Critical essays (including mine) discuss Toronto's plan to let Google build a surveillance-based "smart city" along its waterfront

Sidewalk Labs is Google's sister company that sells "smart city" technology; its showcase partner is Toronto, my hometown, where it has made a creepy shitshow out of its freshman outing, from the mass resignations of its privacy advisors to the underhanded way it snuck in the right to take over most of the lakeshore without further consultations (something the company straight up lied about after they were outed). Unsurprisingly, the city, the province, the country, and the company are all being sued over the plan. Read the rest

Mozilla's Internet Health Report: discriminatory AI, surveilling smart cities, ad-tech

Every year, the Mozilla Foundation releases a massive "Internet Health Report" summarizing the ways in which the internet is being used to both support and subvert human thriving; though these reports cover a wide range of topics, every year the foundation chooses a small number of themes to focus on. This year, they are Let's Ask More of AI; The Power of Cities and Rethinking Digital Ads. Read the rest

Canadian Civil Liberties Association sues Toronto, Ontario, and Canada over the plan for a Google Sidewalk Labs "smart city" in Toronto

Sidewalk Labs is the division of Alphabet/Google that builds "smart city" technology; their most ambitious project to date is a massive privatised city-within-a-city planned for Toronto's lakeshore -- a project that received secretly approval to be much larger than was announced, a fact that Sidewalk lied about. Read the rest

IBM supplied surveillance gear to Davao while Duterte was mayor and cheering on the city's police-linked death-squads

During the long years when Philippines strongman Rodrigo Duterte (previously) was mayor of Davao (circumventing term limits by periodically allowing his daughter to run for mayor and serving as her vice-mayor) the city was terrorized by death-squads who enjoyed total impunity as they assassinated police suspects and Duterte's political opponents, while Duterte cheered them on (Duterte has boasted about his participation in extrajudicial killings during this period, but has also denied participation in the death squads). Read the rest

Tim Maughan's Infinite Detail: a debut sf novel about counterculture, resistance, and the post-internet apocalypse

Tim Maughan has long been one of the most promising up-and-coming, avante garde UK science fiction writers, whose post-cyberpunk short fiction mixed radical politics with a love of graffiti and a postmodern filmmaker's eye: now, with his debut novel Infinite Detail, Maughan shows that he has what it takes to work at longer lengths, and can sustain a first-rate adventure story that grabs and never lets go, without sacrificing the political and technological insights that give his work depth that will stay with you long after the book is done. Read the rest

Sorting the spin from the facts: how big can the surveilling city that Sidewalk Labs plans for Toronto get?

Cory published a writeup of my research showing Google offshoot Sidewalk Labs’ plan to build a surveilling city in Toronto involves a much, much larger chunk of land than publicly disclosed (in fact about 2,600 acres of prime Toronto waterfront!). It flushed out a response from the high-priced US PR firm Berlin Rosen, apparently acting on behalf of Sidewalk Labs: Read the rest

Rolling robots 3D print a bridge, inching their way along the span as they lay it

The Smarter Bridge is a project led by Mix3d, which makes robotic 3D printers that can sinter stainless steel structures and inch their way along the surfaces as they are completed. Read the rest

Trailer for Elevation, a film on how drones will change cities

Dezeen interview leading architects and designers around the world for Elevation, a new documentary on how drones will change cities. Speculative architect Liam Young points out, "Now that drones are in the hands of every person in the street, they're potentially as disruptive as the internet." Read the rest

London demonstrates the stupid, janky future of Smart Cities

Bruce Sterling's scathing editorial in The Atlantic on the future of "Smart Cities" uses London's many smart city initiatives as a kind of measuring stick for the janky and dysfunctional future of civic automation: a city that throws great smart city conferences while its actual infrastructure is a mess of "empty skyscrapers, creepy CCTV videocams, and sewers plugged with animal fat" that require decades of planning an attention to cope with -- significantly beyond the attention spans of any of the tech giants vying to be the smart city providers of the future. Read the rest

An important, lyrical, critical book about the future of "Smart Cities"

Adam Greenfield's new book Radical Technologies: The Design of Everyday Life (previously) has scored an outstanding review from The Guardian's Steven Poole, who calls it "a landmark primer and spur to more informed and effective opposition" to "the pitiless libertarianism towards which all [Smart Cities] developments seem to lean." Read the rest

Smart cities are as stupid as the people who make them

For 13 years, I've been writing about Adam Greenfield, one of the world's smartest critical thinkers on what we're calling "The Internet of Things" this decade -- but since the first glimmers of the idea of networked people, places and objects, Greenfield has been writing smart things about the subject, most recently in Radical Technologies: The Design of Everyday Life, a book that Verso will publish next week. Read the rest

A dystopian reboot of some sponsored Internet of Shit content

Dan Hon (previously) took note of a sponsored tweet in The Atlantic's Twitter feed: "SPONSORED: The future city: What changes when everything is connected? #MSFTCloud #ad" and decided to have a go at answering the question. The results were fantastic. Read the rest

Company town + Internet of Things + Drones = total surveillance of remote mine workers

Rio Tinto is a giant UK/Australian mining corporation that operates many facilities in Australia's remotest reaches, where there is no housing for workers, so the company ends up building "company towns" where their laborers live, closing the loop between home and worklife, and putting them both under control of a corporation; now the company is flirting with the kind of "smart city" technology that has been tried elsewhere, but generally in places where the residents are citizens, not employees, and the governing law is created by a legislature, not a non-negotiable employment contract. Read the rest

Mysociety is looking for a new CEO

The nonprofit, which created Writetothem, Fixmystreet, and other crucial, ground-breaking civil society projects, is looking for a new CEO to help it spend its £3.6m Omidyar Network grant. Read the rest

Why "smart cities" should be an Internet of People, not Things

Adam Greenfield proves again that he's one of the best writers and thinkers on "smart cities," explaining how the top-down, expensive, tech-centered approach produces unlivable corporate dystopias in which people are just another "thing" to be shuffled around -- and showing that there's an alternative, low-tech, high-touch, human-centered version of the smart city that makes resilient, thriving communities. Read the rest

Perils of smart cities

Here'a an excellent piece on the promise and peril of "smart cities," which could be part of a system to make cities fairer and more transparent, or could form the basis for an authoritarian lockdown. As Adam Greenfield says, "[the centralized model of the smart city is] disturbingly consonant with the exercise of authoritarianism." The author mentions Greenfield's upcoming book "The City is Here for You to Use" (a very promising-looking read) as well as Smart Cities: Big Data, Civic Hackers, and the Quest for a New Utopia, which is out in the fall.

These critics are advocating not that cities shun technology, but that they foster a more open debate about how best to adopt it—and a public airing of the questions cities need to ask. One question is how deeply cities rely on private companies to set up and maintain the systems they run on. Smart-city projects rely on sophisticated infrastructure that municipal governments aren’t capable of creating themselves, Townsend points out, arguing that the more they rely on software, the more cities are increasingly shunting important civic functions and information into private hands. In recent talks and in his upcoming book, “Smart Cities: Big Data, Civic Hackers, and the Quest for a New Utopia,” Townsend portrays companies as rushing to become the indispensable middlemen without which the city cannot function.

Cities can easily lose leverage to private companies their citizens rely on, as the persistent battles of political leaders against telecom companies over price increases show. And private-sector software can operate behind a veil: Townsend says that while cities have made lots of data freely available online, there’s less concern about opening up the proprietary tools used to analyze that data—software that might help a city official decide who is eligible for services, or which neighborhoods are crime hotspots.

Read the rest