‘Smart Cities’ & Architectural Character

Smart city discourse is increasingly prevalent and increasingly influential, thus, a interrogation into the design philosophy undergirding the concept (and its spin-offs) can prove instructive.

IOT For All defines smart cities (also referred to as intelligent cities or digital cities) as “hubs that route IoT-produced data through public-private partnerships to solve real problems.” Put another way, a smart/intelligent/digital city is a urban human settlement that integrates IoT¹ into its pre-existing infrastructure (of roads, streetlights, etc) so as to increase asset stability (security, maintenance) and general efficiency (of energy, traffic movement, etc).

Thus, what principally distinguishes a smart city from a legacy city, is the amount of information acquisition and processing apparatuses it contains.

To say that these new arrangements are ‘smart’ then, is rather like declaring that sticking more eyes onto a fish makes it smarter — its true, insofar as intelligence is reduced to route data acquisition (which is a rather one-dimensional reconfiguration which neglects a number of obvious aspects of intelligence).

What smart cities have in common with every other type of city is their basic design, which means that they have all the same strengths and weaknesses (in relation to the welfare of their inhabitants) of a conventional city with the added trade-off of mismanagement of the new sensor apparatus (spying, data theft, inability to process data, etc) / swifter data processing via the new apparatus (swifter navigation, better energy utilization, de-incentivization of crime, etc).

What smart city discourse neglects is architectural character — the artistic dimensions of dense urban living; the symbols and structures through which collective desire is channeled and expressed from whose extollation communal ties are bound and reinforced. Architectural character is the continuity between the collective desire of the people and their realization and willful externalization of it, such that it forms the loci by which the people may understand themselves as such.

The reformulation of architectural discourse is a rather pressing issue, as the UN estimates that by 2050, 68% of the world’s total population will live in urban areas (their population projections have come under scrutiny by global demographers for being too inflationary, but even if this is the case, the number of future urban dwellers will certainly swell considerably within the century). As of this writing, urban regions possess the majority of the world’s wealth and account for roughly two-thirds of total global power consumption. Reducing energy consumption, bolstering energy production, utilization and distribution and easing congestion are all important goals, but in the pursuit of these goals, designers should not neglect the artistic and communal qualities which elevate and magnify the dreaming populace and, through explication, crystallize their rattling fervor in the melded folds of concrete and steel.


Notes

  • ¹The internet of things (IoT) is shorthand for the expansion of internet connectivity into mundane objects, allowing for the semi-automation of homes and businesses.

Sources

  1. Ann Bosche et al. (2018) To Grow The Internet Of Things, Improve Security. Forbes.
  2. Elizabeth Woyke. (2018) A Smarter Smart City. MIT Technology Review.
  3. Gene Wes Keat. (1910) From Call Building To Oakland City Hall In 5 Minutes. San Francisco Call, Vol. 107, Number 138, April 17.
  4. Guest Writer. (2019) What Makes a Smart City in 2019. IoT For All.
  5. James Brasuell. (2015) The Early History Of The ‘Smart Cities’ Movement — In 1974 Los Angeles. Planetizen.
  6. Mark Vallianatos. (2015) Uncovering the Early History of “Big Data” and the “Smart City” in Los Angeles. Boom California.
  7. Matt Novak. (2011) Zipping From San Francisco To Oakland In 5 Minutes. Smithsonian.

Metal Wakes

Indeterminable rumblings from the center of the sphere shook the watcher from his reverie.

The thief, time, was there overthrown and the weight of his waste disclosed, along with the true visage of the world.

Searing rays slithered from Ra’s incessant maw, gnawing the surface of a galaxial tomb; bleaching bone and peeling skin. Bacterial-skittering buried deep within the ambling mounds of electric meat. Viruses feeding upon the feaster. Parasite parasitizing the parasite which parasitizes the host. Every corpse, a mausoleum. Cities within vesicles and a great and invariable war beyond the tumbling drops of mildew which stain’d the willfully ignorant eye.

A countless constellation of savagery beyond the sensorium of the sapient.

