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1. In ME++ Mitchell talks about “electronic nervous systems” of intelligent urban environments. Discuss an example of an intelligent urban system you are familiar with and discuss the elements of the feedback loop, how its form of governance works, and who are its stakeholders (goals, decision makers, evaluators, etc.).
Reading ME++ has greatly brought into question for me the contours of modern urban man and where they meet the urban environment. Mitchell’s metaphor “my enclosures are leaky” is thought provoking.
With so much of our lives being tied up in networked interaction, it is no longer simple to classify a boundary that makes up a city, (conversely, a boundary that makes up the self) In the age of the internet, we live in an interconnected space and time. In this new spaceless and timeless polis we can observe one phenomenon that defines our interconnected dwelling : the production of large amounts of information.
I am going to take some license in describing a system,that is not strictly speaking an urban regulatory system, but nevertheless an intelligent system that has great impact on urban life: The Marketing and Advertising Industrial Complex
Both broadcast media and online ads leverage information by tracking user behaviour, in an effort to produce targeted advertising. This is a sophisticated and enormous project of of gathering and analyzing data, sorting and profiling the different species of audiences, deciphering their tastes and appetites, designing precise content and scheduling optimal delivery to effect timely injections of information that will persuade the specified user type to make a purchase- or at the very least to simply leave the unsuspecting subject teased with the consumer impulse that has come to be so inextricably tied to urban life.
If we look at this interaction as a system (even if the particular entities behind the effort are individual competitors- the drive and impact is systemic) we can surely see an intelligent system at work here. This entire study of urban dwellers (with the deployment of advanced tools and automated marketing) and orchestration of purchase schemes can be understood as an intelligent urban system, especially once we begin to take into account Mitchell’s ideas about what constitutes urban space in the connected world.
Goals, decision makers, evaluators:
It would be too simplistic too assert that this system is malicious or evil. The goal of the Marketing and Advertising Industrial Complex is to create consumer spending. This spending then leads to increased income and this in turn leads to further spending. The stakeholders are indeed opportunistic capitalists, but in the age of entrepreneurship, it serves aspiring entrepreneurs well to have access to large amounts of information and data analytics tools that can intelligently identify potential buyers and direct the traffic of content to those that would respond to the content- i.e. fit buyers to ads. Directing content traffic reduces mismatched or unwanted information (a.k.a spam) which helps everyone, so one could argue that all users are stakeholders in so far as they benefit from receiving personalized instead of irrelevant content.
The decision making here is done largely by the algorithmic mechanisms in place, the evaluation metric is the sales revenue.
Perhaps a more critical and overarching discussion about whether data driven content delivery simply predicts consumer patterns and choices, or actually affects them, may be worth having here. The question of the day then would be what kind of affordances does the Marketing and Advertising industrial Complex produce. Does being in this automated ecosystem of regulated content streamline the user experience, or does it, more insidiously, affect human agency?
2. Suppose that in few years we have driverless automobiles that can be used in shared schemes without the need for redistribution. Is this a plausible solution/future for you?
The proposal for the driverless car as a “consumer electronics device,” one which we can think of more as “networked computers on wheels” is a very exciting potential future for the automobile. Keeping aside all of the technical challenges that the project will face, the cost of the hardware, etc, the bigger challenge it seems, is the initial roadblock of the transformational period, as described in MIT’s report on driverless automobiles.
The adoption of driverless automobiles will require a cohesive plan that has all stakeholders on board. It is their ‘collective will’ that is required to surmount the initial hurdle. Negotiating a collective will between stakeholders (automobile companies, transportation operators, electric and energy companies, real estate developers and urban planners, information technology companies, and policy makers) with varying or conflicting priorities and complicated relationships is a hard challenge.
In addition, the nature of this project requires that it jumpstart quickly in order for it to be a usable system. Its efficiency lies in providing mobile convenience, flexibility and autonomy. This requires that there are many charging stations, widely spread out at convenient locations, i.e. that the full system infrastructure is in place. In order for that to be a reality, there need to be more driverless automobiles on the road, creating a larger network. The MIT report speculates that there needs to be a snowball effect in order to get the system running in a usable way.
This means that on the one hand there must be agreed upon standards for these automobiles made by different manufacturers, ensuring interoperability on both the hardware and the telecommunications fronts- this is extremely crucial as having closed proprietary practices will be quite detrimental to the initial snowball effect required for the transformational phase. Furthermore an initial large scale investment injection would help the driverless automobile grow its network at a quick enough rate for it become usable as a system ( with charging stations growth comes the convenience of flexible personal mobility which is one of the strongest premises of this project ) Initial investments are needed and are the expected curve for the project to start up.
I think that if the growing pains of this project are addressed, and a negotiation between stakeholders is met, it can surely be the future of the automobile.