Friday, 22 December 2017

Book project: Technology and the City (Update)

The edited volume on „Technology and the City“ is taking shape. After an intense meeting of the editors, we have invited a total of 39 authors to submit a draft chapter. Since some of the chapters are co-authored, we expect a total of 25+ chapters, which will be presented in four sections:

  • How to Analyse Cities
  • Responsible Design of Urban Technologies
  • Technologies and Urban Life
  • Alternative Visions of the (Smart) City

While most of the authors are coming from Europe (with multiple contributions from Scandinavian countries and - little surprise! - the Netherlands), we are happy to work with authors from the Americas and China, too.

We aim to have the book published in 2019. While most of the process will have to remain invisible, we appreciate your moral support in making a (hopefully) fundamental contribution to our field. Stay tuned!

Sunday, 29 October 2017

CfP Philosophy of the City Summer Colloquium 2018

1st Philosophy of the City Summer Colloquium
Technology & the City
June 11-13, 2018, University of Twente

Call for papers

In addition to our annual conference, the Philosophy of the City Research Group hosts one Summer Colloquium per year. The first Colloquium will be held at the University of Twente (NL).

The aim of the Summer Colloquia is to bring together scholars within a specific domain of Philosophy of the City. The first Colloquium will explore the intersection and interplay between Philosophy of the City and Philosophy of Technology.

While the city and its parts are designed, built, maintained, governed, and destroyed with the means of technology, surprisingly little work has been undertaken on the interplay of technologies and the City or the more broadly metaphysical question of ‘Technology and the City.’ Some prominent philosophers of the past, like Lewis Mumford, had a striking dystopian view on the impact of Technology on the City. By contrast, the contemporary vision of the “smart city” sets forth the promise to address important societal challenges (e.g., climate adaptation and fighting global warming) with the help of sensors, big data analytics, and ‘city dashboards.’ Our Philosophy of the City Summer Colloquium aims to develop a more nuanced and holistic perspective on the role of technology in city life.

To ensure an intense and in-depth discussion, we will accept a maximum of 20 papers. In addition, we will accept a maximum of 10 posters from PhD candidates and Master-level students. PhD candidates are also invited to submit a paper.

Draft papers will be circulated one month ahead of the Colloquium. Each paper will be presented and discussed in a 60 minute-time slot (30 minutes for presentation, 10 minutes for a formal response, and 20 minutes of discussions). Each participant will be asked to comment on one paper. A limited number of papers will be presented in parallel sessions.

PhD candidates and Master-level students will have 3 minutes to pitch their posters in a dedicated session before the poster presentation.

Potential topics include

  • The place of technology in the city
  • Technology and the urban / rural divide
  • Social justice, technology, and the City
  • Living with disaster: Anticipation and resilience
  • The aesthetics of urban technologies
  • Race, Technology, and the City
  • Urban cyberspaces
  • “Kill all techies!” High-Tech Companies and Gentrification
  • The role of Philosophy of the City in Engineering Education

Confirmed keynote speakers

Ekim Tan (Play the City, Amsterdam)

Philip Brey (University of Twente)

Peter-Paul Verbeek (University of Twente)


February 15, 2018 Submission of abstracts (350 words, prepared for blind review)
March 15, 2018 Notification of authors, opening of registration
April 15, 2018 Closing of registration
May 15, 2018 Circulation of draft papers among participants

Submission of abstract

Send submissions (prepared for anonymous review) and questions to:

Dr. Michael Nagenborg,

All abstracts will be reviewed by at least one member of the executive committee and one member of the programme committee.


The Symposium will take place at the Conference Hotel Drienerburght ( Rooms have been reserved for the participants and can be booked directly through the hotel’s website, once the registration has been opened.

The University of Twente ( is located in the east of the Netherlands between the cities of Enschede and Hengelo. The most convenient international airport is Schiphol (close to Amsterdam). There is a direct train from Schiphol to Enschede Central Station every hour. The trip takes about two hours.

Conference fee

Master students: 30 EUR
PhD candidates: 80 EUR
Regular conference fee: 130 EUR

The conference fee includes lunch and catering. Opportunities for joint dinners will be provided, but dinner will not be included in the conference fee.

Executive Committee

Shane Epting (President), Ronald Sundstrom (Vice-President), Michael Nagenborg (Secretary), and Jules Simon (Treasurer)

Programme Committee

To be established


Dr. Michael Nagenborg,

Call as Download

You can download the Call as PDF here.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Laura Fichtner: A Smart City of Flows

After the summer break, we continue our series of interviews with scholars from the tracks on technology and the city at CEPE/ETHICOMP and SPT 2017. The third interview is with Laura Fitchner. She presented her paper on "A Smart City of Flows" at ETHICOMP/CEPE 2017. The interview has been conducted by Margoth González Woge in Summer 2017.

