2015 - The Year Manchester Got Smarter by Future Everything's Drew Hemment

12 January 2016 - 10:08am

Future Everything’s Drew Hemment reflects on the game-changing year 2015 as both the culmination of a 20-year journey and an exciting new chapter for the Manchester tech story.

In a galaxy far, far away lightsabres slice the air and a Brit steps onto the International Space Station. Down here on planet Earth something just as immense as the space race is unfolding. This is happening not in outer space but the space you are standing in right now, the space inside your head, the space between you and me.

 In the early 2000s we had these crazy ideas – the Internet spills out of the laptop and into the street, everyday objects come to life and chat to us, human intellect can reach through solid walls and touch things within, the city knows where you are going and changes shape to create a path, people within a mile of each other who have never met spontaneously collaborate, streets are designed by artists, the landmarks are made by everyone. We had ideas on how our everyday lives will change in profound ways. And on change in business and commerce – the trees hum advertising jingles.

The Internet of Things, or IoT, is the latest label we stick on these ideas. We have cycled through a load of labels down the years. Locative media, pervasive media, ubicomp, smart cities, IoT... It’s all the same thing, the Internet spills out of the laptop and into the street, everyday objects come to life.... sound familiar?

Some of these ideas were first published as the Headmap Manifesto in 1999 by my good friend Ben Russell. Others we cooked up in a year long roadshow that took us from Manchester to the international circuit of digital art festivals, a hacktivist event in Amsterdam, an ex-Soviet satellite station in Latvia, an artist residency in the Canadian Rockies, and a lab to design a new city quarter in Seoul, South Korea. These ideas took me on a personal journey, from my home turf in art and technology, into urbanism, architecture, and what was to much later become the world of Smart Cities and the Internet of Things.

It was in 2015 that something new started happening. My friends on this journey started popping up as directors of the major institutions around the world concerned with the future. From the director of Singapore's ArtScience Museum and the director of the Art at CERN. I found myself advising the Singapore Government on their flagship Smart Nation programme, being a participant in some phenomenal citizen led platforms, and flagship projects of the big cities and corporations.

I had confidently told my pals who write for blogs and newspapers something was changing, that our crazy fledgling ideas were starting to come true. For 12 months I had nothing to show them. The only evidence was the steam coming out of our ears, the sound of hammering in the studio, the determined and set faces of people walking in and out.

At the end of 2015 Manchester won the award to become the UK's IoT Demonstrator. This is a partnership between the city of Manchester, Cisco and FutureEverything, among other great people and organisations, and brings together previously polarised players in this top down and bottom up world. Two weeks later came another award, one not yet in the public domain, but just as significant. This one will be announced in 2016, and is about realising a bold vision of a bottom up, globally connected movement of smart citizens.

Now I sit here, at the close of FutureEverything's 20th anniversary year, watching the opening crawling credits of a new movie. I know how this one begins, but the ending isn't written yet. I never bother with the studio hype, life is never like that, pulling off anything special is plain damn hard. There will be some highs, some lows, some bumps on the road. What I do know is this is the beginning of a new leg in the journey, and where it leads is now up to us.