Urban Intelligence

This is not written by me, but by my colleague Eduard for Coda Story’s newsletter. I’m sharing this, because I think he touches on some things that are pertinent to the discussion we’ve been having here, and I’d be interested to hear what you think about smart cities:

This week, we published a story from Nafeez Ahmed about the American and other foreign companies that helped build China’s “smart cities.” Those smart cities have become a feature of Xinjiang’s police state that now persecutes Uyghurs.

It’s a story about the dark side of a seemingly well-intentioned urban planning paradigm. Smart cities are supposed to be the bright future of high-density living, but China’s government has been using this technology for human rights violations.

But does it really take an authoritarian government to bring out the dark side of smart cities?

In the past few months, I’ve had a Google alert going for “smart cities,” hoping to keep abreast of where things are going. Almost every link Google sends me is celebratory, even utopian. Just this week, I’ve been sent articles calling smart cities the “Future of Urban Development” and a “Smart Future for Smart People.”

But there has been criticism as well, and a key one centers around a process that has seemingly little overlap with China’s drive to build a surveillance state: the rise of “surveillance capitalism.” Harvard’s Shoshana Zuboff, who coined the term, sees smart cities as a way for tech companies to expand the logic of surveillance capitalism – the endless accumulation of data to predict and modify human behavior for the benefit of advertisers – into the city.

Google’s projects in Toronto and New York, for example, have seen the installation of advertising technology on sidewalks, alongside free internet access kiosks. In other words, the logic of ad-supported platforms – free services in exchange for data – is literally being transferred onto the sidewalk. As David A. Banks puts it in a recent column for Real Life Magazine, “With the surveillance technologies built into their Toronto and Hudson Yards projects, Google does to these buildings what they made billions doing to the internet: monitoring advertising opportunities.”

Chinese-style smart city police states may be on the horizon in the West. In the U.S., for example, one could imagine ICE using smart city tech to track migrants in border zones. But another more immediate threat, the privatization of public space for profit, as in Google’s Sidewalk Labs project, is already happening.

This topic has been the subject of some of the salons organized by @RobvanKranenburg. Rob, do you have any insights to share?

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Hi Hugi, Inge,
Yes, a lot. Best in a workshop. Inge, where are you based? Rob

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I’m - unfortunately - based in Tbilisi, Georgia (unless you’re planning one there :wink: ). Any chance they’ve been recorded and can be seen online, or are they written up somewhere? Know my colleagues would also be very interested (based in Philadelphia and Tbilisi). And, think the subject deserves a discussion in Internet of Humans topic, as in how can IoT and Smart Cities work towards helping people without massively invading their privacy? How safe is data that is collected from being hacked?

Georgia is fantastic, so I’m not sure this will be unfortunate in the long run!
This is a true benefit of being remote first and working online/offline – voices from outside of the usual suspects in the old affluent cities of Western Europe.

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well, unfortunate in the sense that we don’t have salons (yet?!) on IoT by Rob :wink:

Tblisi is not EU unfortunately but I will be in Tbilisi for sure in the coming years, it seems to new Berlin in a way I hear. This is a good start :slight_smile:

I soon realized that things were serious. I couldn’t believe that such a scenario of “connecting everything with everything” was now being put forward as a positive systemic framework for the entire planet.

Realizing that the desired outcome was individuating all objects and embedding reading and sensing capabilities in a subgroup, I started looking into the Electronic Product Code (EPC) Global Object Name Service (ONS) schemes of building an ONS for all objects and goods. I saw hardware costs fracture and hardware boards in cheap print, and I found myself in a very curious state from 2000 to 2004. Then RepRap, the brainchild of Adrian Bowyer (later giftwrapped by MIT as Fab Lab), hit the street, and open hardware 3D printing started taking over manufacturing.