Could you tell us who you are?

I’m currently a researcher in Ethics of Information Technology at Hamburg University in Germany, where we study the societal and ethical aspects of information and communication technologies (ICTs) and the Internet. I’m looking at some of the issues we face with the technological developments that are happening, for example concerns about cybersecurity, privacy and surveillance. I’m interested in how we create the rules and technologies that make the Internet work as it does and in how the Internet shapes the way we experience, communicate and live together.

What did you present at the Conference?

I presented and discussed some ideas about smart cities that have come out of my reading of Manuel Castells’ writing on the “space of flows”. The main idea is that ICTs are reshaping spaces in an important way. Castells makes a distinction between space and place: while place is like a container, a space is defined by and through what he calls “time-sharing practices”, so through social relations and interactions. When ICTs restructure and shape our relations and how we interact with others, they also restructure space and, when it comes to smart cities, in particular urban spaces. Often, the goal of smart city applications is to improve processes in the city in order to make them more efficient and predictable. While this can help solve some of the issues we encounter in urban life, there might also be some downsides to this logic. In the paper I explored the idea that when algorithms solve problems for us and regulate our interactions in too smooth and too efficient of a way, there is also something valuable being lost. Cities have historically always been very creative places; this creativity partly also springs out of the characteristics of city life, its deviances, unexpectedness and frictions.

As a trained engineer, did you receive any training in ethics? How did you become interested in politics/ethics?

During my bachelor in engineering I was looking for a student assistant job. I wanted to do something different, so I started working at the Institute for Technology Assessment and System Analysis (ITAS) in Karlsruhe which analyses social challenges that science, technology and engineering pose. I liked the work they were doing, so I decided to continue in this direction. I took a couple of courses from philosophy, ethics and social sciences and searched for relevant Master programs open to people from different backgrounds. I found that the PSTS program at University of Twente was a great option.

What kind of challenges have you found while doing interdisciplinary research?

One big challenge is getting acquainted with the relevant discussions and methodologies of different disciplines. You really have to learn how to get into a new or foreign topic, but also how to communicate with and across different audiences and create a suitable vocabulary for your work. One of the great things about being an interdisciplinary researcher is that you can be very creative in your research, because you can combine different approaches to create something new and sometimes even transcended the old protocols.

What pressing problems worry you? What excites you about technological developments?

I like the idea of technology as an evolutionary process. We can model it, but we can’t completely steer it. I share the excitement many feel about all the possibilities the Internet offers to us and I’m fascinated by the impact technological developments have on our lives and societies. It’s incredible that we are now able to access so much information in no time, learn about things we couldn’t have dreamed of before and stay in touch with our loved ones far away.

Currently I think a lot about cybersecurity, data protection and surveillance. Questions I wonder about are for example what happens with all the data that is collected about us and our behavior? And how do algorithms use this data to decide what we see online? How vulnerable will our societies become by fully relying on ICTs? I think there is a growing ICT infrastructure everywhere that has important social consequences but is often invisible to us. Based on data that is collected about us online, algorithms are starting to make decisions for us and regulate what we see and how we interact with each other. The ads we see and the jobs that are advertised to us online can for example be targeted towards who the algorithm thinks we are or what we care about, and sometimes they are even just based on where we live. I think as technologists and engineers it is important to understand that we are creating realities and embedding our values in the technologies we design and implement.

Friday, 1 September 2017

Remmon Barbaza: "There is this question whether the city as we know it is a necessary evil."

Remmon Barbaza is an Associate Professor of Philosophy specializing in Heidegger and language at the Ateneo de Manila University in the Philippines. I got to know Remmon and his work at the Philosophy of the City conferences in Hong Kong and San Francisco. In July 2017, Remmon become a local 4TU.Ethics visiting scholar at Philosophy department of the University of Twente. During the time of his stay, he gave an interview, which has been published on the 4TU.Ethics website. In the interview, he talks about his work on Heidegger, art, the political situation in the Philippines, and Philosophy of the City. Here is what he has to say on the city. The interview has been conducted by Stephen Leitheiser (SL).
SL: What does the modern city reveal to us about our society, and modern culture and politics?

