My idea for the second assignment is to make a short documentary by combining my own shots with external materials (on the fair usage principle). Using juxtaposition, I will explore and examine relations and differences between two concepts; AI systems in digital cities vs natural systems in nature. I aim to determine connections and disconnections between spaces and physical objects and to what extent environments can affect symbiosis with humans. Different concepts could affect people’s lives and sometimes maybe create an interconnection between artificial smart cities and the natural environment.
With this documentary, I also want to establish whether it is possible to connect and co-exist between two, at first glance, opposing concepts to achieve harmony in the relationship between technology – nature – people.
My idea relies on an article from the Guardian entitled ‘Dumb Cities’ with the difference, I want to question how to achieve the best results using optimal and sustainable solutions that benefit everyone.
Leszczynski argues that besides the common understanding of big data and urban governance as tools for real-time management in smart cities, it is also essential to consider using big urban data in algorithmic governance to control undesirable urban futures. This approach prioritises security over efficiency and relies on the abstraction of individuals into decontextualised encodings that serve as functional inputs for speculative calculi that anticipate particular kinds of subjects.
The “urban derivative” concept is introduced to understand how individuals and the city are positioned within this mode of algorithmic governance. Microsoft’s Pedestrian Route Production service is an example of how normative, risk-averse neoliberal subjects are assumed to self-securitise by adopting and utilising the service to mitigate any threats to their safety associated with walking through “unsafe” neighbourhoods.
The article also discusses the use of user-generated content from social media in preemptive urban securitisation, such as the EMOTIVE platform for generating real-time “mood maps” of UK cities. This approach relies on the continuous flow of non-curated data from social media and is designed for state actors such as urban law enforcement. The operationalisation of this approach is entirely dependent on the presence of public entities such as social media companies, whose products generate flows of content made available to third parties through the shared use of their APIs.
Leszczynski states that big data security is anticipatory in scope, relying on the speculation of data-driven futures assembled across content flows and rendered actionable in the present. This approach is a defining feature of emergent modes of state-enacted signals intelligence activities crystallising around big data.
The conclusion is that the interplay between efficiency and security in urban algorithmic governance is complex and mutually implicated. The urban derivative is a valuable concept for understanding how urban management is transformed by using big data and algorithmic governance to anticipate and control future urban scenarios.
Leszczynski, A. (2016). Speculative futures: Cities, data, and governance beyond smart urbanism. Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space, 48(9), 1691–1708. https://doi-org.ezproxy.brighton.ac.uk/10.1177/0308518X16651445
The use of digital protest, particularly on platforms such as Twitter, has become increasingly popularized as a means for users to respond to events, incidents, and public figures. Bonilla and Rosa (2015) noted that such protests could offer an experience of real-time engagement, community, and collective enthusiasm that can be akin to participating in a physical protest. While such protests can be both positive and negative, depending on the nature of their use, examples such as #Ferguson and #Repealthe8th demonstrate their potential for benefitting the wider society.
In the case of #Ferguson, the predominant usage of the hashtag was to democratize information in real-time, with users feeling as if they were participating in the events as they monitored incidents through live streams. However, despite the heightened awareness generated through the hashtag, the effects on the justice system were not seen. This highlights the limitations of digital protests in effecting legal change.
In contrast, the #Repealthe8th campaign demonstrates the potential for digital protests to influence legislative change. The campaign used the hashtag to insert bodily autonomy into debates concerning the 8th Amendment, which sought to prioritize the rights of female autonomy over pregnancy. The campaign generated significant influence, ultimately resulting in the repealing of the 8th Amendment. This demonstrates the potential for digital protests to be utilized more broadly and more effectively in generating social and legislative change.
While the use of digital protests on platforms such as Twitter can offer an experience of real-time engagement and collective enthusiasm, their effectiveness in effecting legal change can be limited.
It is important to conduct careful and nuanced analyses of social media data to avoid making overgeneralizations or assumptions about the meaning and impact of hashtag use. Anthropologists and other researchers must consider how different users engage with social media platforms, the context in which tweets are produced and shared, and the potential biases and limitations of social media data. By doing so, they can better understand how social media shapes public discourse and activism and how broader social, cultural, and political contexts influence these processes.
