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Thursday, May 22, 2014

Mens Sana in Computore Sano (Seoul Digital Forum 2014)

Unlike for the 2012 edition*, I decided not to attend SDF 2014 with a "Press" card, but to remain in the audience... which still leaves opportunities to chat with innovators, particularly when they are launching impromptu roundtables at the cafe**, like Alan Mycroft, the enthusiastic father of Raspberry Pi who succeeded in bringing fun back into computer science and students back to both schools and playgrounds. Needless to say, Mycroft wishes Korea's education system were less destructive for creativity.

By the way: this country would be a much better place if failures were recognized as an indispensable component of innovation. In the wake of the Sewol tragedy more than ever, we must learn how to learn from our mistakes, instead of just firing people before they accumulate experience.

And let's not deter those who are willing to try, or turn down a 15 year-old because he's 15 year-old. Let's keep in mind that at that ripe age, Jack Andraka invented his 3-cent cancer detector:

Andraka also called for a democratization of science papers, which should be available for free - knowledge as a human right -
And Korea? Please stop looking for the Korean Steve Jobs. Remember that you have Kilnam CHON, who brought internet to Asia and cares for the billions victims of the digital divide. Remember that you never succeed by following the money, but always by leading in values.

1982, Korea's maiden internet network (the first outside the US). Meet its father, Kilnam Chon, at Seoul Digital Forum.
An innovation literally brings something new inside a given environment, which means innovation shouldn't be considered without taking into account its impacts on the said environment, the time factor, the very process of "bringing". Ideally, innovation is simple, cheap, and democratic, and the innovator cares more about helping others than making money. The ideal innovator could well be Alfredo Moser, whose Moser lamp changed the lives of many among the poorest, but didn't change him (see "Alfredo Moser: Bottle light inventor proud to be poor").

Innovators need to be empowered, though, and that's what Mark Randall loves to do. At Adobe, he pushed the suggestion box to the next level by offering a "Kickbox" to all collaborators willing to develop a pet project. Nothing revolutionary, but a concrete message: we give you a process, some money, total freedom, so that you can give your best. And it works.

In any case, never forget to have fun. Like Guy Hoffman when he improvises on piano with his robot. Hoffman's take at anthropomorphy in robotics is not of the 'creepy' kind, like Hiroshi Ishiguro's*: instead of reaching for the most realistic humanoid, he focuses on human-robot interactions, UI/UX, and particularly body language, a universal, emotionally loaded language that speaks volumes.

Travis, Hoffman's latest cute bot was on stage at the Dongdaemun Design Plaza, for a closer look and a more comprehensive understanding of his work, check his TEDx talk in Jaifa (more videos on his website -

As computers around us keep getting smarter, and as the best brains collaborate to decypher the human brain and make the next computers even smarter***, it's somehow reassuring to see masses embrace a technophobic human relying on his own intellect. But there as well, it takes a lot of work to make your creation look brilliant: "Sherlock" co-author Steven Moffat confessed that neither Benedict Cumberbatch nor himself were superior minds. And I presume that a robotic arm would have certainly come in handy for Moffat's book signing marathon - this waiting line tells a lot about Sherlock's popularity in Korea:
Of course, not all crimefighters are created equal. And I'm afraid Homicide Watch DC's vibrant activism could be misinterpreted as crocodile tears. If I second all initiatives to make police and legal systems more transparent, I suggested to Laura AMICO that people who've been wrongly suspected should be considered as victims, not just 'dropped charges' in the 'suspect' column. The more experienced KWON Hye-jin ( - Korean Center for Investigative Journalism, the local partner of the ICIJ / International Consortium of Investigative Journalists) has tamed her passion for truth by keeping her eye on the ball: emotions are one thing, justice and journalism different issues.

Yes, there were a few dull talks too - but again, failures are part of the innovation process. And the young participants to the first Global Hackathon will learn as much from their failures as from their successes. Maybe the Australian leader of the winning team will even learn to share the stage more gracefully in the future - but he doesn't need that if he's looking for a Job(s).

The 11th edition of SDF is over but, as a famous cyborg said, "I'll be back".

Seoul Village 2014
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* see "Seoul Digital Forum: Return To The Future"
** I wish I had more time to chat with KIM Sangbae, a MIT expert in biomimetics who does amazing things by learning from geckos, cheetahs, meshworms or cockroaches (check the (vi)vids on The following day, in his talk, KIM showed the part of BBC's fascinating 'Meat eaters' with the cheetah, pointing out the position and the role of the tail during the hunt, but what strikes me each time I watch this slow motion masterpiece is the eerie stability of the predator's head, like a Steadicam locked on its prey.

