The Erosion of Medical Consent – how technology and medical research impact on agency

Harriet A. Washington, author of ‘Carte Blanche: The Erosion of Medical Consent’ online webinar.

Date: Thu, Apr 22 • 7:00 AM AEST

Book here

TONIGHT Free workshop: A 90 minute introduction to API Management

An art worth your learning.

Tech and the City Calendar | Tech and the City

Choose your own career hacks, Melbourne.

Tech, data, culture, workshops.

Portable Talks: Step away from the app.

“No one wants to participate in daily Turing tests.”- Dennis Mortensen, X.AI


  • In the future, you’ll visit the skill store, rather than the app store.
  • AI bots are analogous to macros. Agents that automate simple tasks. You’ll download them and at some stage, they’ll work like an EA to tell you where you need to be; when and where and be able to rearrange your entire day, week, month and year and those of your family and employees.
  • Chatbots should be declared. Customers should be told they are speaking with a machine.
  • Technology needs some new words.
  • In the future the machine adapts to you.  Not you to the machine.
  • Agents will interface and have unlimited answers. So the questions will matter.

The What

Conversational UI. This means Conversational User interface.

In plain English is means Alexa, or Siri, an agent that you interact with verbally. Like these guys are doing:

The Scots in the elevator asking for level eleven

The Where

On the last day of winter, I venture in a different direction and into the City of Yarra.

Portable is a digital design and technology company, and an example of what my service design friends at Academy Xi referred to as “agency” (no pronoun required.)

Portable tell me that they’re interested in access to justice and various good causes. They have government clients too, which I always find interesting. Today’s talk centres on conversational user interfaces (called conversational UI, or voice activated commands and interactions) and is one of a series of talks that they’ll be hosting.

The next one is this Tuesday at 8:30am.

(Register here if you’re interested)

It will nominally be about infrastructure, but based on a typo that I found in the blurb, I’m really rather hoping that it touches on ‘technoclogy‘.

I’m greeted at the door by a cavoodle called ‘Pepe’, a ragamuffin who proceeds to treat my scarf, coat and fingers as oversize chew toys. Pepe punctuates the meeting with painful half pleas to his handler to be released immediately to at least look at the table with all of the food on it. (Breakfast is complimentary and consists of all kinds of yummy bagel and patissierie goodies that I wasn’t expecting. Much appreciated.)

The Details

I’m not sure what law this is, but for brevity’s sake let’s call it Perton’s law. The law being: ‘that which worked fine in rehearsal, will not work at all, when required to.’

It affects everyone in the cutting edge of technology space, presenting to a live audience ninety nine percent of the time and is directly proportional to the importance you’re placing on creating a good first impression.

The guest speaker is participating via video link from New York.

His name is Dennis Mortensen. The lag in the feed from New York makes Dennis, who is the Chief Executive of a virtual assistant company, seem as though he may himself be a programmed avatar.

Dennis speaks without moving his lips. He also has a Danish accent of the kind sci-fi films like to give to homicidal robot ladies and the generic neatness of every hipster in the tribe.

This is early morning performance art, and I’m not the only one to notice. The illusion that Dennis is Max Headroom incarnate makes at least one other person do a double take.


Dennis’ company, X.AI, is an automated meeting scheduler and/or virtual assistant, that comes in two varieties, Andrew and Amy.

These are personal assistants. The kind that will mean you don’t have to employ an Executive Assistant (which I think underestimates the status symbol having an EA represents,) nor will you personally have to make your own dinner reservations only to be duped into speaking to the restaurant’s bot. (Just like the Google Duplex demonstration, demonstrated.)

Much of Dennis’ presentation covers agents, which he likens to macros, rather than the conversational bits of the interface, which is what I came here to hear about.

Bots will mutely automate a cluster of simple, but cumulatively, time consuming tasks, like scheduling and receipts and renewals. A bit like using auto suggest to fill in an online form or predictive text in an SMS or mobile document.*

Once developed, you’ll be able to install them, run them, and they’ll automate things like bookings, then, at some point, they’ll start speaking to one another, bot to bot and hopefully, be able to automate an entire sequence of events, building on your past choices and decisions.  For example: an entire movie screen play or, less creatively, the flow on effects of a decision to push back a meeting (which is Dennis’ chosen example.)

