News & Views

Agency 2030 Debrief: Human Sensing Spaces

by Contagious Contributor

Duane Holland, founder at DH READY and Dr Alastair Moore, deputy director at UCL, share some of the discussions from the fourth installment of AGENCY 2030’s event series around the trend Human Sensing Spaces.

Prof. Andrew Hudson-Smith at UCL’s Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA) and Lewis Robbins, a senior associate strategist at Jack Morton Worldwide discussed how shifts in urban life are the catalyst for bringing more empathy into what we do.


1. Cities are swelling
According to a recent Wired article by 2030 five billion people will surge into cities. This swelling is underscored with US Census news showing New York City has already hit its 2020 population forecast. Urbanisation won’t just have an impact on housing, transport and education, but also our well-being.

2. Cities are becoming “smartified”
Cities are becoming networked just like our homes with upgrades, more connected and more graphed. Prof. Hudson-Smith explained, we’re beginning to get data sets we couldn’t get our hands on before, such as raw brain feeds giving us a sense of how people genuinely feel. From a social science perspective, moving from questionnaires to neural-based work gives a more accurate view of people’s relationship with their cities.


Prof. Hudson-Smith talked about a number of CASA projects exploring a ‘sense of space’, such as using location sensors and portable brainwave headsets to see where people’s stress points in London were and what shops lit up brain activity. Another project explored empathy through religion by connecting a church using an Xbox, hacked candles, projections and movement sensors to rethink how prayers are communicated, shared and visualised.

Robbins explained brands are making headway in this space too by referencing British Airways’ Happiness Blanket, where people were given neuro-headsets to monitor their brain activity and transmit data wirelessly to fibre optic blankets that would glow red if they were anxious or blue if they were calmer. This allowed flight attendants to track emotional responses to food, entertainment and sleep.


Discussions around new layers of data tracking attracted strong debate around ethics, abuse and privacy, showing that tracking is simply one element of a Data Scientist’s future role. Analytics, creative interpretation, and of course empathy, need to be a central part of an emerging hybrid role where behaviour science and creative strategy are critical skills. Robbins identified the roles of ‘Experience Planners & Designers’ as people who can not only carve out insights from big data and be bold enough to make a judgement on it, but also deliver this in a very ‘human’ way to build trust with people and communities.

DH READY and UCL will expand on this in the upcoming academic report. If interested in attending the next AGENCY 2030 event or finding out how we can help with intelligence, innovation and ideas please contact Duane Holland on Tickets are free but limited.