*** looking forward to the findings and applications of the Blue Brain and Human Brain projects (Henry Markram - EPFL)... and to tasting the cherry-mushroom mix recommended by Cognitive Cooking (Rob High - IBM Watson).

SDF 2014, the program:
Wednesday May 21
09:00-09:10    Opening Ceremony & Keynote Address Opening & Congratulatory Remarks
09:10 - 09:30    ‘‘The Beginning of ‘New TIME’”
09:30 - 10:00    [KEY1 ‘Connect’] CHON Kilnam
10:00 - 10:30    [KEY2 ‘Capture’] Luis von AHN
10:50 - 11:10    [KEY3 ‘Resonance’] AN Yongil
11:10 - 11:30    [KEY4 ‘Unprejudiced’] WI Euiseok
11:30 - 11:50    [KEY5 ‘Wear’] Eric FRIEDMAN
12:50 - 13:10    [KEY6 ‘Programmable’] Alan MYCROFT
13:10 - 13:30    [KEY7 ‘Working Together’] Lia NAVARRO
13:30 - 13:50    [KEY8 ‘Borderless’] Tony LYU
13:50 - 14:30    [KEY9 ‘Simply Brilliant’]Alfredo MOSER, Illac DIAZ, Claire RIGBY
15:10 - 15:35    [KEY10 ‘Universal’]Sylvia CHAN-OLMSTED, RHEE June Woong
15:35 - 15:55    [KEY11 ‘Empathy’] Laura & Chris AMICO
16:00 - 16:20    [KEY12 ‘Emotional Innovation’] Kwame FERREIRA
16:20 - 16:40    [KEY13 ‘Understanding’] Simon Seojoon KIM
16:40 - 17:20    [KEY14 ‘Radical Connectivity’] Nicco MELE, YOON Youngchul
Thursday May 22
09:00-09:50    Keynote Address
09:10 - 09:50    [KEY15 ‘Uncommon Sense’] Steven MOFFAT & Sue VERTUE
09:50 - 10:10    [KEY16 ‘Brain-reading’] Henry MARKRAM
10:10 - 10:30    [KEY17 ‘Mind-reading’] Rob HIGH
10:50 - 11:10    [KEY18 ‘Moving Design’] KIM Bongjin
11:10 - 11:30    [KEY19 ‘Cure’] YUN Kyongsik, CHO Dongcharn
11:30 - 12:00    [KEY20 ‘Communication & Reflection’]HWANG Kyung-Sig & SON Wha-Chul
13:20 - 13:40    [KEY21 ‘Bridging by Sharing’] LEE Sangchul
13:40 - 14:00    [KEY22 ‘Creativity Within’] Mark RANDALL
14:00 - 14:20    [KEY23 ‘Unwalled Curiosity’] Jack ANDRAKA
14:20 - 14:40    [KEY24 ‘Seeing without Seeing’] Pete ECKERT
15:10 - 15:30    [KEY25 ‘Truth’] KWON Hyejin
15:30 - 15:50    [KEY26 ‘Learn from Nature’] KIM Sangbae
16:00 - 16:20    [KEY27 ‘A Duet’] Guy HOFFMAN
16:20 - 17:00    [KEY28 ‘Amplify’] Daniel Dae KIM, CHANG Tae You, KIM Younghyun, PARK Sangyean
17:10 - 17:50    [KEY29 ‘Hope’] The 1st Global Hackathon Ceremony (“善 Challenge”)
17:50 - 17:55    Closing Remarks · The End
Alternate programs:
SDF DeepDive I - Gaming as Illness and Social Remedies by Graduate School of Culture Technology, KAIST (14:30-17:00 Wednesday May 21) - LEE Dongman, SHIN Yee-jin, PARK Juyong, DOH Young Yim, KIM Huy Kang, SONG Gil-young, Jake SONG, LEE Wonjae, Park Jun Hyun, WOO Jae Joon
SDF DeepDive II - The 1st Global Hackathon “善 Challenge”by AppCenter with SBS Foundation (For 4 days & 3 nights Monday-Thursday May 19-22) - 100 contestants from 16 nations
SDF DeepDive III - Master Class for Media Writing: The Formula for Successful Storytellingby Korea TV & Radio Writers Association with SBS Foundation (14:00-18:40 Thursday May 22) - Steven MOFFAT, Ekuni KAORI

