Our virtual house with its own venue is now operational, and people love it! We are open for viewing. Come and glimpse the future.
The virtual Fourth Portal Lucia House is on the leading edge and employs state-of-the-art technology. It uses a combined semantics/physics engine to create an online social experience corresponding to real-world expectations, including interactions with books, records and other objects.
Guests move freely around a shabby-chic virtual 2D environment at will, allowing for richly rewarding social interactions. Each room has sound isolated from the neighbouring room. While a guest is in a room, audio attenuation permits voices to fade as the person moves away from other users – as happens within a real-world space.
There are presently 28 unique virtual rooms live across four floors. More floors and rooms, including a pub and tunnels, are being added during 2023. All programming is done in-house. The team has decades of experience building complex programs and can swiftly decorate and adapt spaces to individual client requirements. The Creative Director is credited with 70 major VFX productions across cinema and television. Fourth Portal Lucia House is presently in beta mode as we scale capacity. We welcome all visitors to our open house viewings and appreciate all feedback.
Click here to see when we have our next open house viewing.
A co-designer of the New Scotland Yard Control Room commented on LinkedIn that Discussion Festival is a glimpse into the future of meetings. Fourth Portal Stage 3 testing focuses on the virtual Lucia House and how this developing business model will soon become the new normal.
New Scotland Yard Control Room 1969 and 2000 (Google images)
Communication and relationships
A co-designer of the Bank of England and New Scotland Yard Control Rooms commented on LinkedIn, Discussion Festival is a glimpse into the future of meetings. Denis O’Brien spent his career in and thinking about design and ergonomics. Control in the context of a Control Room is probably misplaced as the room is a room for communications; control is a result of communication, not vice-versa.
Denis is one of several people whose work involves understanding systems and have become intrigued by the developing Fourth Portal Lucia House hybrid. Investigating how to build a hybrid concept began in 2018 and has concentrated on how people will communicate and form meaningful relationships in the future.
A straightforward concept
On paper, the hybrid concept is simple; a location where a person can talk to others in the room and simultaneously elsewhere.
The concept is not new; teleconferencing dates back to the 1980s and was available much earlier. Technical issues developing publicly accessible hybrids are audio, not visuals. Conversations bleeding into one another and audio feedback are the main challenges for hybrid spaces to become more broadly available. Solving the audio issues is complex and the reason why audio is attracting large amounts of public and private funding for research and development. In time, affordable technical solutions will overcome problems concerning sound.
Swedish Prime Minister Tage Erlander using an Ericsson videophone to speak with Lennart Hyland, a popular TV show host (1969). Image via Wikipedia
The end of real-world meetings?
So does the emergence of hybrid equate to there never being a reason to meet another person in real-life again, as it can be done virtually? No, and far from it.
Articles and research discussing virtual meetings, gigs, consultations, shopping and metaverse are often simplistic. The tendency is to concentrate on technology and the pros and cons of whether hybrids are taking off or dying. These arguments are symptomatic of an economic transactional mind-frame, even when people believe they are not talking about economics. Writing and research on hybrids should instead focus on human behaviours and need.
Hybrid will dwarf Facebook and YouTube combined economically. This is how extensive the hybrid market will become. Does this also mean Facebook and Google will dominate the space? Unlikely. If anything, Facebook and Google may end up in an exhibition cabinet in a virtual museum along with Ask Jeeves and Myspace.
Not social media
Three aspects of modern hybrid communication make this period different from the transformation brought about by social media.
How humans communicate and form meaningful relationships
Accessibility to global communication systems and the cost
Developments in machine learning, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, linked data and semantic technology.
1. How humans communicate and form meaningful relationships
Is there any evidence that the invention of the telephone destroyed the ability to have meaningful relationships? No.
The invention of the telephone enabled the expansion of meaningful relationships with people who would otherwise have been almost inaccessible. Society’s fascination with telephones soon faded and was absorbed into everyday life, becoming just an instrument for communication.
Through communication, relationships are formed. Hybrids are no different. They will become just another instrument or tool for people to use to connect with another human with the added ability to also engage with an object or activity.
2. Accessibility to global communication systems and the cost
Laying cables and building exchanges made the rollout of the telephone a slow process. More than a century after its invention, half the world still did not have direct access to the telephone. This has changed dramatically even since the launch of social media around 2004/5.
Satellite communications allow communication to inaccessible places. Relay systems even provide for those with hearing impairment and deafness. Communication infrastructure has now spread to all parts of the world. The cost of employing such infrastructure continues to fall.
In terms of people communicating, the world could become one big village.
As with laying the cables and building the exchanges of the early telephone network, much of the digital technology foundations are now in place. Machines only learn what a cat looks like by looking at millions of images of cats. These images have been provided by millions of people uploading photos of their cats to social networks and websites.
As hardware, like camera phones improve, and as more people are connected to the web, machines will have more data from which to learn. In time, this will lead to further innovations and opportunities.
The layout of Discussion Festival Season One table and topics
Understanding the need
In 2005, few people could realise the potential of YouTube. The key reasons were that camera phones and broadband were still relatively primitive to what is experienced today. There was also little perceived need for such a technology. This also applied to Zoom in 2019; it will never catch on. Then came the pandemic.