In the future, your virtual assistant bot/s and the bots that your service providers deploy will communicate and arrange everything from your intial travel, car rental, hotel and insurance to extensions and extra insurance, and the recheduling of other appointments, and auto suggest places of interest that you might like to visit, or restaurants you might like to order from, (although you will still need to physically turn up and experience these in real time with NO setbacks along the way for this to operate at peak efficiency.

I have no words

The day opens with the admission that Artificial intelligence (AI) is “hard to define.”

This is an emerging theme. For the second or third time in as many weeks, I’m struck by thee lack of distinctive words capturing new developments in tech. There’s also a reticence to be definitive about concepts that borders on the incomprehensible.

For example: “ground zero.”

Really… that’s the best you can do?

Also “service redesign.” How can something to self evident be so difficult to define?

I’ve already noticed that this lack of vocabulary is resulting in the regurgitation of the same already borrowed, ill fitting words, to mean their exact opposite. For example: ‘hack’. This can be bad, as in “my account was hacked” or, it can be positive, because “hacks” are the outcomes of ‘hackathons’).

Dennis refers, without pause, or explanation to “disruption” by which he means an actual old school disruption, although I might not have called it that, back in the day.

Lately ‘disruption’ has been exclusively used in a positive way, when actually, at best it’s ambivalent and traditionally, it’s meant a temporary halt to proceedings.

The kind of disruption that Dennis means includes when a website hangs or the AI misunderstands either you, or your intention. (See the Scots in the elevator sketch for an example of this.)

At an event in July about the deployment of chatbots, one of the speakers, referred to “raw chicken moments.”

(Ghastly, I know, but wait.) A raw chicken moment is extremely relatable. It’s any time when your hands are full and you can’t use them to do things like answer the phone or press play, or speak on the intercom or touch the remote control, because what you’re doing is a bigger priority.

It’s during raw chicken moments that voice commands will come into their own.

I know I would appreciate my phone not ringing or pinging when I’m in the middle of something. Ie I’m having a raw chicken moment. There are times when I wish it would snooze, or mute, but I’m too busy to take the time to manually make it do this.  If I could yell at my phone to go to voicemail, and it would do that, or go to assistant I’d appreciate it. Since I’m already yelling at it to shut up and stop interrupting in my head half the time, we are already more than half way there as far as me adapting is concerned.

First world problems?

One of the big bugs for agency, (as it is for management consultants) is time taken to track billable hours. To combat this opportunity cost, Portable are experimenting with Dennis’ AI agent.

For the record, I’m unclear how this automated bit of kit that, well, schedules meetings, takes less time to record billable hours than the humans whose hours it’s recording, but I do understand that it’s meant to leave said humans more time to work on things that generate income.

I hazard a guess that the bot includes middle ware that can evaluate the diary entry fields: ‘who’ the meeting was with and the duration of said meeting, generating a line item in the bill as a result. I guess that must be how it works…

I question whether the value proposition is so niche that it technically it poses a minimally unviable commercial problem.

in his opening gambit Moretensen relates a familiar tale. All you want to do when you land somewhere is find out where the food is, whether there’s a pool or laundry, and orient yourself.

Instead you wind up in the hotel room having to log in to the wifi, and then download an app and well…

I like that Dennis is against businesses creating in house apps, (especially when a website would do just as well, looking at you and Air BnB and Culture Trip).

I like that he is against the the time, data and phone storage waste that apps represent to a user

As we established earlier in the series, I’m a thin client,low code limited app kinda gal. This is because storage was at a bit of a premium during my recent trip overseas, due to the age of the phones I took with me. I have no time for pig path apps, with bloated code, and the impact they have.


Dennis solution is to install an Alexa in every room, so that as we unpack we can ask questions and multi task, which is great. But. He is also forgetting that hotels have real live concierges, porters and sometimes butlers (thank you Raffles) as well as direct dial in house phones with speaker functions…things that users are already used to using and expect to have access to.

So, he’s missing a trick a bit with that suggestion.

Questions and Answers.

Do we need to know whether the thing on the other end of the line is human or not?

