she doesn’t want to be upset by a further scary interaction. Without a specific instruction, the local authority does the right thing, which in a utopian scenario is to (a) keep the data to help with improvement with services; or (b) takes a default position of deleting the data.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Unfinished Business

Design fiction by Karey Helms and Albrecht Kurze

2022 – five years after 2017 – a public space odyssey

It is the year 2022, five years after the government started to implement the dynamic waiting management system in public buildings. To simultaneously reduce waiting times while keeping visitors preoccupied, the system routes visitors on an adaptive, and often the least efficient, way through the building. As this has unsurprisingly resulted in many lost visitors, a place-based location-aware voice-controlled guiding and help-and-get-helped system was introduced, in which visitors can leave voice messages to aid other lost visitors. 

Dave was born in 1950 and retired in 2017, the same year his wife died. Every time he enters public buildings, he is asked to confirm the usage and data processing terms of the building, as smart building are being classified as interactive data processing units by the 2019 extended GDPR. These temporary consents are based on minimum viable data and are thus only valid for a single visit as all data collected is automatically deleted or anonymized upon leaving. 

Dave pretends to apply for a hunting license but actually just wants to hear his wife’s voice in a message she left in the help-and-get-helped system after the system's implementation. As the system is gender intelligent, he needs a female to find his wife’s message. Furthermore, the message is not locationally linked nor directly addressable because of dynamic shuffling and the anonymization policy. 

Claire was born in 2001 and has been applying for a family planning permit for the past five days. As the system is implicitly regulating family planning, prioritizing lonely widows and widowers for which Claire is not, it sends her on an impossible route.  As she is not successful in her quest for a permit by the end of each day, the temporary data consent causes her to restart the whole process the following day, resulting in a never ending journey. 

But this one special day Dave and Claire met, two lost visitors, trapped some way in and by the system. They decided to help each other and resolve their unfinished business.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Immigration Office

The immigration office

Design fiction by Lars Erik Holmquist and Hamed Alavi

This is a true story.
The place: Japan.
The year: 2020.

Oh no! Time to renew my Japanese residence card!

I don’t want to even think about it. Last year, I did it at the small ward office in Honmoku.
It was horrible. It was raining and cold. It took the whole day as I was shuttled between different cramped offices without ever encountering anyone who spoke English. By the end of the day, I was amazed that they actually gave me a new card - I had no idea what had happened.

I lost one day of work and 3 litres of my body weight in sweat because I was so anxious.

A few months ago I moved to a bigger city. My colleague told me about the new system that is being implemented in Shinjuku ward. It’s supposed make everything much easier using neural networks or something. I can not really believe it.

Today is my appointment. I already sent my preliminary application. They gave an appointment slot that is supposed to be optimal for me by looking at my calendar. It even includes the projected total waiting time - 93 minutes. I doubt it!

When I walk to the subway station, it starts raining, but not as bad as the last time. Is this a good or bad sign?

As I arrive at the ward office, I am met by a nice gleaming machine. As I approach it automatically switches to English. Amazing! Maybe this will work!

The machine even seems to know why I am here! It says “Residence Card” and a small round token pops out. I pick it up. It feels nice, almost like a small warm stone.

On the token is a number - this is the first desk I am going to. There is a small map to help me find the way, and even a blue blip showing where I am right now. There is also an estimated waiting time - 4 minutes and 34 seconds. Exactly the time it will take me to walk over there!

I arrive at the desk just as the previous customer is leaving, and hand over my documents, including the old residence card. The clerk takes them, makes a quick check, and nods.

My token changes.

This time it shows another location and a much longer waiting time: 68 minutes. I turn it over. On the back are some useful Japanese words that I would be able to learn in this time! I start learning first Japanese kanji sign. “Niji” – rainbow. It is pretty complicated.

But soon I notice something else: The token has detected one of my colleagues who is also waiting. I walk over to a lounge area in the other end of the building. Was this by accident or did the system actually match us up?

In any case we have a nice chat and before I know it the token buzzes. It shows a time of 3 minutes and 12 seconds, exactly the time it takes to get to the next counter.

I arrive at the next desk. The clerk actually seems to know a little bit of English! “Welcome” he says. He asks me a few simple questions, and it all seems to check out.

Before I know it, the clerk gives me my new residence card. Two more years approved! AWESOME!

“I wouldn’t mind coming back in a month instead of two years”, I joke. I’m not sure if the clerk understands.

As I leave, I am asked to drop off my token. There two choices. Either I can be completely anonymous and have all my data wiped. I see someone putting there token there - it gives off a weird sound, like it was shredding paper!

The other option is to give away all my data forever to everyone to contribute to make my experience even more AWESOME the next time. Of course I choose this option, safe in the knowledge that nothing bad can ever happen to anything that stored on a computer server.


Exactly 93 minutes after I arrived I walk out. The rain has stopped and the sun is shining! I use my new Japanese word: Niji ga arimasu - there is a rainbow!