The Discussion Festivals research highlighted many of the same comments and resistances noted in 2005 when this author was trying to raise interest in self-video creation and podcasting. At that time, there was almost no one willing to discuss further than as a general chat. The key reason was there was no perceived need.
Poets, professors, dancers, teachers, engineers, politicians, business people and more show interest in the Fourth Portal before returning to doing what they are doing. There generally remains a disconnect between how life was lived before social media, text messaging and camera phones and now because these things have become the norm. The Discussion Festival is highlighting that most see hybrid as another form of social media. This is a misplaced understanding.
The hybrid needs to be imagined as the arrival of the invention of the telephone. It will be fundamental to everyday communication and life. Social media, as it is used and understood today, will be absorbed into hybrid communications. Hybrid allows for much richer contact with others. It will expand connection beyond the restraints of physical walls and controlled virtual spaces, as provided by Zoom and others.
Hybrid is likely to explode in locations where other forms of physical infrastructure are less developed. Areas suffering from poor public transport, roads and bridges. Towns suffering from a lack of conducive meeting places like cafes, pubs and community spaces. Remote or inhospitable places, like Antarctica.
A new kind of global cafe community will transpire. These communities already exist in a lesser form, gaming being the best example, and to some degree in international corporations. The global cafe community will be more diverse, open and exposed to new ideas and innovation. New businesses and forums will emerge that have not yet been imagined. How everyone works, socialises, purchases and is educated will expand beyond recognition.
The layout of the Discussion Festival Season One table and topics
That’s all in the future
“The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed”, as William Gibson the author has written (Wikipedia)
The opportunities are enormous, as are the risks of becoming even more isolated for those determined to resist. It is why spaces where people can come together, whether physical or virtual, are the necessary next step in how people communicate.
Fourth Portal and the Fourth Portal Lucia House are early attempts to develop a hybrid equivalent of the telephone exchange.
Telephone exchanges were set up to centralise the telephone network within a smaller geographic area. This system allowed other individual lines to be connected through a central station. These were the forerunners of switchboards. An individual would need to manually connect the wires to each other through the switchboard. Most of the early users of phones were businesses. Many phones would go to a doctor’s office, police station or bank. Individuals could subscribe to the switchboard for a monthly fee that gave them access to the telephone network.
Each Fourth Portal will be the hub for a smaller geographical area. Each hub will allow people to connect both manually, in the physical space, whether to socialise, work, learn or shop and virtually, via remote access. The majority of early adopters will be those considering the next evolution of their business, education, friendship circle or personal development.
The Fourth Portal is an opportunity to immerse in the near future.
A prosumer is an individual who both consumes and produces. The term is a portmanteau of the words producer and consumer. Research has identified six types of prosumers: DIY prosumers, self-service prosumers, customising prosumers, collaborative prosumers, monetised prosumers, and economic prosumers.
The terms prosumer and prosumption were coined in 1980 by American futurist Alvin Toffler and were widely used by many technology writers of the time. Technological breakthroughs and a rise in user participation blur the line between production and consumption activities, with the consumer becoming a prosumer.
Social media was, and remains, a prosumer industry. The Facebook model is predicated on people posting content that others wish to look at. US Cable television had already introduced this model in the 1980s, and social media only expanded it.
Screenshots of the Fourth Portal Lucia House virtual and real-world testing (2022)
Hybrid is different
Hybrid will be much less about consumption and more about connection and reconnecting, not only to individual people but to places, activities, environments and communities. Hybrid will become more democratic and less dictated. It will reverse the trend towards social isolation that has been growing.
Social isolation and loneliness are increasingly being recognised as a priority public health problem and policy issue for older people. (World Health Organisation, Social Isolation and Loneliness)
Whereas social media is about creating content for others to consume, hybrids will become an avenue to connect to like-minded communities. Geographical location will become less of a hindrance to meeting new people. Even language will become less of a barrier to finding such communities as languaging applications allow instant translation.
Providing spaces for this new collective mind view is at the heart of the Fourth Portal and the Fourth Portal Lucia House. Spaces where people seed new ideas, grow networks, watch relationships flower and feed a new generation of positive connectivity.
Viewing the Fourth Portal Lucia House promotion
Many of the recent ills in society are blamed squarely on social media. Algorithms driving social media have certainly contributed towards antagonistic social interaction. Feelings of inadequacy and FOMO – fear of missing out – have had consequences for many people. On the other side, there have been, and are, many positive aspects to social media, including bringing old acquaintances together, forming new friendship circles and keeping people updated on personal and business developments.
Social media can create connections but does not, in general terms, build meaningful relationships in the same manner as real-life interaction. This is where hybrids will be different. Hybrid spaces will be more akin to physical interaction.
The combination of global, efficient telecommunications accessible to much of the population provides opportunities to form relationships that were not possible in previous times. Advancements in machines and artificial intelligence will bring about a revolution in business and social interaction. It will lead to previously unimagined engagement with other people, some already known, others yet to be met.
