David Damen – VP Engineering

Must-read this week is Siraj Datoo’s report on  ‘Why data science matters for Foursquare’  for The Guardian. This is a case in point of how things can be made easier on both user and smart phone through use of algorithms based on behaviour data. Thanks to these contextual clues, 4SQ managed to save on not only user frustration but also phone battery life, and has increased the time users spend on their app with 30%.

Other relevant news you should know about if you are into context, IoT or sentientness:

  • Connecting a variety of fitness data platforms together through API’s is the subject of Owen Thomas’ ‘MyFitnessPal Keeps Flexing Its API Muscles’ article on ReadWrite.  While I personally think it’s too early to declare MyFitnessPal as (emerging) winner in the health space – especially as this is ‘soft’ health data, but they definitely set a great example. 
  • The deadline for adopting the EU Data Protection Regulation has shifted to the end of 2014, reports Privacy Laws & Business. This is confirmed by EU Justice Commissioner, Viviane Reding, and should give the ministers of the 28 EU Member States in the Justice Council an opportunity to agree on the remaining controversial issues. For an overview who’s lobbying what way, have a look at LobbyPlag.eu. There you’ll find Amazon, eBay and Bits of Freedom, but also The American Chamber of Commerce.
  • When Big Data Marketing Becomes Stalking, is a thoughtful opinion piece by researcher Kate Crawford.  Explicit permission and transparency, as put forward in the above mentioned law proposal, should be able to make a huge difference already.  I want to be able to decide what I consider to be ‘personal data’ and what I consider to be ‘private #handsoff data’.  I want to know what happens to my data. I want to know who’s accountable for keeping it safe. And – definitely not the least important – I want equal value in return. (via Maarten)
  • “The notion of predictive maintenance comprises both man and machine if we emphasise the action of maintaining. Then we see what really is at stake, namely maintaining optimal, wasteless relations with people, customers, citizens, machines, devices, systems, and systems of systems, large and small,” Jaap Bloem writes on the Sogeti blog. Read on at  Optimal, wasteless relationships between machines and humans alike.
  • Work up or pay up! Pact is a Fitness & health app that tracks your goals. With one caveat: you need to commit fines to these goals. Miss your goals and you have to cough up cash to pay your fine. This money is then redistributed to the people that do achieve their goals. (via Maarten)
  • Yahoo has acquired context-aware launchscreen app Aviate. This is now confirmed Yahoo’s Adam Cahan. For those who missed out on our Week In Context covering Aviate, the app “learns your habits and helps anticipate the information and apps you need.”

I’ll leave you with a YouTube playlist containing all the videos from the 2013 Strata Conference London, where we were part of the Startup Showcase. If you have time to watch just a single video, do allocate those minutes to Julie Steele’s Storytelling in the Age of Big Data talk. I promise you it is an inspiring story on how to make data more than (useful) numbers, and bound to put a smile on your face.Journalists spend a lot of time looking critically at decisions made by politicians, but less so at the complicated formulas that now govern a large share of our daily lives. In Interviewing the algorithm: How reporting and reverse engineering could build a beat to understand the code that influences us, Caroline O’Donovan presents Nick Diakopoulos’s paper ‘Algorithmic Accountability Reporting: On the Investigation of Black Boxes’, and calls for journalists to learn how to report on algorithms — to investigate them, to critique them — whether by interacting with the technology itself or by talking to the people who design them(Questions to us are always welcome at info@sentiance.com) 

Google announced it will introduce an SDK for wearables in two weeks time. With the mindset that no single wearable/watch will rule the world, they want to be open to all kinds of tracking and provide the layer for wearable data. (via Roel)

Scanadu’s Scout will start shipping at the end of this month, said its belgian founder Walter De Brouwer. Scout is a little medical device that fits in the palm of your hand, and enables you to do a medical check up, just by holding it to the front of your head. The first 8000 devices will go to the the people who pledged on the Indiegogo crowdfunding platform. The Scout will be priced at $199. Additionally, Scanadu is working on a throw-away alternative ScanaFlo, which does a urine test. Watch a video interview with Walter De Brouwer about the next generation of quantified self tech here.

Meet 45-year-old Chris Dancy, which Mashable calls the world’s most connected man. He has between 300 and 700 systems capturing real-time data about his life at any given time. He even tracks his dog using pet tracker Tagg. (via Marco De Ruiter) As more and more people are connected, it is important to know what are the digital megatrends driving the ‘Always On’ consumer. (via Frank Maene)

Pew Research collected a glimpse into the future – or at least, expert opinions about it – for Digital Life in 2025. Key terms? Internet of Things, Wearables, Human Behaviour, Ubernet, Daily Life & Personal Health, Augmented Reality, Privacy, Big Data, .. . A great article that comes with some very practical advise: “Make good choices today.” (I have my own theory, and it involves a personalized army of specialised smart agents).

