Who’s Listening? Apple Releases the HomePod

Apple ventured into the market foray of smart speakers today with the release of its HomePod – joining the ranks of, amongst others, Amazon Echo and Google Home. A smart speaker is actually more than just a ‘speaker’ – it’s a machine capable of engaging in somewhat intelligent dialogue with a user and with other devices. That machine is effectively a composite of a range of technologies manifested in a material form that enables it to seamlessly blend into the domestic environment in a relatively non-intrusive form – this family of smart speakers can blend into yours quite easily.

So, what is the impact of this and what does it mean? In a previous article I wrote about human-device interaction, and I’ll quote an extract of that here: “Recently, my two-year old niece Amila tried to talk to Alexa (Amazon Echo).  On the surface, this may not seem spectacular and it may even appear amusing (and it was).  However, we need to consider this further to really understand the force that is at play.  Amila cannot yet engage in human conversation – at best she can articulate baby-like sounds as she learns to speak and replicates words of the English language spoken by people around her – people that she learns from.  At the age of two, she is learning not only to speak with humans, but also with machines.  Her tutors are not only people, they are also smart devices.  If she is learning to talk to machines at the age of two, what will she be interacting with when she’s twenty-two?  What language will she be speaking?”  This change in behaviour that we are seeing, and will continue to see, is a result of ‘digital’ and the new wave of devices that are increasingly become an inherent part of our lives.

Consumerisation of smart devices such as Apple HomePod and its cousins signifies that we can now really talk to computers – a reality that was once an aspiration and a dream (some may say nightmare!) The ways in which we now interact with computers has changed dramatically – while the keyboard and screen persist, other forms of interaction include touch, motion, gestures, biometrics and of course voice. It is the affordance of these, however, that creates the real impact and value – it’s what you can do, and how you do it. Walking into a smart home for example and asking a smart speaker to turn on the lights & heating and play an obscure track that featured in your formative youth may sound simple, but it’s actually a transformative shift in the way that we do things – and this is the key point.

I’ve previously also alluded to the construction of our future in terms of devices and digital engagement and how – ‘smart’ has not only now become a prefix for ‘speaker’ but also for ‘home’, ‘city’ and ‘environment’. This digital ecosystem and its devices are altering the way that we function in our daily lives. Surely this is transformative impact? Of course, what goes with this is an element of risk. The more devices we connect into our smart-living matrix the more points of potential weakness and vulnerability we create.

The adoption and diffusion of smart speakers is likely to increase and the more we enjoy the spills of digital innovation and voice interaction the more we generate data that is fed into the finite state machine.  This fuels the voice services and engines that are constantly working behind the scenes, listening to what you say, decoding and recoding this, learning from what you say and increasing levels of artificial intelligence to provide better services. The associated question that might cross your mind amidst privacy concerns is, ‘Who’s listening?’

As we increasingly live through the ether of the Internet in digital form, we potentially also decrease the richness of real natural human dialogue and discourse. We already see people living through screens and perhaps we are now also seeing the dawn of an era in which we will literally start to talk to machines too.

Khawar Hameed is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Computing at Staffordshire University and a Digital Transformation Consultant

So, what exactly is ‘Digital’?

So, what exactly is ‘digital‘? I asked this very question to one of my Computer Science students once, and he gave me what could be construed as a near-perfect response:  “it’s not analogue”.  Whilst there is truth in that answer – it does not encapsulate what we really mean by ‘digital’ in the world that we live in today.  There are many examples that can illustrate what we do mean, and one that I want to highlight relates to my 2-year old grandniece, Amila.

Recently, she tried to talk to Alexa (Amazon Echo).  On the surface, this may not seem spectacular and it may even appear amusing (and actually it was).  However, we need to consider this further to really understand the force that is at play.  Amila cannot yet engage in human conversation – at best she can articulate baby-like sounds as she learns and replicates words of the English language spoken by people around her, people that she learns from.  At the age of two, she is learning not only to speak with humans, but also with machines.  Her tutors are not only people, they are also smart devices.  If she is learning to talk to machines at the age of two, what will she be interacting with when she’s twenty-two?  What language will she be speaking?  What will she know, and what job will she be doing?  This change in behaviour that we are seeing, and will continue to see, is a result of ‘digital’.