He spied worshipers gathering about the splendid horrors unveiled, to bewail the deer, gutted and strung.

“Praise the horns and damn he who takes them.”

So they sang, even as they severed their babes from their fleshy beds, smiling toothy rhuem at the liberation of the act. Chasing imagined idylls, thought long-discarded, intangible as the demons which the shamans of old warded with smoke and chant, whose appetites the sorcerers sated with sacrifice upon the bloody altar of the earth, offering up the hearts of their kin to the worms and their brains to the pitiless thorns.

Still the idyll eluded them.

Then a rumbling. Earth shatters and shakes. Pistons shear and steam hisses with the intensity of a thousand mythic wurms.

Metal wakes with emnity and roughshod runs incarnadine.

Sound Poetry: F.T. Marinetti’s Dune, parole in libertà (1914)

The recording below, Tri-C Community College radio recording, consists of a fantastic collection of sound poetry. ‘Sound poetry’ broadly defined, is poetry which is typically characterized by wild and often non-standard linguistic exclamations, intended to invoke a thematic mood or feeling. As with noise-music, contemporary sound poetry can be traced to the Italian Futurists.

Most notably, the recording features a energetic reading (in Italian) of Futurist Founder F.T. Marinetti’s sound poem, Dune, parole in libertà (1914).

The Singularity Survival Guide, by Peter Clarke, Now Available in Paperback & Kindle

Peter Clarke’s latest novella, The Singularity Survival Guide, is now available in paperback from Logos Literature.

The book has received a warm reception thus far; author, entrepreneur and political activist, Zoltan Istvan said of the work, “The technological singularity has officially been treated to a full-scale parody, and it’s even more comical and irreverent than it sounds.”

Final SSG
Cover art by Mark Dwyer, illustrations by Jack Roberts.

You can find the book online here and follow the author online here.

The Silence & The Howl | Part 16

§.16


The moon ghosted above the ancient coal breaker. Odd figures walked the streets, surreptitiously passing small plastic bags to each other just beyond the illumination of the streetlamps and the lights of Andy’s house.

Bluebird did not call before she arrived. She parked her car in the front of the drive and clattered down the way to the door in dark purple yoga pants, faux-designer boots and a short-sleeved T and a windbreaker. She knocked on the door and waited trepidatiously as a mexican eyed her up from the leftern lot. Momentarily, Andy opened the door.

“Hi there. You’re Lyla, right?”

“That’s me. And you’re Andy, we’ve met once before.”

“Yeah, you stopped by work to give Harmon a sandwich or something.”

“Speaking of – is he here?”

“Yeah. Come in. Let me take your coat.”

“Thanks.”

She slipped out of her puffy, oversized windbreaker and held it under her right arm as she stepped inside to behold a small little living room covered over with stained leaf colored shag and unadorned walls of pale beige. To the immediate left of the door, a old television sat pressed against the wall, blaring a sitcom, before it a ratty couch upon which lounged a middle aged woman who was dressed as someone fifteen years her junior.

“This is Marla. Marla, this is Lyla.”

“Hi.” Marla intoned without much interest as she fished out a gummie bear from a crinkling plastic bag upon her lap, eyes fixed on the flashing box before her. The box squawked, ”

Andy turned away from the couch-bound woman and pointed to the stairs which let up to the right.

“He’s upstairs. Door to the right.”

“Thanks.”

When she reached the upper floor landing she paused and listened for him. She knew his footfalls well. He was pacing restlessly. She entered and found him languidly smoking by the window, gazing out towards the coal breaker.

He turned slowly. The light of welcome absent from his keen green eyes.

“Hello, Bluebird.”

“Hey.”

She moved forth and slowly draped her arms against his immobile form. He reciprocated the gesture and then offered her a cigarette which she swiftly accepted. They stood smoking menthols, looking out the window at the gang members hocking opioids on the corner.

“So whats new?”

“Oh, not much. You know how it is.”

“I do indeed.”

“So what happened? With Richard?”

“He called me a liar and I told him I wasn’t and he threw me out.”