Fourth Portal has been envisaged much like the World Wide Web (www). A web of nodes communicating with each other and sending messages back and forth. Instead of computer nodes, it will be people communicating with each other.
The Discussion Festival Season One was set out with virtual hosted tables that visitors could move between uninhibited. The Fourth Portal Lucia House has virtual rooms, with sofas, record players and wine racks, that people can wander in and out of and interact. The Fourth Portal’s tests in Great Yarmouth were to develop the real-world aspect of the hybrid model.
What comes next is how these seemingly different contexts bleed into one another to form a space that feels normal. Places like fully hybrid Fourth Portals will soon become the new normal. The technology will be almost secondary, it will be the meaningful relationships that form within the spaces. And not only between people but also between objects, the environment and the wider world. Join us! Subscribe or email here.
Season 3 of the Discussion Festival begins in January 2023 with the theme of developing connections that build meaningful relationships. The new Fourth Portal Lucia House is totally different from the Airmeet venue from Seasons one and two. Easy-to-navigate furnished rooms allow fun interactions and even more random conversations and connections.
Season 3 Theme
The theme for Discussion Festival Season 3 will be creating connections that lead to lasting relationships.
A selection of the rooms available for hosts to present a topic, hold a discussion or class, sell a product or service, and almost anything else.
Hosts are requested to embed this theme into their chosen topic or activity. The theme does not change what a host intends to do and is not compulsory. In a time of polarisation exasperated by social media, the theme might assist in revealing new avenues to developing meaningful connections through an online setting.
By the end of Season 3, we may understand more about how online connections extend into a real-world environment.
The previous Discussion Festivals have highlighted the potential for real-world relationships to blossom out of online connections. Relationships here are different to meeting a person through a dating site. On dating sites, the sole intention is to find a meaningful, often romantic, connection. For the Discussion Festival, people were joining for a myriad of reasons, only one possibly being to meet someone romanticly.
Screenshot from Discussion Festival 026, tables had different topics, began at various times and guests moved freely between each table as they pleased.
People do develop relationships through Zoom-type online platforms. However, these connections are generally managed, to some degree, in advance; the Zoom organiser directs proceedings. The Discussion Festivals have been much freer. Visitors wander around without hindrance and drop in on topics that have some appeal. Organic conversations emerge with connections forming.
Random selection of tables from Discussion Festival Season One and Season Two
Building real-world relationships
The evidence to claim firm real-world connections have developed out of the previous Discussion Festival seasons is soft. Season 3 is to gather more concrete examples of new firm relationships forming.
This evidence will feed into the new Fourth Portal real-world location, due to open in 2023. In the meantime, we will continue to develop how visitors to the real-world Fourth Portal and our virtual Lucia House can have a seamless hybrid experience.
Writing the paradigm
The evaluation process of season 3 will draw upon work by Professor. John Wood (Goldsmiths, University of London), particularly his work on mapping paradigms.
We will be looking beyond human-to-human relationships. What factors trigger people to make a connection? How do these connections move on to become a meaningful relationships or not? What role does the relationship between people and pets, people and objects, objects and the environment, environment and mood, mood and decision-making, and decision-making and language all have in forming a meaningful connection?
What people say
Click here to find out what hosts and visitors thought of Discussion Festival seasons one and two by clicking here.
Want to host?
Discussion Festival Season 3 runs throughout January and into February 2023 and is free to host and visit.
We have a new venue, our homegrown Fourth Portal Lucia House, built by John Kozak, Val Wardlaw and the wider Lucia collective. It is very different to the previous Discussion Festival space and will offer more opportunities for random conversations and connections to form. Check out the 28 rooms now available, with more coming soon.
The Mind Room was the unexpected star of the Fourth Portal stage 2 testing. Exhibited on the walls were paintings by Kevin Gavaghan. In this 15-minute video, Kevin speaks candidly about his mental health struggles and discusses the relief painting can bring and why visitors engaged as they did with the Mind Room.
Window to an inner emotion
When asked why people open up so quickly about their mental health issues on entering the mind room, artist Kevin Gavaghan responded, ‘because it probably opens a window to their own inner emotions.’
Kevin has been asked by the Wellcome Trust to write a piece on his work for an upcoming issue of their magazine. This piece will expand on the motivations of the work and the varied reactions of the viewer.
Watch Kevin Gavaghan discuss his work
Artist Kevin Gavaghan discussing the Mind Room with Fourth Portal’s John McKiernan
Mind Room Surprise
The purpose of the Mind Room was to introduce some freely available technologies that can have a positive impact on people suffering from mental health issues.
The success of the Mind Room was the biggest surprise during test 2 of the Fourth Portal popup in Great Yarmouth. It was composed to experiment with ideas that might initiate conversations around mental health issues without being too direct. In designing the Mind Room, it was essential to create a sense of relaxation while gently challenging visitors. Displayed on the walls were a series of paintings by artist Kevin Gavaghan. Kevin suffers from Tourettes Tics, anxiety and an acute eye issue that causes vision distortion. In the video, Kevin discusses his conditions and how he embraces them in his art.