Monday, May 12, 2014

Seoul's Big Data On Slow Motion

The densest traffic in Seoul? In front of Hongdae on Friday afternoons, according to the data crunched by Seoul (over 2013: 7.6 billion GPS records from part of the taxi fleet)*. It makes sense for a city where Hongdae, Cheonggyecheon, and Namdaemun see the slowest traffic on average, and where Friday is the slowest day (21.6 km/h), but makes me wonder if there's not a bias: in front of Hongik University Station, the right lane is very often blocked by cabs waiting for customers, with their GPS recording non-existing traffic jams... That said, let's cruise on.

Know that overall, Seoul posts a 26.4 km/h average speed: 18.7 km/h downtown (thank you Jung-gu!),  26.6 km/h in the rest of the city, and 59.9 km/h on expressways.

The following maps show averages at the district level, which is much less precise than a map of the main axis. It clearly penalizes tiny "red" Jung-gu: a significant share of its roads are perennial bottlenecks, while the much bigger Gangnam-gu compensates its notorious traffic jams with its vast quiet neighborhoods. At the geographical center of the capital, "Blue" Yongsan proves a rather efficient transportation hub. And if Seongbuk-gu comes as a surprise to you, remember that this district is home to almost half a million Seoulites, and that many Nowonites cross it every day, making circulation even more difficult between the Dongsomun-ro - Bukhansan scissors.

Average speeds per district / Weekdays on secondary roads

Weekdays / Weekend

If you want to follow in real time the traffic along Seoul's main axis, or watch live webcams along the way, visit SPATIC's website:

Seoul metropolitan Police Agency Traffic Information Center -

Seoul Village 2014
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* see "금요일 오후 홍대입구 가면 `거북이` 된다" (Seoul inews - 20140512)

Monday, May 5, 2014

In the zone with Miyeon and Park Je chun

Korea is really lucky to have this couple. Miyeon and Park are not only outstanding artists, but also heralds of cultural diversity* who reconcile musics that Koreans are not used to consider on the same plane.

Miyeon the pianist, Park Je Chun the percussionist
To start with, few people can work with the best in the field in free jazz, contemporary, classical, modern or traditional musics from Korea and all over the world. Because Je Chun and Miyeon respect music like great chefs respect food, what you get is neither a tasteless 'bibim' nor some 'world music soup', but new realms for creation, composition, and improvisation, new dimensions for each genre or 'cuisine'. They live, eat, breathe music, and that's at the same time very sensual and very cerebral. I'd really like to visualize how their brains react to new sounds.

They perform all over the world, but decided to stay in Korea to help the local ecosystem grow from within. 

You just have to see how great masters in gugak / traditional Korean music join them "in the zone" in this amazing concert with AHN Sook-sun (pansori), KIM Cheong-man (janggu), and LEE Kwang-soo (kkwaenggwari). See how they all enjoy the moment, how they push their art as they explore new levels of Korean improvisation, something that reaches much further than a simple 'jazzy version of gugak'. And it's as if Je Chun's western percussions and Miyeon's piano had always been with them. The main impro starts at 1'35", but around 1'10" there's a close up on Miyeon's hands. Look how she morphed gayageum into her piano, as if she were plucking the strings.

Sitting close to Je Chun when he performs is also quite an experience, and I had that chance during their concert in Tazak Madang. Many videos are available on Park Je Chun's website: 


A couple of years ago, the Jeonju International Sori Festival chose PARK Je Chun as its creative director, and the event, previously stuck in purely traditional gugak, evolved into an international reference and a major cultural crossroads (among the World's 25 best international festivals according to Songlines). It didn't only bring to Korea musics that had never been played there, but raised awareness for Korean traditional music, and generated previously unseen artistic encounters. Don't miss the next edition (October 8-12, 2014):
Jeonju International Sori Festival:

Seoul Village 2014
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* They are the perfect illustration of what I wished for Korea in "Heralding cultural diversity - a stronger and more sustainable Korean wave (Part I)", Part II, Part III. Typically, they offer solutions to what I called Korea's 'wonjo syndrom', which opposes tradition and modernity and where sticking to a mythic 'original' destroys 'originality'.

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