RB: That is one of the more difficult questions for me conceptually: the relationship between the city and the province; the urban and the rural. Can we think of the city insofar as it is not the province? Can we think of the urban insofar as it is not the rural? Because the trend is, by 2050, about 60% of the world’s population will be living in cities. And if that is the trend, is it possible to have just all cities and no province? We do associate province with nature. We say we flee the city once in a while in order to ‘go back’ to nature, right? There is this question whether the city as we know it is a necessary evil. We can’t help but live in the cities, but flee to the provinces when life in the city becomes too much, and we want to regain our bearings. How can we build a city that is not alienating? How can we build a city in a way that does not have to disengage us from nature? ...

I think the University of Twente is a good example. The campus was designed in such a way that it is high-tech, without losing the human element. For example, this building where we are right now, the Cubicus, was supposed to have been designed to make people feel a bit lost in the beginning. And people think, ‘Really, why?!’ It is the most logical thing for a designer to do it in a straightforward manner. But, I like that concept. The question is not to make it easier or more efficient, but to make it more human. It is part of being human to take time, to orient oneself. They say this building was designed for people to meet; it was designed to make possible human encounters.

If you see the University of Twente as kind of a city: self-sustaining, with dormitories, a grocery store, a barbershop. They designed the campus in such a way that there is not an abrupt or radical disjoint from nature. The paths, the walks are somewhat naturally winding. That is the challenge: how to design a city in this way.

When we look at our approach to city construction, I agree with Heidegger that the correct starting point is ‘being-in-the-world’ [Dasein]. I cannot imagine really any other starting point. You can start with our being a particular animal, a rational animal, but it is not, as Heidegger would say, primordial enough. If your starting point is the political animal, you are forced to ask further: what is the animal in us? You are forced to go further back. But ‘being-in-the-world’ – there is no ‘further back’. The very fact of our conversation now rests on something like understanding. We share a world. Even the very possibility of disagreement or debate rests on the fact that we are in a world that is understandable. Not in a scientific sense, but as Heidegger says, we already live understandingly one way or another. The bus driver understands the world one way or another. So does a professor – whether in natural sciences or philosophy. All of that understanding happens within language. We can see that being in the world is interchangeable with being in language.

As I pointed out earlier, even Wittgenstein saw that: the limits of my language are the limits of my world; or the limits of my world are the limits of my language. They are co-extensive. The design of the city proceeds from language. Again, not language simply in the sense of an actual and particular language or linguistic system like Japanese, Filipino or English. Rather, language first and foremost has to do with being spoken to, and responding. I think that is how Heidegger would speak of language. But, interestingly Wittgenstein also wrote that “Language is like an ancient city”. The ancient city reminds us of narrow alleys, and so on. A people is known for the way it lives: that is a city – but, it is also known for the language that it speaks. The two are co-constitutive. The language shapes the city, and the city also shapes the language.

SL: In your discussion with the Spanish visual artist, Paloma Polo: ‘Dwelling Near in Mountains Farthest Apart: A Conversation’, you mention that artists, thinkers, and philosophers are shapers of culture. Cities have traditionally been the setting for this shaping of culture. As cities across the world become more standardized and more similar, what kind of an effect do you think this has on the production and shaping of culture? Do you see this as having a homogenizing effect across the world?

RB: Well, much has been said already about globalization. Before coming to Enschede, I was in Paris and Madrid. I observed the same pattern of gentrification and the same shops. Globalization in a way has this danger of flattening out distinctions so that the cities end up being similar. There is this danger of cities losing their identity because of the demand for uniformity brought about by globalization. Manila is a huge consumption city. The big names and companies are slowly killing locality – shoemakers and local businesses. Here we can bring Heidegger and Marx together because here we are dealing with capitalism as well.

With regard to nature, one can see that Marx and Heidegger pointed to the same phenomenon, even as they approached it and analyzed it differently. Marx has a long chapter in Das Kapital on machinery and large scale industries. For his part, Heidegger also repeatedly mentioned the “gigantic” and the “monstrous”. We all do have the sense that if something is done in too big a proportion, it can dehumanize us. It is no wonder that the word ‘Monster’ means ‘to warn’. The Latin monere means ‘to warn’. Monstrosities are warnings. I am aware of the direction in which cities are headed. And we see warnings everywhere. This is why I think that philosophy of the city is very important. It gives us the opportunity to question: what are we doing when we build cities? What sort of cities should we build? And, as I said: what is the relationship between ‘city’ and ‘un-city’? Is the province simply the depository of raw materials?

SL: I like the concept of urban metabolism. It involves looking at everything that makes up the city – metabolic flows that go to every corner of the world, which if looked at from this sense, means that there is really no end to the modern city. The relationships extend to the Middle East for oil; they extend to Africa for the minerals making up our smartphones; people and materials are from all over so that one cannot really draw a definite line of where the modern city ends.