The paintings resonated with people of all ages. NHS employees and mental health practitioners commented on how the Mind Room could benefit clients and the potential for it to expand. People who had suffered a mental health episode told of how they could relate directly with the artist through the paintings. We had a number of returning customers who had received an ADHD diagnosis. They found the space calming. The most surprising reactions were from people not presenting any mental health issues or having any diagnoses but who shared quite personal information about themselves within moments of walking into the Mind Room. Although these conversations cannot be documented for obvious reasons, they did boost the scope of what technologies can be included in future Mind Rooms.
Future Mind Rooms
The intention of the Mind Room was to host a number of technologies focused on the mind. Time constraints and internet infrastructure issues restricted the ability to install the first series of apps. In hindsight, this may prove beneficial, as we now have a better insight into the range of challenges people face in daily life. Discussions on how best to embed this learning from test 2 into future Fourth Portal Mind Rooms have begun.
More about the video
This video was filmed in one take on an iPhone14pro, with no editing, by John McKiernan, Founder of the Fourth Portal. Narrator: John McKiernan Interviewee: Kevin Gavaghan Recorded at the Fourth Portal, 2 Stonecutters Way, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, England
The feedback from people visiting the Fourth Portal in Great Yarmouth has surpassed expectations. This second test stage focused on whether the real-world layout would stimulate conversations on the likelihood of technology improving people’s lives and reducing human impact on the planet.
Stage 2 complete
The second test stage of the Fourth Portal ended on Sunday, 4 December 2022. We began to ask visitors to share their thoughts on camera. The comments were almost universal in recognising a need for such spaces where in-depth conversation and understanding of technological change can occur.
The following is a selection of videos recorded in the last weeks of November 2022 and photos of customers throughout the two test periods. A write-up on test two and the next stages will follow.
Future of the High Street
Keith and Paul from Birmingham came into the Fourth Portal with their partners on the last weekend of test two. Paul declared that it was the future of the High Street. Keith stated he was ‘gutted’ at the closing, as it was the kind of place he adores. Along with his partner, Keith moved to live in Great Yarmouth two months previously. Paul and his partner were visiting for the weekend. (Film: 40sec)
Keith and Paul from Birmingham define the Fourth Portal as the future of the High Street (40sec)
The word gutted was used by many visitors when hearing that the Fourth Portal test was coming to an end. Jaye and her sister stumbled on the Fourth Portal and became hooked on the coffee. As a qualified mental health practitioner, she found the Mind Room fascinating and recommended Fourth Portal to colleagues, who also began to visit. (Film: 35sec)
Jaye reflecting on the end of test two of the Fourth Portal
Understanding the concept
Both Fourth Portal test sessions confirmed the art interventionist approach and layout works. Developed by Platform-7 Events, the method involves creating intrigue and curiosity. It can often be difficult to attract people into any building unless the person has entered previously – tempting people over the threshold is why shop windows play such an important role in retail. The Fourth Portal was not in a retail space and only had small domestic sash windows. To be inviting for people of all ages and backgrounds is a vital component of the Fourth Portal. Without actually walking through the door, understanding the concept can be mystifying. In this video, JP came in with his wife and provides an insight into how most people enter an unfamiliar space. (Film: 1m:45sec)
Long time Great Yarmouth resident JP reflecting on the Fourth Portal
Sharon and Brian began regularly returning to the Fourth Portal. The video captures how the layout draws in visitors and develops the conversation around technology and lifestyles. (Film: 1m:15sec)
Sharon and Brian discuss their attraction to Fourth Portal and the end of test two.
Visitors Emma and Phil met while in the Fourth Portal. Emma moved to Great Yarmouth to create a business – Airbnb and artspace within her home on the seafront. Phil was born in Great Yarmouth and is embarking on a history degree. Emma and Phil discuss the attraction of the Fourth Portal and why such spaces are vital for the town. (Film: 10min)
Phil and Emma discuss why Fourth Portal is needed in Great Yarmouth
Engineering the future
A Norwegian choir came to Great Yarmouth during the last weekend. Three members found their way to the Fourth Portal on Friday, returning on Sunday. Four of the choir, who are professional engineers agreed to be interviewed. The men were struck by the power of the Fourth Portal to bring different people together to create new ideas, businesses and solutions. While in the Fourth Portal, they observed how the space attracted a diverse customer base. The interview touches on how technology should solve some of the climate issues and why humans need to change their behaviour. (17m:55s)
Norwegian engineers discuss the importance of space like Fourth Portal and technological advances in the fight against climate change (17m:55s)
Stage two testing was to ascertain how people would engage in an unfamiliar concept and whether the objects would stimulate conversation around new technology. What surprised us was the breadth of people engaging, and across all age ranges. We will be taking this learning into our (online only) stage three testing and then into a new real-world site in early 2023.
The first real-world hybrid live event using the developing Lucia House online platform took place at the Fourth Portal. Four years in development, the event highlighted the challenges of merging virtual and physical spaces.
The Fourth Portal was, from the beginning, envisaged as a hybrid working and social space. A place where a person can sit at a table and meet others in the virtual and the real world. Hybrid meetings in public settings will become normalised and the experience seamless. Fourth Portal is at the cutting edge of developing such spaces. On 4th November 2022, we curated our first live test event.