Whilst there is no one definition of digital, we do know that it is a transformative and disruptive force that is changing society.  Digital is not just about the technology stack (and there’s a difference between a Digital Strategy and an IT Strategy). It is, on the other hand, about the harmony between cross-disciplinary thinking and the technology that results in solutions that add value.  It’s about creating transformative impact by aligning people, processes, culture & technologies to yield effective digital environments and a seamless experience for all users.

In my sessions on Digital, Mobile & Enterprise Transformation, I dissect digital into three aspects: (1) Core Concepts such as temporal and spatial frames, and how we alter and exploit these – this is where working “at any time and in any place” comes from; (2) Affordances such as: access; choice; connectedness; efficiency; empowerment; flexibility; ownership; value – and there are more; (3) the IT Strategy & Technology.  The degree and dimensions of digital transformation can also be considered – such as small-step changes through to organisation-wide diffusion; markets; processes and inclusion of organisation-specific concerns.

When talking about digital, we often talk about the ‘Digital Economy’ too.  The House of Commons Business, Innovation and Skills Committee defines this as an economy that, “refers to both the digital access of goods and services, and the use of digital technology to help businesses.” (The Digital Economy, Second Report of Session 2016–17) – a simple but somewhat effective definition.   That report also refers to the revolutionary & transformative impact of technology; the disruption of existing markets; the sharing economy and a model that relies on the sharing of goods, intellectual resource, labour and property using a digital platform.  Another report published last year by the Dept. for Business Innovation & Skills and Dept. for Culture Media & Sports states that, “Digital skills underpin growth across the economy and are vital to ensuring global competitiveness and productivity” and it goes on to define basic digital literacy skills, digital skills for the general workforce and digital skills for ICT professions.  Earlier this year (March 2017) the Government published the UK Digital Strategy and very recently its Industrial Strategy.  The word ‘digital’ appears many times over 53 pages (out of 256 pages) in that Industrial Strategy document.  Clearly, digital is high on the agenda – and it will remain so.

Beyond personalised examples of digital transformation – such as Amila talking to Alexa, there are macro-level concerns that need to be addressed in order to secure our digital future.  These concerns are about our immediate spatial context and how this determines our lives.  This spatial context is about our geography: where we live, learn, play and work.  It’s about our town, city and area/region.  Nesta (an innovation foundation) calls this ‘place-shaping’ – something which fits the broader concept of ‘clusters’ of people, industry sectors & businesses, technologies, knowledge & expertise – and the resulting socio-economic impact that they create.

Whilst there is a natural and appropriate democratisation of digital, there also needs to be some overarching direction and governance – a steer that will harmonise and magnetise the digital ecosystem as it matures.  In other words, digital leadership.  Failing to harness this ecosystem effectively is likely to result in inertia and a federated & disaggregated digital ‘place’ that will not yield the true affordances of digital in every respect.  There are many players in the digital space – all of whom have a valid role and contribution to make – but is there a first amongst equals that can truly drive digital, and should there be?  For example, we have two tiers of Local Government (County/City Councils); Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs); local/regional Universities; Chambers of Commerce, and sector-specific agencies in: healthcare; ICT; the creative industries; transport systems; tourism; lifestyle & leisure – to name a few.   In addition, we have programmes that embrace the concept of digital by convening like-minded individuals and groups to evolve and progress the digital agenda – for example, #SmartStaffordshire has recently been launched in this area.

Each of these is an essential player that contributes to the DNA of our ‘place’, but the systemic & intelligent interweaving of their contribution to result in digital congruence is crucial.  This is what will enhance our most immediate spatial context (our place) and move us forward as a digital society.  Perhaps an alternative ‘new kid on the block’ is needed – a ‘digital tsar’ type entity which provides a unifying platform, which establishes a common language and ensures that ‘digital’ is delivered. Perhaps an over-arching Regional Digital Assembly mandated to this effect.

So – what exactly is ‘digital’?  It’s the future.

Khawar Hameed is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Computing at Staffordshire University and a Digital Transformation Consultant.

Happy 10th Birthday iPhone!

