tisdag 19 februari 2013

ICT4S conference

I went to the first international conference on ICT for Sustainability (ICT4S) in Zürich, Switzerland last week. By train! Riding a train for the better part of 24 hours (twice!) represented a good opportunity to get to know a couple of colleagues better...

This was the very first ICT4S conference and the KTH Center for Sustainable Communications (CESC) had encouraged affiliated researchers first to submit papers and then to attend the conference. CESC was represented by around a dozen contributions to the conference program and by no less than 17 CESC members. Adding the two Ericsson research employees - who through their research is affiliated with the center - we constituted a sizable part of the conference attendees.  

I didn't submitted anything, the deadline for abstracts was already in the beginning of June last year and the timing didn't fit me at all. I did however go to a really interesting workshop in Vienna at that time and already then heard about the conference. I was happy to meet up with a dozen persons at the ICT4S conferences that I had previously gotten to know in Vienna, one of whom was professor Lorenz Hilty himself - organizer and big boss of the ICT4S conference as well as keynote speaker at the Vienna workshop. Since I met him in Vienna for the better part of a year ago I have also read his book

Here is the official schtick for the ICT4S conference:

“ICT for sustainability” is about utilizing the transformational power of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) for making our world more sustainable: saving energy and material resources by creating more value from less physical input, increasing quality of life for ever more people without compromising future generations´ ability to meet their needs.

As to the papers and presentations at the conference, the quality was mixed. I had printed no less than 10 (short) papers beforehand (to read on the train trip) - and I have now read them all. I have also selected another half a dozen papers that I will print now that I'm back and read later. 

I was a diligent student at the conference and I listened to presentations from early morning to late afternoon (9-18). The scope of the conference and the presentations was wide, spanning studies of computer hardware and software to social and societal (sustainability) consequences of ICT. I suspect the acceptance rate to the conference was quite high, i.e. some of the papers that ended up being accepted and presented were in my opinion sub-par. I hope the general quality of both papers and presentations will be better the next time around.

As to the next conference, it was announced that the 2nd international ICT4S conference will  be hosted by KTH and CESC in Stockholm. The exact date has not yet been set, but the conference will be held at or near the end of August next year (2014). The deadline for abstracts will be sometime around January 2014 and the deadline for full papers will be April 2014 or thereabout. I guess I will be involved in organizing the conference in some way (and will thus probably post more about the upcoming conference at some later point). 

Here are some of the highlights that I want to remember from the conference:

Robert Laubacher from the Center for Collective Intelligence and the MIT Sloan School of Management, MIT, was a keynote speaker and he talked about The Climate CoLab ("Harnessing Collective Intelligence to Address Climate Change")
- The Climate CoLab is a contest of sorts to address climate change. Experts suggest topics (challenges) that differ from year to year. Contestants/community members submit proposals (as individuals or teams). A panel of experts review the suggestions and award prices for best proposals and the wisdom of crows vote for the Popular choice award. The best ideas are presented to potential implementers. For the 2010 contest (topic: "climate diplomacy") there were 29 entries and 3 winners. For the 2011 contest (topic: "green economy") there were 64 entries and 6 winners. The greatest challenge is not the competition itself, but rather the social context around the competitions and in creating a community. There is also a need for help in overseeing the contest in the role of "advisors" or "fellows" (not sure exactly what that entails). Other partners beyond MIT are Technische Universität MünchenBrown UniversityStanford University and University of Toronto.

Jennifer Mankoff from the Human-Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie-Mellon was a keynote speaker and she talked about "Moving beyond feedback".
- After a disheartening wakeup, Jennifer started to question the real-world impact and the potential of her work on smart meters, sensors & feedback and behavior change. From that starting point, she has tried to broaden the focus for an agenda for computational sustainability. How can computers help measure impacts, expand the audience, encourage environmentality (pdf file) instead of just efficiency, and how can results be scaled up to the level of governments and nations? Jennifer also referred to two papers of hers. I already had her UbiComp 2010 paper on my desk, in the to-read pile ("Understanding conflict between landlords and tenants: Implications for energy sensing and feedback" - pdf file). She also referred to a brand new paper (to be presented at CHI two months from now?) about ICT and energy and with fieldwork having been done in Bangalore, India. The paper is (I believe) written together with Srinivasan and Seetharam (?) - I'll keep my eyes open for it. 

Don Gotterbarn, professor emeritus and leading computer ethics researchers gave a very entertaining and informative talk about computer ethics at the post-conference workshop I attended.
- We have an intuitive grasp of ethics when it comes to stuff your mother taught you; don't hurt other people etc. These are the problems we (as individuals and as a society) have thought about many times before. But then there are problems we haven't thought of before; whose "property" is stuff on Facebook? What about pictures I send through my Gmail-account? My holy book doesn't say anything at all about Twitter...

There were two papers with the term "community" in the title; "Small community media for sustainable consumption" (from Hungary) and "Urban sustainability through the web: Using ICTs to build a community for prospective neighbors" (from Italy). I've read the first but didn't like it that much due to a severe lack of focus and gaps in the author's background reading/knowledge about communities. The second paper looks more promising but I haven't read it yet (will do!). I had a nice conversation with the first author of the Italian paper but was snubbed when I asked a dicey methodological question to the second author. :-(

Some great quotes and one-liners I took down at the conference:
- Wangel & Katzeff talked about smart grids in terms of "new networks of power" (also referring to issues of who has the power to set the discourse, determine the rules etc.).
- Hilty: "What is a battery? It is a limitation! And as soon as we have absolute limits, innovation thrives."
- Hilty on the cloud: "Big brother could save a lot of energy!"
- Gotterbarn: "The ethical grid" (should have been "the electric grid")

I end this blog post with a whole bunch of ideas for possible papers for the next conference in Stockholm:
- A paper about our (mine and Elina's) upcoming use of the board game Carbonopoly in our course on media technology and sustainability!
- A paper with Karin about collaborative consumption and "the growth of post-consumerist cultures".
- A paper with Jörgen about, uh, well, something. Perhaps on the use of social media among "hard-core" sustainability activists and/or crisis-proofed lifestylers?
- A paper with Henrik Å about ICT + ecological and social sustainability would be fun, but is it possible to unite our different opinions?
- A paper about "sustainable use of social media" - whatever that might mean...? Perhaps I should go for "ICT for supporting ecovillages"?
- An analysis/study of the consumption of virtual objects as the ultimate goods for a sustainable society? What could be better than people spending lots of money for buying a virtual sword in World of Warcraft, or buying a virtual island (or a space station) in Project Entropia - pixels-for-money galore! But I don't have the time to write this paper - perhaps I should just write up a master's thesis proposal instead and try to get someone to write a thesis about this particular topic during the autumn?.

Post-script (130226):
- Keynote speaker Jennifer Mankoff's wrote a trip report of her own from the conference.
- At the Conference website, there is a webpage called "Documentation" which is very useful. The conference proceedings (pdf file, 11.5 MB) are for example online, as are the "Conference recommendations". These recommendations are basically a taxonomy of what the conference organizers and participants think "ICT for Sustainability" encompasses. This is thus a great document to consult when contemplating whether or what to submit to the next ICT4S conference (Aug/Sept 2014 in Stockholm).

Post-script (120311):
- Perhaps an ICT4S paper together with Cristi Bogdan since I just learned he has gotten quite a lot of money to study "ICT-, energy-, and network [social?] structures to decrease energy usage".

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