Examining technologies and their potential impact on society. Author’s background is mostly urban design.

Goal seems to be:

…people with left politics of any stripe absolutely cannot allow their eyes to glaze over when the topic of conversation turns to technology, or in any way cede this terrain to its existing inhabitants, for to do so is to surrender the commanding heights of the contemporary situation. It’s absolutely vital, now, for all of us who think of ourselves as in any way progressive or belonging to the left current to understand just what the emerging technics of everyday life propose, how they work, and what they are capable of.

Result is weird mix of insightful, balanced criticism whose potential audience is limited by a liberal coating of disdain eg

Not for nothing is there a very significant degree of overlap between the Quantified Self and the “lifehacking” subculture— the same people who brought you Soylent, the flavorless nutrient slurry that is engineered to be a time-and-effort-efficient alternative to actual meals… Here, a not-insignificant percentage of the population has so decisively internalized the values of the market for their labor that the act of resculpting themselves to better meet its needs feels like authentic self-expression.

Ideas worth considering, but the people who would benefit from considering them are more than likely to be turned off by the one-sided descriptions.

But worth reading eg best explanation I’ve seen yet of cryptocurrencies.


Internet of things

Scientism all over again:

We might think of it as an unreconstructed logical positivism, which among other things holds that the world is in principle perfectly knowable, its contents enumerable and their relations capable of being meaningfully encoded in the state of a technical system, without bias or distortion. As applied to the affairs of cities, this is effectively an argument that there is one and only one universal and transcendently correct solution to each identified individual or collective human need; that this solution can be arrived at algorithmically, via the operations of a technical system furnished with the proper inputs; and that this solution is something which can be encoded in public policy, again without distortion. (Left unstated, but strongly implicit, is the presumption that whatever policies are arrived at in this way will be applied transparently, dispassionately and in a manner free from politics.). Every single aspect of this argument is problematic.

Quite simply, we need to understand that the authorship of an algorithm intended to guide the distribution of civic resources is itself an inherently political act. And at least as things stand today, nowhere in the extant smart-city literature is there any suggestion that either algorithms or their designers would be subject to the ordinary processes of democratic accountability.

Think about how well credit reports work today, and imagine that expanding to every piece of data that we give up.

Augmented reality

‘What happens when the information necessary to comprehend and operate an environment is not immanent to that environment, but has become decoupled from it? When signs, directions, notifications, alerts and all the other instructions necessary to the fullest use of the city appear only in an augmentive overlay— and, as will inevitably be the case, that overlay is made available to some but not others?’

Digital fabrication


At this moment in history … large, complex organizations represent the state of the world via the structured collection, storage and retrieval of data. Another way to say this: that which is operationally true in our world is that set of facts whose truth value is recorded in at least one database belonging to a party with the ability to set the parameters of a situation. And most irritatingly, each one of the organizations we truck with over the course of our lives maintains its own database, and therefore, quite literally, its own version of the world.


In the end, the greatest threat of overtransparency may be that it erodes the effectiveness of something that has historically furnished an effective brake on power: the permanent possibility that an enraged populace might take to the streets in pursuit of justice.

Machine learning

Artificial intelligence: weak chapter.

Illustrates several concrete visions of the future, to provide points of comparison.

In every case the hard, unglamorous, thankless work of building institutions and organizing communities will demand enormous investments of time and effort, and is by no means guaranteed to end in success. But it is far less likely to be subverted by unforeseen dynamics at the point where an emergent and poorly understood technology meets the implacable friction of the everyday.

…the power to make change: the concentrated ability to redirect flows of attention and interest, information and investment, and ultimately matter and energy. This is the fundamental aim of all technology, as it is of all politics. Everything else is a sideshow,