SENTIENT CITIES Ambient intelligence and the politics of urban space

Mike Crang & Stephen Graham

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Crang, M. & Graham, S. (1). SENTIENT CITIES Ambient intelligence and the politics of urban space. Information, Communication & Society, 10(6), 789–817.

[big data] , ambient intelligence , consumers , embedded politics , geotagging , military targeting , tracking , Ubiquitous computing , urban art

Increasing amounts of information processing capacity are embedded in the environment around us. The informational landscape is both a repository of data and also increasingly communicates and processes information. No longer confined to desk tops, computers have become both mobile and also disassembled. Many everyday objects now embed computer processing power, while others are activated by passing sensors, transponders and processors. The distributed processing in the world around us is often claimed to be a pervasive or ubiquitous computing environment: a world of ambient intelligence, happening around us on the periphery of our awareness, where our environment is not a passive backdrop but an active agent in organizing daily lives. The spaces around us are now being continually forged and reforged in informational and communicative processes. It is a world where we not only think of cities but cities think of us, where the environment reflexively monitors our behaviour. This paper suggests that we need to unpack the embedded politics of this process. It outlines the three key emerging dynamics in terms of environments that learn and possess anticipation and memory, the efficacy of technological mythologies and the politics of visibility. To examine the assumptions and implications behind this the paper explores three contrasting forms of ‘sentient’ urban environments. The first addresses market-led visions of customized consumer worlds. The second explores military plans for profiling and targeting. Finally, the third looks at artistic endeavours to re-enchant and contest the urban informational landscape of urban sentience. Each, we suggest, shows a powerful dynamic of the environment tracking, predicting and recalling usage.

Main finding
This article explores examples of urban systems of big data from a commercial, military, and artistic angle. The merging of digital technologies with urban space highlights the important impact of place on our behavior. Three recurring themes are identified. The first theme examines the use of both military and commercial technologies to anticipate people's actions, profiling, and categorizing users with surveillance data. The second theme explores the parts of life missed by systems investigating only visible actions, memories, and stories. The third theme examines the inefficiencies involved in the mixing of big data between many jumbled layers of technology, which may lead not to one omniscient 'Big' Brother but rather an infinite amount of 'Little Brothers.'

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Theoretically interesting

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