RB: That is a very good analogy. We can also speak of healthy metabolism, or a problem with the metabolism. In a talk to be held tomorrow, I will raise the question of what it could mean to do things ‘in good measure’, based on Heidegger’s thinking regarding what is appropriate for us human beings, but specifically in terms of consumption and production, so I will also need to go beyond Heidegger. When do we say something is already excessive, or deficient? By what measure can one say that cities are going overboard? Is urbanization already excessive? By what grounds – or measure – do we say so? I do not think we can escape these questions.

The full interview is avaiable on the website of the 4TU.Center for Ethics and Technology.

Friday, 16 June 2017

Call for Chapters: Technology and the City

Technology and the City: Towards a Philosophy of Urban Technologies

Editors: Michael Nagenborg, Margoth González Woge, Taylor Stone, and Pieter Vermaas

The book will be published in the series “Philosophy of Engineering and Technology” (Springer).


All over the world massive investments are being made to realize visions of the ‘Smart City.’ Technology plays a central role in making future cities more sustainable, to make urban governance more transparent and just, and increase the efficiency in various sectors ranging from transport to education. What is often overlooked in the process of making cities ‘smart’ is the fundamental role of technologies in the urban lifeworld. Philosophy of Technology can help understanding this role and by this contribute to a more sophisticated thinking for developing smart cities. The contributions in this volume map out how technologies are used and designed to plan, maintain, govern, demolish, and destroy the city and its part. They demonstrate how urban technologies shape and are shaped by fundamental concepts and principles, like citizenship, publicness, democracy, and nature. And, they explore how to think of technological mediated urban space as part of the human condition. The volume will thus contribute to the much-needed discussion on technology-enabled urban futures from the perspective of Philosophy of Technology.

The studies and insights offered in this volume will also open the discussion on the particular methodological challenges for Philosophy of Technology to do justice to the city.

Potential topics

  • Technologies in the urban lifeworld (e.g., public and individual transport, infrastructures, information and communication technologies, surveillance and security technologies)
  • Urban co-existence and urban justice
  • Diversity, Technology, and the city
  • Technologies for urban planning and urban governance
  • Technology and sustainability (including urban wilderness, urban wildlife, and parks)
  • Cities as centers of technological innovation
  • Risk, disaster, and resilience
  • War: Destruction and reconstruction of the urban landscape
  • Cities and technologies in Non-Western traditions
  • Networked Cities
  • Theoretical perspectives and frameworks

Time line

We invite abstracts with a length of maximum 1.000 words. Each chapter in the volume should have a length of between 8.000 and 12.000 words (including reference).

All abstracts will be reviewed by the editors. Chapters will be reviewed by the editors and peer reviewed by the contributors.

Due dates for abstracts: November 1, 2017
Notification of acceptance: December 1, 2017
Submission of the chapters: March 15, 2018
Due dates for reviews: April 30, 2018
Notification of final acceptance and feedback to authors: June 15, 2018
Submission of revised chapter: September 15, 2018
Publication of edited volume: Spring 2019

Please, submit your abstract by email to:

The abstracts need to be prepared for blind peer review. Please, include a short CV in a separate document. Authors should also indicate if they consider including images in the final publication.


Michael Nagenborg, University of Twente (NL)

Call for Chapters as PDF

You can download the Call as PDF from my German web site.

Monday, 5 June 2017

Lachlan Urquhart: Designers are regulators

To celebrate the tracks on technology and the city at CEPE/ETHICOMP and SPT 2017, we will publish a series of interviews. The second interview is with Lachlan Urquhart. He will be presenting his paper titled ‘Ethical Dimensions of User Centric Regulation”’ as part of the ICT and the City track as ETHICOMP/CEPE 2017. The interview has been conducted in May 2017.

What should our readers know about Lachlan Urquhart?

I’m a Scottish researcher based in Nottingham, UK at a multidisciplinary research centre called Horizon Digital Economy Research Institute. My research sits at the interface of Information Technology Law (particularly privacy/data protection and information security law), Human Computer Interaction and Computer Ethics.

I did my undergraduate in law at Edinburgh, my masters in IT law at Strathclyde, and my PhD here at Nottingham in the Horizon Centre for Doctoral Training, School of Computer Science. It’s a great place for doing multidisciplinary research as I spent the first year of my PhD doing a quasi-MSc of modules from science and technology studies, human computer interaction and human factors engineering through to statistics, programming, mobile app building and geospatial information services. This really opened my eyes to how other disciplines work and got me thinking about new directions for research. I was also based in the Mixed Reality Lab (MRL) here at Nottingham, surrounded by sociologists, computer scientists, artists and musicians looking at what it means to live with ubiquitous computing. Being at the edge of what is going on technically makes for interesting legal research too!

