Below is the full video of an Adam Greenfield talk given at Innovation Dublin earlier this year. It’s full of real-world examples of what Adam (would no longer) call ubiquitous computing. It’s an interesting and productive exploration of the implications of these devices in the public realm.
A few things popped out, which I’ve hastily jotted below;
The thing that really bothers me.. [about advertising which analyses visual attention using web cams and analytical software] is that I regard it as nothing less than the theft of value from public space. There will be people moving throgh the background that do not attend to the content on the screen, that do not want to attend to the content on the screen, that want to have nothing to do with the screen. And they are providing value for the advertiser whether they know it or not. As a matter of fact, whether you’re aware that the screen is doing this or not, whether anybody’s asked you for your consent or not (and believe me, they don’t ask for your consent), information is being gathered from you, without your awareness, that’s of commercial value to somebody else. And that value is never returned to the public.
[a series of cameras installed in Wellington upon approval of public referendum] were installed, and then something really interesting happened. the year after that a new back-end management…new software became available for those cameras, and this one permitted facial recognition. And so, the cameras, the same physical objects, that had been primarily beneficial and had used for the advancement of everybody collectively before, now began to be used by the police to manage… subjects of interest moving through the downtown area.
This was a radical transformation of the capability of the device but it was never put to a public referendum.
Even I, who have argued that there should be democratic accountability over these systems. If you know or if you’re familiar with anything about software development you know that we now live in what’s called a ‘nightly build‘ culture, which is to say that the capability of new software advances on a very fast clock speed. new versions are released all the time and are pushed to users… are you going to have a referendum every week?
we can move against the capture of public space by private interst and towards a fabric of freely discoverable, addressable, query able and scriptable urban resources that we could all of us as citizens and as members of a community use, to bring the entire way that we city, the entire way that we do place a lot closer to our aspirations and ambitions for it, to a place where the right to the city is meaningfully underwritten by the design of the public space and the things in it. And towards a revitalised manifestation of the public sphere: the place where democracy happens and is seen to happen.
Definitely food for thought.