In response, I cofounded Bricolabs in 2004 with Denis “Jaromil” Roio of dyne.org, Felipe Fonseca of MetaReciclagem, Bronac Ferran of the Arts Council England, and Matt Ratto (http://criticalmaking.com). Hackers and activists began to formulate positive visions of agency over this space (https://mailinglists.dyne.org/cgi-bin/mailman/listinfo/brico). One example of such agency is the Dowse network appliance (http://dowse.eu), a building-block resulting from the work of dyne.org. At the time, I would think to myself, “OK, there is a Matrix plan. It is un-hackable. It is like air. Should we go off the grid? Or do we have our own agency?”



To bring in some of the ongoing conversations in around the block, as I understand them:

One perspective on how to address this is to try to integrate smart contracts, distributed data models and IoT technology to keep the sensor data contextual, rather than have it flow into huge datasets controlled by companies or governments. Many groups around the world are experimenting with this. In many ways, I don’t see many other ways forward. Sensors connected to networks will be everywhere in just a few years, that is pretty much inevitable at this point. Benefits are too huge for governments and companies to ignore. What needs to happen is that a “human-centric” model that keeps your data in the context where it belongs, and secured by smart contracts and cryptography, becomes good enough and open enough that it just makes sense for companies and governments to use it.

Making such sensory data available to anyone who wants it, and making it irreversibly linked to contracts that only allow its use in limited contexts, is one approach to reap the benefits while doing some damage control to avoid complete dystopia. In broad terms, every time data is ‘emitted’ by a sensor, that data would be coupled to a contract in a distributed ledger (like a blockchain), available to everyone. Decoding the data can only be done by negotiating the contract to gain access to a key with which to decrypt it.

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Yes, that is the kind of argument that is helpful to my work. I am building that in a coherent framework of three Taskforce, one on Entitlements (was identity), one on Architectures (especially 5G) and one on Services (including blockchain). Anyone who wants to be on these very low very low mail mailinglists, just sending notes and briefings as a lot of people there (like all of us) are way too busy, is welcome just mail me at kranenbu at xs4all.nl
I can understand a lot of feelings and first impressions of Millennials about what looks like to them a connected world ‘all of a sudden’ or a situation that can be ‘avoided’. Me and friends confronted that as a situation 20 to 15 years ago and have been painstakingly working towards creating building blocks for the best possible b lance between centralization and decentralization. We look at that world in a realistic way, meaning there is no romantic way out, no naive escape, of course if you want there is still a temporary bubble you can build with a few friends - but we are working for the best and most inclusive zone of connectivity for everybody, every person and as we pay taxes in Europe, that for us is Europe.

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if you are interested you can look at my text from 2008:

We need to move to debate further from this seemingly deadlocked polarised state
it appears we are at now. Distributing yourself as data into the environment has been the revolving wheel of progress for our conceptions and applications of technology. Location-based, real-time – services, applications to strengthen communities, and the capacity to generate high quality data in information overload, these are all possibilities within a wired connected environment that need serious exploration and research.

In Art and Agency, an Anthropological Theory47, Alfred Gell puts emphasis “upon art
as a form of instrumental action: the making of things as a means of influencing the thoughts and actions of others”. He defines volt sorcery as the “practice of inflicting harm on the prototype of an index by inflicting harm on the index, for example, sticking pins into a wax image of the prototype”. In Gell’s theory the index is located in the region where the sphere of agency (the primary agent) overlaps with the vulnerability of thecausal milieu of the recipient. In our case the index is located in the region where the sphere of agency of the firmware on the hard disks (control) overlaps with its openness to different practices and interpretations by the hive software. The question is, can we immobilize or reformulate the subject (the set of business practices and real people articulating their agency through these business practices of patents and intellectual property laws) in this way? Seizing and scheming towards this opportunity to make sense, to have fully analyzed and grasped a situation – such as the recent individual agency in open source content-networks-software and hardware – will not lead to major organizational, political, and design breakthroughs, if we are not able to fully grasp the trajectory from thing as gathering places for spaces and discussion, from ‘matters of concern’:

“A heuristic use of the term ‘thing’ has also been adopted by Bruno Latour, who, after Heidegger, has worked to transform the semantic emphasis of ‘things’ from ‘matters of concern’. Drawing on older etymologies in which ‘thing’ denoted a gathering place, a space for discussion and negotiation; Latour has rehabilitated this sense of the term as a way out of the twin cul-de-sac of constructivism and objectivity”.