What has brought you to the city (as a research topic)?

I got increasingly interested in smart cities during my PhD when I helped Lilian Edwards organise a major Smart Cities conference at Strathclyde University a couple of years ago. Following this I edited a special edition of a UK IT law society magazine, Computers and Law, dedicated to contributions from the conference. I find the work of people like Rob Kitchin particularly influential because it surfaces concerns of citizens in the wider narratives about how urban life is changing as computing is embedded into the built environment. It also links to my other research interests in surveillance studies eg following David Murakami Wood’s UbiCity project, design eg environmental criminology/situational crime prevention and even work I’d done a few years ago on privacy implications of domestic drones.

I also have colleagues at the MRL doing research on adaptive architecture, so we’ve had many discussions about the legal and ethical implications of this too! Most recently, as I’ve also been working in the area of privacy by design for the domestic internet of things for a while, I’ve recently started looking to issues around Industrial Internet of Things, particularly cybersecurity considerations, and that brings us back to the realm of critical infrastructure and, linked to that, smart cities.

In your paper, “Ethical Dimensions of User Centric Regulation,” you argue that it’s about time that designers need to be recognized and thought of as regulators. You seem to take “Code is law” quite literal, right?

Yeah, Lessig is a big influence in IT law, so a lot of my LL.M was spent reading all his work! During the PhD I started to question this notion of code is law more, thinking what a turn to the design community to help solve tough regulatory challenges might actually mean in practice. We see drive towards IT design in the law, for example in Article 25 of the new EU GDPR, but what this means in practice is more difficult to anticipate. This informed my PhD work where I looked at how to situate the role of IT designers in regulation from four perspectives, namely - conceptually, legally, empirically, and through a design intervention. At the conceptual level, as in the ETHICOMP paper, I argued the case for why designers are now regulators. I focus on the HCI community, unpacking how their proximity to end users as a route for establishing their regulatory legitimacy, for example through participatory/co-design approaches. I also wanted to look at this from another level using legal case studies. So, I focused on smart meters and domestic internet of things as two complicated cases for privacy by design thinking about how the legal rights and responsibilities of different actors, from end users to third party marketers, play out. I was particularly interested in frameworks regulating access and control around personal data flows. These case studies were useful for thinking about the legal challenges, but I also wanted to understand what privacy by design might mean in practice for the internet of things, so I did a range interviews with experts from IT law and design, to get a sense of the challenges these concepts face in practice (as they are both emergent, nebulous terms). Similarly, I was involved in developing a design tool, a set of ‘ideation cards’, that translates the new GDPR into a more accessible, physical playing card based format. These cards were developed, tested and evaluated with different settings, from start-ups/SMEs to larger organisations ! Cumulatively, this work gave significant practical and conceptual insight as to what it might mean for designers to be regulators, how concepts are negotiated around, where strengths and weaknesses lie, what motivations exist and so forth. In any case, I think as law increasingly turns to design to help deal with challenges of regulating emerging technologies, we need much more dialogue and support to bring these communities closer together.

Unlike design, the process of law-making is delegated to institutions under democratic control. If we take the idea of “designers as regulators” seriously, doesn’t that imply that we need more democratic control over the design process?

That is one of the key tensions here. As regulatory increasingly involves non-state actors, and the law is pushing IT designers to be involved in regulation, I think the challenge is how to understand the scope of that role and make it legitimate. Translating traditional metrics of public accountability, like due process, is one approach, but I’ve been focusing on understanding what new approaches IT designers can offer as regulators and how this may establish their legitimacy. By focusing on a particular IT design community, Human Computer Interaction, I’ve argued their proximity and focus on needs of end users is a route forward. They are in a position to understand user needs from IT through tools like participatory, co or value sensitive design. When repurposed to understanding regulatory needs, for example around user rights, the designers and their tools can go beyond top down understandings of legitimacy, to engage with practices, relationships and routines of users at a more situated level. This helps get a sense of how technologies impact users in different settings, going beyond top down approaches of traditional regulators, where specificities of different users are often neglected. Designers also have scope for action, as these findings can be reflected in design. How they respond is bounded up in how ethical or legitimate their actions may be deemed. They can inform regulatory interventions mediated by the technology, although there are still limits to this because of the disconnect between how a technology is used in practice vs how it is designed. Nevertheless, understanding how to build awareness, engagement and supporting reflection of IT designers on regulatory dimensions of their work is an important line of inquiry.