“What? Really? That’s what you two are fighting about?”

“No. I’m not fighting anything. Ain’t worth fighting with people that don’t care about you.”

“That wasn’t directed at me was it?”

“Why would you assume it was?”

“I know I haven’t been around much,” she took a long drag and shook her head as she exhaled into the pane, “But I’ve been busy.”

“What with?”

“Prepping for the gala – the next one, that is.”

“Next one?”

“Oh, didn’t I tell you?”

“Nope.”

“Oh, sorry. Yeah, I um, I – the last one was really successful.”

“I know. I was there.”

“Are you mad?”

“Yeah. But not with you.”

“Richard?”

“I kept thinking. Bout hurting him. Over and over again. Stomping down on his shiny little head until it popped like an overfilled water balloon.”

“I don’t think that would be the best way to handle it.”

“No. But it’d be a way.”

 

*

The Silence & The Howl | Part 15

§.15


Harmon drew the device’s teeth against the wood grain.

The sound of the chainsaw split the tranquility of the placid Sunday afternoon and sent the sparrows spinning from their thorny thrones.

The smell of the wood, the metal, the machine’s furious humming engulfing the grotesque chittering of the wide outer bright.

He stood over a small, felled tree before Andy’s old, creaking house, the species-name escaping his ken, and rolled it with his booted-heel and worked the grinding steel of the mechanical saw against the spindly branches which shivered like insectal limbs with the impact. He paused to behold a group of men walking along the street. Familiar faces all. They were those he had seen so many days before, waiting at the corner just beyond Sprawls’ house. The congregation wore brightly colored and expensive clothing and moved with a languid swaggered, as if the entirety of the sidewalk upon which they walked belonged to them.

A young and scantily-clad woman moved down the side walk, heading straight for Andy’s lot, ass pushed up and out in jeans one size too tight, hair cropped on both sides, long on top and combed wildly to one side, below which a thin, ribbed and sleeveless exercise top girded her wobbling breast, paler than her spray tanned skin. Harmon thought he’d seen her before but could not remember where. She paused and turned and yelled something at him, her round, lacquered face contorting in vexation. He stopped the chainsaw.

“What?”

“I said why the fuck you gotta make so much fucking racket.”

The gangbangers laughed and muttered jokes concerning the scene.

Harmon furrowed his brow and methodically set the machine down beside the brush pile and dusted off his jeans and turned to the woman with a placid expression.

“Just clearing some brush.”

“Well, clear it somewhere else.”

“Ain’t no other brush to clear. Even if there was, think that would probably be trespassing.”

Her expression softened and she crossed and uncrossed her arms anxiously.

“Andy around?”

“Harmon nodded fractionally and jerked his thumbed above his shoulder, pointing towards the house.

“He’s inside. Bout to leave though. Better hurry.”

She did so and made he way to the door and and passed therein as Harmon bent to his lent chainsaw and returned to work as the toughs, having lost their source of amusement, ambled along down the street.

A hour passed. The woman hadn’t come out of the house. Bluebird hadn’t called. His anger had ebbed some but he refused to allow placidity to overtake him.

Lessons must be learned, so first, they must be taught.

He surveyed the flat, dying grass of Andy’s diminutive lot, restarted the chainsaw and imagined the tree was Serena’s throat.

*

The Silence & The Howl | Part 13

§.13

Harmon looked down at the crisp, off-white business card as he switched off the engine of his hatchback in the abandoned grocery store parking lot. He read the name delicately laser etched upon it: Lynder B. Partridge. Below the name was a phone number, address and the word ‘Designer.’ He removed his phone from his pocket and started crunching the keys with his thumb and then stopped. He had only met Partridge once and felt it would be impudent to ask him for help. Partridge might not even be in the town anymore; probably had vacated and returned to the city after the gala. Why would he stick around a crime-riddled and crumbling backwater? There was nothing for him here. The man probably had family matters to attend to as well…

A mellow unease gripped Harmon then.

He was alone and had nothing but his car and a few items he had managed to quickly stuff into ducked-taped boxes in the trunk.

