Detroit may spend Covid relief funds on ineffective and discriminatory public safety smart tech

The Intercept reports that the city of Detroit is on the brink of deciding whether to divert some $7 million of federal money on ShotSpotter, a controversial surveillance technology that uses publicly installed microphones to detect gunshots in cities. This seems to be yet another case of public money reserved for helping the needy is actually ending up in the pockets of private companies that sell ‘smart city’ promises: “ShotSpotter explicitly urges cities to tap funds from the American Rescue Plan Act, intended to salve financial hardship caused by the pandemic, to buy new surveillance microphones.” “Billions in Covid aid […] Read More

Self-driving cars and differences between mobility privilege

The Verge writes about the difference between US and EU policy and regulation concerning self-driving cars. It’s a well-known theme: new technologies both reflect and perpetuate existing socio-cultural practices. In the US the default is driving, in the EU walking is more common. One of the recurrent questions with all ‘smart tech’ therefore is: Who has the right to the city? Without any regulations, new ‘smart’ tech tend to further exacerbate the power and privilege differentials between pedestrians and car drivers. “Unlike their European peers, American car regulators do not require — or even offer — any kind of safety […] Read More

Observing the backstage behavior of influencers in public spaces with cameras

Vice had an interesting short article about Belgian artist Dries Depoorter’s new project “The Follower”. The project “combines AI, open access cameras, and influencers to show behind the scenes of viral shots—without them knowing.” What i find interesting about this is how ‘smart tech’ like surveillance cameras in urban public spaces can be used for artistic purposes, in this case to reveal something about the tension between frontage and backstage behavior of online influencers who use the city as a backdrop. “Depoorter recorded weeks of footage from open access cameras, which observe public spaces, and which frequently have livestreams available […] Read More

Smart cities in the global south: facial recognition in Delhi

Wired has an article on the pervasive use of facial recognition software in New Delhi, and it’s astonishingly low accuracy rate of 80%. This could lead to new types of exclusionary practices in today’s “smart cities”: Anushka Jain, associate policy counsel for surveillance and technology with the IFF, who filed for this information, observes: “This could lead to harassment of the individual just because the technology is saying that they look similar to the person the police are looking for.” She added that this move by the Delhi Police could also result in harassment of people from communities that have […] Read More

On the materiality of cloud computing

Aeon has a great essay written by ‘cloud anthropologist’ Steven Gonzalez Monserrate (awesome title). The essay describes various ways in which cloud computing is entangled with the physical and material world. Using ethnographic methods, the author highlights several themes that connect the supposedly ephemeral ‘placeless’ realm of cloud computing to situated and embodied contexts. [There used to be an image here that was © Reuters for which I received a takedown notice] On theme is the sensorial and visceral ways of knowing when something is going wrong. Workers in a Boston data center can pick up subtle changes in airflow […] Read More

On ‘smart mobility’ and inequality

Vox has a write-up and author interview on a new book about the ways techbros envision the future of transportation: “Silicon Valley is wrong about the future of transportation” But the car’s rise to dominance was anything but predestined, as Paris Marx argues in their new book, Road to Nowhere: What Silicon Valley Gets Wrong about the Future of Transportation. Marx — a writer and podcast host who critiques tech, media, and cities — explores how local governments and corporations mobilized to have cities accommodate cars, leading to an inextricable dependence on them. Today, Silicon Valley tech companies are getting […] Read More

Imagining walkable cities using AI

Vice Motherboard reports on two recent initiatives that are using the public AI engine DALL-E to visualize what it could mean for cities to prioritize walking over car use. Not surprisingly, these are American initiatives, one of them training cues from Amsterdam. Amateur urban planners are using DALL-E to visualize what cities might look like if they were built for pedestrians and cyclists, instead of cars. Link to article >>

Geospatial search: Instagram’s new map-based interface

The Verge reports on Instagram’s new map interface that allows for geospatial queries on the platform. Interesting to reflect on what kind of places are privileged over others… Also interesting to think of the way this shapes our general outlook onto our (urban) environment in terms of commodified spaces. URL: Instagram’s latest update aims to make it easier for users to find local businesses or attractions by adding a searchable map that lets you “discover popular local businesses near you,” according to an Instagram Story from Mark Zuckerberg. The map will show you a list of places nearby and […] Read More

Hybrid cities: when old and new infrastructures intersect

Cities of the future reports on British Railways investing quite heavily in sensors and other forms of data collection, and AI machine learning to monitor, predict and (preemptively) respond to any potential mishaps on the tracks. Although by no means a new observation – in fact fairly obvious by now – i nonetheless find it interesting to learn about these kinds of hybrid infrastructural practices where the worlds of atoms and bits collide (dixit William Mitchell). UK Railroads Invest in Data Science, AI, and Machine Learning The oldest rail network in the world, with over 32,000 km. of track, is […] Read More