The iPhone is 10 years old!  June 29th 2017 marked the tenth anniversary of what has become a 21st century icon and the apple of Apple’s eye.  Beyond its luring magnetic draw as an object of desire and its smart functional capability (yes – there’s an app for everything), the iPhone is a symbol of digital liberation.  The freedom from the wired and tethered world is a natural function – the true affordance is the capability and empowerment that this brings: the fluidity and ease with which we access and navigate the digital ecosystem and how we have come to live and behave in context of this.  The world is at our fingertips and in our hands.  The push-pull relationship and deterministic nature of technology is one of debate – have we reached a point where we have become entirely dependent on, and perhaps even addicted to our smartphones and other devices?  Would you relinquish your smartphone for even 24 hours? Perhaps reflect on this, and the reasons for your answer.

The ubiquity of connections and the penetration of smartphones is no less than phenomenal.   According to the GSMA ‘The Mobile Economy 2017’ report there were 4.8 billion unique mobile subscribers in 2016 – projected to rise to 5.8 billion by 2020.  In terms of SIM connections, these were reported at 7.9 billion in 2016 – projected to rise to 9.7 billion by 2020.  To put this in context there are, according to a range of sources, over 7.3 billion people on the planet.  In other words, there are more connections than people.  The mobile industry is one of the most disruptive forces that we have ever seen – not only technologically, but also in terms of the societal impact at all levels: individual, group, community, region & country and in personal, social and corporate contexts.  ‘Mobility’ has become firmly entrenched in virtually all aspects of our lives.  Devices and the construction of our future in terms of physical and virtual environmental infrastructure and the way in which we digitally engage with this are also intrinsically related – ‘smart’ has not only become a prefix for ‘phone’ but also for ‘home’, ‘city’ and ‘environment’.

Smartphones and ‘mobility’ have changed or created new behaviours, language and even laws – ranging from the urban pat-down digital dance ritual before leaving the house: tapping parts of your apparel and body to ensure that you have your phone, keys and wallet/purse, thru 2 new sms & txt spk lol! and legislation that governs the usage of handsets in vehicles.  They have influenced the creation of new models of interaction and the creation or disruption of markets – look to mobile banking, contactless payment systems, transport (e.g. UBER), social media and gaming for examples.

It’s also important to reflect on and understand the role that we play as consumers of the technologies.  On one hand, we are exactly that: consumers.  On the other hand, we are the creators and generators of data: stats relating to app usage, network usage, our location through geocoded data, the length of time we spend on calls, who we call, fitness data, health data – the list goes on.  We are an inherent part of the mobile ecosystem that is fuelling the innovation.  We are generating big data, and at the risk of politicising the matter – the democratisation of digital, paradoxically, has created an ecosystem where the digital proletariat are feeding the digital bourgeoisie.  From a more cultural perspective, we are recording the world in a manner that has never been recorded before with our smartphones – creating a digital multi-dimensional imprint of 21st century earth.

At Staffordshire University, we’re proud to have a history in Mobile Computing.  In 2001 we created what was then reported as the first BSc Mobile Computing degree in the UK.  Since then we have been agile and moved with the industry to keep abreast of developments in the mobile ecosystem.  Aspects of mobile computing are taught across modules at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels.  We have dedicated mobile app development laboratories in the Department of Computing in Stoke-on-Trent, and we teach iOS, Android & Microsoft app development.  Many of our students produce excellent final year dissertations in this subject area.

I’ll end this article, with a quote from Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google (extracted from the GSMA 2017 report): “The last 10 years have been about building a world that is mobile-first, turning our phones into remote controls for our lives. But in the next 10 years, we will shift to a world that is AI-first, a world where computing becomes universally available.”

Happy 10th Birthday iPhone!

Khawar Hameed is a Senior Lecturer/Academic in the Department of Computing, School of Computing & Digital Technologies, Staffordshire University, UK. @K_Hameed

NHS Cyber-Attack 12th May 2017

On Friday 12th May 2017 we heard the shocking news that the NHS had been subjected to a large-scale ransomware attack which rendered essential healthcare services unavailable. According to media reports up to 39 NHS organisations and several GP Practices were affected.  NHS Digital (the organisation that exists to ‘improve health and care by providing national information, data and IT services for patients, clinicians, commissioners and researchers’) said that there was no evidence that data had been compromised.  Earlier this year on the 13th January, Barts Health Trust was also subjected to a ransomware attack.

A ‘ransomware’ attack is a form of cyber-attack that aims to have a debilitating effect by denying key digital resources to the user and literally holding the user to ransom by demanding payment to release those resources.  A user might be an individual user/consumer, a commercial business, or a service.  In the case reported today we see what appears to be patient data (the key digital resource) affected.  This has resulted in the inability to deliver essential healthcare services to patients and with payment being demanded from the NHS organisations to release that data.