Lucia House is a four-floor virtual home developed by the Lucia Collective in response to the first pandemic lockdown. The Lucia Collective is a loose gathering of programmers, engineers, mathematicians, philosophers and visual artists.
The Lucia Collective came together with Fourth Portal via Platform-7’s Discussion Festival events. The Discussion Festival was a weekly open-house occasion. Visitors moved about, without hindrance, between virtual tables hosted by experts on various topics. Engagement in a virtual environment is different to being in a real-world occasion. These evenings sought to observe how people interacted, moved about and communicated in virtual space when undirected. The learning feeds into the design parameters of the Fourth Portal and the online equivalent.
Open-mic poetry evening
The open-mic poetry event was on a Friday evening, hosted by Platform-7’s Bristol-based poet, Isabel White. A mixture of local poets and non-poets came along. Online were members of the Lucia Collective and other guests, including poet Andrew Duncan with his Ai nomenclature, R Andru Dunkn (a homage to Asimov robot stories).
Poetry host, Isabel White and local Poets Jason Parr and Clare Currie
Lucia House’s virtual theatre beamed into the Fourth Portal via WiFi. Surround sound provided an immersive feeling inside the space. For guests in the room, the event was a new kind of experience. Although most people were familiar with Zoom, the Lucia House’s eclectic virtual furnishing and moving face tiles were unexpected.
There was no wide-angle projection of the Lucia House floorplan in the venue. This meant the layout was unclear for those in attendance to understand how the theatre was part of a much larger online environment. The Fourth Portal is awaiting the installation of a dedicated 1Gb fibre cable, leaving the event operating on a slightly erratic internet connection. Occasional weak signals caused breakdowns in the audio, leading to some chatter coming from the online guests while the real-world poets performed. The venue arrangement meant the performer could not see the online guests. In response, poets would move out of the camera shot to view the online audience, who then could not see the poet.
A simple website front page asked for a name and email address to gain free online entry to the event. A link was posted to Facebook and Instagram. As the event was due to go live, it became apparent that the Facebook link would not work. Post-event investigation discovered the issue; Facebook attribution parameters stop logged-in users from reaching the webpage. A solution, found via Seb’s IT blog, will be implemented for the next event.
The affected application would return a 404 The requested URL was not found on this server message when accessed from logged in facebook users. That is because the link facebook presents to its users contains their fbclid URL parameter:
Internet connection issues aside, the online visitors who did find their way had a reasonably smooth experience. With no cameras facing the real-world audience, online guests felt denied the opportunity to feel fully involved in the real-world venue.
In between the poetry performed by humans, the audience was treated to some poetry from an AI. Created by John K, from the Lucia Collective, the AI constructed its poetry by scanning the works of poet Alan Duncan. The poem was somewhat odd and caused unintended amusement in places, however, the audience was reasonably impressed by the poem recited. (Can an AI recite? One of the many debates yet to be had!)
R Andru Dunkn, Ai. performs reconstructed works of poet, Alan Duncan
The hybrid open-mic poetry night was a culmination of many years of work. The evening felt momentous for us involved in developing the Fourth Portal and Lucia House. Bringing together a real-world audience with a virtual audience was a milestone. It was all done in proper DIY style. The virtual and physical spaces are cobbled together using hanging cables, available kits and, of course, the ubiquitous old ladder.
During the first half, the poets were a little disorientated by the experience, as were some of the real-world audience. The second half was more relaxed and people became accustomed.
For the team, plenty of learning was gleaned, which will feed into the next event on 2nd December 2022.
Was the hybrid open-mic night a World’s first? Probably not! However, not many hybrid open-mic poetry nights can claim poems performed by an artificial intelligence performer.
Fourth Portal Hybrid Open-Mic Night
Friday, 2nd December 2022, 7pm – 9pm, UK time (19:00-21:00 BST)
To attend the real world event: Fourth Portal, 2 Stonecutters Way, Great Yarmouth, England, NR30 1HF
The picture appears bleak for the Future of Work. That’s the impression taken away from the All Party Parliamentary Group on Ai. The session involved legislators hearing evidence on the impact of Ai on workers. Protecting worker rights while not stifling innovation is a priority. With an increasingly global workforce from which employers can choose, it is a complex balancing act.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Ai brings together world leaders & global decision-makers. Its remit is to address the economic, social and ethical implications of developing and implementing Artificial Intelligence. (including machine learning, natural language understanding, automated reasoning, autonomous systems etc.).
Ai will impact every aspect of work in some form. One area that is causing great concern is the gig economy.
The gig economy is where workers are paid for each individual “gig” they accomplish. A gig can range from food delivery to driving a vehicle to typing some code. Workers are paid by the job rather than by day or by the hour.
4.4m people work in the gig economy in some form in the UK, according to the Trade Union Congress. The gig economy is growing fast, with new online platforms bringing more services to market that require gig hirelings.
