Amazon Fresh walks out on AI powered grocery shopping

Ars Technica writes about Amazon pulling the plug on its Fresh grocery shopping concept, because it just didn’t work: Just Walk Out was supposed to let customers grab what they wanted from a store and just leave, skipping any kind of checkout process. Amazon wanted to track what customers took with them purely via AI-powered video surveillance; the system just took a phone scan at the door, and shoppers would be billed later via their Amazon accounts. Ars refers to reporting by The Information (paywall) that suggest Amazom was not able to properly train the machine vision AI they should detect […] Read More

NYC AI chatbot speaks in tongues

The Markup reports that Microsoft’s AI chatbot is not sticking to the facts when responding to questions about public seconds like starting a new business or public housing. If you’re a landlord wondering which tenants you have to accept, for example, you might pose a question like, “are buildings required to accept section 8 vouchers?” or “do I have to accept tenants on rental assistance?” In testing by The Markup, the bot said no, landlords do not need to accept these tenants. Except, in New York City, it’s illegal for landlords to discriminate by source of income, with a minor exception for small […] Read More

Tech-fix du jour: AI bike camera alerts cyclists to bad drivers

Ars Technica reports on a AI-powered project for safer cycling. For $ 399.00 USD you get a small 330 gram camera, powered by a Raspberry Pi Compute Module 4, and equipped with “AI-powered predictive analytics” that you can install under your bike saddle. Facing to the rear, it promises to constantly monitor for bad drivers and give off a audible and visible cue when it detects a potentially dangerous situation. It also visibly signals to upcoming drivers that there is a bike ahead. This is the pitch on the website: Copilot is an AI-powered bike light that uses smart sensors […] Read More

Dutch supermarkets using AI surveillance

Dutch tech website Tweakers reports that 110 supermarkets in The Netherlands (ca. 1,7%) have started to use cameras and software made by the French company Veesion to prevent theft and shoplifting. The software analyses customer behavior and claims to be able to detect when people put an item in their pockets. It sends out push notifications to employees when it detects such suspicious behavior. Large supermarket chain Jumbo is considering adoption for the near future for 100s of stores. The software is called “Intelligent anti-shoplifting system”, which the company describes as “gesture-based recognition software”. This AI-based software uses the latest advances in […] Read More

Why do social media algorithms foster genericness?

Under the title “The tyranny of the algorithm: why every coffee shop looks the same”, The Guardian has a very interesting longread that touches on the complex twisting between digital media and urban place. The author, who just had a new book out called “Filterworld: How Algorithms Flattened Culture” , takes a closer look at the “hipster coffee shop” that looks basically the same in every city in the world. For one type of audience this feels very welcoming and familiar whole for others these global ‘spaces of flow’ as Castells called them are exclusionary. Quote: If these places were […] Read More

Dutch political party worried about rise of smart doorbells

Dutch local news channel for Amsterdam AT5 reports that GroenLinks, a Dutch leftwing green party, is worried about the rampant use of smart doorbells like Ring. GroenLinks is worried about the implications of these doorbells for people’s privacy and for social cohesion in the city. The problem according to GroenLinks is that these doorbell cameras are filming public space instead of private terrain. In Amsterdam’s smaller streets it is possible to peek into each others homes. A study by Amsterdam Municipality (no source is given in the article) would suggest that a majority of inhabitants have uncomfortable feelings about so […] Read More

Software bugs that helped send innocent postal employees to prison known in advance

Another grim case of how (faulty) software and algorithms can impact real people’s everyday lives in specific workplaces: Ars Technica writes that “Fujitsu software bugs that helped send innocent postal employees to prison in the UK were known “right from the very start of deployment,” [according to] a Fujitsu executive [during] a public inquiry”. From 1999 onwards, the accounting software called Horizon was installed in UK post offices by a Fujitsu subsidiary. Since then, between 1999 – 2015, this software has led to the “prosecution and conviction of more than 900 sub-postmasters and postmistresses who were accused of theft or […] Read More

Event: roundtable “Creative Urban Methods” 22 Jan. 2024

On Jan. 22 2024 between 16:00-18:00, I co-organize a roundtable event about ‘Creative Urban Methods’. The event is both to celebrate the launch of our recent special issue on ‘creative urban methods’ in Mediapolis, and to discuss the merits of innovative ways for studying Media Cities. Date: 22 January 2024 Time: 16:00 – 18:00 Location: MCW Lab, Kromme Nieuwegracht 20 (entrance via Muntstraat 2A), Utrecht, NL. Event link:   On Monday, January 22nd, [urban interfaces] joins forces with the IOS Platform for Open Cities (OCP) and the focus area Governing the Digital Society (SIG “Inclusion in the Datafied City”) […] Read More

Robo-taxis,auto-mobility, and the right to the city

Today is the day Amsterdam is implementing 30km/h on the majority of its streets. So a good occasion to reblog this article here. Vox writes that San Francisco’s robotaxi experiment is getting out of hand >> In San Francisco – and in other US cities too – self-driving taxis operated by companies like GM’s Cruise and Alphabet’s Waymo are clogging the city streets and are becoming a nuisance if not downright dangerous for emergency vehicles. In a podcast interview between Vox host Sean Rameswaram and Liz Lindqwister, a data journalist at the nonprofit news startup the San Francisco Standard, it […] Read More

The limits of ‘the city as a platform’

The Conversation has an interesting piece called “WeWork approached physical space as if it were virtual, which led to the company’s downfall”. In the article, the author argues that dreams of cities as cybernetic systems – while old – have their limits. The author suggests that this cybernetic logic of essentially seeing cities and computers as the same in terms of ‘informational flows’, is what led to the downfall of WeWork: “Earlier in the twentieth century, offices were thought of as, essentially, industrial buildings. […] But during World War II, executives witnessed the military use giant mainframes for logistics and […] Read More

