In this short position paper we examine some of the dimensions and dynamics of the algorithmic age by considering three broad questions. First, what are the problematic consequences of life mediated by ‘algorithm machines’? Second, how are individuals or groups and associations resisting the problems they encounter? Third, how might the algorithmic age be re-envisioned and re-made in more normative terms? We focus on two key aspects of living with ubiquitous computing, ‘acceleration’ and ‘data grabbing,’ which we contend are two of the most prominent and problematic features of the algorithmic age. We then begin to shed light on the sorts of practices that constitute slow computing responses to these issues. In the conclusion, we make the case for a widescale embrace of slow computing, which we propose is a necessary step for society to make the most of the undeniable opportunities for radical social change emerging from contemporary technological developments.
A paper by Claudio Coletta and Rob Kitchin, ‘Algorhythmic governance: Regulating the ‘heartbeat’ of a city using the Internet of Things’ has been published in Big Data and Society as part of a special section on ‘Algorithms in Culture’. It is open access.
To date, research examining the socio-spatial effects of smart city technologies have charted how they are reconfiguring the production of space, spatiality and mobility, and how urban space is governed, but have paid little attention to how the temporality of cities is being reshaped by systems and infrastructure that capture, process and act on real-time data. In this article, we map out the ways in which city-scale Internet of Things infrastructures, and their associated networks of sensors, meters, transponders, actuators and algorithms, are used to measure, monitor and regulate the polymorphic temporal rhythms of urban life. Drawing on Lefebvre, and subsequent research, we employ rhythmanalysis in conjunction with Miyazaki’s notion of ‘algorhythm’ and nascent work on algorithmic governance, to develop a concept of ‘algorhythmic governance’. We then use this framing to make sense of two empirical case studies: a traffic management system and sound monitoring and modelling. Our analysis reveals: (1) how smart city technologies computationally perform rhythmanalysis and undertake rhythm-making that intervenes in space-time processes; (2) distinct forms of algorhythmic governance, varying on the basis of adaptiveness, immediacy of action, and whether humans are in-, on-, or, off-the-loop; (3) and a number of factors that shape how algorhythmic governance works in practice.
One-day Workshop, Hamilton Seminar Room (317), Eolas Building, North Campus, Maynooth University, Ireland, December 14th, 2017
Hosted by the Programmable City project at Maynooth University Social Sciences Institute and the Department of Geography
Places are strictly limited so please register by December 1stRegister Now
In line with the parallel concepts of slow food (e.g. Miele & Murdoch 2002) or slow scholarship (Mountz et al 2015), ‘slow computing’(Fraser 2017)is a provocation to resist. In this case, the idea of ‘slow computing’ prompts users of contemporary technologies to consider ways of refusing the invitation to enroll in data grabbing architectures – constituted in complex overlapping ways by today’s technology services and devices – and by accepting greater levels of inconvenience while also pursuing data security, privacy, and even a degree of isolation from the online worlds of social networks.
The case for slow computing arises from the emerging form and nature of ‘the algorithmic age.’ As is widely noted across the sciences today (e.g. see Boyd & Crawford 2012; Kitchin 2014), the algorithmic age is propelled forward by a wide range of firms and government agencies pursuing the roll-out of data-driven and data-demanding technologies. The effects are varied, differentiated, and heavily debated. However, one obvious effect entails the re-formatting of consumers into data producers who (knowingly or unwittingly) generate millions of data points that technology firms can crunch and manipulate to understand specific markets and society as a whole, not to mention the public and private lives of everyday users. Once these users are dispossessed of the value they help create (Thatcher et al 2016), and then conceivably targeted in nefarious ways by advertisers and political campaigners (e.g. see Winston 2016), the subsequent implications for economic and democratic life are potentially far-reaching.
As such, as we move further into a world of ‘big data’ and the so-called ‘digital economy,’ there is a need to ask how individuals – as well as civil society organizations, small firms, small-scale farmers, and many others – might continue to make appropriate and fruitful use of today’s technologies, but while also trying to avoid becoming another data point in the new data-aggregating market. Does slow computing offer a way to navigate the algorithmic age while taking justice seriously? Can slow computing become a part of diverse strategies or tactics of resistance today? Just what are the possibilities and limitations of slow computing?
This one-day workshop will discuss these and other questions about slow computing.
10.00-10.15 Welcome: Rob Kitchin & Alistair Fraser
10.15-11.30 Keynote address: Stefania Milan, Associate Professor of New Media and Digital Culture at the University of Amsterdam and Associate Professor of Media Innovation (II) at the University of Oslo.
