Category Archives: Technology and Computation

You Gotta Have Sole

i am conor oleary

Image result for flyprint
(via TechCrunch)

In the last blog post I tried to give a sort of overview of the concept and the existing ideas around 3D-printing footwear.  So in this post I want to address how I’m travelling with the project, and do a bit of a deeper dive into the research and literature surrounding the topic.

How is the project coming along?

When I first laid out my ideas for the project I think I too heavily leaned on the process of me attempting to make a 3D-printed shoe sole, while neglecting the more interesting things like the existing technology and its implications for the future of footwear.

For me, learning how this technology can be made viable for wider implementation is the most interesting part.  I love all aspects of footwear, having worked in the industry at a retail and now corporate level.  So I can definitely appreciate the…

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Healthcare Robots

Since my last post discussing my interest in researching the future use of robots in mental health treatment, I have received feedback from the audience of the Future Cultures blog and Chris Moore which has lead to me altering the nature of my area of research to examining the use of robotics in the sphere of healthcare, in present day, whilst also speculating upon the potential future uses of robotics in the medical field, based upon representations in popular culture.

In this post, I will discuss the current state of robotics used in healthcare and the academic research shaping the future of medical robotics and share any newsworthy information related to the applications of healthcare robots.

A quick Wikipedia search reveals that there are several types of medical robots currently in use, these include:

Surgical Robots: robots capable of assisting or performing surgery

Rehabilitation Robots: robots like PARO who assist…

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Robotics the future of mental health care?

Mental illness is one of the most prevalent health issues affecting the Australian population. According to the Black Dog Institute and Dementia Australia around 20% of the population will suffer a mental illness in any given year, with 45% of Australians suffering a mental illness at one point in their life, and an estimated 91,000 people, and rising, will be diagnosed with a form of dementia per year. Australia’s health system currently struggles to cope with the demand for mental health services for those affected by mental illness with many sufferers, especially in regional areas, struggling to access the essential health services they require.  

Could social or therapeutic robotics play a part in aiding and relieving some of the strain on mental health services? How viable is it? What would that look like? What are the benefits? How soon could this become a reality? Are robots currently being used in this way? Is it ethical? Could there be a social cost to using robots in a therapeutic manner? I would like to find…

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The impending societal ramifications of automation

The impending societal ramifications of automation

My last blog post focused on Amazon’s, now confirmed, entry into the Australian market and the potential impact that such a move might have on domestic consumers, retailers and workers. Many of the sources I came across while digging deeper concerned Amazon’s increasing use of automated systems. As such, I’ve decided to shift the focus of my project towards the broader implications of automation on the global workforce. This change means I don’t have to limit myself topically to either Amazon or, necessarily, Australia.

As early as 1967, figures like Marshall McLuhan were criticized (p.237) for believing that ‘total automation is upon us’.  So to did William Gibson poignantly state time and again, that ‘the future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed’. So to that end, let us assess the current status of automation: What systems have been made obsolete by automation? What specific technologies are emerging today, and who is it displacing? Finally; what is on the horizon, and what professions, if any, will be safe from the process of automation creep? These will be the questions that my research report will engage with, and what I’ll be touching briefly upon in this post.

Novelist William Gibson

To talk about automation is to talk about what John Maynard Keynes coined (p.3) in 1930 as ‘technological unemployment’. He described this emerging phenomenon as the unfortunate ‘[availability] of labour outrunning the pace at which we can find new uses for labour’. Keynes added that this is only ‘temporary’, and standards of living will be multitudes better in one hundred years when there’s little work for anyone to do. But it was Keynes belief that ‘everybody will need to do some work if he is to be contented’ (p.6) as work provides meaning to one’s life, a topic for another time.

Since the process of industrial mechanisation saw a decline in production-line jobs that manufacturing industries provided, we haven’t yet seen any mass unemployment from the introduction of new technologies. Aside from the advent of electronic computing decreasing the need for human computers, and automatic exchanges largely making switchboard operators redundant, the workforce has survived. We’re only now seeing the beginnings of the technological unemployment Keynes imagined.

With the introduction of technologies such as the self-checkout machines at supermarkets, many commentators including Barack Obama himself, see automation as ‘relentless’ and  ‘killing traditional retail’ jobs. With robots capable of sorting more than 200,000 packages a day in warehouses, and capable of working on cents worth of electricity instead of minimum wage, it’s hard not to be concerned. But importantly, it’s not just blue-collar industry workers who are at threat. White-collar professions relying on skills like decision making, paperwork, and writing are newly susceptible to automation via learning AI.