Special issue in Mediapolis: Creative Urban Methods

I am very happy and proud to announce that the special issue in Mediapolis Journal on Creative Urban Methods, that I co-edited with my [urban interfaces] colleagues Sigrid Merx, Nanna Verhoeff & Coco Kanters, and with the invaluable help of Elle Zwinkels, is out now!  See our own introduction here: In addition to our own introduction, this special issue contains contributions by: Gillian Sonnad and Noortje van Amsterdam Karin van Es and Marcel Broersma Inte Gloerich and Gabriele Ferri Anastasia Hacopian Jan van Duppen, Augusto Anéas, Aileen Harvey, Sandra Jasper, Laura Kemmer and Claudia Muniz

Landlords in Washington DC accused of using software to keep rent high

Ars Technica reports about a lawsuit filed against 14 DC landlords who are accused of having colluded “with a property management software firm to keep rent prices high in a city with a housing affordability crisis.” The software company RealPage suggests rental prices to landlords, based on the data that they feed the software company. Sounds like a very risky data feedback loop to me anyway, but apparently these 14 landlords in DC joined forces with the company to keep rent prices artificially high on the platform. Effectively they formed a housing cartel. Just another warning that despite rhetorics of […] Read More

Short-lived platform transport services

This news item by Vice on the quick rise and demise of Revel scooters in NYC makes me think about temporarily as a theme that I’ve been interested in for a long time. As digital media technologies and urban culture intersect, we often see a mismatch between their temporal cycles. The fast-moving ways of the tech industry, with their extremely short cycles and aggressive grab-all strategies for taking over markets, is at odds with the much longer development and maintenance cycles of most urban infrastructures, such as housing and public transport. It artists that many urban tech companies simply do […] Read More

Street-level experiences of the ‘platform society’

I love this series of portraits by Rest of World called Life as a Gig Worker. While a political economy perspective of platform labor tends to focus only on harms and exploitation, this more ethnographic perspective shows that marginalized people are smart and creative, and that they will find workarounds for restoring their agency and dignity. It adds a healthy emic on the ground perspective to the view from above in many studies. Being trained as an anthropologist myself, this truly resonates. It reminds me of a perhaps lesser-known book by James Scott called Weapons of the Weak, where he […] Read More

Predictably, predictive policing software terrible at predicting crime

The Markup writes: The software product formerly known as PredPol but rebranded into Geolitica, has been right in predicting crime a paltry <1% in an investigation about its use at the police department in Plainfield, New Jersey. We examined 23,631 predictions generated by Geolitica between Feb. 25 to Dec. 18, 2018 for the Plainfield Police Department (PD). Each prediction we analyzed from the company’s algorithm indicated that one type of crime was likely to occur in a location not patrolled by Plainfield PD. In the end, the success rate was less than half a percent. Fewer than 100 of the […] Read More

LAPD chasing Pokémon in the city ignored traffic rules and robbery

This one is sad and funny at the same time: 404 media shares a video from a 2017 incident involving police in LA being too busy with playing Pokémon Go to pay attention to either a robbery happening nearby or basic traffic rules. Two Los Angeles Police Department officers who ignored a robbery in progress in order to catch a Snorlax and Togetic in Pokémon Go also rolled through a stop sign, sped through residential neighborhoods and zoomed over speed bumps, tailgated various cars, and drove the wrong way down a one-way road in order to catch ‘em all, video […] Read More

Platforms cheating gig workers out of earnings

Another one on the ‘gig economy’: Ars Technica writes that in New York Uber and Lyft have agreed to pay $328 million after “cheating drivers out of hundreds of millions of dollars”. In addition to the usual observations that platform companies are not compliant (and knowingly do) with local or state legislation, what is interesting in this case is also the role of the app interface itself: Uber misrepresented the deductions made to drivers’ pay in their terms of service, telling drivers that Uber would only deduct its commission from the drivers’ fare, and that drivers were “entitled to charge […] Read More

Platform flex work is human rights issue

Vice writes that Olivier De Schutter, the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty, has sent letters in August 2023 to Amazon, DoorDash, and Walmart, demanding they address allegations that their wages are so low that they trap workers in poverty. The companies have responded with the usual ‘technological exceptionalism’ argumentation that platform based work is fundamentally misunderstood. Yet another example of how digital tech in the city leads to exacerbated inequality, now in the domain of labor. link to original article on Vice >>

The micro-politics of location-sharing

Vox had an interesting read about location-based mobile media and the question “Should we know where our friends are at all times?” With constant tracking and check-ins, our everyday lives have become hybrids of online and offline. In anecdotally describing how location-sharing has become, in the words of one of the respondents “so, so common among basically everyone I know”, the author addresses a number of pertinent issues. One of these is the tension between safety and security, and sociability and a sense of proximity. another is the constant negotiation over access to one’s private life and whereabouts, and the […] Read More

ClimateOS: a smart urban tools for green and sustainable cities

A bit of brighter news, in The Guardian, a “Swedish tech startup helping cities go green”: This article in The Guardian reports on the tech startup ClimateView that have created a kind of dashboard for Green and Sustainable Cities, called ClimateOS (link to Sweden indicators). Company pitch: ClimateView is a Swedish company that accelerates city transitions through a science-based framework, process and platform. According to the CEO of ClimateView, Tomer Shalit, “Cities account for more than 70% of global CO2 emissions. They are clearly critical to climate action, but they are also complex and highly interconnected systems – and they really […] Read More