Paper session 1: Problematising the algorithmic age
11.30-11.45 Nancy Ettlinger, Algorithmic affordances for resistance
11.45-12.00 Jess Hoare, Slippery people: Technologization and technoratization of cities and bodies
12.00-12.15 Pip Thornton, Language in the age of algorithmic reproduction: a critique of linguistic capitalism and an artistic intervention
12.15-12.30 Chris Pinchen, Dance Like Your Microwave Isn’t Watching: (From CryptoParty to Teen Vogue via Emma Goldman and reverse engineered sex toys)
Paper Session 2: Rights and resistance in the algorithmic age
14.00-14.15 Aphra Kerr, Bringing the citizen back into the Algorithmic Age
14.15-14.30 Gabriela Avram, Community networks as a form of resistance
14.30-14.45 Adi Kuntsman and Esperanza Miyake, Digital disengagement as a right and a privilege: challenges and socio-political possibilities of refusal in dataised times
14.45-15.00 Marguerite Barry, Kalpana Shankar, Aphra Kerr, Slowcalisation – towards an ethic of care for human-data interactions
Paper Session 3: Practising slow computing
16.00-16.15 Paul O’Neill, Practice what we preach: Tactical media art as a form of political resistance
16.15-16.30 Rachel O’Dwyer, Coined Liberty: Cash as Resistance to Transactional Dataveillance
16.30-16.45 Lindsay Ems, Global Resistance through Technology Non-Use: An Amish Case Study
16.45-17.00 Kate Symons, OxChain – Reshaping development donors and recipients
Surveilling the “smart” city to secure economic development in Camden, New Jersey
Alan Wiig, University of Massachusetts, Boston
Smart city agendas are often aligned with the creation of new urban districts to attract or retain information and innovation-focused firms. While many of these areas are greenfield sites in the global South, these areas are also emerging in industrial-era cities in the global North. To wit, this essay charts the evolution of Camden, New Jersey’s zones of globalized enterprise. Nearly $2 billion is or will soon be invested in the city. I argue that securing this investment first necessitated implementing “smart” policies around security, surveillance, and policing. As these smart city, free enterprise zones become common styles of urban-economic development worldwide (Easterling 2014), critically engaging with the development strategies underlying said zones is necessary to situate the smart city within the ongoing, evolving relationship between the global economy and cities themselves. Contrasting the emerging geography of global capitalism with the installation of a citywide, digital surveillance apparatus presents an opportunity to investigate the spatial and infrastructural context within which the discourse of and technologies of the smart city are deployed.
Building Smart City Partnerships in the ‘Silicon Docks’
Liam Heaphy, Maynooth University – Réka Pétercsák, Maynooth University
The regeneration of the Dublin Docklands as a Smart Port and a place in which to work and live brings about a renewed debate on urban form, function and heritage. Steps have also been taken to characterise the Docklands as a smart district for trialling new urban technologies in collaboration with private enterprise and the start-up community, for which infrastructure is now being put in place across the city. Even in the Smart City realm, local authorities are regarded as the main responsible providers of urban social functions, but the present platform of engagement proves to be more complex: it is influenced by the changing roles of planning agencies, the transformation of the financial services industry, SME alliances and local demographics. The relations of stakeholders are underpinned by their perceived and real ownership of city assets, but are also constantly framed by the future projection of their sovereignty in the area. This paper, therefore, aims to contribute to the conversation on the smart development of the Dublin Docklands by uncovering the local characteristics of engagement. We argue that the collaboration network among heterogeneous stakeholders forms a critical infrastructure, and shapes and enables the transformation of an urban region. Although tied to a global context of deepening globalisation and synergies between investment capital and elected governments, of special interest is the means by which this work is shaped by local context and national priorities.
University Campuses as Bounded Sites of Smart City Co-Production
Andy Karvonen, University of Manchester
Universities are significant actors in the co-production of smart cities. Academics provide expertise on the technical, economic, and social aspects of smart technologies and systems as well as serve as evaluators of smart project performance. However, universities also play a significant role in the spatialisation of smart cities by serving as physical sites for innovation activities. Urban university campuses provide an ideal space for experimentation because they are 1) comprised of a large, single-owner estate; 2) include a collection of buildings and infrastructure networks that are managed in-house; 3) provide opportunities for applied research and teaching; and 4) leverage innovation activities as a means to enhance the institution’s reputation in the higher education sector. This paper focuses on the spatial aspects of smart city co-production and the role of university campuses as targeted sites of urban experiments. The work is based on Triangulum, a Horizon 2020-funded project that is targeting two university campuses in Manchester to trial an integrated suite of energy, transport, and ICT technologies. The project frames the campuses as testbeds of innovation with stakeholders including the university estates departments, academic researchers, the local authority, a public-private urban development partnership, and two technical consultants. The project draws the universities into Manchester’s larger knowledge economy agenda while providing a protected space of innovation to trial particular interventions in the heart of the city. Using ideas from laboratory studies and sustainable transitions, this paper suggests that university campuses play a significant role in the co-production of smart cities.
Algorhythmic governance: regulating the city heartbeat with sensing infrastructures
Claudio Coletta, Maynooth University
I will address actual forms of “algorhythmic governance” in cities, intended as the way of shaping urban temporality through digital infrastructures to order urban life. Looking at cases and practices of configuring, deploying and retrieving data from sensing devices for sound and air quality monitoring in Dublin, the study will explore how the rhythm of the city is regulated and tuned in order to enact specific forms of governance. In particular, the attention will be directed to the frequency rate of data capture as a crucial aspect in making sensing devices accountable for urban management: on the one hand, producing and maintaining constant the heartbeat of the city allows to generate predictable models for managing urban settings and act upon them; on the other hand, however, setting the frequency and the right measure requires continuous adjustments and balances depending on the historical and situated dimension of city life, related for example to mutable mobility and planning aspects. In order to be effective, governance needs to combine different rhythms given the interconnected and multifarious kind of rhythms and measures. Nonetheless, setting the rhythm makes important distinction between what is noise and what is signal, what is relevant for governance and what is not, what can be predictable and included and what cannot. In emphasizing the role of rhythms in urban governance, the study intends to critically address the debate on anticipatory governance and speculative design considering the multiple, coexisting and conflicting space-time dimensions of the city.