The story is no longer metaphor, no longer as if or ‘as’ something else, no, the story is the thing now, it is the protocol.

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sorry if it is a bit long but it has been a while I looke at it and it actually I think makes a lot of sense now :slight_smile: I can use it:

  1. In order to find productive principles we will have to make two moves; one is to go back to the arguments that led to l’Encyclopédie of Diderot et d’Alembert and see if we can find through their arguments a way to unthink and undo the classification as default (every object on the planet can have its own ip address with IPv6)57 and the other one is to find a way to articulate as performative practice the idea of a parallel movement without recursing to a mode of opposition based on anti classification , or oppositional ways of working. Jean Le Rond d’Alembert writes in Preliminary Discourse to the Encyclopedia of Diderot:“… it is perhaps among the artisans that one should go to find the most admirable proofs of the sagacity, the patience, and the resources of the intellect. I admit that the greater part of the arts has been invented little by little and that it has taken a very long period of centuries in order to bring watches, for example, to the point of1


perfection that we see. But is it not the same for the sciences? How many discoveries which immortalized their authors were prepared for by the work of the preceding centuries, even having been developed to their maturity, right up to the point that they demanded only one more step to be taken? And not to leave watch-making,
why do we not esteem those to whom we owe the fusee, the escapement, and the repeating works [of watches] as much as we esteem those who have successively worked on perfecting algebra? Moreover, if I can believe those philosophers who do not so despise the mechanical arts that they refuse to study them, there are certain machines so complicated, and in which all the parts depend so much on each other, that it is difficult to imagine that the invention would be due to more than one man”.

Not only is the mechanical seen as a collaborative effort and process, but the mechanical arts are thought on the same conceptual level as the arts and the sciences, especially because the knowledge gained and the theories put forward build upon layers and
layers of collaborative practical experience. The project of the Encyclopédie is the starting point for all questions relating to the Enlightenment and “the project of the modern library itself”. Yet does this mean that there is no other reading possible in the intentions of the authors of this paradigm of classification? Le Rève d’Alembert (1769, first published 1820) shows that for Diderot seeing the world no longer as God but as machine, and seeing Nature as a giant evolutionary organism that is never static but always experimenting, is not contradictory at all. Maybe the process of and will to classify is not the key to begin to dismantle neoliberal capitalism. But if not, then what?

According to Jens Kastner: “However the transnational guerilla may be seen as a try
to overcome the frequencies of fields between art and activism described by Bordieu. The respectively own logics of production of theory, art and also politic actions show overlapping and entanglement. This is the basis where it is meant to prepare - however not by identical closements or prefaced contextless communities. But as a transnational guerilla”.

    • The intrinsic bridge between artistic and social movements offers possibilities to overcome the structural hurdles between these two.
    • Universalism as imaginary (the re-connecting of universalism has a certain source in negation of the existing, which defines the artistic internationalism. This is followed by transnational guerilla, as criticism and as an alternative model to the universal community.
    • Zapatista self-management and tactics (“Intergalactic meetings against neoliberalism and pro humanism/the human race”, where a few thousands guerill@s [~guerilleros?], intelectuals and activists [orig. germ.: AktistInnen, must mean AktivistInnen] in
      the chiapanestic jungle (1996) and also in Spain (1997) met, can be seen without hesitation as the birth hour of the globalization-critical movements. It can also be understood as the starting point of the Transnational Guerilla.
    • Global mobilisation (in a normative regard transnational guerilla means to step across national borders and at the time it is also a moment of movement beyond traditional or geographic bonds. This is exactly what the TG is trying to archieve: to


create a transnational mode of movement out of the artistic internationalism of the 1960’s.