One of the reasons I am sceptical about the fourth industrial revolution is the scenario where instead of serving and helping us, AI and machines would replace humans in most jobs. Part of the process is undoubtedly platform capitalism and their gain for profit. Global neoliberal capitalism always seeks to find the cheapest labour, and that is why China became the world’s biggest factory production where workers do not have the right to organise in unions. Since even a strike is not possible in such conditions, it is a ‘win situation’ for international platform corporations. Through transnational solidarity ( Wodcock, 2021:5), overseas labour activists are trying to help workers, although unfortunately, without much success. One of the examples is the case after workers fled China’s largest iPhone factory in 2022. Chinese overseas labour activists and allies have launched a campaign demanding accountability from Apple and Foxconn for their gross mistreatment of workers at a Chinese factory where half the world’s iPhones are made.
The factory, located in the city of Zhengzhou in the province of Henan, is Apple’s largest production site in China and has drawn attention for its poor working conditions. Foxconn was in the midst of peak season for the production of the new iPhone 14 and had been pushing a brutal closed-loop management regime, forbidding workers from leaving the area during the lockdown.
According to Labornotes, ‘there were reports that infected workers had been forced to isolate in nearby unfinished dormitory buildings without access to medical services and supplies. Some workers slept in the workplace to avoid infected workers living in the same dorms, which were not isolated’.
Hon Hai released a statement promising improvements but continued to affirm closed-loop management practices while Apple refused to admit that the workers work in inhumane and brutal conditions under its watch.
Although digital cities and highly developed technologies and inhumane working conditions and misery seem to be a contradiction (Dyer-Witheford 2015:2), the uncomfortable truth is that they are connected and that digital capitalism, including the whole idea of digital cities as sustainable oases, depends on, and exploits poor countries and child labour, as is the case in Congo.
After seeing reality, all the western activists throwing soup on paintings while using selfies, all the stories about inclusiveness and a better world seem like empty words. And hypocrisy.
Dyer-Witheford, N (2015) “Proletariat” in Cyber-Proletariat: Global Labour in the Digital Vortex. London, Pluto Books
Mosco describes the concept of a smart city as ‘The Next Internet’ (Mosco, 2019: 59), combining IoT, cloud computing, big data analytics and advanced telecommunications systems that embed tracking and data collection technology while creating connections with other objects, including people. While transhumanists might go even a step further in their quest to merge artificial intelligence and humans, in the meantime, global high-tech companies (Mosco,2019: 72 – 74) are eager to earn more profits by implementing smart technologies that could help create optimised digital infrastructure and better network systems. Advocates of the smart city join in their efforts (Mosco,2019: 66). At the same time, by describing his problems with security systems in his building, where he could not open the electronic entrance, Sadowski warns us that ‘systems’ are not perfect (Sadowski,2017: 6). They can not think, can not improvise and can be ineffective. As this funny commercial shows, sometimes even annoying and stressful:
Not only does the commercial above showing how digital technologies can be the opposite of what usually is promoted as “smart”, but the fact that not all the people like the idea of the ‘Next internet’ and IoT. Guardian has published an interesting article about a possible alternative – ‘Dumb cities’. Amy Flaming describes how we can rewild our urban landscapes and apply low-tech ecological solutions to drainage, wastewater processing, flood survival, local agriculture and pollution, with no need for electronic sensors, computer servers or extra IT support. We can weave ancient knowledge of how to live symbiotically with nature into how we shape the cities of the future.
The idea of the city, which makes symbiosis with nature, maybe would not be welcomed by global corporations and high-tech, but as Sadowski emphasised, our informational right is not just to ask for more transparency but to have the right to raise the voices against the accumulated power structures. (Sadowski,2017: 11). The city is for all of us, and the right should go even further – to have the right not to live in the smart city if we do not want to.
(Announcement – I do not have a TV licence, so I could not open the BBC link.)
I grew up in the communist regime in a small communal one-room flat with my mom and dad. They slept in the kitchen, and I was in the room, which served as our living room during the day and my bedroom at night. But we were lucky because we did not have to live in a shared apartment as was common in the USSR, where whole families had to live with complete strangers. As Gregory (Grisha) Freidin, professor of Russian literature at Stanford University, remembers his childhood,
‘On one side of my room was the man who washed corpses at the local morgue. There were two rooms where the mother and father served in the KGB. Then there was the woman whose husband was serving a sentence for stealing bread from the bread factory where he worked’ (The Kitchen Sisters, 2014).
