Friday, 30 October 2020

Technology and the City panels @ PHTR conference

To celebrate the publication of our edited volume Technology and the City: Towards a Philosophy of Urban Technology, we will host two sessions at the Philosophy of Human-Technology Relations Conference (4-7 November 2020).

In the first panel (Nov 5, 12:15), EL Putnam, Kevin Mintz, Taylor Stone, and Ryan Mitchell Wittingslow will present and reflect upon their contribution to our book. You will find the abstracts below. The session will be chaired by Pieter Vermass, the current president of the Society for Philosophy of Technology and one of the co-editors of our book.

The second session (Nov 5, 14:15) will be a workshop organized by Sanna Lehtinen, Taylor Stone and myself which aims to identify future urban technologies which will shape and will be shaped by life in the city. Ideally, the exercise will lead us to the first outline of a future research agenda for the philosophical exploration of urban technologies. Of course, the presenters from the first panel will join us.

Needless to say, there are more sessions and presentations at the Philosophy of Human-Technology Relations Conference (4-7 November 2020), which are of relevance for our domain: For example, on Saturday, Nov 7, 12:30, a panel on "City & Architecture" will feature talks by Tea Lobo, who also contributed to the book project, and a presentation by our colleagues from the Designing for Controversies project. The session will also feature a talk by form PSTS-student Hidde Kamst, who wrote a wonderful thesis on citizen-participation in smart cities initiatives. I am also looking forward to the workshop on "Designing Frictions for Active Technological Environments" co-organized by our co-editor Margoth González Woge and yet another PSTS alumni, Samantha Valenzuela.

I hope to meet some of you at the event! We will continue our series of launch events for the book in December 2020. And here are the abstract for the City and Technology session:

EL Putnam: Locative Reverb - Artistic Practice, Sound Technology, and the Grammatization of the Listener in the City

There are various ways that artists use technology in exploring the relation of sound to the urban environment, which has different impacts on the listener in relation to place. The rising prominence of these works is connected to a broader sonic turn in urban studies and art, underscoring a rising emphasis on the influence of sound on multisensory experience. Using Bernard Stiegler’s consideration of technology as pharmakon (or the condition of duality in which something is both poison and cure, bringing both benefit and harm), and his definition of technological grammatization, how artistic use of technology mediates the relationship of the urban environment to the listener through sound is studied through a pharmacological approach in order to nuance the possibilities of artistic critical engagement, emphasising how this can include unintended consequences of re-enforcing certain listener behaviours. At the same time, considerations of how artistic repurposing of listening technology can provide new modes of urban engagement are taken into account, where sound offers the impetus for what Brandon LaBelle (2017) refers to as sonic agency.

Kevin Mintz: Universally Designed Urban Environments - “A Mindless Abuse of the Ideal of Equality” or a Matter of Social Justice?

In “Justice and Nature,” Thomas Nagel rejects the claim that social equality requires the universal design of urban environments to accommodate people with disabilities. Universal design is a movement in architecture and other arenas to minimize the need to provide individual accommodations for people with disabilities by designing environments that are accessible to a wide range of individuals. I advance that Nagel inappropriately categorizes universal design as a matter of humanitarianism or charity. He miscategorizes universal design in this way because he wrongly assumes that the inaccessibility of public facilities results from an impairment itself rather than the inaccessible design of urban environments. I argue that for people with disabilities to receive equal access to a city, universal design must be a central consideration in urban policy and construction. I also suggest that assistive technologies are necessary to the realization of universal design. These technologies are critical to facilitating responsible design, and relational autonomy for people with disabilities. In situations where universal design is impractical, cities should aim to retrofit facilities for disability access as a matter of justice whenever feasible. My presentation will further address how my argument has implications for urban design in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Efforts to promote social distancing also provide opportunities to improve the accessibility of public facilities and urban modes of transportation for people with disabilities, particularly theme parks, restaurants, and airplanes.

Taylor Stone - Dark Acupuncture and the Possibilities of Responsible Urban Innovation

Building on the contributions of Technology and the City, this presentation will explore if – and how – the philosophy of human-technology relations can contribute to urban planning and design, and vice versa. This will be discussed mainly via my contribution to the volume, which outlines strategies for incorporating environmental values into nighttime lighting. One strategy refines the planning theory urban acupuncture to foster positive experiences of darkness, offering new possibilities for urban lighting. Beyond serving as a provocative moral and aesthetic argument, this creates opportunities to work with designers on the realization of responsible lighting strategies. To exemplify this possibility, two collaborative projects will be presented that translate the concept of dark acupuncture into site-specific design proposals. The first is a lighting master plan for a park in the Netherlands. The plan focuses on wayfinding and the re-design of light-dark transition zones (specifically adjacent highway underpasses), to create a dark habitat within a densely urbanized region. The second is a design concept for a pedestrian bridge in Jakarta, Indonesia. To draw attention to the impacts of light pollution, the bridge lighting has been re-designed to resemble an unpolluted night sky – meant to convey an environmental message via an immersive experience. To conclude, generalizable insights will be sketched regarding the interaction between the philosophy of human-technology relations and urban design. In particular, a future direction for the philosophy of urban technologies will be proposed: taking ideas off pages and into the streets.