Besides your own work, what readings would you suggest for someone interested in your topic?

Where to begin… here are some books/papers I found particularly influential:

In a nutshell, what would you recommend to municipalities with regards to smart city technologies?

Engage with citizens as users to get a situated understanding of their needs and respond to those. Avoid treating the city purely at a macro level, but instead engage with different settings of technology deployment and how these interventions might shape the practices of communities (for better or worse).

Friday, 2 June 2017

Diane Michelfelder: Are we smart enough to design ‘smart’ cities with attention to the interests of urban wildlife?

To celebrate the tracks on technology and the city at CEPE/ETHICOMP and SPT 2017, we will publish a series of interviews. The first interview is with Dr. Diane Michelfelder. She will be presenting her paper titled ‘Urban Landscapes and the Techno-Animal Condition’ as part of the Technology and the City special track as SPT 2017. The interview has been conducted in May 2017 by Taylor Stone, one of the co-organizers of the “Technology and the City” track at SPT.

Can you tell us about yourself? Who is Diane Michelfelder?

By trade, I am a philosopher. Specifically, I am professor of philosophy at Macalester College, a liberal arts college in Minnesota. Much of my research, as well as my teaching, takes place at the intersection of 20th century European philosophy and the philosophy of technology. When I was in graduate school, I never gave a thought to the philosophy of technology. But, when I came out of graduate school and got my first job, it was at Cal Poly, so a natural spot for that interest to develop. I had the good fortune while there to participate in a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute at Penn State, directed by Carl Mitcham and Leonard Waks on “Rethinking Technology: The Philosophy of Technology since World War II.” As the familiar expression goes, that changed everything. It led to my becoming very involved in the Society for Philosophy and Technology. I was SPT president from 2007-2009, and since 2014 I’ve been the Editor-in-Chief of SPT’s journal, Techné: Research in Philosophy and Technology, along with Neelke Doorn of TU-Delft. I am also quite active in fPET, the Forum for Philosophy, Engineering, and Philosophy, an informal society which I helped organize and which meets in alternate years to SPT.

What brought you to ‘the city’ as a research topic?

Good question. One strand of my interest in “the city” as a research topic, especially when it comes to matters such as the Internet of Things, self-driving vehicles, and the goods they promote, is tied to the philosophy of technology. But I’m also interested in the city from another perspective. Once I lived in a small rural town with no stores and no postal delivery service. It did though have lots of wildlife, and for some reason—maybe I really missed living in an urban environment?—I got to thinking about ethical issues related to urban animals, particularly about what kinds of responsibilities we have toward them. While these two strands of interest might seem quite different from one another, I think they have something in common. As cities become “smarter” by becoming more driven by algorithmic representations, some values become more pronounced and cultivated, while others become at risk of getting passed over and ignored. It’s the latter that I’m interested in the most. I have a recent paper, “Risk, Disequilibrium, and Virtue” about this, in Technology in Society. It’s the same with urban wildlife. They are the Instagrams of the animal world—here one moment and gone the next. They are also not easily amenable to being categorized, and so as a result they’ve tended to slip under the radar of philosophical inquiry.

Your forthcoming paper at SPT 2017 – ‘Urban Landscapes and the Techno-Animal Condition’  – will focus on how technological artifacts reinforce perceptions of wildlife as non-human ‘Others.’ Can you elaborate on how technologies perpetuate and/or reinforce such perceptions? What sorts of ethical concerns, both salient and obscure, do you see arising from this?

There are multiple ways in which technologies act to reinforce the perception of wildlife as non-human others. For example, think of the popularity of webcams found across the US that are focused on the nests of breeding pairs of urban eagles. The hatching, feeding, and fledgling of the baby birds has become a kind of public spectacle; we eagerly click on our tablets or iPhones to watch them but do not necessarily draw closer to them, and vice-versa, through this activity. Images from trail cams arguably “otherize” wildlife even more than webcams, as they capture an animal’s movements in black and white, which makes a creature such as a cougar appear to be more sinister than it actually is. Technologies like these, launched with good intentions, can also work to feed the perception that urban wildlife are little more than pests to be relocated or eradicated. Probably the poster child for this was the initial 2002 rollout of Toronto’s “green bins”, which, for the city’s raccoons, amounted to having a food truck located at every household intended just for them. But urban wildlife corridors, constructed with the best of intentions so that animals can move and forage freely, can also “otherwise” wildlife by keeping them apart and invisible from human city dwellers.

