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This article was published on September 18, 2011

PICNIC: Fun, geeky, exploring the future of mankind

PICNIC: Fun, geeky, exploring the future of mankind
Martin SFP Bryant
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Martin SFP Bryant


Martin Bryant is founder of Big Revolution, where he helps tech companies refine their proposition and positioning, and develops high-qualit Martin Bryant is founder of Big Revolution, where he helps tech companies refine their proposition and positioning, and develops high-quality, compelling content for them. He previously served in several roles at TNW, including Editor-in-Chief. He left the company in April 2016 for pastures new.

Imagine a geekier, more accessible version of the World Economic Forum, where creative minds and talented artists meet with decision makers from governments and large corporations to talk about the future of the world. That’s essentially what the annual PICNIC festival, which took place this week in Amsterdam, sets out to offer.

Based around the theme of ‘Urban Futures’, this year’s PICNIC explored how cities of the future could adapt to deal with a global population set to hit 8 billion by the year 2030. Featuring a broad variety of talks, workshops and activities, a swathe of Amsterdam’s northern docklands were transformed into a temporary ‘city’ for the three day event.

From talks about the Internet of Things, data journalism and the environmental challenges of the future, to demonstrations of cutting edge mobile apps, a hackathon and an exhibition on the potential of nanotechnology, there was little opportunity to get bored. I spoke to Kitty Leering, Program Director at PICNIC, to find out more about the festival.

Taking in everything that PICNIC had to offer this year was far from easy. In this case, photos and video do a far better job of conveying the atmosphere and attitude of the event than mere words.

A view of the PICNIC City from an onsite viewing platform.

While it discusses important topics for the future of mankind, PICNIC has a playful attitude too, as embodied by these women who offered attendees a chance to share their thoughts – on their backs.

Talks covered a huge range of topics, including the Nederland van Boven (Netherlands From Above) project, which combines aerial mapping, data journalism and computer modelling to create visualized, animated stories about how the Netherlands works. One example previewed at the event tracked a ship entering Rotterdam port over 24 hours, as many other ships moved around it, exposing for the public just how busy and important the port there is.

An app developer demos the car parking app his team created as part of the Appsterdam developer network’s three-day hackathon at PICNIC.

The ‘city’ itself wasn’t the only unusual venue – this boat moored at the dockside hosted events including an ‘unconference’ about open data.

Figurerunning involves running with a GPS unit that tracks your movements to create shapes on a map, such as the man who mapped the Google+ logo onto Tokyo. Sadly they appeared to always be out running so I never got to meet the figurerunners themselves.

‘Hypercrafting the Modern Landscape’ saw architects, designers and craftsmen come together to use ancient building techniques and the latest digital fabrication technology to create life-size versions of computer generated designs and 3D-printed prototypes.

This demo of what a ‘Twitter implant’ would be like was part of the NanoSupermarket (more on that below). Placed inside your body, it would gamify your health by tweeting ‘bonuses’ for healthy behavior and alerts for when you’re putting yourself at risk – if it existed.

The NanoSupermarket was one of the most inspiring installations I saw at PICNIC. Presenting the possibilities of nanotechnology in the form of a store for future products, it hammer home the true scope and potential that tech at a microscopic level has for all our lives.

Vodafone Mobile Clicks

My main duty at PICNIC was as a judge for the final of the Vodafone Mobile Clicks contest, which featured mobile app development talent from seven European countries. As we reported on Friday, Tiendatek won the grand prize of €150,000, with a bold project that aimed to provide shopkeepers in the developing world with an Android phone, app and barcode reader device which enabled them to work in a far more cost-effective way with smart inventory management which has never been available to them at an affordable price.

I spoke to Vodafone Developer‘s Sanj Matharu about how this year’s contest, which launched at The Next Web Conference in April, had gone.

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