Ryan Mitchell Wittingslow - Authenticity and the “Authentic City”

Thanks to the transformative power of information and communication technologies, smart cities purport to offer managers and bureaucrats a more harmonious and efficient means of reducing traffic, managing assets, and increasing public safety. However, I am dubious of these utopian sentiments. Indeed, I argue that the benefits that smart cities purport to provide cohere poorly with a number of our shared phenomenological intuitions about the relationships(s) between authentic experience and technologised society. While many of these intuitions are, strictly speaking, pseudo-problems, they deserve our attention. The belief that technologised urban spaces somehow corrode our potential for authentic experience is one that carries enormous power, as Charles Taylor argues, authenticity is nothing less than the contemporary moral ideal. Consequently, it indelibly colours the relationships that we forge with our artefacts. These issues will only grow more pressing as our ‘dumb cities’, already so opaque to experience, give way to hyper-technologised ‘smart cities’. However, it is possible to design our way out of these pseudo-problems. Assuming we accept my argument that the distinction between authenticity and the device paradigm is premised upon a certain kind of category error, there is no categorical or definitional reason why it is not possible for urbanised, technologised spaces to feel authentic, whether by virtue of their aesthetic properties, or because they facilitate ‘authentic’ behaviour. Indeed, I argue that ‘inauthenticity’ is an aesthetic rather than an ontological category (much like ‘ugliness’, or ‘boring-ness’), with feelings of inauthenticity serving as evidence of a basic failure of design.

Friday, 16 October 2020

Book launch events (update)

To celebrate the launch of our edited volume Technology and the City: Towards a Philosophy of Urban Technologies, we will organize a number of events with the authors. Robert Seddon will go first. He contributed a chapter entitled "Ghost walks for wireless networks" for our book and will speak about Cultural Icons and Symbolic Links at the Colloquium of University of Twente's Philosophy department on Thursday, October 22, 2020, 15:45-17:15 (local time). This will, of course, be an online event - and we invite everyone in an interested in technology and the city to join! Just send me an email and I will send you the link to the virtual meeting. Of course, there will also be some activities at the Philosophy of Human-Technology conference in November PLUS some independent events. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, 27 May 2020

Update on book project "Technology and the City"

I am happy to announce that our book project Technology and the City: Towards a Philosophy of Urban Technologies is in production and will be published soon. My co-editors (Taylor Stone, Margoth González Woge, Pieter Vermaas) and I (Michael Nagenborg) would like to thank all authors for their contributions, support, and patience.

You will learn more about the individual contributions, the scholars involved, and the background of the project soon. But, for now, you may feast your eyes on the table of content:

Part 1: Ontological foundations: city-technology relations


Sanna Lehtinen and Vesa Vihanninjoki: Aesthetic Perspectives on Urban Technologies: Conceptualizing and evaluating the technology-driving changes in the urban everyday experience

Tea Lobo: The Techne and Poiesis of Urban Life-Forms

El Putnam: Locative Reverb: Artistic practice, sound technology, and the grammatization of the listener in the city

Vlad Niculescu-Dincă: Theorizing technologically mediated policing in smart cities: An ethnographic approach to sensing infrastructures in security practices

Mark Thomas Young: Now You See It (Now You Don’t): Users, maintainers, and the invisibility of infrastructure

Marcel Müller: Structure and Background: The influence of infrastructures on human action

Jaana Parviainena and Seija Ridell: Infrastructuring bodies: Choreographies of power in the computational city

Part 2: Responsible design of urban technologies


Rockwell F. Clancy and Aline Chevalier: Dockless App-Based Bicycle-Sharing Systems in China: Lessons from a case of emergent technology

Kevin Mintz: Universally Designed Urban Environments: "A mindless abuse of the ideal of equality" or a matter of social justice?

