Danny Bettay – Borrowed Light: An exploration into an invisible resource

21 October 2022 – 12:30-14:00 BST

In-person only. Organised and convened by Tanya Southcott and Tilo Amhoff. Seaside 2, 3rd Floor, Mithras House, Lewes Road, Brighton, UK.

Danny Bettay is a PhD candidate at the School of Cybernetics at Australian National University, Australia. Danny has been in Brighton to attend RSD11, and we’re excited that Danny is also able to give this talk in our research conversations series in a session also featuring Dustin Valen.


Since humans grasped the ability to generate light, we have used it to engineer transformative technologies that continually shape and influence the behaviours and interactions among humans, non-humans, the built world, and our natural environment. Light, and its role as both a tool and a resource, is arguably crucial to almost all complex systems on the planet, in one form or another. Smart streetlights are an example of a new class of streetlighting systems that do much more than just light. They have a capacity to integrate and interoperate across other heterogeneous technical systems and integrate multiple applications to their physical and cyber infrastructures. They belong to a new category of systems called cyber-physical systems (CPS) – computational technologies integrated with physical systems that mutually and frequently interact with objects, humans, non-humans, more-than-humans, and their environment(s) – and are an interesting system to investigate in relation to how urban technologies (or other smart city CPS) scale and impact other systems.

The World Economic Forum has stated that the arrival and influx of CPS marks the beginning of the fourth industrial revolution, and with this a need to create new theories, skills, and practices to manage these systems (Schwab, 2017). This research will use smart street lighting systems as a vehicle through which to develop, test, and iterate nascent frameworks and methodologies to help scale CPS safely, sustainably, and responsibly in urban settings. This research will examine the role(s) of light in cybernetic systems, by investigating how light is understood, used, and valued through various systems that use it, within the context of (smart) cities. Examining the different role(s) light plays in CPS allows for multiple pathways to recognise and analyse how cybernetic systems can be imagined, defined, and incorporated into the design, planning and governance processes of CPS as components of public urban infrastructure.

This application of cybernetics into urban planning and lighting is particularly useful as it demonstrates how we can account for a component of a range of CPS that is often forgotten or invisible, yet critical to the functionality of human, technological, and biological systems.

By doing so, I hope to generate insights into other resources used in CPS that are under-theorised and over-practised (e.g., sound, air and water are resources that are used in systems, but not always thought about as a resource). My goal is to understand and contribute to how we think and enact safety, responsibility, and sustainability when designing future technologies (such as CPS), particularly, as they scale.

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