Note — Feb 23, 2020

The Personified City

Seen in → No.114

Source →

Matthew Stewart at Real Life proposing that we’ve always tried to direct and form cities according to some higher idea or purpose: God, geometry, economic efficiency, building “machines for living,” and now smart cities and AIs.

Proponents of the top down approach are now trying to bring about a city where everything is controlled, for the “city to act as a ‘big Other,’ onto whom responsibilities and blame can be projected, freeing individuals from conflict or guilt over outcomes.” The same kind of thing happens with governments and police where implementations of AI quickly become “well the algorithm did it,” as if it’s some kind of ur decider above and beyond elected officials. Thus trying to move citizens from being able (hopefully) to enact change through actions and votes, to making them users overseen by a formula they don’t get to chose or change.

Could this blind faith in the city as a god-machine amount to a contemporary myth of transcendence, where Big Tech, aided and abetted by the media, consultancy firms, and politicians, offer us a new deity to worship? […]

Ultimately it is fixated on the now and datafying what currently exists. In such systems, the role of administrators and bureaucrats is purportedly replaced by implementations of artificial intelligence and data-gathering sensors of all kinds. […]

Calling cities “smart” not only means granting them consciousness; it entails depicting them as a kind of life form that citizens are living within, as though it were giant womb they can crawl into. […]

Smart city rhetoric attempts to circumvent such conflicts, positing an all-knowing machine as a fair and unbiased arbiter, capable of bypassing debate to automatically impose the correct response to any emerging disputes.

More → Just this past week, an excellent example of “the algorithm did it”: Algorithm Bars Forensic Architecture’s Eyal Weizman From U.S.