Taylor Stone: Towards a Darker Future? Designing environmental values into the next generation of streetlights

Pieter Vermaas and Sara Eloy: Shape Grammar Systems as a Technology for Flexible Design for Values in Cities: Giving architectural design to inhabitants

Ryan Mitchell Wittingslow: Authenticity and the “Authentic City”

Henry Dicks, Jean-Luc Bertrand-Krajewski, Christophe Ménézo, Yvan Rahbé, Jean Philippe Pierron, and Claire Harpet: Applying Biomimicry to Cities: The forest as model for urban planning and design

Part 3: Urban futures and “smart” cities

Udo Pesch: From Liberalism to Experimentation: Reconstructing the dimensions of public space

Bart van der Sloot and Marjolein Lanzing: The Continued Transformation of the Public Sphere: On the road to smart cities, living labs and a new understanding of society

Germán Bula: A Philosophy of Sidewalks: Reclaiming promiscuous public spaces

Stefano Borgo, Dino Borri, Domenico Camarda, Maria Rosaria, and Stufano Melone: An Ontological Analysis of Cities, Smart Cities and their Components

Brandt Dainow: Binding the Smart City Human-Digital System with Communicative Processes

Wang Qian and Yu Xue: Technology and the City: From the perspective of philosophy of organicism

Robert Seddon: Ghost Walks for Wireless Networks

Thursday, 20 February 2020

Panel on "Smart City Surveillance" at SSN 2020

I am happy about the acceptance of our "Smart City Surveillance" panel at the Surveillance Studies Network Conference in Rotterdam. I will join Sage Cammers-Goodwin, Maša Galič, Mark Ryan, Karin Pfeffer, and Fenna Hoefsloot. The session has been organised and will be chaired by Tjerk T. Timan. Sage Cammers-Goodwin and I will present some of our findings from the BRIDE project.

Here's the abstract:

In many Western city centers, we are witnessing an increase of smart city and living lab infrastructure that is promising innovation in security and profitability. While securing cities and its citizens against external attacks or internal dangers is nothing new, current smart-city logics – often in the form of public-private partnerships – are delivering a complex landscape of purposes for novel and often highly invasive surveillance technologies. Combining privately-generated data (e.g. social media or personal walking patterns), ‘environmental’ data (e.g. crowdedness and weather conditions) and hard-factual statistics (e.g. crime rates, trash collection or beer consumption), profiles on atmosphere, persons’ moods and pre-conflict situational awareness are being generated. The next step in such often experimental initiatives is to package such projects as wholesale security solutions.

Main theme:
In this panel we want to explore, on the basis of a large body of theory in geography, philosophy of technology, surveillance studies and law, what the current practices out there are, and how to analyse such experiments. In other words, what can we say, learn and do about such urban surveillance infrastructural developments, and how can we expand the body of knowledge stemming from these cases?

Tuesday, 21 January 2020

Public service announcement: Philosophy job openings in The Netherlands

A couple of positions have been recently opened at Dutch universities. While I already tweeted about them, here's an overview.

PhD candidates: We are hiring a PhD candidate for our project "Disastrous Information." The PhD candidate will be placed at Department of Urban and Regional Planning and Geo-Information Management (PGM) of ITC (Faculty of Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation). I will be one of the supervisors. Applications are due by February 2nd, 2020.

There will also be a postdoc position within the same project which will open later this year.

Postdoc: TU Delft is looking for two postdocs in ethics of medical technologies (full-time, 2 years).

Note that the partners in the Gravitation project will start to hiring PhD candidates soon.

Assistant Professor: There are two openings at Assistant Professor level which are related to the Gravitation project. One at the University of Twente and one at the University of Delft.

In addition, the Philosophy department at the University of Maastricht is hiring two Assistant Professors.

Finally, if you are not familiar with the Dutch system: Note that "tenure track" can have a different meaning at different universities. Please have a good look at the details and do contact the departments if you are in doubt about the requirements for getting tenured.

Thursday, 28 November 2019

Two new projects granted

I am happy to share the good news that two projects have been granted recently.

The first project has been selected as a so-called BMS signature PhD project - a project funded by my faculty to showcase the work being done at BMS. The project will allow Isaac Oulouch to continue and extend his great work on slum mapping in his master thesis. The project will be co-supervised by Monika Kuffer and myself with additional support by Karin Pfeffer and Yola Georgiadou. Peter-Paul Verbeek will be the promotor.

Here's a brief summary of the project, which will go by the name of FRAME-PRO (Framework for responsible and accountable deprivation area mapping in support of pro-poor policies):

