On Smart Cities, Artificial Intelligence and other brainy matters
Sonny: 2880 steps, Detective.
Detective Del Spooner: Do me a favor, keep that kind o’ shit to yourself
I, Robot (2004)
It looks that Artificial Intelligence was one of the major issues to talk about and research in 2015 (and probably onwards). As a Christmas present to start off the year with something to feed our still organic brains, here we are the Future of Life Institute showing up with this open letter warning of the dangers of Artificial Intelligence. The text is backed up by as important names in this field as Stephen Hawking, Jaan Tallinn(co-founder of Skype) and Elon Musk (Space x, Paypal…) among many others.
AI will be a hot discussion topic for 2016 as it is already been recently. But this description of human creations categorized as intelligent/smart/clever is also well known to us, urban planners of any kind. We have these “intelligent” buildings and the not-so-brainy and invasive “smart” cities.
Just to point out a couple of recent relevant mind-moving contributions, there we have Adam greenfield and Rem Koolhaas rubbing salt in the wound. Mr. Remment Koolhaas, taking the leading intellectual role as it is expected from him, drops self-enquiries and short jewels in his Benjamin-like style:
A new trinity is at work: traditional European values of liberty, equality, and fraternity have been replaced in the 21st century by comfort, security, and sustainability
Rem Koolhaas, talk given at the High Level Group meeting on Smart Cities, Brussels, 24 September 2014
And Adam Greenfield, loyal to his style of defending the human side of technology, yet not rejecting its proper use at all, questions if smaller scale adventures in sorting out city problems like the humble but effective Campo de Cebada in Madrid or Occupy Sandy in NYC couldn’t be valid as a complementary/alternative approach to civic/civilian smartness.
I ́m not talking against Smart Cities, I think that at least part of the concept, accepting it ́s still inherently vague, is necessary to build a proper future. I have the great luck of experimenting everyday the commodities and good life of one of the most advanced and smart places in the world, which is the paradisiac tropical Singapore. Actually, the first driverless cars are already being tested at Jurong Lake District. This project has come to life as a result of the research of IDA (Infocomm Development Authority), NUS (National University of Singapore) and SMART (Singapore-MIT alliance for Research and Technology), an important step in the exciting field of Smart/Intelligent mobility.
But yes, there is an ongoing discussion about the good and the downsides of the Smart Cities. A struggle between control/efficiency and humanity/freedom, the eternal fight between Chance and Necessity. And here we come back to our friend the Robot, to Artificial Intelligence.
As part of these contributions coming out of the Future of Life Institute, there is this document: Research priorities for robust and beneficial Artificial Intelligence in which, jut to extract a relevant paragraph says:
4. Privacy: How should the ability of AI systems to interpret the data obtained from surveillance cameras, phone lines, emails, etc., interact with the right to privacy? How will privacy risks interact with cyberwarfare? Our ability to take full advantage of the synergy between AI and big data will depend in part on our ability to manage and preserve privacy [47, 1]
Yes, repeat with me: “…will depend in part on our ability to manage…”. Machines are already, today, way faster than us in processing data. Match lost. But we have something they don ́t have and we don ́t know if they would ever achieve, which is transversal thinking, emotions… Emotional Intelligence. Maybe, just maybe, in the future they will be able to apply so many organic style sensors and random parameters as us, but they still have a long way to go to win that match.
So… why surrender so soon? why talk about technology, about Information Technology if you want me more precise, as if it was more than a tool, a hand tool. We need it, but let ́s apply it from a human point of view, let ́s recover Emotional Intelligence as our team leader. And now, it ́s time to put in the equation, the currently so demanded “Innovation”.
The world of innovation, or what today is understood formally as innovation, is dominated by code writers, a field of work that can be creative sometimes but, due to its own nature, operates in a linear, algorithmical way. When I was invited in 2010 to a creative industries’ forum in Amsterdam and I realized that it was absolutely dominated by code people but also they looked at the other with a sort of feeling of superiority, I felt amazed, I didn’t expect that.
This is understandable, currently these are the guys ruling the most profitable businesses in the world but I think that you have to be aware of your gifts and lacks. It ́s true that I always quote this case, but for me it was quite enlightening: working on an interactive urban space solution with both designers/architects and IT people, with the client already kneeling with admiration for the App developer, this guy happened to state pretty self-assured: “the important thing is to develop the code, anyone can design, that ́s not important” (!). Too long to explain him what design is about, not about colors and shapes as he probably could think, but… sterile discussion in such a dominant situation from his side. This is a problem. It would be a problem too if the balance would be broken by the other side.
Emotional intelligence has to be our weapon and our main strategy. Better than Intelligent/Smart cities, let ́s create Emotionally Intelligent cities. In the short term, efficiency is ok, in the long one, people (us, the only human beings in the galaxy so far) need fun, uncertainty, emotion, anonymity… Let ́s use technologies, let ́s take advantage of artificial intelligence, absolutely. But let ́s not forget we are working for humans, for ourselves, let ́s not betray our own team. This will make the difference in the future. Everyone will have the technology, but the success will depend on how well each of us, cities, governments, countries, companies… dealt with it and how human and livable we made it.