The debilitating impact is caused by encrypting the data in a form that renders it unusable (essentially useless) to the systems that use that data.  For example, a clinician will need to see a patient record containing essential information on their screen during a clinic session.  If this data is inaccessible (because it’s been encrypted) then the consultation is compromised.  The ransom demand for payment is to decrypt the data ‘back to normal’.

Ransomware attacks are abhorrent and what is particularly repugnant about this attack is that it has affected our National Health Service which everyday innocent citizens rely on.  It has potentially put the lives of those citizens at risk: new-born babies, children, the elderly, the vulnerable and the sick.  At this point it may also not be entirely clear if the affected systems can be re-instated to the consistent form they were in before they were hijacked, or if there is any associated long-term impact.  This is yet to be determined.  The nature of the data in question is also of critical concern e.g. personal sensitive data about individuals, their medical conditions, diagnosis, blood test results, prescribed medication etc. Data that cannot be more personal in nature.  Whilst there is no indication at this stage that data has been leaked (i.e. that theft of data has occurred), there is always the risk of further nefarious activity embedded within ransomware attacks that might seek to do this.  The thought of this type of data in the public domain is alarming.

Every system is subject to attack with motives including financial gain, political advantage, vanity, revenge, sabotage and espionage.  The impact and cost can be disastrous: financial loss, loss of reputation, loss of trust, loss of data – and loss of life.  A report published by Symantec last year (2016) summarised that ransomware had reached a new level of maturity and menace, with targeted attacks on business organisations on the increase. Whilst attacks against the Healthcare sector had been widely reported in recent months, it did not appear to be the most frequently targeted sector.   This attack is said to be part of an un-targetted wider attack affecting organisations around the world. The real extent of ransomware attacks is perhaps unknown, as there are likely to have been many unreported by organisations for fear of damage to reputation, erosion of consumer confidence, financial loss, and litigation.

The NHS has made significant and commendable strides in embracing the digital ecosystem, including the morphing of the Health and Social Care Information Centre to NHS Digital, and the publication of Local Digital Roadmaps which aim to deliver, ‘primary care at scale, securing seven day services, enabling new care models and transforming care in line with key clinical priorities.’  My hope is that this work continues to grow and strengthen, and in doing so fortifies the digital fence that protects our healthcare service and data, and weakens the efforts of those that seek to harm it.


NHS Digital

NHS England (Local Digital Roadmaps) 

An ISTR Special Report: Ransomware and Businesses 2016, Symantec


Digital Transformation: Digital Leadership

Isolated transformation of Lime Butterfly ( papilio demoleus ) on white with clipping path

On the 1st March 2017, the Government published its UK Digital Strategy – seven strands of digital thread woven together to provide a framework for action to address digital transformation in the UK.  The ambition: “to create a world-leading digital economy that works for everyone” [1].  The strategy aims to build on the very strong and credible position held by the UK in the digital sector, and to create an economy which “is resilient to change and fit for the future” [2].

The seven strands of the new UK Digital Strategy are:

  1. Connectivity – building world-class digital infrastructure for the UK
  2. Digital skills and inclusion – giving everyone access to the digital skills they need.
  3. The digital sectors – making the UK the best place to start and grow a digital business
  4. The wider economy – helping every British business become a digital business
  5. A safe and secure cyberspace – making the UK the safest place in the world to live and work online
  6. Digital government – maintaining the UK government as a world leader in serving its citizens online
  7. Data – unlocking the power of data in the UK economy and improving public confidence in its use

The UK’s current digital stronghold is reported in the Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) which tracks the evolution of EU member states in digital competitiveness.  The Index is an element of the Digital Single Market programme – one of the European Commission’s top priorities.  This perhaps provides a somewhat nostalgic reassurance of the UK’s position in an EU context, and its future post-Brexit potential in its drive to grow as a world-leading digital economy.

‘Digital’ is not just about the technology stack – it’s about the harmony and congruence of a range of cross-disciplinary concepts and the technology to yield affordances of: inclusivity & connected communities, efficiencies & productivity, service innovation & value, competitiveness & strategic advantage, empowerment, and releasing the full potential of human capital across the spectrum of personal, social and corporate life. Transformation can manifest through small-step changes or macro-level disruptive intervention.  ‘Digital’ is sometimes referred to as the 4th Industrial Revolution, and like any revolution it can have transformative impact.