    • Multiplicity (For this collective and de-discriminating action a decisive hint is necessary, [which can also be described as] the temporary mark, the come across, the masks of the Zapatistas, the exposing of one’s mode of existence.
    • Parallel action (to speak about TG arises the assumption to be part of a minority: not to assign oneself to a suppressed group for reasons of misinterpreted political correctness, but to conclude oneself, to understand oneself as part of a just temporarily secret broad community.
    • Pragmatic activism (TG is not a so far un-perfect or an up to now uncomplete community, neither an historical horizon to be fulfilled. It leaves basic illusions behind re-supplied by Agamben, Baumann and Holloway, is coming from zapatistic riots (we are you behind our masks) and is learning from its’ own artistically practices. But it has to be understood as a gutsy, temporary rout not limited to national borders.All these qualities have been coined and developed from a different mindset and frame of thought, culminating in Bricolabs, the collaborative narrative of individuals that investigate, exploit and prototype the loop of open source software, content, spectrum and hardware. Unlike Jens Kastner our trajectory to these qualities as a possible reality for ‘uncapitalism’ on a global level did not unravel itself through an investigation of the common denominators in the oppositional positions that have all claimed in some way or another the predominance of becoming/das Tun/anti-classification. Our trajectory to these qualities comes from the realisation that old and new technologies such as RFID, biometric identification schemes (gait recognition, intelligent tracking video cameras and on chip DNA testing), active sensor schemes in logistics, clothing, home - are in the process of creating a real world in which connectivities expand beyond our conscious schemes and protocols of interaction.
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Oh wow, this is really extensive, thanks so much @RobvanKranenburg! I need to wrap my head around this a little bit more - but the overall idea is: we can’t “stop” it, but it has to be done on our terms (super simplified of course).

The one thing I wonder then, is what about authoritarian regimes? The technology will be anywhere, and as mentioned above in the piece on Uyghurs, the surveillance tech used is devastating (some even call it a genocide).

I’m interested too in the vein of “we can’t stop it so how do we steer it” and I wonder what the options are to address the issues. Some ideas for consideration:

  1. Create standards and influence design of smart cities to protect/enhance humanity (very hard)
  2. Educate people about these technologies and how to interact with them or possibly avoid them
  3. Sabotage the technologies eg blocking the sensors (dangerous, expensive)
  4. Explore the benefits of living in cities and look for ways to introduce these benefits to local more distributed communities so that living in cities isn’t the only perceived option

Personally I like the idea of (4) as it’s a move away from centralisation, I think we need to decentralise physically as well as digitally. But realistically it feels to me that education and campaigning are feasible initial steps and that might lead towards (1) where standards, policies and controls have been design specifically for humanity.

You are right, technologies often get abused - Facebook is a great example. I wonder what standards and controls would be considered at the conception of Facebook if they knew what they know now.

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Dear Inge,

Yes, that is extremely simplified but true. And to get to this level of simplicity took me and a lot of networks twenty years of fighting against the grain, and being misunderstood, as if we would be on the side of the Matrix, where in fact to us the potential for emancipation and a better balance between centralization and decentralization was on par with seeing animals, humans, machines and the planet itself as a caring and sustaining ecosystem. #IoT means transparency and exposing overhead and corruption. The balance I seek, was very well described by Malatezsta and Machno and can also be described as anarchocommunism (open on the services, closed on a public commons infrastructure). The current NGI 3step plan is exactly that.

My interest lies in building a stable political zone of human machine complimentarity, supporting humans in what they do best: ultimately Nietzsche’s love and shame and for #IoT full resource management as our only chance against Climate Change.

This may be hard to grasp for people who are different than me, and most are. Most people have specific self interest. Mine is simply to be continue living in a stable society. That requires new political models and new political leadership.
One of the first public mentions to my plan to turn the passport into a device is 2011:

Ofcourse if I had a button I would stop all of this technology now, I would push it. But for now this text
I still think it is valid. That means the logical trajectory now if we do not act is 500 smart cities aka military zones and Mad Max in between. I do not want to live in neither.