Listening in to the pace of a city is the subject of Tae Hong Park, Johnathan Turner, Michael Musick and Jun Hee Le’s paper ‘Sensing Urban Soundscapes’. Their work addresses the acquisition, archival, analysis and visualisation of sound captures from urban spaces. Hopefully, their work will contribute to urban planning, noise city code development and generally improving the quality-of-life of city inhabitants.

Curious about the State of the Self-Driving cars? Andrew Chatham gave a great overview in his talk on Google’s Self Driving Cars: The Technology, Capabilities & Challenges.

While we’re not there yet, the technical feats of newly introduced safety features are impressive as well. You just wouldn’t believe how much thought & technology goes into a single seat belt. (I only recently realised, when a Mercedes E class seatbelt started to move on its own, tightening up a bit, and sensing just how much it would need to tension up to keep me safe in case of an accident. It’s an odd thing, a car ‘hugging’ you each time you get in.) Anyway, the road from assisted driving to self-driving will be interesting.

MIT researchers set to the task of mapping the emotions represented by animated GIFs. Why on earth would they.. ? Wired explains: “An animated GIF — these days often presented in the form of a “reaction GIF” — can make us laugh, but it can also help convey various other complex emotions, including anger, contempt, guilt or even empathy in an environment that is frequently dominated by text. The advantage of communicating with GIFs, claim the authors of this research, is they can quickly and easily add context in a subtle way that text or emoticons cannot.” Avoid GifGif if you have deadlines looming, otherwise, by all means, have a go.. err Gif. (via Stevo)At Argus Labs we only say “Mind = Blown” when we mean it. That ‘mind blown’ expression seems a perfect fit to describe the Re.Work Berlin experience. Not only did the conference challenge my beliefs of what is technically – and often practically – already possible, thanks to our Start-Up Stage win, it is a great validation of the intelligence layer we are building.

A Win for Empathic Tech

There’s pitching to VCs. There’s pitching to possible clients. And then there’s pitching to a crowd you know is way smarter than you are. The latter makes you sweat. Makes you do last-minute changes to your presentation (it’s OK to talk tech). Most of all, it makes you multitudes of happy when they decide using modern technology to analyse and quantify something as ‘old’ as human behaviour and mind set is the way to go.

Because how can we call technology ‘smart’, when it doesn’t understand the person that it’s interacting with and the context this person is in? Whether the person we’re communicating with is happy , sad, anxious or excited? Of course, there’s no advanced algorithms or deep learning needed to diagnose that we are super excited about our Re.Work Berlin win. A win for which we gladly share the credits with the sheer possibilities of machine learning put to work on the human mindset. (If you’re just as enthousiast about cognitive and affective computing, we’re hiring you.)

A Mindblowing line-up

So ‘Mind = Blown’, and even more about the talks covering science outside my expertise. Mind blown by Plantoids, powerless computing, and air purifiers that get plastic out of thin air:

  • Plantoids. Robots that look, act and grow like plants. Roots that grow autonomously into the soil, directed by a rotating heads filled with sensors. This has the potential to change brain surgery, do autonomous soil testing and so much more. (Barbara Mazzolai, MBR, Biomimetrics in action: plants as a new source of inspiration in robotics)
  • Transistor replacement. This was not the core subject of the talk, but it’s what I remember. Because of the heat that transistors generate, cores in CPU’s are reaching their upper limit in computation power. Now, using nano technology, it should be possible to replace transistors all together and even go towards a future where we can operate a computer without spending energy! (Luca Gammaitoni, Can we operate a computer without spending energy?)
  • Smog Eating Buildings. Decorative facades for buildings that act like large air purifiers to reduce air pollution in large cities. Now comes the crazy thing. The parts that remain on the purifiers can be used to synthesise a consumer plastic from CO2. (Daniel Schwaag, elegant embellishments, Ornament and climate)

Actually, almost the entirety of the Re.Work schedule should be listed as “at the forefront of its science discipline” (To avoid repeating ‘Mind Blown’ one time too many.) Re.Work Berlin was a brilliant experience with a great reward. We’re looking forward to working with MashUp Communications, and are going over the General Assembly courses list. Meanwhile, we continue working on the future of empathic tech.We have a look at visualizing algorithms, Cortana’s prediction for the outcome of Argentina-Belgium this Saturday (#booh), automating your life with Saga IFTTT recipes and two great lamps, and highlight some great readings on affective sensing, superintelligence and the ‘Facebook influencing mood’ discussion.

This Week in Context

Your Weekly Update on All Things Context, July 4 2014

Mike Bostock, Editor at the New York Time’s graphics department and creator of visualisation library D3.js, published an in-depth article on visualising algorithms. A must-read, if not only for its great visual explanation of sampling, shuffling, sorting, making mazes, and the different types of randomness. The value in visualizing algorithms? This can be used to explain the algorithms, but just as well for debugging or reframing them.


“The goal here is to study the behavior of an algorithm rather than a specific dataset. Yet there is still data, necessarily — the data is derived from the execution of the algorithm. And this means we can use the type of derived data to classify algorithm visualizations.”