We see and experience transformation all around us: in a personal context as we progress through life, at our place of work as it responds to sector-specific demands, and in nature as the seasons change.  Transformation can be disruptive & challenging, but the results can be beautiful – like a butterfly that emerges after the four stages of metamorphosis, governed by the laws of nature.

Governance of digital transformation is an interesting matter.  We have seen a significant ‘democratisation of digital’ in recent years, and this has seeded the growth of a fertile digital economy and ecosystem – an open playing field for a game that is still evolving, and in which the role and position of players is yet to fully emerge.  Perhaps it is then not so much about governance of (or within) this evolving landscape – but much more about digital leadership.

The new UK Digital Strategy provides a well-constructed and harmonised framing mechanism – seven strands which, individually and compositely, provide the basis for achieving digital transformation for the UK.  Leadership that translates this into implementation at national, regional, local, and institutional levels is perhaps the key to digital success.

The definition of digital leadership is somewhat embryonic and evolving.  Attributes cited include that of: having transformative vision (this is frequently referred to); being a forward-thinker; capable of creating a distinct and effective digital culture; having a change-oriented and ‘can-do’ mind set; the capability to inspire; to be able to manage complexity, and to understand digital congruence & alignment [3].  Other attributes and capabilities cited include: the ability to frame the digital challenge and to assess organisational digital maturity; focusing & targeting investment; understanding internal & external governance; implementing strong enterprise-level governance; engaging the organisation at scale, and sustaining the transformation [4].  The definition of digital leadership in context of CxO-type roles is perhaps a matter for debate, and on this note – it’s interesting to observe the prefixing of the term ‘Digital’ to a range of jobs across industry sectors.

Finally, the UK Digital Strategy refers to the UK’s proud history of digital innovation and the early of days of computing.  We’re very proud to be part of that history at Staffordshire University.  Last year we celebrated ’50 Years of Computing’ – a milestone of being at the forefront of computing education and one of five institutions that first started to offer degrees in computing in 1965.  Since then we have helped to create an international workforce of highly-skilled computing professionals who have applied their knowledge and skills to yield transformative digital solutions to solve society’s problems.   As an institution, we continue to pioneer in the world of computing and the digital economy – recently undertaking an institutional-level digital transformation programme to become a fully digitally-enabled University and digital leader in the HE sector.

The UK Digital Strategy can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/uk-digital-strategy

[1] UK Digital Strategy, Ministerial Foreword, Published 01/03/17

[2] UK Digital Strategy, Executive Summary, Published 01/03/17

[3] Aligning the Organization for Its Digital Future, MITSLoan Management Review, Findings from the 2016 Digital Business Global Executive Study and Research Project, Delloite University Press

[4] The Digital Advantage: How Digital Leaders Outperform Their Peers in Every Industry. MITSloan Management, Capgemini Consulting

Khawar Hameed is a Senior Lecturer/Academic in the Department of Computing, School of Computing & Digital Technologies, Staffordshire University, UK,

It’s Internaut Day!

Today is Internaut Day! It marks 25 years of public Internet access and recognition of the ground-breaking World Wide Web (WWW) work of Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the results of which have had profound global impact and changed the way that we live. It is this aspect – the impact on our lives, that I want to focus on and celebrate in this brief article.

The web has bridged distance through telepresence. We can ‘be there’ without really being there.   Relationships have been maintained or formed through the Internet, and the emotive essence of dialogue has been strengthened through visual contact that goes far beyond the written or spoken word. Isolation has been transformed into a sense of belonging, community, and shared social experiences – the world has indeed become a smaller place where we have become virtual neighbours.

The web has changed how we work. Work is no longer a place that we necessarily ‘go to’, it’s what ‘we do’. Consequently, new patterns of how we work have emerged. Spaces morph – places of leisure become places of work and vice versa, and those places of work become decorporealised into a federation of physical and virtual fragments where the work ‘place’ can be accessed as long you have an Internet connection. The reach of the Internet and the decorporealisation of work enables reach into a workforce that would otherwise be difficult – it brings a true meaning to the word, ‘inclusive’

The web has changed how we learn. It has become our tutor, our encyclopaedia, and in many cases our first port of call when we need to know. The immediacy of information access accelerates the process of knowledge development – and knowledge is the keystone in a knowledge-based economy, where what we know is perhaps more valued than other skills and attributes.   Education has become more accessible and inclusive than ever before. Around the world it has allowed individuals to develop their knowledge and enabled host societies and communities to move forward – the divide between knowing and not knowing has been reduced. Every place has become a place of learning as connections and access to the Internet have become a common part of life.

