Networked Society Symposium 2017: Today for Tomorrow – Interdisciplinary research for a sustainable future

“The science of today is the technology of tomorrow.”

– Edward Teller

If you googled Teller, you would find some controversial facts. However, that aside, Teller did capture, in his quote, the “power” that science has in shaping the world we live in tomorrow. A world that is increasingly, or might I say, already, immersed in technology. But “with great power comes great responsibility”, and it is in this light that the Networked Society Symposium 2017 (NSS’17) kicked off.

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Morning tea during the NSS’17. (Credit: Networked Society Symposium 2017)

The Digital Blue and Environmental Green

As individuals from different fields of research were seated in the B117 Theatre of the Melbourne School of Design, the stage was set for the “celebration” of interdisciplinary research. Interdisciplinary research that would have positive impacts and practical applications. As Professor Luciano Floridi, Director of the Digital Ethics Lab at Oxford Internet Institute, articulated, we, as the current generation, have the responsibility to build the foundations of a future society that future generations will be thankful for.

With the digital world, the features of our reality are being coupled, decoupled, and recoupled, or as we more commonly say, using the more “charged” term, disrupted. An example would be the decoupling of location and presence (Floridi, 2017). Whilst you physically enjoy a glass of Sauvignon Blanc at home, your interactions are with other users on a Facebook wine club page. Thus, your location is in Melbourne, but your presence is online, and your reach is global. This is just a simple example of how technology is “cleaving” at the features of our reality.

However, as we delved deeper “into the seeds of time”, it has not just been the clear-cut prediction of “which grain will grow and which will not” (Macbeth, 1.3.159-162). Instead, the “weeds’ of uncertainty and challenges have also surfaced. Predominantly, the deterioration of our environment in the face of climate change, and how we would shape our digital world with it. As such, how can we nurture the desirable and neutralise the undesirable?

Nurturing the desirable: Urban Green Spaces

With climate change, Australia is experiencing more frequent and hotter “hot days”, with heat waves increasing in duration, frequency, and intensity (CSIRO & Bureau of Meteorology, 2015). As such, Urban Green Spaces have become crucial in cooling urban heat islands and providing refuge against harmful air pollutants or the “concrete jungle” itself.

At NSS’17, interdisciplinary research on Urban Green Spaces involved technologies such as sensor networks, remote sensing cameras, and social media. Sensor networks were able to detect “microclimate” changes in temperature, humidity, and solar radiation, between grey (concrete) and green (greenery) areas. Furthermore, remote sensing cameras, mounted onto vehicles, yielded real-time thermal and visible images, that would be used in monitoring tree-health in city centres. And with social media, an analysis of positive and negative sentiments “tweeted” by Twitter users at existing Urban Green Spaces, indicated the influence of these spaces on human wellbeing. Thus, with these, the existence of Urban Green Spaces can be justified as beneficial, and the nurturing of desirable designs can be enhanced and propagated effectively alongside urbanisation.

Nurturing the desirable: Digital Vineyards

Besides Urban Green Spaces, interdisciplinary research has also yielded how technology can transform the agriculture industry for the better. This is seen in the development of “digital vineyards” to combat smoke contamination in vineyards as a result of increased bush fires in Victoria, Australia. With bush fires now occurring from October to March, smoke contamination in vineyards are on the rise. And with the accumulation of smoke-related compounds, known as guaiacol glycoconjugates, in grapes, these compounds are resulting in undesirable aromas and flavours in wine, thereby reducing their value (Fuentes & Tongson, 2017).

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Dr Sigfredo Fuentes putting the use of “digital vineyards” into context. (Credit: Networked Society Symposium 2017)

As such, by combining the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and remote sensing with agricultural science, real-time Infrared Thermography Imaging (IRTI) would be able to recognise smoke contaminated vineyard canopies by detecting pattern changes in leaf conductance. The presence of smoke-related compounds in berries could also be detected using non-invasive Near Infrared Spectroscopy (NIR), which determines the composition of berries. Thus, as Dr Sigfredo Fuentes, Senior Lecturer in Wine Science at the University of Melbourne, presented, smoke-contaminated areas could be mapped and differential harvesting could occur.

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A diagram representing how UAVs and remote sensing can be used to detect smoke contamination in vineyards (Fuentes & Tongson, 2017).

Neutralising the undesirable: Getting it “right”

Whilst digital vineyards are viewed as a solution to bush fire smoke contamination, other areas of fundamental industries, such as law, are facing “warning signs” of undesirable outcomes. Particularly in “how” we will regulate the access to law without the actual access to lawyers. And with the adoption of open data, “how” we will adapt to the use of it, especially with increasing concerns over data privacy.

But if done “right”, in terms of enhancing the “human” in our digital projects, whereby the technologies we build are “open, tolerant, equitable, just, and supportive” for both humans and the environment to flourish, the digital world can be for the better (Floridi, 2017). And as I once asked an 83 year old man on “what not to do in life”, he quoted Charles Dickens’ “a heart that never hardens, a temper that never tires, and a touch that never hurts”. Perhaps what we need then, is technology that would never harden our humanity, nor tire ourselves from bettering our designs, and most importantly, technology that would never hurt ourselves. With this, the NSS’17 concluded with the mindset for design to be for the long-term sustainability of humans in the digital world.