So, Inge, you see, that without taking control the drivers of the digital transitions our societies can not survive. I live in a simple street. I would like to keep living three and be abler to take a train and have a coffee in a bar. That is all.
Again, hard to understand if you are of a different sensibility that I have no other interest in this then general interest. The selfish aspect lies in the fact that this stable society enables me to work and live as I want, quiet and simple.

My friends and my networks are willing to take up that position, to build leadership in a fully connected world. I hope edgeryders do too. Otherwise it is very easy from our own cosy and sheltered positions ( me too!) to say how bad it all is, and how afraid we are of the Matrix. That’s too simple for us.

Now to your specific question. I see a pattern there, interesting.

To me, all current systems are dysfunctional. Hence we need to build better ones. That is my sole objective.

The world is full of terrible political features. If you are not careful you can get depressed by simply looking at one. What can you do? In Georgia the most repressing and backward laws are voted on abortion. Why not stage protest there? Extremely necessary! The USA is one of the few countries where inmates pay for their own imprisonment and Medieval Diseases Are Infecting California’s Homeless https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2019/03/typhus-tuberculosis-medieval-diseases-spreading-homeless/584380/

My good friend Pieter is currently on the Maker Faire in SF with his invention for a tent for the Homeless:

Oh, there are some many things to not sleep over. Israel effectively has Gaza under virtual control and actually wage war by extra legal killings.
Europe itself is strongly reproached:

Yes, people worry, and so can I.

But, we are in the Strategy CSA of the Next Generation Internet at the moment and from us new architectures and new ways of seeing are expected that work back from a position of full connectivity to building the best and most inclusive zone of care for ALL (human beings, animals, machines, plants and the planet).

Ours if not to bite one bullet, focus on one situation existing now and extrapolating from that or excluding building blocks.

In the previous eetings we realized that without a system perspective actively taking control of all these building-blocks a commercial social credit system is already forming as we speak combined of commercial services embedding dynamic pricing on commercial algos , the mapping behavior sets that are downloadable in JSON format from coelition.org embedded soon if not already in voice and camera supported services in home, shop and hospitals.

The Matrix is already here, everywhere. Our job is to find the pressure points of agency and make it work for all of us, meaning we find a way (and wade are finding it) to not have a subset of people and machines looking at all the data but open it up in such a way that e v e r y o n e is able to see all the data realtime, thus brokering new notions of mediation, and conflict management and that is where all skills and expertise can found in anarchist literature,

Greetings, Rob

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These four points are great! And I think I can assist with starting points for all, let me work on it a bit and I get back to you on this next week, Rob.


Hi Tom, are you in London next Wednesday? Want to join us at UCL? Check https://www.theinternetofthings.eu/open-invitation-how-can-we-bring-realistic-positive-story-accepts-techno-political-influence-and
and drop me a mail at rob at dyne.org

Hey Rob, thanks for the invite. I won’t be in London sadly. Your debate is an interesting one and certainly starts to address the trend in innovation that is attractive to our governments and large corporate organisations, the risks such as the one Inge points out have catastrophic implications.

From your link “We are experiencing the last potential zone of transition with humans in full control and planning agency.” - I’m under the impression that’s it’s more the capitalist machinery now that’s in full control and removing the human element from that is inevitable. I think I’ve tried to influence from within which is what I think you are working with too and for me I’ve been repeatedly crushed. I wonder if there is another way?

I’ve mentioned in another post what I feel are the real issues we face and I’m not sure how these innovations solve them.

This is more for what I stand for. But it’s not realistic at the moment, the only time we will stop at scale is when there is incentive (through force | desire) to do so. If we wait for top-down direction based on the “their” opinion of “when we have to do it” it will be far too late and any solution thereafter is likely to be the wrong one driven by the wrong values, and fear. But maybe we can tap into the desire to do so, bottom-up.