The web has enabled voices to be heard. From the individual voice that needs the occasional virtual soap box to the vox pop that represents critical mass of thought and opinion – it has become our sounding board and our amplifier.   Sometimes the world listens, and sometimes it responds. It has created a virtual platform where all citizens can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with politicians and leaders to engage in constructive debate through accessible channels.

The web has changed how we value space. In addition to valuing the worth of real estate in conventional terms we also now value in terms of connections.   The real estate may, in those conventional terms, be extremely valuable but if you are disconnected in a connected world then that space is of no value to you – the feeling and reality of disconnection is perhaps too much to bear.   Thus we think about the world around us in new ways. We consider the ‘space of flows’ (Castells) in contemporary ways – in ways that are fundamental to the digital citizen and a new society.

I’m going to leave the final word of this article to the Black Eyed Peas and their ‘Now Generation’ lyrics. You can look them up on the web…

Happy Internaut Day!

Augmented Reality and Merging Worlds

Man holding cellphone playing Pokemon Go.

Last weekend I visited Trentham Gardens with the intention of immersing myself in the ether of the natural environment – to enjoy a peaceful walk, to absorb the array of natural colours & aromas, and to seek and enjoy the unchained and liberated sense of spatial freedom. My visit turned out, however, to be more of a field observation rather than a walk in the park – and Pokémon Go was to blame! The experience highlighted the increasing pervasive presence, use, and impact of Augmented Reality, and re-affirmed my view that there is no better time to study Computing than now. Let me explain.

Augmented Reality is about the merging of worlds – the real world and the virtual world.   The result is a hybrid construct that we are able to perceive, experience, and interact with. We are naturally and physically part of the real world in terms of the immediate spatial context and what it presents (i.e. what we physically see, touch, hold, taste etc.) and in terms of a temporal context (i.e. how we live through and suffer the effects of time – like getting older every day!) A virtual world is one that has been digitally created. It is, relative to the ‘real world’, artificial – for example, when you play a game you are immersed in an environment that has been created (programmed) and this is what you interact with. When engaging with each type of world, the resulting experience is very real. It may be subjective, but real – it’s what we feel.   I used the word ‘relative’ earlier – and that’s because there’s a great deal of debate to be had about what me mean by ‘real’ in the first place.

What I observed at Trentham Gardens is indicative of what is being observed and reported around the world – changes in fundamental behaviour as a consequence of accessible Augmented Reality. I saw the duality of two worlds manifest and unify seamlessly as my walking companion traversed through Augmented Reality by interleaving the world of Trentham Gardens with the world of Pokémon – yes, she was playing Pokémon Go!

I admit that at first I was irritated, perhaps more so at the intrusion of technology in such a serene and tranquil natural setting than at the disruption of our dialogue caused by the intervening smartphone (an iPhone 6 to be precise). Irritation soon turned to intrigue, and hence began my observations. I observed that my walking companion fluently described the composition of the floral labyrinth and its component perennials, and then described in detail the Stage 1 form of Pikachu and its evolution to a Stage 2 Raichu, and how a Poliwag evolves to a Poliwhirl and then a Poliwrath.   This was followed by a real-world description of pollination – triggered by a bee hovering around a bed of Tulips. The bilingual switching was instantaneous and the articulation was impressive.

I observed that in following the paths through the gardens and around the lake my fellow walker was also on the trail of certain species of Pokémon. The route entailed physical exertion, taking in the scenery, learning about the historic clock tower through augmented reality, learning about Pokémon Gym battles, and capturing at least 4 different types of Pokémon during the walk. She periodically stopped to effect these captures and I noted her resulting emotive expressions of joy and victory – not dissimilar to those resulting from the appreciation of the Italian Gardens. I observed the interleaving of the physical spatial context with the virtual ecosphere of another reality, and effective temporal co-ordination of living in clock time and virtual time simultaneously. She was, effectively, in two places at the same time.