Dennis thinks disclosure is important, but if you’re in any doubt the test to apply is “what can I win and what can I lose?”

This is a test that any reasonable human being interested in doing a good job ought to be asking All. The. Time.

He adss that business is all about trust. People find it weird to be subjected to daily Turing tests, so don’t be weird.

Are we moving towards a post human future?


*Dennis briefly touches on motor vehicle AI and how it “dissappears.” I’m not sure I grasp what he means, but I will say that auto drive presents it’s own unique challenges vis a vis hacking and desirability.  If people liked safe driving we wouldn’t have car culture.

People like status symbols and risk taking. To be robust the business / MVP / user case has to factor human factors in.



LEDs and me. Moduware. Week one




  • Moduware are offering free introductions to programming their tiles
  • MeetUp group meets once a month at WeWork, Collins Street.
  • Coding = language. It’s like writing a long form poem. There’s rules and spelling and syntax and grammar. If you can handle writing, you can code.

The What

My quest to attend as many cool tech events in Melbourne as I can brings me to WeWork, Collins Street, following a mad dash from RMIT Swanston Street, and the ceramics department’s annual auction of student works.

(Incidentally, I won one of the pieces that I bid on. So, it’s been a productive night.)

I’m with a friend, who may be many things, but a coder or programmer are not two of them. I tell him that I don’t really know what to expect from tonight, but a last minute check of the details of my MeetUp suggests that we’ll be sitting this one out, as I was meant to bring a lap top, as well as my smartphone, and we only have our phones.


No biggie.

Alex Chernov is our host and there are three reps from Moduware, all keen to feed us pizza and to chat. One of them, Cato, mentions that he thinks you could eat for free in Melbourne every night, if you wanted to, at events just like this one. I agree, and I will nevermore to wonder whether I’m the only person who suspected this. They absolutely do!

I tell the Moduware crew that I think Melbourne has more, and more interesting, tech events than anywhere else in the world, (although admittedly I didn’t do the tech geek thing in Berlin or London, as I was too busy doing the ‘grown up gap year’ thing, and hanging out with friends I hadn’t seen since I was in my twenties, as though we were still in our twenties.) This left very little room to get to Berlin’s FabLab. I was too busy tracing David Bowie’s footsteps.

I tell them that Menlo Park and San Francisco’s dearth of interesting MeetUps really shocked me, and that it’s not my imagination that my hometown has some cutting edge events, and thoughts, and agendas that I never expected it to have. At least, not in a competitive / comparative sense, As any number of Americans and Europeans pointed out, Melbourne is the arse end of the arse end of the world and ‘so very far away.’


Alex wants to know how much I understand about the subject matter, and I tell him I know more than people give me credit for.

As a middle aged woman, without a tech degree, (thank goodness) I understand the assumption, but we have laws against that kind of bias for a reason. These days I may look like the Mom from ‘The User is My Mom‘ but that belies the reality that I was there when the Privacy Act was a bill being read in the Parliament (the legislative equivalent of being a twinkle in your Dad’s eye) and I’m an expert in electronic transactions in ANZ.  Not to mention, that I influenced HL7 messaging and ePrescribing globally and am likely the reason that  you can even debate whether to opt in or out because that isn’t how it was originally going to be.  To show I don’t need to resort to irrelevant boasting, I mention that I taught myself HTML when MySpace was a thing. So, there’s that.

My credentials are dead set bona fide, but my colleague’s are doubtful.  I let them know that we are fine with just looking over someone’s shoulder thanks. (If hacking into HTML taught me one thing, it’s that I don’t want to be a coder. I just want to understand how coding happens, in java, and see how this new vertically integrated programmable Scala jewellery works.

Ok, so it’s not wearable. That doesn’t make it a bad analogy…

Tonight’s event is the first in a series designed to foster a Moduware user community in Melbourne.


It’s LED night, and I’m immediately drawn to the ‘disco’ sequence, with my friend about twenty seconds ahead of me in doing the exact same thing.

The lag is caused by his Moduware base unit being on already, and my needing to locate the on switch for mine, which I establish by a process of elimination.