Have you encountered any urban designs, artifacts, or policies that promote and facilitate positive interactions between humans and wildlife, and that can be seen as an example of best practice?

One of the developments I find promising has to do with changing perceptions and policies in the US regarding feral cats. An organization that comes to mind here is Alley Cat Allies. ACA accepts as a basic premise that we have positive moral responsibilities toward feral cats, including giving them protective shelters so they can better survive during the winter. City officials in Atlantic City, New Jersey, for example, turned to ACA to control the populations of cat colonies through trap-neuter-release rather than by exterminating the cats as though they were pests. Since these cats congregate under the iconic boardwalk in Atlantic City, they are routinely seen by tourists, who in turn have the opportunity to learn more about the work of the ACA. More recently, some city humane shelters are adopting out feral cats as “working cats” who have “jobs” controlling rodent populations in technological habitats such as warehouses and the like. And building urban parks along abandoned railroad tracks is a great way of bringing people, wildlife, technology, and nature together. The High Line in New York really stands out here, but there are others like it as well.

Another creative use of technology with regard to urban wildlife is its use in just figuring out where wildlife are actually hanging out. That’s the aim of Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo’s Urban Wildlife Conservation Program, which just a few months ago went national in scope. It uses motion cameras and audio equipment set up in and around Chicago to do a “wildlife scan” four times a year lasting for eight months each; they have over a million images which citizen scientists can identify online. Imagine the maps that could be created from this big data set! Just making urban wildlife more visible by such means could contribute to individuals and communities assuming positive responsibilities for their well-being.

Central to your paper is the role of technologies in human-wildlife relations. How has the philosophy of technology engaged with animal and wildlife issues to date? Do you see a gap here, or need for further work by philosophers of technology?

More generally, your paper can be seen as a work of both philosophy of technology and environmental philosophy. What opportunities and challenges do you see for interaction between these fields of research? And, how do you see city-focused research contributing to (or hindering) their interaction?

From their beginning in the 1970s, inquiry in the philosophy of technology and environmental ethics developed along two separate tracks. Apart from raising questions about our relations to animals in the context of agriculture and biotechnology (I’m thinking primarily of Paul Thompson’s work here, of course), the philosophy of technology has understandably tended to take engineered objects themselves as its main focus of consideration, whether epistemological or ethical, and conceded interest in animals to other disciplines. Even when its investigations have expanded to look at issues related to the environment, such as the relation between technologically intensive ways of living and climate change, animals have been neglected. One philosopher of technology who is interested in expanding philosophy of technology’s tent of inquiry to include thinking about animals is Ashley Shew Heflin. Ashley wants to shift our perceptions to give animals their due as tool-users and to show how including animals within the “tent” can make a difference for understanding what it is to be homo faber. But to go back to your question about whether there’s a gap in current philosophy of technology with respect to animals, the answer is: Absolutely yes. I hope the approach I’m taking of adopting the city as a starting point in thinking about our ethical responsibilities toward urban wildlife would be a step toward addressing that gap as well as helping to bridge the fields of philosophy of technology and environmental ethics themselves.

Besides your own work, what readings would you recommend for someone interested in the relationship between cities, technologies, and urban wildlife?

Sure, I have a few suggestions. Clare Palmer’s seminal article Placing Animals in Urban Environmental Ethics (2003) is a must-read, along with her 2010 book Animal Ethics in Context. Sue Donaldson’s and Will Kymlicka’s Zoopolis, their thoughtful and provocative study aimed at developing a theory of animal “citizenship” is another key work. I’ve certainly been inspired by (as well as critical of) their view that urban wildlife are “liminal creatures”—neither truly wild or truly domesticated—and what follows from that with respect to what we owe them. Erin Luther’s Tales of Cruelty and Belonging: In Search of An Ethic for Urban Human-Wildlife Relations (2013) — which takes an incident involving Toronto’s raccoons as its point of departure — and Thom van Dooren’s and Deborah Bird Rose’s Storied Places in a Multi-Species City (2012) are also well worth reading. Both of these papers take seriously the idea that urban areas offer the possibility of “shared places” within which humans and wildlife can fruitfully coexist. From a “feet/paws” in the field research angle, there’s a lot of interesting work being done by the Center for Urban Resilience.

What recommendations do you have for either urban designers or citizens regarding how to engage with urban wildlife?