Platform cooperatives in urban mobility

I realize that up to now most of the news items i’ve reposted speak about digital tech as a threat to urban public life as we know it. Or – perhaps more accurately – we tend to judge new urban media tech in retrospect, through lenses tainted in nostalgia for an ideal type urban society that never really was, or at least not for everybody. Therefore, i wanted to also repost an item from Wired that strikes a more optimistic tone, on co-ops in the so-called ‘sharing economy’. I am not convinced this is the answer to exploitative labor and […] Read More

(Smart) urban design and the use of public spaces

The Conversation has a nice overview article on urban design and lively urban public spaces, mentioning many of the well known names like Jane Jacobs, Jan Gehl, Henri Lefebvre. The reason i think this is interesting, is that – by extension – the same line of argument goes for the design of smart urban technologies: how can we design smart city tech that spawns and fosters lively and inclusive public spaces and rich interactions, instead of impoverishing urban public spaces through what I call the dominant logics of the three Cs: control, commodification, capsularization. When we use public spaces, even […] Read More

Gorillas in the mist: heavy weather ahead for ‘instant delivery platforms’

Wired writes: Quick-delivery empires are crumbling across Europe as investors put an emphasis on profits. It appears that demand for these platforms and services is actually quite low, and does not balance the rapid cash burning for market share strategy of platform startups. The victims, inevitably, are the low paid workers who now have to find another gig. Note also the disparities in legal rights for workers between EU countries … During the pandemic, Gorillas was flush with cash. The company raised almost $1 billion in October, an amount even the company’s CEO, Ka?an Sümer, described as “extraordinary.” But the […] Read More

Another one from MIT tech review: “Toronto wants to kill the smart city forever”

Die smart city, die! >> Had it succeeded, Quayside could have been a proof of concept, establishing a new development model for cities everywhere. It could have demonstrated that the sensor-­laden smart city model embraced in China and the Persian Gulf has a place in more democratic societies. Instead, Sidewalk Labs’ two-and-a-half-year struggle to build a neighborhood “from the internet up” failed to make the case for why anyone might want to live in it. By May 2020, Sidewalk had pulled the plug, citing “the unprecedented economic uncertainty brought on by the covid-19 pandemic.” But that economic uncertainty came at […] Read More

MIT technology review: “we need smarter cities, not smart cities” Well put: A focus on building “smart cities” risks turning cities into technology projects. We talk about “users” rather than people. Monthly and “daily active” numbers instead of residents. Stakeholders and subscribers instead of citizens. This also risks a transactional—and limiting—approach to city improvement, focusing on immediate returns on investment or achievements that can be distilled into KPIs.  Truly smart cities recognize the ambiguity of lives and livelihoods, and they are driven by outcomes beyond the implementation of “solutions.” 

Tracking mobile phone data as anti-abortion instruments

Mother Jones reports: Meet Abortion Bans’ New Best Friend—Your Phone When it comes to reproductive rights, your digital trail matters more than you think. […] As the line between our digital and physical selves fades, surveillance researchers and reproductive rights advocates increasingly see our data as the next big front in the war on abortion. Law enforcement has new tricks to land convictions for miscarriages or post-ban abortions; anti-abortion activists are making sophisticated updates to tried-and-true methods of stalking, harassment, and disinformation.

How front door cameras are jeopardizing the right to not be tracked

The Intercept writes: SEN. ED MARKEY CALLS ON RING TO MAKE ITSELF LESS COP-FRIENDLY In a new letter to Amazon, Markey pushed the company to implement pro-privacy reforms and limit its collaboration with police. …the company has gone to great lengths to foster this symbiotic relationship between camera owner and law enforcement, formally partnering with hundreds of departments, running promotional giveaways, and offering cops special product discounts. I like this part of that letter: “As Ring products capture significant amounts of audio on private and public property adjacent to dwellings with Ring doorbells — including recordings of conversations that people […] Read More

Amsterdam high in Economist smart city ranking

The Economist has published an updated smart city ranking, putting Amsterdam in 2nd place. Digital Cities Index 2022 The Digital Cities Index (DCI) 2022, developed by Economist Impact and supported by NEC, considers four key pillars of digital connectivity, services, culture and sustainability in order to assess the extent and impact of digitisation in a selection of 30 global cities. Read whitepaper?????????????? What are the top ranking cities in 2022? The first iteration of the DCI provides a global ranking of 30 cities based on 17 indicators and 48 sub-indicators.The top-performing cities are Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Beijing, London and Seoul, […] Read More