Platforms like Quill from Narrative Science can analyse large amounts of data and identify meaningful trends, then output a report reflecting these findings in ‘everyday language’, be it finance or sports results. While it’s been criticized for an inability to ‘discern the relative newsworthiness’ of stories, the unmatched speed and lack of bias that an AI system writes with is undeniable.


In addition to AI software, ‘general purpose’ robots are being developed with an ability to ‘learn’ new tasks. ‘Baxter’, from Rethink Robotics and Roomba creator Rodney Brooks, is being developed to fulfill ‘quality assurance or small assembly’ in factories, but still requires a human to initially ‘teach’ it these functions. This universal robot represents a leap in usefulness comparable to the first personal computers. Baxter is capable of fulfilling whatever task is ‘within his reach‘, but perhaps this is an agreeable compromise; there will still be work available for workers on an assembly line, but it will be less laborious and more about oversight and refinement of process.

Other systems are being designed to take over more skilled professions. IBM’s ‘Watson‘ for example is being touted as an AI doctor, networked to be constantly up to date with the newest research and possessing the ability to instantly access and share your medical records as required. Similarly, Enlitic has a program which can analyse medical imaging results and boasts a ‘false-negative rate of zero’.

The impact that automation makes on employment isn’t always clear until years later, however. The Economist reminds that although automated teller machines briefly reduced the number of human tellers in 1988, bank branches became cheaper to operate and so they grew by ‘43% over the same period’. So, will a technology like self-driving cars destroy the transport and hauling industry, or will new, unprecedented roles appear for the millions employed in those sectors?

While time will tell, I’ve plenty of sources to investigate for my final report in the meantime.

CyberSolutions – an update of the tech that is changing our world

If you’ve read my previous post (which, to be honest, I’d totally understand if you hadn’t), you’d know that for my digital artefact I’m looking into the way that advancements in technology are being used around the world to solve important problems. This post is my place to summarise and your place (beloved reader) to understand the scope of the project, where it’s currently at and why it’s important. Basically, read on to discover a summary of CyberSolutions: tech used for good not evil.

Reasoning behind project:
On a slight aside, my favourite thing about my university degree is the flexibility I have throughout my assignments: I am given the space to research a topic of my choosing within most subjects. As such, I like to centre my assignments around my (hopeful) career. As someone with deep passions in social justice and a deep hope to contribute towards social justice within my career, I am fascinated with the way technology and marketing can be used to overcome some of the issues our world faces. And so, this project is a way to collect informative examples of tech being used for social good. Originally, as outlined in my previous post, I was specifically hoping to focus on CyberPoverty, however, as I’ve now found out, sadly there isn’t an overwhelming amount of tech that’s sole purpose is to alleviate poverty. So, to broaden the project and provide more examples, I am now focusing on tech for all sorts of social purposes. I am hopeful that this project will create a space where examples can be easily seen, compared, and maybe even inspire more change.

The project itself:
The project takes shape in the form of a website. Within the (work-in-progress) website is a world map with pins dropped on countries with tech examples. Clicking on that pin will then bring up a page of information about the example. Initial plans were for either a Prezi or a blog. I decided against a Prezi as I want the reader to have full control of which countries they are looking at, and Prezi’s don’t allow for huge amounts of text, which aspects of this project requires. A blog also didn’t seem right as I feel as though a blog really incorporates the writer a lot into the content, whereas this project is really about the information, not about the writer.

Other features of project:
An interesting almost spin-off from the main information in my project, is the paradox that comes with technology. My previous post touched on this aspect, however, the final website will have an entire section on this so I’ll collect the thoughts here.
The paradox exists between technology, the rich and the poor. As my project investigates, there are technologies out there being used to help those that struggle the most, notably, those living in extreme poverty. However, as the richer countries create mind-blowing, seemingly impossible technologies everyday, this means the poorer countries fall further and further behind in advancements. As such, technology widens the divide between the richer and poorer countries but one day it may also close, or at least lessen, the same divide. This is the paradox.