These were my first associations when reading Townsend’s Smart Cities, where he not only writes about the concept of a smart city as an automated digital infrastructure but calls for an overall change in the social order on a global scale, using terms like the ‘sharing economy’ ( Townsend, 2013: pp 15 -16). It may sound like the ultimate solution to reach a utopian society, and the same romanticized narrative can be found in Forbes by Ida Auken, in which she describes people who own nothing, do not even have their own apartments, but share rooms in the principle of ‘rotating use’ – when the room empty, it will be used by whoever appears first.
And while such a vision of the city and life, in general, may indeed sound like the best option, it should be mentioned that young Westerners who have grown up in abundance are most prone to such ideas. They had their own rooms in large houses, which, especially in America, have at least two bathrooms and several rooms, including a separate guest room, living room, etc. And, of course, it is all owned by their parents who, except maybe with friends or family, never shared their homes with strangers. However, let’s assume you offer an identical vision to people who grew up in poverty and were forced by the state to live with strangers. In that case, whether they will accept that concept as an option is highly questionable. Especially considering the fact they know that these ideas do not come from the citizens themselves but from the WEF – the World Economic Forum, a private elite club that gathers the wealthiest and most powerful individuals in the world who fly to Davos every year in their private jets to decide the fate of billions of people, but without any intention to possibly involve themselves, by their own example, in the circular economy or ‘shared economy’ process. The text in Forbes is mentioned as ‘WEF contribution’, and Townsend, as it turned out, is also a WEF contributor, so it is not strange that I found so much similarity between his vision and Ida’s dream.
Having in mind that Klaus Schwab, founder of WEF, recently proudly announced that they are ‘penetrating the cabinets’,
it is not unusual to see that the citizens, even in Western counties such as the UK, are not particularly thrilled with the ideas of smart cities in general, including ULEZ (MyLondon, 2023) and implementations of concepts such as ’15 minutes city’ which is not grassroots in Britain but is a global agenda present in Croatia, and other countries.
Smart City koncept: 15-minutni grad, 2021, Pametni grad
All mentioned above leads us to the main problem and question – who will live in a smart city, and who will be the actual owner of these cities?
Ongoing debates about all the (dis)advantages of smart cities indicate the importance of the fourth industrial revolution and the path of the future we are going in as a society. As indicated in ‘Entrepreneurial Data Citizenships, Open Data Movements, and Audit Culture’ (2021: p80), data-based cities are imagined as places where citizens can easier gather information, hold the government accountable and have a better quality of life in general, thanks to better transparency. ‘Celebrations of openness and transparency appear in policy discourse and also shape the frames for civic organizations and model the ways data advocates are expected to act as good citizens’ (Powell, 2021: p 106). Moreover, Kitchin et al., in The Right to a Smart City, argue that the right to a (smart) city exceeds individual rights to the collective one or common rights (Kitchin et al. 2019: p18 -19).
However, it is questionable whether democracy is even possible without individual rights and freedoms. Without privacy, there is no freedom, and modern technologies can cause privacy harm by sharing and mining data with third parties (Kitchin et al. 2019: p9). One of the biggest concerns is not just the fact that many governments in neoliberal capitalist societies worldwide merged with private stakeholders (Powell, 2021: p106) but the technocracy agenda and ‘the spectrum of control’ (Sadowski, 2015: p8), i.e. constant surveillance. And surveillance, as Edward Snowden warned in an interview in 2017, is all about control. Snowden also pointed out that the UK has the most extreme surveillance act in the history of western democracy, the so-called Investigatory Powers Act 2016, which, as he emphasises, is even more authoritarian than in Russia or China.
According to L.IBERTY, the EU Court of Justice ruled against the controversial UK Act, finding that mass data collection and retention practices should comply with EU privacy safeguards.
Nonetheless, the 2016 Powers Act is still in force in the UK and will be heard by the Court of Appeal on 9-11. May 2023, as stated in L.IBERTY. Meanwhile, without exception, every citizen of the United Kingdom can constantly be under surveillance.
Powell, A.B. (2021). ‘Entrepreneurial Data Citizenships, Open Data Movements, and Audit Culture’. In Undoing Optimization: Civic Action in Smart Cities (pp. 80–107). Yale University Press. [Online]. Available at: https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctv1k03g9s.8