– Hi, I’m Joe Welinske and I’m the program manager for Convey UX, which is Seattle’s annual user experience conference. And, we’re going into our eighth year, so that’s pretty exciting. It’s produced by Blink. And the next one’s coming up March 3rd, 4th and 5th in downtown Seattle. And one of the fun things I get to do is to talk to our many speakers that will be at the conference. And today I have the pleasure of speaking with one of our keynote presenters, Stacey Higginbotham. Hello Stacey, how are you doing today?
– Hi Joe! I’m really glad to be here.
– Well, we’re real excited to have you as part of the program. And I’m speaking from Blink’s downtown Seattle headquarters. Where are you talking to us from?
– I’m speaking to you from my office in Bainbridge Island which, I believe is about 35 minutes by boat from you.
– Well, we’re both pretty familiar with it and so, yes, just a quick pleasant boat ride. Well, I think a lot of people are familiar with your work. For people that may not be, why don’t you talk a little bit about your background, what you’re interested in, the type of things that you’re doing now.
– Sure, so I do a lot of things. I am a co-host on This Week in Google. I have a podcast called the Internet of Things podcast. And I have newsletter and website called Stacey on I-O-T. And all I do is the internet of things. And I kinda creep a little AI and just some future, futurism in there. But I’ve been doing this sort of work, just reporting, for about 20 years. And I like to say that I started covering semiconductors and wireless and cloud computing. And all this really nerdy stuff. And then finally, with I-O-T, I get to put it together into something that’s, that’s actually fun and exciting to talk about.
– Well, yeah it is an exciting, growing area and I have enjoyed listening to the podcasts that you do. And, I mean you also really know how to kind of build things and you have some practical skills in that area, besides understanding the technical parts of it. So, how does that kind of manifest itself in your career? I assume it’s just fun, always tinkering around and learning new things.
– It’s always fun until the lights don’t come on when it’s dark, and people want the lights to come on. So, I’ve experimented, before moving to Seattle, I lived in, not a rental house, in Austin. And I had like 80 different connected devices that I pieced together into this, is it utopian? Is it dystopian? It depends on the day. And what was working. So I have a lot of practical experience living with the type of technology that people are trying to sell us. And it’s a lot of fun to see how it affects your life and how you know, it kind of brings some things to mind, you may not have thought of. And probably the designers didn’t even think of. So, that’s yeah. That’s what I do for fun. And I build things only when I have to. My goal for normal people to be able to like get the same experience. And we’re not there yet, but we will be.
– Well, thanks for digging in and investigating all these areas and helping explain it. And give your recommendations on things. Is there anything lately that’s caught your interest?
– Sure! So right now, I read a lot when I’m not troubleshooting my smart home. I read a lot. So, I’m reading a book called, “Infinite Detail”. It’s a novel by Tim Maughan. And it is, it is set in two time periods. Roughly today and about 10 years after, what they call the crash. And so in the book, you’ve got people talking about the today time period is following a hacker who is concerned about the effect of smart cities and all of your data being recorded and everything. You know, being tracked, ‘optimized for our convenience.’ And then the other side is, basically 10 years after the internet goes down. And, what we’re left in, like any sort of dystopian or apocalyptic novel. You’re left with lots of people, you know, fighting for scraps. But it was also, it’s also shocking to see that everything we’re building right now, is gone. So, I just, it feels like in our digital society everything is kind of impermanent. And you know, there’s obviously the thing, the shout-out to paper books, as opposed to Kindles. There’s cassette tapes versus you know, CD’s or Spotify connections. And it was just, it’s just kind of eye opening and super ironic, cause I am reading it on my Kindle. But, I’m really enjoying the book and it’s kinda making me think a lot about what we’re actually building. Should we be building it? And then how do we make it, more permanent?
– Well, I may have to check that book out. It sounds like it’s a fun read. And it kind of matches how things come across in some of the things you write about. And talk about where you have perspectives that are both cautionary, but also very welcoming about the way that technologies are evolving. And maybe the next thing to talk about is your session, which is entitled: Living a life without secrets, design in an era of internet of things. So tell us a little bit about that.
– Sure, so I was having a conversation with someone about personalized medicine, actually. We were talking about like using I-O-T for better health. And delivering quality care for like chronic conditions. And she said, she was like I am incredibly positive about this, but what people don’t necessarily realize is they’re going to be giving their doctors the power to have constant surveillance over the most intimate aspects of their lives and bodies. And I was like, holy cow! You are right. And I had thought about it in terms of like bringing a microphone and a camera into my house and thinking about it from that point of view. But, what we are building today with the data crunching that we have and the connectivity that we have, is this infrastructure that can be used to see everything. And I mean everything. And what we’re finding out is I feel like I trust it if it’s a computer evaluating things and giving insights. Like, Stacey hasn’t slept enough last night. But I don’t want the computer to tell an individual that Stacey hasn’t slept enough because she was up at 3 a.m. worried because she hasn’t finished her story that was on a deadline. Which could all be pieced together. And that’s terrifying. And I think we need to be thinking about how we build this stuff solely for the benefit of society. Not for the benefit of companies but for the benefit of individuals and societal goals. And if those societal goals are like, surveillance, which kind of they might be in some places right now. Maybe we shouldn’t be building it. And that’s, that’s a big topic. But it’s kind of where we are. And it’s both why I’m excited about I-O-T. Because if you can look at data very gregarily, you can actually come up with ways to like I call it, making externalities calculable. Or making the invisible, visible. So things like air pollution. You could see exactly where air pollution is happening in the moment. And you can actually tie it back to like a big polluter in your town. And that town could sue that polluter, to clean it up or to help offset medical costs. So those are like the cool positive things. But that same data could be applied, not to charge a polluter but to maybe help it get away with things. Or maybe it would go towards individuals who have really janky lawnmowers that they can’t afford to replace and you would be fined for having a janky lawnmower. So, that’s kind of, that’s what I’m really excited about and what I’m going to talk a little bit about. How to design for preventing that and think about that.
– And one of the things about that, this area that, that you specialize in with the internet, are things, to me, you know one of the biggest aspects of it is that it… exponentially… creates opportunities for these things to be happening anywhere, in anything. And in ways that we haven’t at all really thought about. And I’m not sure… society is catching on to how fast things are moving with that.
– I think yes, I you look at people’s concerns right now, you know they’re concerned about cameras in the home. Because cameras can put like, potentially pictures of you naked on the internet. Right? And we’re worried about that. I don’t know, if in the future, we probably all will have naked pictures on the internet. But we’re probably not there yet. But what they don’t think about is right now we’re developing like, there, a new wi-fi product just launched that can do motion detection using a person walking through a room and disrupting the R-F signals from wi-fi. In that, just by applying math to that disruption you could actually see what a person is doing just the same way as you could see with a camera. And I don’t think people are aware of the sophistication that is out there for understanding their actions and behaviors in the most private parts of their lives. And we probably should work on that.
– Well it’s gonna be fun to have you presenting your thoughts at the conference. And look forward to having you there when you make the relatively short journey across the water to downtown Seattle. And just thanks for being part of our event.
– I’m glad to do it! I look forward to meeting everyone.