– Mike Bostock, creator 3D.js
Visualizing Algorithms


Machines finally managed to match monkeys a key image-recognition test thanks to deep learning techniques. Machines are great at spotting identical images, but until recently, once subtle variations between images were introduced, monkeys still had the upper hand/eye as it came to visual object recognition. More on Wired.

Alternatively, you could use machine learning and algorithms to automatically cut out the ‘boring’ parts of your family videos. The LiveLight method constantly evaluates action in the video, looking for visual novelty and ignoring repetitive or eventless sequences, to create a summary that enables a viewer to get the gist of what happened.

We’re excited Microsoft’s Cortana got it right when she predicted Belgium would probably beat the USA. (Double triumph: data and our team.) To look at the WK2014 outcomes, the Bing prediction engine use models based on previous win/loss/tie records, home field advantage, surface, weather conditions, … and the ‘wisdoms of crowds’. (Alas, Cortana now predicts Belgium won’t make it past Argentina. So let’s hope she’s not always right.)

Robots will become more useful once they learn to properly converse with and talk like us. Scientists are working on not only getting robots to better understand what we want from them, but with inverse semantics, also on getting them to more clearly communicate back on where they are stuck. Neat thing is that the ‘teaching’ of the robot algorithms is being crowd sourced.

Ray Kurzweil says he’s breathing intelligence into Google Search. Inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil says work is under way at Google to apply his theory of intelligence to understanding online information.


Google has acquired ‘contextual expert-curated’ streaming service Songza. The music streaming service is known for its human-curated playlists , and the Concierge feature, which uses date, time and user-set activity to recommend the appropriate playlist. Google Play announced the acquisition on Google Plus.


Spire, a wearable that tracks breathing patterns – through reparatory movement of the body – to give feedback about activity, stress levels and state of mind. –  $119, ships September 2014

With ‘Automate Your Life’, Saga announced they now have a proper channel on If This Then That (IFTTT). For now these are mostly recipes based on the places you go. Saga says it will add more triggers to IFTTT, including arriving near a place of a certain category, leaving a place of a specified category, and arriving at or leaving your home or workplace.

This driverless car looks more like any “ordinary” car than a cyber-physical system. Yet it has top-of-the-line radar, cameras, sensors and other technologies. All are built into the body of the vehicle.  Have a look as it takes a spin around Washington D.C.

Self-driving cars are a few years away still, and until then, designing in-vehicle entertainment systems means designing for minimal – or at least the right balance – of distraction. Anticipating what information you’ll need, is of course a great way to minimise dangerous distractions.

Finally, a smart watch that looks like it might work for non-geeks/techies. Nominated by Maarten, who believes it deserves additional creds for the hipster name: Activité.


Design and the (Ir)Rational Mind: The Rise of Affective Sensing. This is part of the larger series ‘Inside Sensing’: “At frog we define sensing as the ability to harness these real-time data streams to identify patterns, generate insights, and design better experiences for people.”  A great read passed on by the @Winflotte team.

Quarts joins in on the Mood-tracking – and more importantly, influencing – discussion with The US Military Is Already Tracking Your Mood. (via Marco De Ruiter) For the discussion itself, Niemanlab hosts a splendid overview.

Two great lamps for when you want to set the mood. This IKEA Mood Lamp hack makes for a lamp that changes its colour based on how you feel. The setup requires a webcam, facial recognition & analysis software (Open CV), and some Arduino skills.  Personally, I prefer this Internet-connected thunderstorm for the modern home (aptly named The Cloud). Perfect for stormy nights.

Papers, Talks & Research

  • Deep Neural Networks Rival the Representation of Primate IT Cortex for Core Visual Object Recognition (paper)
  • Mood Lamp – A natural interaction system based on facial expression recognition (paper)
  • The new role of radio and its public in the age of social network sites (paper)
  • Failures of an embodied AIXI (analysis)
  • Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies (book)

Do you have research or an interesting article on machine learning, AI, sensing and empathic devices, or a review copy of ‘Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers & Strategies’? Let us know by tweet, or just hit reply.

Enjoy your weekend! 


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David Damen is VP Engineering with a MSc. in Computer Science (magna cum laude). At Sentiance he oversees the end-to-end architecture of the Sentiance Platform and manages the software engineering team for both the mobile and backend infrastructure.

David is proficient in novel and state-of-the-art systems design (e.g Lambda Architecture) and uses agile project management for software development. Before Sentiance, David worked in trademark research at Aktor-KT (a Thomson-Reuters company), in aerospace at Space Applications Services and in healthcare at the Antwerp University Hospital. He has been involved in FP6 and FP7 projects. Most notably the FP7 project, ULISSE (USOCs knowLedge Integration and dissemination for Space Science and Exploration), where he managed the Services Platform development.

David’s work focuses on data modeling, semantic technologies, search engines and data processing, and has been presented in peer-reviewed conferences such as PV2009, TMRA2009/10, HI-KDD2012 and ISWC2013.

Computing is not about computers anymore. It’s about living.

– Nicholas Negroponte

We are looking for new colleagues. Are you interested in working with me?

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