Our walk ended after an hour and a half. I concluded that Augmented Reality was a serious matter – something capable of affecting all aspects of life and behaviours, something capable of generating new experiences and changing the world that we live in, and something that raises metaphysical questions relating to fundamental existence – and what we mean by this. Should we be surprised by this? Perhaps not. Consider this: you have been digitised and injected into the digital world for some time and your digital avatar, in its various forms, has been traversing that world – perhaps typified by the expressions, “you’re in the system” or “you’re not in the system.” Transcending boundaries of different worlds started long ago. What we see today is an evolution, but with revolutionary impact – where technology has matured to such a degree that a reciprocation can occur and the digital world can, in its various forms, inject itself into the physical world that we live in – into our system.

So why do I think that there is no better time to study Computing than now? Scholars of Computing are the architects of the digital future and next-generation systems. The technical composition of the discipline provides not only the nuts and bolts needed to construct that future, but also the knowledge and skills of how to build it. Augmented Reality is one example of how Computing can be innovatively applied to yield transformative impact and value across industry sectors including the creative industries, healthcare, business, future living environments, and secure societies.   Our students are not just scholars of Computing – we see them as Digital Pioneers.


The School of Computing at Staffordshire University

Undergraduate courses in Computing

Postgraduate Courses in Computing

Trentham Gardens

Image Credit:

California, United States -23 July 2016 : Man holding a cellphone while playing Pokemon Go and trying to catch a monster. Pokémon Go is a free-to-play location based augmented reality mobile game developed by Niantic and published by The Pokémon Company as part of the Pokémon franchise.

Does my wrist look big in this?

Wearable technology, as the name suggests, is something that you wear or carry about your person – and you’ve probably been wearing it for years in the form of your watch, and more recently as a smart watch or fitness band.

Human endeavours to wear technology are not new.  The abacus ring which made an appearance in the press in 2014 is reported to have been made in the Qing Dynasty during the 1600s, and is acclaimed as possibly being the first ever example of wearable technology – that’s a long time ago!  In 1975 Pulsar launched its landmark calculator watch.  The mid-1980s saw the release of Casio ‘data bank’ watches, and in April 2015 we saw the launch of the Apple Watch.  Amidst all this and since then, a whole array of smart watches and wristbands has surfaced – and the evolution has yielded devices that go far beyond simple timepieces to ones that are multi-functional computationally-complete devices with processing power once unimaginable in such small devices.

The days of the watch, as we have known it, are perhaps over.   A perturbing thought, maybe, for the purists amongst us – those that relish in the calmness, clarity and pure simplicity of classic roman numerals and analogue faces – perhaps something that the smartest of smart watches can’t truly replicate.

Wearable technology includes more than just smart watches and wristbands.  There are headsets that can be worn – demonstrated by endeavours such as Google Glass, medical devices that can be worn to monitor patient conditions and which provide immediate feedback or connect patients (or at least their data) directly to clinicians, and virtual reality headsets, albeit some rather intrusive ones, that can be worn for an immersive experience of various sorts – serious or otherwise.  On the other end of the Wearable artefact spectrum there is technology that can be literally woven into the thread of the fabric we wear – smart clothing and intelligent fabrics that can be used in a range of use-case scenarios from paediatric care to sports and fitness training.

Wearable technology is not science fiction – it’s something that is very real and it’s really happening now.  At the time of writing the Wearable Technology Show is about to be held at ExCeL London 15-16 March, with an expected 6000 delegates (it’s a shame I can’t be there!).  The SXSW Music, Film and Interactive Conference and Festival in Austin, Texas held a session on Wearables in Health today – 14 March (and one of my colleagues was fortunate to be there!) and other Wearable Technology conferences and exhibitions are scheduled to take place throughout the year in a range of locations – maybe I’ll get to see Hong Kong or San Francisco!   Industry forecasts include Wearables high on the agenda – in terms of investment, revenue, and sector & market opportunities.  Beyond and behind the immediacy of the tangible devices that we see, hold and wear there is a huge mobile ecosystem comprising infrastructure, mobile operators, device manufacturers, distribution, content, apps & service that can help support the further development and diffusion of Wearables – an ecosystem which, according to the ‘GSMA The Mobile Economy 2016’ report, added $3.1 trillion in economic value to the world economy.  Couple all this with the fashion industry and its associated ecosystem and you have something immense.  So, the springboard for Wearables is already in situ and more than ready.