An estimated 79% of the people in the ‘Third World’ – the 50 poorest nations of our world – have no access to electricity. The total number of individuals without power is listed at about 1.5 billion – a quarter of the world’s population. Mostly in Africa and southern Asia (Gronewold). So, if fundamentally a huge, huge, chunk of people in our world don’t even have access to electricity, how are they meant to keep up with technological innovation? And this is the digital divide that Manuel Castells discusses in his book, The Internet Galaxy. He talks about the rapid diffusion of the internet and how it is spread unevenly throughout the globe: the Internet presence for some individual countries, especially in those classified as developing, is much lower. This lack of internet in the ‘developing world’ is being driven by the huge gap in telecommunications infrastructure, internet service providers, and internet content providers as well as by the strategies being used to deal with this gap. We, in richer countries, are basically saying to the poor that “you can’t sit with us”, technological social exclusion of millions of people, sounds like the worst high school playground of all f**king time. Poorer countries are kept reliant on first-world innovation, adding to the viscous cycle of ‘white-saviors‘ and poverty.  Castells discusses how the Internet is not just a technology, its an organizational and connective community. Most of us use it every single day for multiple purposes, we can’t imagine our lives without it. But what we need to imagine is the wide divide that exists because of these differences in technologies around the world.

What this project has made me decide about the cyber paradox is that these technological advancements are going to happen regardless. And so, even though this might add to the digital divide, it might also help to close the gap between developed and developing if the tech is powerful enough to solve some serious social stuff.

The biggest challenge I have faced within this project is actually finding the relevant examples. I’m not sure if the examples are hard to find because a) there isn’t much tech being used to solve problems (hopefully unlikely) b) the examples aren’t being broadcast to the rest of the world or c) I’m real crap at researching (probable). Regardless, I’ve found it to be a bit of a struggle to locate, and verify, purposeful technologies.

It’s also been a challenge to present the project exactly how I originally wanted. In my mind, the project ideally would be an interactive world map where users could hover over and a small box would appear with the country and the title of the tech, then they could click in and bring up a pop-up box with more info about the technology. However, since I’m not very experienced in the website-producing area, I’ve struggled with hover-over abilities. So, to adapt, users can now just click on a pin to see the example.

Examples so far:

Australia –

  • Nima: The World’s 1st Portable Gluten Tester
image source

This neat lil piece of tech is used to test food or drink for the presence of gluten. Coeliac and gluten intolerances are heavily present within Society, so to save people the risk of eating something that contains gluten, people can test their food in 3 minutes with this technology to be sure. A handy little tool for solving a prominent social issue.


  • Worldreader
image source

775 million people in the world are illiterate, and as the population grows, the problem is worsening. Worldreader uses inexpensive e-readers with extended battery life to provide books to children and young people. The program support the e-readers with extensive training and capacity building for teachers, facilitators, and librarians, and features fun activity plans that are designed to nurture a love for reading. The project has reached more than 200,000 people in 27 countries, providing them with more than 5,000 book titles in 23 languages. – Gharib 2014


  • Invisible Donations

Philippe Douste-Blazy, a French cardiologist and a special adviser to the secretary general of the UN tested the theory that people wouldn’t notice a small amount of money coming off as a tax on expensive things they purchase. He tested this using a service charge of  €1 on tickets for flights out of France. Between 2006 and 2014, they made US $2 billion and received no complaints about the levy. This money has been spent on initiatives to fight HIV and AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria in third-world countries – Grimminck, 2015


Slavery affects 20.9 million people in the world. Katherine Chon and Derek Ellerman were appalled when they encountered an article on the terrible state of a brothel near their campus during their senior year at Brown. When police raided the building they came across six Asian women who were “being held in a situation of debt bondage.”
Katherine and Derek created a victim outreach program to locate trafficking places and networks, and help victims obtain services. They soon worked with other partners to bring bills to Congress and introduce legislation that protects victims while penalizing offenders. Polaris made the National Human Trafficking Resource Center into a national anti-slavery hotline in 2007, which is available in over 200 languages, and a place where callers can report a tip or receive anti-trafficking services; in March 2013 they established a texting option where victims can text HELP or INFO to “BeFree.” – Goodnet 2015

  • Gun control technologies

Whilst not a widespread technology in use yet, a proposed solution to gun violence in America is the introduction of smart gun technology. These smart guns would ensure that only an individual, or a few people, could fire the gun. “One technology utilizes fingerprints. Another company uses a wristwatch that sends off a frequency to the gun and activates it. Yet another uses hand biometrics, and those are just a few. These guns could significantly cut down the 11,000 deaths caused by stolen guns. That number doesn’t even include police officers who are killed in the line of duty with their own gun.” Grimminck 2015