Thursday, June 15, 2017

No Choice

Design fiction by Sandy Claes and Hanna Johannsen

In the newly digitalized world, Sarah has been member of the “My privacy matters” action group, battling the right for being anonymous. Public transportation requires personal data access like position, address and travelling history. Therefore, she was designated to travel by foot. Unfortunately, while crossing a street, a speeding self-driving car did not recognize her as a human subject and drove over her foot, after which she was condemned using a wheelchair. She had to move from her apartment on the third floor to a more adapted room on the first floor. As she did not want to register this change of address through digital city services, she needed to go to city hall in person. After the great third world war, not many historic buildings had survived in the city, except for the 17th century old castle, up on a mountain peak. Here, the city council decided to install the city hall services as it gave a great view over the city. The city council also found it important that they create a nice and comfortable atmosphere in the city hall, as it is good promotion for the city and its residents. By recognizing wheel chair users, they redesigned adaptive architecture ramps to help less mobile persons into the city hall. However, users have to video tracked in order for them to be recognized as wheel chair users. They can give their consent by choosing the “YES, YOU CAN PROCESS MY DATA” entrance. Sarah, however, is still passionate as activist for “My privacy matters”, thereby still refusing to reveal her digital identity. So she takes the “NO, I DON’T WANT TO GIVE CONSENT” entrance, leading her into a separate corridor without video camera’s. Here, mostly illegal residents are waiting for their turn. One of them is lying on the ground, singing drinking songs, while occasionally taking a sip of a brown bag. Another one keeps giving her compliments, whistling, coming closer which makes her uncomfortable. In order to motivate herself, she takes a flyer of “My privacy matters” from her bag. Suddenly, a noise starts: BEEP BEEP BEEP!! The door opens.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Hell hath no fury like an elderly woman scorned

Design fiction created by Kay Rogage and Mary Barreto

Persephone is a cantankerous 75 year old woman who is impatient and insensitive to others. Persephone lives in a council block and is frequently disturbed by the other neighbours. She lives next to a young family who’s children are always playing football in the corridors and another young couple who have wild parties and play loud music until the early hours of the morning.  Persephone has lodged complaints with the police on several occasions, she has even chased the children out of the corridor with her walking stick but they still persist to play in the corridor and seem to think it is a game to make noise and get a chase.

Persephone lost her husband to a heart attack 5 years ago, her family live in on the opposite side of the world and can only visit once a year at Christmas. Persephone often gets scared at night and sleeps very little since her husband died. Persephone’s daughter advised that she should call the council to see if they can address the noise problems. Persephone has tried to ring the council several times but she gets stuck in a queuing system and keeps ending up connected to the wrong department and being put on hold. Enough is enough and Persephone decides to go to the council office to sort things out once and for all.

It has been a long time since Persephone has been to the town council offices, in fact she hasn’t been since she registered the death of her husband. Lots of things have changed since she last went and the lobby space is unfamiliar to her. She looks around for a receptionist but instead is faced with a screen under what looks like an umbrella. The screen is saying something to Persephone but she doesn’t realise that it is talking to her. Persephone looks around for a bell or some way to speak to someone. There is nothing there other than some screens which keep talking. Persephone gets angry and hits her stick off the floor, she shouts to see if anyone is around. Still no response except those blasted machines talking.

Persephone walks up to one of the machines and which says “Hello Persephone, how are you coping since your husband passed?”. Persephone is outraged at the impertinence of the machine, she prods the machine with her stick in the same way she prods the noisy kids. “Who the hell are you?”, “How do you know my name?”. “1st June 2012 you came to register your husband’s death, what brings you here now, is there something else you want to register, another death maybe?”. Persephone is outraged!! She shouts at the machine and hits it with her stick again, the screen cracks, an alarm goes off, the shutter comes down and Persephone here’s the screech of cars and police sirens approaching. As the police enter Persephone says “Just the person I wanted to see, I have a complaint to make about my neighbours”….


Lucy The Cat

Design fiction created by  Graham Dove and Antti Jylha

Sheherazade is visiting Edinburgh Council to renew her licence for showing her cat Lucy. She does this every year. Lucy is a super valuable Persian and to show her, Sheherazade must validate who she is regularly. Sheherazade is 74 years young and super proud of Lucy, who has been a part of her life for seven years now. Lucy is purring softly and Sheherazade is smiling.  As she enters the courtyard lobby of the council's new buildings and approaches one of the Sound Umbrellas, she is approached by one of the helpers who says, "Hi, I'm Gary how can I help you today?"

Sheherazade is feeling confident and replies, "It's OK I want a more personal experience, so I won't be needing you today." She walks towards one of the Sound Umbrella bubbles and it drops down to adjust its screen, speakers and sensors to fit Sheherazade and Lucy. This makes her super comfortable because she feels that the system has responded to her and has made the effort to adjust itself and accommodate her needs. "What can I do to help you?" the softly reassuring voice asks? "I've come to register Lucy for shows", she replies. The Sound Umbrella's camera see's the cat and guesses that this is Lucy. A paw-print reader emerges at cat level. Lucy places her paw on the reader.

Sheherazade is watching the Sound Umbrella's screen and sees the photo of Lucy as a kitten that was taken when her birth was registered. Sheherazade feels warm and protective, and cries a little as she remembers how cute Lucy was at that age. The Sound Umbrella then shows Sheherazade a history of the previous times she has brought Lucy for her license renewals – each time there is a photo and listing of the shows she has attended and the prizes she has won. To Sheherazade this is the most valuable service her council provides. She is super happy and smiles inside and out. The Sound Umbrella asks Sheherazade if all the data is correct, and she ponders for a moment or two before saying, "Yes".

Of course it was correct she thinks, it always is!

The Sound Umbrella thanks Sheherazade and asks her if she would like to go through to the cat counselor to have this years photo's taken and license issued. She takes one last look through the previous years' photos and says, "Yes". The directional paw-prints showing Sheherazade and Lucy the way to go light up in front of them.


One of the building systems using personal data generated in the workshop ...