Locational data (“geo-data”) has become increasingly available due to technological innovation. This innovation has improved the capability of capturing, storing and processing vast amounts of geo-data, producing results which have commercial and administrative value. For example, such data are essential in the SDG agenda.
While there is a growing awareness of the ethical challenges of geo-data (such as privacy, access to data and surveillance), we require a better understanding of the societal role emerging technologies can play in acquiring geo-data. Building on insights from Philosophy of Technology, we begin with the premise that technologies are not neutral tools but shape the ways in which we perceive and act in the world. In our project, we will answer the question: To what extent do geo-data technologies affect the responsibilities of various stakeholders to improve the lives of the urban poor? The project links to global policy goals of promoting public health (SDG-3), access to water (SDG-6), and building inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable cities (SDG-11).
The PhD project will build a framework to evaluate geo-data technologies (such as geo-information systems, mapping and sensor technologies) through two case studies. Such a framework helps to identify the relevant stakeholders in the geo-data acquisition, to address the distribution of accountability and responsibility in the global use of these technologies. The first case looks into the automated detection of “slums” through satellite and drone images, focusing on the long-term planning and development of mapping practices. The second case concerns the design of GIS for disaster response, to understand how geo-data technologies can help in improving resilience to human-made and climate-related risks in developing countries. These cases will be supplemented by embedded research in various institutions.
The second project will be funded by NWO within the MWI line on Responsible Innovation. Designing for public values in a digital world. It is called "Disastrous Information: Embedding ‘Do No Harm’ principles into innovative geo-intelligence workflows for effective humanitarian action."

I will collaborate with Jaap Zevenbergen, Caroline Gevaert, and Yola Georgiadou. Here's a brief summary:

Most humanitarian scholars ask what geospatial intelligence, from satellite and drone imagery combined with artificial intelligence, can do for humanitarian action. We ask what these technologies do to the core principles—humanity, impartiality, and independence—of the “Do No Harm” humanitarian imperative (Sandvik et al 2017). Upholding humanity and impartiality suggests that not only affected humans and groups/demographics must be protected, but also the privacy and dignity of their “data doubles.” Upholding independence suggests that humanitarian organizations need the capacity to audit donors’, industry’s and digital humanitarians’ geospatial data, tools and algorithms for privacy violations. Empirically, we focus on Malawi. There UNICEF Malawi has an infrastructure comprising rich geospatial data sets, the first dedicated humanitarian drone corridor worldwide, a strong network with Malawi government, donors, and drone industry, as well as a plan to install and replicate in other African countries the first African Data & Drone Academy (ADDA) for Masters students from Malawi and neighboring countries. Conceptually, we draw upon scholarship on Fair, Accountable and Transparent (FAT) socio-technical systems, cultural and organizational theory and privacy by design. We use a mix of experimental (hackathons, mapathons, choice experiments) and qualitative methods (in-depth interviews and focus groups) as well as Q-methodology. We will determine the optimal distribution of technological and regulatory designs for Malawi and an appropriate design for co-creating audit capacity within ADDA’s Master program. The research team combines legal, geo-intelligence, policy & ethics expertise, and decades of collective experience in institutional development and capacity building in the global South.
The best part is that both grants will offer great opportunities for combining the research efforts and to make a substantial contribution on the meaning of high tech in the lives of the urban poor. I am excited, but also a bit scared about the task ahead of us.

We will start hiring a PhD candidate and a PostDoc for the project shortly. The project aims to start in March 2020.

Tuesday, 5 November 2019

Graduation Ching Hung (Nov 13, 2019)

On Nov 13, 2019, Ching Hung will defend his PhD thesis entitled "Design for Green: Ethics and Politics for Behavior Steering Technologies." You can find the official announcement here, which also includes a summary of his work.

I am proud to have served as daily supervisor on his project. Of course, his thesis includes an interesting chapter about cities and smaller human settlements. This comes with little surprise since urban planning is in good parts concerned with steering human behaviour, although it's not always understood in these terms. In his thesis, Ching does not only examine two communities which are designed on the principles laid down by B. F. Skinner in his utopian novel "Walden Two." He also evaluates the design of Village Homes, a community built in 1982 and located near Davis, California.

B. F. Skinner's work plays a significant role in the thesis. While his approach of radical behaviourism has been contested, Skinner also made the interesting point that meeting global challenges like climate change will require foremost to change human behaviour. Hung's starting point is that we do actually know quite well, that we do need to change - but knowing about the need is not sufficient. Therefore, he turns to the multiple ways in which artefacts and the built environment at large play a role in guiding our everyday activities.

Inspired by the work of C. Mouffe, Hung suggests an approach of agonistic design, where artefacts challenge hegemony. For example, speed bumps challenge the hegemony embodied and facilitates by smooth roads, which invite to drive fast. Green communities, thus, need to be understood as a challenge to the current mainstream, which doesn't support a sustainable lifestyle. To avoid the risk of forcing people to adapt to a particular lifestyle, Hung also argues in favour of small and experimental communities, which also allow for mutual learning.

If you are nearby on November 13, 2019, please feel free to join us in celebrating Ching Hung's stimulating contribution to the much-needed debate, what we are willing to do to meet the challenge of climate change and to avoid the destruction of our planet due to stupid human behaviour.