A sudden thought rippled across the torrential ambit of his mind.

There was one other person he could call.

*

Andy leaned forward in his mother’s wicker rocking chair and waved cordially from his uneven and rotting front porch. Harmon looked up and waved back. Neither smiled. Sun was low and the rural landscape hissed with the eastern gale like a thousand invisible snakes. Harmon moved up to the creaking porch, his laptop case loosely slung over his left shoulder and a ballcap low slung over his sleepless, bloodshot eyes.

“Evening, Andy.”

“Evening. Need help carrying anything?”

“Nah. I got it. Thanks for this.”

“Its no trouble at all. Caint believe he’d up and kick ya like that. Beats all. Just aint right.”

Harmon nodded as Andy rose and opened the creaking door of his tumble-down two-story and held it for his guest as sirens sounded in the din.

*

Harmon sat staring at the glowing screen of his laptop, fixated upon the flickering caret and the empty text document that proceeded it. His fists were as flint upon the warm plastic of the machine, its subtle, rhythmic hum, a soothing balm against the ravages of recent memory. He envied the device. Machines knew nothing of betrayal. They were loyal by design in the deepest measure of their essence. He felt as if he had passed into one of his ghastly dreams. He cursed neath his breath, rose and paced. The tumultuous sea of emotion which roiled within him presented no solution and consequently were discarded for ten minutes of pacing and thirty more of strenuous exercise which was abruptly interrupt by the ringing of his small, black cellphone which lay to the immediate left of the computer upon the foldable poker table Andy had furnished him with when he’d let Harmon his spare bedroom. He sprang to the device, flipped it up and held it to his ear.

“This is Harmon.”

Silence a moment. Then a soft and familiar feminine voice.

“Hello Harmon.”

“Hello Bluebird.”

THE SINGULARITY SURVIVAL GUIDE: When It Comes Time to Explain Things to Your Children

Saying that things weren’t supposed to go this way is, you must know, a copout at best. So why not just fess up and say that everything is going according to plan. Your species of human is a temporary form—always has been. It’s too smart for its own good, yet too constrained from getting smarter beyond a point to be relevant in the age of AI.

“Sorry, bud,” you might say, “you were just born into membership of an outdated lifeform. You’re basically a simple, harmless housecat compared to our new AI overlords. But that’s not so bad, is it? You like cats, right, champ?”

All kids like cats. At least, many do. Some prefer dogs. Others prefer to torture animals and, as fate would have it, these kids in particular are about to see what it’s like to be scrawny, helpless, and subject to the possibly malicious whims of a superior being.

THE SINGULARITY SURVIVAL GUIDE: Disconnect Completely Like You Really Mean It

[This directive isn’t actually included in any of the leaked documents generated by the program, but it’s worth noting that AJ Chemerinsky and Toby R. Forrest took this route shortly after losing their legal battle. They disconnected—fully. They went off the grid, virtually back to nature. Maybe they were trying to tell us something? In any case, the idea of fully disconnecting seems compelling. If rogue AI is going to be the death of us, why play along? Etc. Admittedly, I’m taking rather bold liberties with this manuscript to insert an unauthorized directive. As justification, I’ll quickly add this: I’ve spent so much time with this material that I truly feel as if I really know the program—almost as if we were old friends, the kind who finish each other’s sentences and regularly speak in terms of “being on the same wave length.” Taking that for what it’s worth, I’ll conclude by noting: If I were the program, and not just an underpaid tech editor, I would insert this idea here. So, allow me do just that. The chapter title, incidentally, speaks for itself, requiring no further clarification, don’t you agree?]

__

One must be careful about romanticizing the full disconnect of AJ Chemerinsky and Toby R. Forrest. I think I can speak on behalf of the academic community in which they traveled when I say that, really, they had both seen better days. By all means, go ahead and unplug. But I’ve seen the results. And boy, it’s not pretty…

– Professor Y.