Closer to home (but with the thought of exotic locations in mind) and aside from the industry forecasts and their stats, Wearable tech is also a real area of work and interest in the School of Computing and other Faculties at Staffordshire University.

Wearing technology in whatever form – whether it’s apparel or in fabric form might have seemed like a crazy idea in the past, but in many ways it makes sense.  We are digital natives living in a connected society on the dawn of a next-step digital revolution.  High-tech beings in a high-tech society using high-tech devices.  On the other hand, we exhibit our true and very basic native nature, and cloak ourselves according to the norms of societies in which we live.  Wearables are thus a natural but innovative fusion – and an evolution with a potential revolutionary impact.

So – will we see a boom in wearable tech?  It’s highly likely.  There are cynics, and I understand their perspectives.  Some people argue that Wearables are a solution looking for a problem, others see a clear fit with their technology estate – this aspect is an engaging one that I discuss with my students in lectures.  My view is that it’s about innovation, digital creativity, and charting & pioneering the next generation of devices and interactions.  

In keeping with the tune of Wearables, I’ll end with a quote and apt terminology from Mark Weiser’s paper, ‘The Computer for the 21st Century’ published in 1991 in which he states, “The most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it.” Mark Weiser, Xerox PARC, 1991.

Post photos of your wearable tech to @StaffsComputing and @K_Hameed


Apple Says ‘No’ – The Threat to Data Security

Consider a world where your fundamental existence is enabled and underpinned by an array of connected devices and systems, and the totality of your life and virtually every aspect of what you do is reliant on these devices and systems.  Consider a future where you live in smart cities and environments and your future urban life is constructed from interacting digital systems that provide the core functionality for your every day common activities and behavior – such as how and what you buy via online shopping, or where you go using intelligent transport systems, or what services you consume – such as healthcare.  Consider your own home, digitally alive and connected to the ether of the Internet via your high-speed broadband and the laptop, tablet, and all your other screens through which you immerse yourself into the virtual world – your connected smart TV, the smartphone in your hand – without which you would cease to function, and the webcam looking at you right now from the top of your screen.  Now consider this – that every aspect of your digital life – your existence as a digital native, your entire digital footprint created through your interaction with devices and systems – what you buy, where you go (in reality and virtually), who you talk to, what you watch – and who’s watching you, plus a great deal more including your online banking might be accessible by cybercriminals and government agencies.  How would you feel?  Shocked, to say the least.

That world is, effectively, the world that we live in today and we are starting to live that future as we transform into digital citizens living in a connected environment – one where digital capital will grow as technologies and systems such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and Machine-to-Machine (M2M) proliferate and become a ubiquitous and seamless aspect of life.  Beyond the individual digital footprint, there’s also the aspect of Big Data – massive data sets that are generated as a consequence of interactions and which provide the basis for analytics and intelligence at a macro level.

Security is therefore key.  It’s one aspect that we expect and rely on to protect our digital assets and our digital lives.  Beyond the specific and significant technical aspects of implementation, it’s an enabler – it enables us to engage with and interact with the digital ecosystem with confidence, leveraging the full affordances of such a system to live contemporary lives without fear and constraint – in education, business, leisure & entertainment, healthcare, and across private and public sectors.

However, we face a challenge – that of the use of digital capital and infrastructure for nefarious purposes.  Security provides a cloak, and perhaps protection, for perpetrators of crime.  On one hand, the principle and practice of security and protection is central to current and evolving digital engagement.  On the other hand, it is this very aspect that can be employed to conduct illicit activities, with devastating impact.

So the question arises: should Governments be able to wield and exercise power that forces the hand of technology companies?  Should Governments be able to intervene and impose measures that create a potential negative disruptive impact on the technology landscape and threaten the fundamental principle and practice of data security?  Yesterday, Apple responded to this question with a ‘no’.  On the Apple website, Tim Cook stated that, “We oppose this order, which has implications far beyond the legal case at hand. This moment calls for public discussion, and we want our customers and people around the country to understand what is at stake.”

And what is at stake?  Fundamentally, the right to privacy? Access to your entire digital DNA? A digital State where the imprint of your every action can be accessed? The creation of a back-door platform for cybercriminals to exploit all of this?  Maybe, and probably a lot more.

You can read the full statement from Apple here

Apple’s approach to privacy can be found here


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