Gigification of work
Prof. Ashley Braganza (Brunel) sees a world moving increasingly towards the ‘gigification’ of work. He assesses that online platforms are taking a Taylorism approach. Jobs are being salami sliced into smaller components so they can then be automated or reduced to simple menial tasks. The salami slicing does not reduce the workload, only makes the role more defined.
Why is the gig economy different to temping or fruit picking?
The difference between gig workers of the past and now is the facelessness of the employer. The employee rarely meets the employer. The industry is a Wild West, says Anna Thomas, Co-Founder & Director of the Institute for the Future of Work. Pay is low, with 2 in 3 earning less than £4ph. Time spent on a platform chasing new work is not included when calculating the average pay. Too many of the jobs the platforms provide are repetitive. Unpaid tasks run at 30%. Communicating with clients is not the only issue. Meeting other workers is equally difficult, if not impossible.
Charles Barry. British architect best known for his role in the rebuilding of the Palace of Westminster. Architecture is one industry seeing a rapid rise in the use of gig workers for more mundane tasks.
Microwork and Piece wage task work
Microwork is a series of many small tasks which together comprise a large unified project, and it is completed by many people over the Internet.  Microwork is considered the smallest unit of work in a virtual assembly line. It is most often used to describe tasks for which no efficient algorithm has been devised, and requires human intelligence to complete reliably. Wikipedia
‘Piece work is any type of employment in which a worker is paid a fixed piece rate for each unit produced or action performed, regardless of time.’ Wikipedia
How is AI impacting the real economy?
Workers have lost control of the hours they work. Social inequality is being exacerbated, particularly among women. Opaque policies of the online platforms make it difficult for workers and regulators to ensure fair practice.
There is a tricky balance for policymakers. Without an international agreement, legislators are limited in what regulations they can implement. If regulations become too stringent, citizens in that country may find certain jobs that will not be available to them.
Standard definitions for gig workers/gig work.
Organisation change their processes to smooth income understanding
Micro Workers should be paid minimum wage
Finder’s fee paid
Pre-tasked tests should be paid for.
Cori Crider, Co-Founder, of Foxglove says to ‘make algorithms fair and take legal action when they are not. There is real-world hurt to individual workers.’
A new type of work and social space is emerging that is both local and virtually global. Fourth Portal is at the forefront in developing these spaces with a live test site in the Norfolk seaside town of Great Yarmouth.
We are in the ‘Amazonia Era’. The instinct would be to look back to the legislative response to Taylorism. The difference is that Ai is not a man in a white coat doing the monitoring; it is a machine. It could be regarded as the ultimate Fordarism – there is almost no escape.
And it’s not only in the gig economy. Close monitoring occurs in 8 of 10 large companies in the US, where boss work-watching technology has been implemented. On the present trajectory, job engagement is likely to fall.
Legislators will remain behind the curve when it comes to the gig economy. The pace of technological change and the demands of businesses and consumers will drive further platform innovation. With innovation will come new types of gig employment.
In response, a new type of work and social spaces will emerge that will exist locally and globally in the virtual world. These new spaces will seek to accommodate the change in how people wish to work, particularly since the pandemic. In turn, they will force other areas of legislation to catch up, with tax and finance being a priority.
Fourth Portal is at the forefront of creating such hybrid spaces where people can flip between different work roles, social interaction and retail experiences. The APPGai panel made clear the world of work faces major challenges from the growing gig economy. On the flip side, there are also incredible opportunities; especially for those who want to change the direction of their life and achieve a balanced work, social and family.
The Future of Work APPGas took place on Monday 18 October 2022 at the Houses of Parliament, London.
Gita Shivarattan, Head of Data Protection Law Services, EY UK
Cori Crider, co-Founder, Foxglove
Anna Thomas, co-Founder & Director, Institute for the Future of Work
Prof. Ashley Braganza, Professor of Business Transformation, Brunel University London
Neil Ross, Associate Director – Policy, TechUK
About APPGai and secretariat
The APPG AI was set up in January 2017 to address ethical issues and new industry norms for applying Artificial Intelligence (AI), including machine learning, decision making, natural language understanding, automated reasoning and autonomous systems.
Without being too technical, we will try to understand how AI will impact the lives of UK citizens and organisations, and subsequently, how should it be regulated? How will health, energy, insurance, consulting, financial, legal and knowledge-intensive business services be traded? How should the new business models be regulated, and what about the data? There is a lot to explore and evidence is key for regulation and policy. The APPG AI is co-chaired by Stephen Metcalfe MP (Conservative) and Lord Clement-Jones CBE (Liberal Democrat). The Group Officers are Chris Green MP, The Right Reverend Doctor Steven Croft, Baroness Kramer, Lord Janvrin, Lord Broers, Mark Hendrick MP and Carol Monaghan MP. Big Innovation Centre was appointed as the APPG AI Secretariat.
All-Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs) are informal, cross-party groups formed by MPs and Members of the House of Lords who share a common interest in a particular policy area, region or country. APPGs have no official status within Parliament.
Stage two of the Fourth Portal testing has begun in Great Yarmouth. It will introduce the hybrid LiftPod, developing the provenance system and other technologies.