References

Floridi, L. Philos. Technol. (2017) 30: 123. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13347-017-0259-1

CSIRO and Bureau of Meteorology 2015, Climate Change in Australia Information for Australia’s Natural Resource Management Regions: Technical Report, CSIRO and Bureau of Meteorology, Australia

Fuentes, S. and Tongson, E., 2017. Vineyard technology: Advances in smoke contamination detection systems for grapevine canopies and berries. Wine & Viticulture Journal, 32(3), p.36.

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University of Melbourne’s Dookie Day 2017: The Future of Food in Technology

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Bus rides are made for silently collecting one’s thoughts or taking a good nap. But as the bus drove from Melbourne’s CBD, up north to Dookie, I had questions. Who would turn up? And for those that did, how would they react to the latest developments in technology for agriculture?

Drones for agriculture

At Dookie Day, drones were showcased for agriculture. This stemmed from the University of Melbourne’s (UoM) collaboration with XM2, pioneers in the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) market, to develop the Melbourne Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Platform (MUASIP). Thus, MUASIP is a platform that facilitates data capture using UAVs and the data is processed meaningfully for research and commercial applications. Think of it as the “spine” that would support the “body” of functions and capabilities.

At the moment, we have projects in precision viticulture, whereby wine growers are able to use UAVs to collect data on how grapevine canopies are affected by abiotic and biotic stressors (Baofeng et al., 2016). This would enable informed decision-making on irrigation schedules, fertiliser usage, and overall vineyard management, as inspections can be highly spatial or on a plant-by-plant basis. However, as Dr Sigfredo Fuentes, a UoM Senior Lecturer in Wine Science, highlights, “the end goal is the incorporation of technology in food security”. As such, the work on using drones in viticulture would one day be transferable to other farming systems too.

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XM2’s DJI Inspire 1 drone used in the demonstration.

For the actual demonstration, we had XM2 demonstrate their DJI Inspire 1 drone. And true to its popularity, the presence of the drone itself, it attracted both the young and old. For this demonstration, the drone was modified to capture thermal data, whereby different materials would show different temperature patterns. The application of this would, for example, enable a farmer to determine the moisture level of his or her field, thereby knowing how well irrigated it is. This is important, especially in the face of climate change, as the rapid detection of “stressed” crops between a day or 16 days (if satellite maps are used) can be the determining factor in yield and quality.

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Prep-school kids observing the drone application.

Decoding “us” the consumer

Whilst the use of drones are on the “growth” side, technology also has a place in “sensory science”. At Dookie Day, a BIOSENSORY “face reader” application was on demonstration. It was developed to decode consumer behaviour associated with unconscious responses. For example, whether you “frowned” upon tasting a piece of cheese. The “magic” of the face reader is that it captures food and taste preferences, expressed through facial expressions, which may be omitted from using, say, the traditional questionnaire (Fuentes et al., 2015). And the application is also capable of monitoring your heart-rate and body temperature.

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The BIOSENSORY application in action.

Imagine being able to quantify the actual “emotions” associated with tasting chocolate. I would buy a variety of chocolate, set myself in front of the application, and taste test the different chocolates I bought, to find “the One” that brought me the most happiness. But on a more professional note, this technology is highly valuable to food companies, such as those in the chocolate, wine, cheese, or even beer industry. The BIOSENSORY application would provide consumer insight to pinpoint where the opportunities for food companies are at.

At the end of the day

Although the existence of certain technologies in the agricultural industry is common knowledge, its mainstream adoption is a different story. The reasons may be cultural in origin, or perhaps it is because of the idea that there is “no” support system.

However, at Dookie Day, questions were asked and answers were given. Answers in the form of MUASIP, which addressed the need to have an integrated support system for the transference of UAV system know-hows. Answers in terms of the benefits of using the BIOSENSORY application that would improve testing and our understanding of ourselves as consumers. Answers in the form of people responding positively and wanting to participate in the latest developments of agriculture; from young children and students, to the “veterans” of the farming industry.

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Dr Sigfredo Fuentes being interviewed.

There will be more questions as new technologies emerge. But questions, in combination with informative and applicable answers, can become starting points for greater understanding and acceptance. And that is what Dookie Day was for.


References

Baofeng, S., Jinru, X., Chunyu, X., Yulin, F., Yuyang, S. and Fuentes, S., 2016. Digital surface model applied to unmanned aerial vehicle based photogrammetry to assess potential biotic or abiotic effects on grapevine canopies. International Journal of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, 9(6), p.119.

Fuentes, S., Torrico, D., Talbo, M., Gonzalez-Viejo, C., Moore, S., Kashima, Y. and Dunshea, F., 2015. Development of a Novel App for Sensory Analysis of Food and Beverages using Biometrics from Video and Image Analysis.