Tuesday, 25 October 2016

CfP "Technology and the City" track @ SPT2017

Special Track: Technology and the City @ SPT 2017: The Grammar of Things (Darmstadt, Germany, June 14-17, 2017)

Track organizers:

Call for Abstracts (Deadline: Dec 5, 2016)

Technology is no stranger to the city. Cities are designed, built, maintained, and destroyed by technological means. Technologies shape our cities and are in turn shaped by city life. However, until recently, cities have been given relatively little attention by philosophers of technology.” In line with the overall theme of the conference, we would like to invite papers that reflect on cities, which themselves can be viewed as complex, larger scale technological artifacts made up of various lower level artifacts (e.g., buildings, streets, and parks). While the city can’t be reduced to just material artifacts, we encourage perspectives that explore the material aspect of the city.

Initial work on this theme suggests specific topics, such as overcoming the “urban dualism” (Kingwell 2008) reinforcing the split between public space and the public sphere. We also invite scholars to look into the backstage of the city and explore the political and ethical implications of infrastructures (Easterling 2016). Questions of aesthetics, equity, privacy, and sustainability (to name but a few values) are pertinent to our moral appraisals of cities. Contributions may address these or other issues by looking at the “urban machinery” (Hård and Misa 2008) of communication, energy, industrial, or transportation systems. This, in turn, invites reflections on the methodologies needed to understand the interplay between these technologies, which operate in the background, and the ways in which human beings act in and perceive the world. This can also include critical reflections on how such city infrastructures constitute perceptions and experiences of the natural world (Stefanovic and Scharper 2012).

Finally, we welcome contributions from the perspective of political philosophy on urban justice and urban coexistence (including coexistence with non-human animals). This may include contributions on the role of technology in urban governance as well as contributions on how to govern technological developments in the city.

Further suggested topics are:
  • Ontology of urban technological artifacts
  • Axiological dimensions of urban technological artifacts
  • Interplay between the built environment and human behavior
  • Interplay between built and natural environments
  • The role of infrastructures in city life
  • Transition towards smart environments (ambient intelligence, smart cities)
  • Non-human agency
  • Urban justice and quality of life
  • Dwelling in the city: women, LGBT, minorities, and under-represented groups
  • The politics of enabling and disabling environments
  • Architectural design and social movements, political and artistic interventions
  • Urban coexistence
  • Emotional, corporal, cognitive, and symbolic dimensions of the city
  • Relevant research methodologies or theoretical frameworks
The track is supported by the Philosophy of the City Research Group. Selected contributions of the track will be published in an edited volume on “Cities and technologies” to be published in book series Philosophy of Engineering and Technology (Springer).

Submission of abstracts

Proposals for contributions to this track can be made by sending abstracts of about 350 words by December 5, 2016, via Easychair. Please make sure to submit to the special track “Technology and the City”.

Further information about the SPT conference and its venue can be found at www.philosophie.tu-darmstadt.de/spt2017.


  • Easterling, Keller (2016): Extrastatecraft. London and New York City: Verso.
  • Hård, Mikael, and Thomas J. Misa (2008): Urban machinery: inside modern European cities. MIT Press.
  • Kingwell, Mark (2008): Concrete Reveries: Consciousness and the City. Toronto: Penguin.
  • Stefanovic, Ingrid L., and Stephen B. Scharper (2012): The Natural City: Re-envisioning the Built Environment. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Urban Robotics

From Oct 18-21, 2016, I will be at the Robophilosophy conference in Aarhus (Denmark). I will be part of a workshop on "Responsible Robotics" (co-organized by the Foundation of Responsible Robotics and the 4TU.Ethics Task Force Robotics). I have been working on robotics for a while now. And actually the interplay between robots and the build environment has already been a topic of stimulating discussion during my work on the ETHICBOTS project. To put it a bit point, the question was: Should we build cities for robots or humans? Especially in the context of ETHICBOTS, our basic idea was, that anytime soon robots will leave the factories and we might start to interact with them on a more casual everyday base. Service robots may come to your mind. And, indeed, it was a care giving robot that gave me the idea that we have to think about the interplay between robots and the build environment. The care giving robot in case was meant to enable elderly people to live a more independent life and stay at their homes. The problem: The robot had wheels. Hence, while the robot was marketed as a mobility aid, he was not capable to walk stairs. - This might be a fairly simple and straight forward example, but to me it demonstrates the need to think about the general interplay between the build environment and robots. My interest in robots designed for the urban context, was renewed when I learned about the MX3D bridge. According to the company's web site, this is what the project aims for:
We are going to 3D print a fully functional, intricate steel bridge over water in the center of Amsterdam to showcase our revolutionary technology. MX3D equips industrial multi-axis robots with 3D tools and develops the software to control them. This allows us to 3D print strong, complex and gracious structures out of sustainable material – from large bridges to small parts. We research and develop groundbreaking, cost-effective robotic technology with which we can 3D print beautiful, functional objects in almost any form.
Indeed, it looks like Amsterdam seems to attract robots. I am already curious how the Roboat will change our ideas of urban transportation systems. Of course, not everything is bright and shiny. For example, we may need to discuss, if self-driving cars (robots, by my standards) might actually contribute to urban sprawl. Hence, I think it's about time to start a discussion on the interplay of robotics and cities. You will find the abstract for my talk here. If you have any suggestions about any project, that makes use of robots in an urban context, please me know. And I would be happy to learn, that I am not the only one working on this.