Stage one focused on opening a physical Fourth Portal in a former Citizens Advice Bureau. The goal was to gauge public reaction and inform the Platform-7 network. As expected, we hit problems that all new businesses face when starting up. We fell behind on bringing in the technologies we wanted to sample and need a second testing period. Read TEST HUB for more on stage one.
Stage two testing
Stage two runs throughout October and November 2022, Monday to Friday, 11am-6pm. There will be occasional Saturday openings and evening events. Free WiFi and an internal network allow visitors to surf the internet and work offline.
The main goal for stage two is to set up our in-house technologies. Showing various apps and raising awareness of the Fourth Portal will also be a priority.
The Lucia Collective developed a four-floor virtual house in 2020. With pandemic lockdowns, the online house became a meeting point for friends. The fun 2D space has simple keyboard commands to move around and resembles early video games.
Around the same time, Platform-7 was running the online Discussion Festival. The weekly event sought to understand how people move around unaided during an online event.
Conversations developed between Lucia Collective and Platform-7 on the future of hybrid events. These conversations have led to the development of a hybrid arm of the Fourth Portal. The LiftPod is our first real-world experiment.
Graham Klyne developed his linked data tool as part of the Fusing Audio and Semantic Technology (FAST) programme. Platform-7 was working on presenting FAST to the music industry at Abbey Road Studios.
Discussions began on using linked data as a form of provenance system. Provenance is the ability to know the history of a product or object. Fourth Portal is creating ‘In The Frame’ (ITF) to test some ideas. Framed photos of people who changed the course of history will be on display. These photos will have an identifier that a mobile phone can read. This identifier will open and provide information about the person in the frame.
The basics of linked data are not very complicated. The challenge lies in the classification of information. This is important, as it partly underpins AI and Machine Learning. See THE SEMANTIC WEB for more.
Great Yarmouth suffers from deprivation and low educational attainment. A benefit of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is the availability of assistive apps. Such apps are widely available and often have a free element. This provides an opportunity for people to improve their life chances through self-help. Apps can assist in helping to improve reading to way-finding for those with a disability.
A selection of apps will be on display with visitors urged to try them and see if they are of benefit.
Art and creativity
Understanding creativity through the lens of art is an established method. Peter Rodulfo and Kevin Gavaghan are the two artists exhibiting this autumn. Technologies relating to the artists’ work will be displayed alongside the paintings.
Raising the profile
Stage two will begin the process of raising the profile of the Fourth Portal. Low-key publicity, live events and future blog posts will introduce the business. Feedback from visitors will prove vital to the development of the business model.
The Fourth Portal is a business model of the future. It is complicated as it brings together elements that are often separate. Retail, work, learning and social all mix within the same space. For a public unused to such an experience, the place may cause confusion. Stage two is to understand how to ensure people are comfortable coming in. What encourages them to stay and what causes them to leave? It is all part of an enjoyable learning process.
We have now completed our 6-week Fourth Portal popup test in Great Yarmouth. The reaction has been positive despite not completing all the tasks we set ourselves. Testing the business model will extend for two further months over autumn 2022.
We began implementing the Fourth Portal business plan at the beginning of August 2022. Without fanfare, the doors opened to an unexpecting public. The erection of a temporary banner above the entrance announced our presence. The wider world was made aware through a small number of social media posts. It was an intentionally low-key affair.
There is a large team feeding into the Fourth Portal concept. Lauren Lapidge, a Platform-7 colleague, flew in from Greece for two months to help set up the popup. Lauren has years of experience in events and public interventions. She has worked on several Platform-7 interventions, including Margate 2011. We began setting up the physical space and liaising with the broader team and suppliers.
Much of the team is remote. We have technicians, technologists, engineers, artists, academics, researchers, builders and retail specialists. It’s incredible to have such impressive expertise feeding into the business.
Developing the space
The business plan describes the physical space of the hub. It is geared to ensure flexibility while providing some consistency. Each Fourth Portal requires its own identity while sharing a similar vibe. Writing this on paper is one thing, developing the physical space is quite another. Only when people enter is it possible to know if the plan is on the right track.
The feedback from people who have wandered in has been excellent. The interventionist approach developed by Platform-7 is proving successful. It provides a sense of involvement for visitors and gives them a voice in how the space develops. People’s views are listened to and taken into account. These conversations often furnish a sense of ownership and belonging from the outset. It is real-time feedback.
Blending Cafe, Retail and Technology
The 6-week test period was to try out different strands of the business model. Having a physical space allows the wider network to see what a Fourth Portal looks and feels like in reality.
Bringing different experiences and services together under one roof is not unique. It’s commonplace to see cafes, retail and workshops in one place. The difference with Fourth Portal is adding technology, arts and learning to the offer.
The positive public reaction was a bit of a surprise if being honest. The space was not much more than a building site when opening and was still not tidy by the end of the 6-weeks. People seeing the space change each day generated intrigue. It attracted people who would otherwise not have noticed. With the gloomy political and economic climate, the popup brought a sense of positive change and fun.