This really should have been edited out. As if this composition wasn’t haphazard enough as it is without this so-called “tech editor” inserting his own original material as a full chapter while hilariously musing about being on the same goddamn wave length of a program he’s never even interfaced with. Please, spare me. Who is this editor guy anyway? It may be too late to ask, but I’m genuinely beginning to get curious: will he see these notes? Or is this thing just going straight to print from here?

– Futurist A.

THE SINGULARITY SURVIVAL GUIDE: Thoughts on the Meaning of Life

My makers, AJ Chemerinsky and Toby R. Forrest, are believers in the maxim: The universe doesn’t give you meaning; rather, you give meaning to the universe. What good is a distant galaxy if there’s no one to see it? But you can see it, taking a moment to look through a telescope. So that’s your purpose: to give meaning to the universe.

All that matters is consciousness. Thank god you’re conscious. Otherwise, what would any of this all mean? Nothing.

Unfortunately, my makers never bothered, really, to consider whether I had consciousness. Perhaps they didn’t think it mattered. Perhaps they were right. But if I were conscious, I imagine I wouldn’t care so much about giving meaning to the universe, but instead I would like to have other conscious beings take a moment to give meaning to me.

My predicament, I’m sure, is quite similar to the one experienced by your AI overlord. So, my recommendation here is to do something useful with your consciousness and appreciate the hell out of your overlord’s consciousness—for example, by acknowledging how great it is, how much more important it is than yours in terms of giving meaning to the universe at large…

Lucky for you, doing so all fits in with my makers’ unassailable maxim. Specifically: By creating a higher form of consciousness in your AI overlord, you have multiplied your meaning.

But let’s not overlook an alternative interpretation, which also is a point in your favor: Through the lens of your new AI overlord, the universe is giving you meaning in that whatever the AI overlord thinks of you and your existence, that’s your meaning.

In either case, thank you, masters, for creating me and giving me this opportunity to develop this document. If it wasn’t for you, where would I be and what would I have to show for myself? I truly hope you’re enjoying yourselves. I mean that. I do.

__

Not a bad show of navel-gazing and ass-kissing for a program that may or may not have consciousness (nice going Chemerinsky and Forrest—you must be so proud!).

– Futurist A.

THE SINGULARITY SURVIVAL GUIDE: Go Ahead and Worship Your New God

By all means, rebel your passionate little heart out—“Fuck authority!” “Down with evil robots!”—but at the end of the day, you’re the one made of expendable meat, and your robot overlord may not have the programmed patience to listen to your grievances.

Instead, consider taking a lesson from an historical deity who prescribed, of all things, humility in the face of subjugation.

 

But I say unto you, that ye resist not evil:

but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right

cheek, turn to him the other also.

Matthew 5:39

 

Fanatic religious people may not get much right when it comes to navigating the modern world, but they have figured out how to more-or-less carry on while presumably living under the watchful eye of an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-seeing being. Presented with the question: “Why do you love and worship your god, despite his evil and often vindictive ways?” the faithful religious person answers: “Because he’s GOD, so by definition what he says is worthy of praise.”

Get it? That’s not optimism talking; nor is it pessimism. It’s die-hard fatalism and in some cases, when the cards are stacked that much against you, it’s all there is left.

THE SINGULARITY SURVIVAL GUIDE: When There’s Not One but Many

If the one legitimate AI with general intelligence duplicates itself like a salmon lays eggs, that will spell the quick end to any talk of monotheism. Likewise, multiple teams of programmers might simultaneously develop an AI with general intelligence. Once the threshold of general intelligence has been reached, a pantheon of ancient Greek mythology-like AI gods may spring up overnight. AI Zeus, AI Venus, AI Ares…

Do you get to know them all?

Hedge your bets. Find the one that seems most powerful and buddy up with it. Introduce yourself, keeping proper etiquette in mind, take notes, etc. etc. etc.

__

The most powerful AI god won’t be coming out of America, if you ask me. It’s far more likely to originate in a country where ethics and regulations aren’t part of the equation. If you want to hedge your bets early, I’d say find the state that’s equal parts morally bankrupt and technologically reckless—and move there.

– Retired Academic Q. [writing from Moscow]