The ‘on’ switch has to be here somewhere…

I press all the bits that look like buttons, before finding a panel the size of a phone nano sim card, that doesn’t really scream ‘pick me’ but proves to be the key to the castle.


I’m in.

Future events will centre on the other tiles that Moduware have developed.

Next month’s will look at the thermostat function, for example, that isn’t a thermometer but can tell ambient and surface temperature, up to a point. (Word of caution. It will melt and isn’t waterproof. So, it has some limitations.)

The breathlyser, digital projector and conferencing tiles; barometer and measurement tool, which I’m told can size up the dimensions of a space, and measure distance, without you needing to get up from your chair sound very promising.

I suggest that if it can do this, then it might be useful to helping one triangulate how best to pocket a billiard ball.  This is met with an eyebrow raise but the theory is not disputed.

I’m urged to go on Github, which I do have a registered account for, but have never accessed.

I’m not sure this it the exact right tipping point for me. I don’t play billiards all that often.

About Moduware

Moduware started life as a simple power pack, and it still serves this purpose. The product evolved from a phone case that proved to be nonviable, due to the rapid fire evolution of smart phone design, and the variety of brands in the market. It’s explained to me that the tiles augment one’s phone with hardware, the way that an application augments the phone’s existing functions with new software.Wireless speakers are the most relatable example of this in real life already.
When we open the packs, I notice that they are all named after Star Trek ships and this impresses Alex. So it should. He mentions that the product intent is to be a tricorder and I can see the potential, although it rather reminds me of a Sony Walkman and that is never a bad thing. (Retro tech is an emerging trend in my GenX opinion. Speaking as someone who collected vinyl in the 90s when everyone was chucking it away. )

The Where

WeWork takes up several levels of 401 Collins Street. It’s a co-working space with locations scattered globally.

I can see why digital nomads might not choose to come to Melbourne, given this prime CBD location. I imagine that cashed up millenial entrepreneurs and people wouldn’t travel to Melbourne if they had to co-work out at Maidstone or Boronia.Ballarat, Bendigo or Macedon might manage to pull it off.

Confusingly, there is no signage in the lobby or the lift telling us how to get to reception, so that’s a bit of a design fail.

When we do get in, (with Moduware’s help,) the look and lay out is uncannily familiar, largely because I spent a month at WeWork’s Medellin location, as part of grown up gap year. It’s dream like in some ways. Everything is here, but in a slightly different place.

WeWork offered free beer on tap in Medellin but only during business hours which I think says a lot about the Colombian work ethic. I don’t ask if they do that in Melbourne, because I don’t drink beer.

On reflection, I’m hard pressed to think of any multi-storey places that would fit the bill in St Kilda or Carlton or Fitzroy, so the CBD may have been the most obvious choice of location. WeWork inhabit nine storeys. About the same number as they did in Colombia. It must be the way we work works.

The Ask

Moduware is hoping to develop a developer community however it’s also conducting market research.

Influencing how tech companies develop new things is right up my alley so I am in my element.

My friend and I are interviewed separately and we are also filmed, responding to questions about whether we would use the tech, how much we would pay and what our ideas are for future developments.

Now you’re talking!

One of the motives behind the blog and this my TechPol renaissance is a quest to understand the future of work and how to influence technology and its ethical development. What better way than to do this than to meet with developers? Or be a developer?

There is a github for this, but on reflection I would like:

  • a casting tool. I mention this because I left my ChromeCast i Lisbon after loaning it to a flat mate and it is still on grown up gap year with the person who was going to get it back to me but prevented from doing this by an erupting volcano.
  • a way to integrate the breathalyser into a key fob to prevent the car from starting as this would mimic and enhance existing tech and a key ring option so that the tile can attach
  • A walkman style belt hook or a wrist watch bracelet so that you can wear your tiles like Scala and be hands free. This would also mean you could wear them through airport security which is a fun way of expanding any luggage allowance.
  • a speech to text function for recording random thoughts, that works like a communicator from Star Trek (TM). by activating a tile attached to the breast by a brooch.

The Sweetener

People who attend a Moduware workshop at WeWork receive a discount code and have the option of picking up their product from the office, thereby saving on the purchase of their Moduware and the shipping.