Riffing on the title of the most recent book by Frans de Waal, Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?, I wonder: Are we smart enough to design “smart” cities with attention not only to the interests of their human inhabitants but of urban wildlife as well? In the rush to make cities “smarter”, I worry they may end up being less hospitable and less friendly to urban wildlife than they already are. So for urban planners, policy makers, and all others involved in creating the AI-driven elements of these cities of the future, I’d recommend being vigilant to make sure that designs work to promote the interests of both human and non-human animals who inhabit these spaces. Recently I read, for instance, that the sensors on Google’s self-driving cars can’t detect a squirrel crossing the street in front of it, and so wouldn’t slow up to avoid it. That’s simply not acceptable. On a more positive note, I also saw while on a recent test drive in San Francisco at night a self-driving Chevy Bolt appeared to slow down for an animal crossing the road. What sort of animal? You guessed it… it was a raccoon.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Technology and the City: Two tracks at upcoming conferences

The next weeks will be packed with exciting talks and stimulating discussions on technology and the city! Two major conferences will feature dedicated tracks on the role of technologies as part of urban existence.

The joint CEPE/ETHICOMP conference will be held in Turin from June 5 till June 8 in Turin. Shane Epting, Anders Albrechtslund, and I have co-organized a track on „ICT and the City,“ which will feature the following contributions:

  • Margoth González Woge: Smart Environments: rethinking the boundaries of human and environmental enhancement
  • Lachlan Urquhart: Ethical Dimensions of User Centric Regulation
  • Brandt Dainow: Where does the city really end? Redefining Smart Cities and their ethical dangers
  • Olli I. Heimo, et al.: Ethical Problems in Creating Historically Representative Mixed Reality Make-belief
  • Laura Fichtner: A Smart City of Flows: How Smart Cities Can Shape Urban Experience and Creativity

The program and the abstracts can be found on the conference website.

The bi-annual conference of the Society for Philosophy and Technology (SPT) will be held in Darmstadt from June 14 till June 17, 2017, in Darmstadt. For SPT 2017, Remmon Barbaza, Margoth Gonzalez Woge, Taylor Stone, Pieter Vermaas and I organized a track on „Technology and the City,“ which fill bring together the following contributions:

  • Sara Eloy and Pieter Vermaas: Over-the-counter housing design: the city when the gap between architects and laypersons narrows
  • Taylor Stone: The Morality of Darkness: Urban nights, light pollution, and evolving values
  • Giovanni Frigo: ‚Green Buildings’ in the City? A Reflection about Technology, Sustainability Indexes, and Energy Ethics
  • Felipe Loureiro: Binding Surfaces: Architecture and The Interplay of Walls and Screens
  • Michael Nagenborg: Elevators as urban technologies: Past, present, and future
  • Vlad Niculescu-Dinca: Towards a sedimentology of infrastructures / A geological approach for understanding the city
  • Alessia Calafiore, Nicola Guarino and Guido Boella: Recognizing urban forms through the prism of roles theory
  • Shane Epting: Automated Vehicles and Transportation Justice: Two Challenges for Planners and Engineers
  • Diane Michelfelder: Urban Landscapes and the Techno-Animal Condition
  • Remmon Barbaza: Metro Manila: A City Without Syntax?
  • El Putnam: Locative Reverb: Artistic Practice, Digital Technology, and the Grammatization of the City
  • Margoh Gonzalez Woge: Technological Environmentality: technologies 'absent presence' in everyday environments
  • Brandt Dainow: Philosophical Framework for Smart City Analysis
  • Qian Wang and Xue Yu: Technology and the City: From the Perspective of Organicism
  • Jathan Sadowski: Parameters of Possibility: Envisioning and Constructing the Smart Urban Future

Of course, we are excited about the recognition of Vlad Niculescu-Dinca's work, who won the SPT’s Early Career Award for his paper. The track will also feature talks of the current president of the Philosophy of the City Research Group (Shane Epting) and the Vice-President/President-Elect (Pieter Vermaas).

Check out the conference website for more information.

To celebrate these events, a series of interviews with participants of both tracks will be published on this blog. Stay tuned for more good things to come!

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Video recording of Smart Cities panel @ CPDP 2017

Video recording of our session "Surveillance and Privacy in Smart Cities" (organized by David Murakamie Woord, chair: William Webster, presenters: Michael Nagenborg, Maria Murphy, and Gemma Galdon-Clavell)

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Interview on Responsible Urban Robotics

The interview has been conducted on occasion of the panel on "Responsible Robotics" at the Robophilosophy 2016 conference in Aarhus (Denmark). The panel has been organized by the 4TU.Center for Ethics and Technologies and the Foundation for Responsible Robotics (FRR). If you are working on Urban Robotics, consider joining our FRR working group. The recording of the full panel can be found here.