  • Operation ASHA


Tuberculosis is a global health problem focused on the poorest people of the world. TB is difficult to treat effectively in this population, given limited access to healthcare and the long course of antibiotics necessary to cure the infection. Operation ASHA created the eCompliance project to combine biometric technology, deployed by community health workers to ensure continuous and effective delivery of antibiotics to TB patients in India. Fingerprint log-ins allow nurses and health workers to accurately identify every patient, and record their ongoing compliance with treatment. Operation Asha has facilitated treatment of more than 30,000 TB patients to date, with over 5,000 patients currently under care through 159 clinics in India. – Gharib 2014

These are just a few examples I have found so far. Check back in a few weeks for the final project 🙂

It’s up to you

As my last post introduced the topic of planned obsolescence and e-waste. This post will expand on it, discuss the utopia and dystopia of technology, and provide possible solutions for beating planned obsolescence and e-waste..

The utopia of technology is that it give us endless access at our fingertips, helps us plan and schedule our everyday lives, and even technologies so advanced cars can start driving for us (almost). Life with technology has made things so much easier.. but then again maybe not? The dystopia of technology is that technologies break, connection and service go down.

This is related to planned obsolescence and e-waste because we are happy to have technology in our everyday lives, until there start to be problems with it. Once the dystopia kicks in we are no longer patient and want to be rid of the technology that is causing us problems.

For instance, right now my MacBook Pro,13-inch, Mid 2012, (which they don’t even sell anymore) has been causing me a lot of problems lately and I’ve considered getting rid of it. Which is very frustrating for me because I got this laptop when I started college in 2014. So yes it was already 2 years old when I got it, but I would think that it would get me at least through college. I’ve taken good care of this Mac, and I’ve had to bring it into the Apple store multiple times, two of which I had to leave it with them for a period of time to be worked on. Frustrating.

Lately my issue with this computer is that it decides to randomly freeze and then just restart. Just to give an idea of how often this is happening.. I tried to work on homework and within a 3 hour window my computer probably restarted about 10 times. I wish that was an exaggeration. So I need to take it in to be looked at and worked on, again.

Luckily I have AppleCare and am still covered, so any repairs I need are still free (expires this June). However, at this rate I am getting sick of having to get my computer fixed that I am considering just buying a new one.

This is the dystopia that my computer has put me in. In the beginning I loved my computer and there weren’t any problems, but now there are so many. Maybe this is because my computer is 5 years old and it was planned to breaking down after this amount of time that I have had it..

I have always had Apple products, but after all the problems I’ve had I am considering changing to a different brand of computer. If I get a new computer, what should I do with this one? (Since my research I now know that about the Apple Renew program, which is free!) Additionally, Apple will offer a trade for your device for an Apple gift card, if your device is still working.

However, if I am offered an Apple gift card for my MacBook Pro, then I feel inclined to use it towards a newer Apple device. This is a business strategy on their part to keep me buying Apple products.Screen Shot 2017-04-12 at 12.57.31 AM.png

PowerON is a third party company that Apple contracted to run the reuse program. More about it here.

Additionally Amazon offers a trade program, where you can send them used electronics and they will send you an Amazon gift card (another business strategy for you to keep buying from Amazon).

Also, note how after all these problems with my Mac I am only considering getting a computer from a different brand. I am so used to Apple products, how I use them in my everyday life, and how the products work with each other. The interconnectivity of Apple products with each other is the biggest reason I want to stay with Apple. I love having access to all my things, no matter what device I am on.

This is why I am so torn between getting a new product and sticking to what I’m used to, the utopia and dystopia has taken me for a spin..

Let’s take a quick look at what kind of people own what kinds of devices. The Pew Research Center looked at different generations and what kinds of devices they owned. It wasn’t surprising that cell phones were the most popular device among American adults, then desktops/laptops.

“Younger adults are leading the way in increased mobility, preferring laptops to desktops and using their cell phones for a variety of functions, including internet, email, music, games, and video” (, 2011).

So how did we get so into technology? Why do we always crave new technologies? It all goes back to World War 1. Around this time “Americans were being enticed by consumer pleasure and indulgence rather than into work as the road to happiness” (Leach, pg 3-4, 1993). In the early 90’s the culture was being urbanized and commercialized, focusing on personal pleasures like department stores, theaters, restaurants, and so on, this new era brought on the “cult of the new”.