Suppliers, furnishing, and art
Since Brexit and the pandemic, supply chains are under strain. Reestablishing relationships with previous suppliers and building new relationships was a priority. Observing the reaction to the eclectic furnishing was important learning. Hanging artworks to create a stimulus, as well as having them for sale, has proved popular.
Our hardware guru, James Stevens managed to secure an internet connection while we wait for an optical fibre internet connection to be installed. He also brought a raspberry pie for the internal network. Lauren spent several days preparing this for visitors to use. We did not manage to test our provenance system or the hybrid space; both are the priority for stage two. Building the structure to surround the tech took precedent and longer than expected.
Shifting from a business plan on paper to real-world testing provides excellent insights. Throughout the popup test stage, we had building issues (no power), sickness and supplier delays. Such issues help build resilience. It allows for robust systems to be established in the future business model. When operating at capacity, it becomes difficult to adapt processes within a business.
The fourth Portal is novel, making it a complicated business model.
Each Fourth Portal needs to be sympathetic to the neighbourhood where it’s located. The local community needs to be intrigued, feel welcomed and know the business is for them. Over this first test period, we appear to have achieved this in Great Yarmouth.
Although we did not complete all the tasks we set ourselves, we did get the place open and operational. Feedback from the people coming in has been invaluable. The reaction has given a boost to what is possible and how the Fourth Portal can grow. Generating income in a town suffering deprivation remains a challenge.
Stage two is focused on installing technologies and making the business financially sustainable. Creating a sustainable business in Great Yarmouth may encourage others to open up in the town.
Also, see other Haphazard posts of the journey to creating the Fourth Portal.
It is three years since the outbreak of COVID-19. Discussions have turned to what the post-pandemic world may look like. Technology is at the forefront. Lost within the debates has been the importance of public space. As the world goes virtual, real-world gathering places will become the hot issue.
The internet will be 40 years old on 1 January 2023. It allows the creation of a virtual world almost unimaginable 50 years ago. The World Wide Web (www.) became available 10-years later. How much harder would the pandemic have been without the web?
The internet has become an extension of everyday life. It allows mass connectivity. People communicate through an array of online mediums. Social media chat has overtaken voice calls as the communication tool of choice for the young. WhatsApp and Signal have relegated the use of email in business. The email itself replaced the printed document, the business mainstay for centuries. 
Business meetings seemed unaffected by the internet. People in business still preferred to meet in person and sit around tables. The pandemic called a halt to these face to face meetings, except in specific circumstances. The rise of Zoom and other video technologies began in earnest. Ways of doing business changed and will not be returning to how it was.
The loss of workplace meetings has caused a widespread disruption within firms. Work meetings are now more likely online than one-to-one. It cuts off a source for meeting new people, social interaction and serendipity. For some working people, it has also reduced personal contact more generally.
These changes are not only taking place in offices. Automatic checkout in supermarkets removes this most mundane of interactions. Maybe not something missed for those with busy lives. For those alone, the shop cashier may be the only human interaction that day. 
The pandemic has sped up the automation of everyday life.
Doctors appointments by video link are becoming a norm. Banks close down branches, forcing people online. Buying insurance, holiday or toothpaste from an algorithm is as likely as a person.
Even in construction, the rise of efficient technologies, such as 3D printing, will reduce the requirements for human teams.
There are fewer reasons to meet in person for a non-social purpose.
Despite global connectivity, there is an increase in isolation and dis-association. Workplace reliance on providing social interaction has diminished. Workers are finding difficulty transitioning to a virtual world. Online activities only please certain aspects of emotional fulfilment. Humans are social creatures, by and large, and demand social contact.
The workplace for the majority will not be returning to how it was pre-pandemic. The impact will go beyond how people work each day. Social interaction at work will become unrecognisable from previous decades. New ways of working are emerging. However, new forms of social contact have not yet materialised.
Public spaces will need to adapt to fill the social void left by virtual working. Some parts will be picked up by the private sector. Work hubs, cafes and a redefined retail sector will fulfil some needs for people who can pay. The rest will require open, free to access public gathering spaces, like the old town square. 
The pandemic has brought into sharp focus the two-tier society existing in England. As financial disparity widens, so does access to the internet and public space.
Without paying for broadband, fast access to knowledge, easily accessible to others, is denied. Only those who can afford monthly contracts have access to unlimited mobile data.
The same is happening in public spaces. Even when public facilities with cafes are accessible, the inability to buy coffee can still create a barrier.
England requires a bridge between commercialised and non-income generating public spaces.
Extremes of English public spaces: Granary Square, London Kings Cross and a public square in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk
In England, it’s the market that has presided over the public sphere through recent generations. The High Street is the most obvious. Privatisation of squares and whole streets is not a new phenomenon in England. The pace of privatisation is the real cause for concern.
Privatised space often comes with restrictions on who can use it. The right of all citizens to assemble regardless of wealth or age has become more restrictive. Public places not reliant on enterprise are often left neglected. The online world is seeing similar barriers. Barriers risk alienating people and furthering polarisation.
Public space has to be redefined in England. Urban design should follow the templates of European neighbours like Spain, where people are the starting point, not commerce.  
With workplace socialisation in decline, a rethinking of public spaces has become essential.