The Armish for example live simple lives and in contrast to popluar belief with technology. They ride in horse and carriage because all of them can do so equally, they use electricity because it is a utility accessible to all of them, they do not have tractors because their neighbour could buy a bigger tractor and competition would enter their community. Each new technology available to them is considered and either integrated or rejected. Their value systems are different to the majority of the western world and they know how to “stop” or rather not even start. I believe we need to have something similar, a set of values and standards to refer to when considering if we need 5G and smart sensors, etc, the real impact on humanity and if we need them the controls and constraints around them for their purpose. Though I have be mistaken for a Luddite I really am not, I simply call for a more cognitive decision making process based on human-centric needs when considering whether we “should” rather than whether we “could”.

I appreciate the mention of Nietzsche. I fully back a need to manage resources more carefully. A project I set up a few years ago which I need to restart aims atinspiring the next generation of ecologically aware creative technologists to do just that in ways we haven’t yet thought of.

It feels like we are concerned and challenging the same issues from slightly different standpoints. I’m currently trying to avoid London atm, I’m living out in the hills of the Peak District as part of my effort to decentralise and also focus on the natural environment around me.

I’d would like to meet up (remotely or in person, maybe in Georgia if we could fund the travel) at some stage to consider our current positions and how they might compliment each other in a simplified and unified approach. Maybe @inge would be interested in that conversation too and maybe it is something to consider for the festival. I think one of our tasks would be to simplify the heuristics and collaborate on an accessible concept derived from our collective concerns, understandings and approaches - though it may also turn out that we have a need to continue our different approaches.

Would there be interest in this from others?

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“I think I’ve tried to influence from within which is what I think you are working with too and for me I’ve been repeatedly crushed. I wonder if there is another way?”

You were clearly (way) too early.
I think it is more about timing. Now is the time for these arguments. I am studying the Amish too, for example, this kind of thinking runs parallel. If you read http://www.situatedtechnologies.net/?q=node/108 and just check out the last page you see we were/are on a similar track. We just keep on keeping on making the arguments until the threshold of seeing this as more normal is reached. This is happening, so now is a time to push again.

It feels like we are concerned and challenging the same issues from slightly different standpoints.


Very happy to have this conversation. Looking to forward to keep this conversation going,

Greetings, Rob


Let me do that for you Last page:

To finish and to instigate a discussion, we propose a series of indicative standards that test the waters, raise awareness and make visible the gap between where we are now and where have to go. The triple challenges of climate change, peak oil and social breakdown are coming. The question is not if, but when. Our standards are a shock therapy to the current practice of making. The sociability standards are workable and stem directly from the urgen- cies we have discussed. They will ensure interoperability between all the emerging actors. They require the joining of different actors that so far have not been involved in the making of standards.

All technological standards are also social standards.

• Systems that are designed by at least twenty people distributed across the world.
• Systems that are built less than 150 miles from where the raw materials are sourced.
• Systems that will not be deployed more than 50 miles from where they are built.
• Systems whose components are modular and backward compatible to allow local repair, upgrade and downgrade.

system Thinking
• Systems that fix end costs as a percentage on top of publicly available production, transportation and disposal costs.
• Systems that communicate the break down of energy costs of pro- duction, transport and breakdown of the product.
• Systems that automatically generate a fixed, public discussion u r lfor each item.

• Systems that encourage face-to-face contact.• Systems that build mutual responsibility.
• Systems that encourage conflict.
• Systems that during their lifetime will be used by more than 5 people.• Systems that enable strong bonds between people and the environment.• Systems that treat resources as equals.

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you’re very welcome in Tbilisi, Georgia (or countryside, I myself as well have moved out of the city to be more in nature) - and I’d gladly help organize something like that!

And also with regards to the festival, count me in with thinking about it more and designing something. Likewise, interested to hear what others think of smart cities, IoT, and the impact on our private and collective lives - and how/what to propose.