The “cult of the new” was the beginning of commercial capitalism. New ideas were being thought of and therefore created more and more commodities. As the cult of the new grew, value began being put on capital or money required to produce new goods. This was the beginning of the shift of American workers losing control over their work and starting to depend on others, rather than themselves. They started to put value and look up to products, capital, and the big companies that produced them. Over time consumption of products became the measure of value amongst people and the channel to reach happiness. In other words, we look at people’s value based on what brand of devices they have and can afford.

This cult of the new brought on new ideas and products that people didn’t even think they needed, until advertising showed them otherwise. Advertisements are everywhere, you can’t go a day without seeing one.

“Experts estimate that the last time the average American went a full day without exposure to a single advertisement was in 1915” (Advertising Age, 2003).

A magazine cut their cover page price from 25 cents to 10 cents, in 1893, and made up for the cost with advertising. By the end of the 19th century editorials-to-ads ratio was 50.6 to 49.4 (Ad Age, 2003). Additionally, ads have only continued to spread with the growing mediums. What started in traditional media, such as magazines, newspapers, and billboards, is now spread to radio, television, and of course the Internet. The Internet is a big one because there are no physical boundaries, therefore ads can reach you through spam email, cookies from your past searches, and every other way imaginable.

So the cult of the new brought on the desire for new products and this paired with the increase of advertisements over years has created a never ending cycle of consumer “need” and making us feel we should upgrade to newer technologies or products every chance we get. I use quotes because we don’t really need these products, but advertising makes us think so.

So going back to my topic of planned obsolescence and e-waste, how do we beat it, with the never ending new devices being released and advertising telling us we should buy more and new technologies? It starts with you, and then us, and everyone as a whole. People need to want to change their consuming habits and look more into the devices they are using and ask themselves, and the producers of the product if the electronics they are using are safe for the environment. Us consumers need to think more about where old devices are going, what are in our current devices, and what we want in future devices. Otherwise, maybe our planet will become like the environment in Wall-E. An Earth covered in e-waste and technologies so advanced they do everything for humans and as a result people become so obese that technologies are taking over and doing all the work for them.

On another note, e-waste is a direct result of modern computing and the Internet today. So as technologies advance so does e-waste because new devices are being created to keep up and the old technologies are being thrown out. Movies today are increasingly using futuristic technological ideas. Take “God’s Eye” from the Fast and Furious 7 movie. This futuristic technology allows the user to hack into any device with a camera and/or a microphone to find anyone in the world. That’s kind of scary, but this isn’t possible.. yet.

Some companies have already started to try and beat planned obsolescence and reduce e-waste. One company is Fairphone. They started in 2010 and want to create longer lasting phone designs that use fair materials and make sure workers have good working conditions. Their goal is to map the supply chain of major materials used in phones, such as, tin, tatalum, tungsten, and gold.

Another company is Phonebloks. They started in 2012 and their concept was customizable phones. They wanted to create a phone that the consumer could choose what they wanted in their phone. The idea is that there is a base board which you connect blocks to such as, a battery block, a camera lens block, etc. and if a piece breaks or you want to upgrade it to something bigger/smaller, you just change that piece, rather than the whole phone.

Google was originally working with Phonebloks to create this phone and make it a reality, but sadly Google dropped the project because they claimed they were taking on too many projects and needed to reduce it to focus more on their own company. Which is unfortunate because this idea is really cool and I want to see it become a reality. Google might have just wanted to work on their Google Pixel phone instead. Which is cheaper to make compared to the Phonebloks where you need to create all the different blocks and base board.

A non-phone related idea to reduce e-waste, is the Japan 2020 olympics. They are making the olympic medals out of e-waste and are asking for the public’s help. They ask the public to donate any e-waste, and are hoping to collect 8 tons of metal.

So all of these possible solutions are beginning to bring the the conversation of reducing e-waste and beating planned obsolescence more into the public. What do you think? Would you change your habits and use of current devices to try out something like Fairphone or Phonebloks? What other things could you do to reduce e-waste or extend your electronics life? If it is still in working condition, consider selling it to a friend or on eBay. However, if it is not working maybe use sites like Earth911 or RecyclingNearYou to find places to safely recycle your old devices for free.

Now (assuming) you read my first blog which introduced and explained planned obsolescence and e-waste, and now this second post providing possible solutions.. what are you going to do about it. Maybe nothing at all, but I hope you take what I’ve provided into some consideration when buying a new product or trying to get rid of an old one. If I’ve opened your eyes about these topics, maybe you’re willing to try out a new and different devices that are more environmentally friendly and longer lasting. If it is the latter let me know! I would love to hear about your experience with a different device. Thanks for reading!


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