Digital nomads disrupting local life

Wired has a long-read on how a digital nomad initiative has wrecked havoc in the island of Madeira, Portugal. Rising housing prices, in some places forced evictions, and virtually no interactions with local culture are the painful consequences of an essentially predatory locust lifestyle that only the privileged with the right passports can afford to live, at expense of locals. This is a clash between what Manuel Castells has termed the ‘space of flows’ versus the ‘space of place’. The author draws a paralel to the naming of Madeira (‘lumber’), discovered in the 15th century as a green forested uninhabited […] Read More

How tracking devices aggravate gender violence

Vice reports on one of many cases in which a vindictive ex (almost always male) uses Apple’s AirTags or similar tech to keep stalking and harassing their former partners (almost always female). In addition to complaints that tech companies like Apple are not doing enough to prevent this, the article also notes that the problem is not merely due to tech but also is encoded into the law that suffers from gender bias: “…courts tend to view family disputes through a gendered lens, Godsoe [ a professor of law at Brooklyn Law School] said.” “There is lots of gender bias […] Read More

Troubles in Airbnb paradise

In Australia’s Byron Bay, various authorities are fighting among themselves about putting a cap on short term renting, The Guardian reports. On December 14, The Guardian wrote that the local town council would be voting the next day on lowering the maximum number of days per year for subletting apartments from 180 to 90. On December 15, The Guardian followed up with an article that says the state of New South Wales had stripped the local council from the right to hold a vote, even though NSW had explicitly appointed the council as the approval authority for the proposal. Real […] Read More

How small Greek islands become living labs for smart urban tech

Vice reports on the way big corporations forge deals with the Greek government to experiment with new tech. Volkswagen is testing and making claims about zero-emissions electric vehicle mobility. On the same island, there’s is a ride-sharing service called the “Astybus,” for both tourists and residents, which can be ordered through a smartphone app, “Astymove.” Amazon on another island is setting up a “smart hub” concept, that includes the use of drones, infrastructural works to upgrade the internet, and a variety of “smart” services One of the key problems with such initiatives set up via public-private deals is that it […] Read More

The Atlantic on “The Rise of ‘Luxury Surveillance’”

The Atlantic writes about ambient intelligence and smart home products as ‘Luxury Surveillance’: “This intense devotion to tracking and quantifying all aspects of our waking and non-waking hours is nothing new—see the Apple Watch, the Fitbit, social media writ large, and the smartphone in your pocket—but Amazon has been unusually explicit about its plans. The Everything Store is becoming an Everything Tracker, collecting and leveraging large amounts of personal data related to entertainment, fitness, health, and, it claims, security. It’s surveillance that millions of customers are opting in to.” But the downside, according to the author, is that the “externally […] Read More

Face-scanning ad billboards turn public spaces into spaces of commerce and control

Vice writes about how public advertisement billboards in the UK turn up the dial a notch or two towards a pervasive Deleuzian society of control (pdf). “Companies in the UK are collecting data from millions of phones to decide which advertisements to show on billboards in locations all around Britain, according to a new investigation by Big Brother Watch, a London-based civil liberties group known for confronting public surveillance issues.” So what’s the problem? This quote sums it ip nicely, when it comes to the erosion of publicness and collective ownership: “Arvind Narayanan, a professor of computer science at Princeton […] Read More

US defense contractor tech backs NY smart transportation system

The Intercept reports about Cubic Corporation, a private company that is in part a military contractor for the U.S. and foreign military. The report unravels Cubics current role in supplying smart city technology – notably the OMNY smart card that is slated to become the new public transportation method. It also describes Cubic’s data-hungry future visions on smart cities. Privacy concerns, blurred boundaries between different operations by the company (military and civic), and mission creep when it comes to storage and reuse of data are among the key concerns. Moreover, developements like these fit in a broader tendency of militarizing […] Read More

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. 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 and sound, and derive insights about the operation of the setup. So instead of relying purely on datafied, […] 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