Friday 25 March 2011

Percom 2011 in Seattle, keynote

This year's Percom conference was held in Seattle and offered an exciting and diverse program. Have a look the program to see it for yourself. The two keynotes were both looking at the implications of pervasive computing and communication - especially when thinking about the data is collected and how the data may be used.

Alex Pentland from MIT talked about their work on reality mining. The work looks at how one can capture interactions between people and between people and their environment and how such information can be exploited. One example he gave was on looking at the effect of face to face communication on the performance on workers. The basics insights of this work are thrilling and thinking it through it becomes obvious that we are at the start of new era of mankind. The arguments he made that we can contain and control such information I did not find convincing and I think it may be dangerous to tell decision makers in politics that we can provide solutions. I see no way (that is not restricting people's freedom massively or which reduces productivity massively) that would allow to control the information that will become available through pervasive computing… and all the solutions I have heard either will plainly not work or would require a global agreement over data protection laws…

The keynote on the second day was by Derek McAuley from Nottingham University. One of his topics was on product history and how the availability of product history has the potential to increase the value of products. I think this is a very powerful concept and we will in the near future see this commercially exploited.
Furthermore Dereck discussed interesting issues that come up with crowd sourcing and participatory sensing. One central point is where the data is hold and who controls the data collected. Especially in the context of cloud services this becomes transparent and important at the same time. With regard to the implementation is does not matter; however from a legal perspective it may make a serious difference whether you cloud service runs in German, the US, or on a ship somewhere in the Atlantic. An example he gave are navigation systems in cars which have a back channel. The cars sent back information about their speed and whereabouts and the information is used to predict the state of the road, which is then used to improve the navigation. He raised the questions what happens if this information is held somewhere were legislation has no control? I think this is going to happen and there is no real approach against it…
He made a case that end-users (individuals) should be able to bring together information about them and make use of it. On principle I like this idea to put the individual into control and allow them to exploit this data. For me this is however not a solution for data protection, as a certain part of individuals will sell their data - and in a free country there is probably very little society can do against it.

In summary - we are heading towards an exciting future!

PS: Percom 2012 will be in Lugano with Silvia and Marc chairing the conference. And I have the honor to serve as program chair. See the web page for more information (will be available soon) or the photo of the call for papers here.