TILT seminar: Alison Powell

Date: Time: 14:30 Location: ONLINE Meeting

Undoing Optimization - The Smart City and Afterwards

Time:  14:30 – 16:00 CET

This talk unpacks the problems with and potential responses to the tendency towards optimization in socio-technical practice. Looking across twenty years of ‘smart city’ efforts it provides new ways of seeing urban entanglements, looking at the frictions and tensions surrounding the development and management of data commons, and showing how the development of solidarity and acceptance of hybridizing knowledge can reinvigorate ways to live together. Throughout the past twenty years a series of different technological frameworks have normalized and directed civic action towards ends that fit within overall frameworks of optimization. Undoing these dynamics requires an attention to friction and tension, as well as an attention to the potential other ways of understanding and connecting different forms of knowledge, including the datafied knowledge of sensing systems as well as other ways of knowing.

By learning from examples of ‘smart cities’ where data and knowledge unfold in tension, attending to the points at which human and biological knowledge disrupts and restructures technical knowledge, different ethics may be foregrounded, from hybridized knowledges negotiated around unstable data commons, to urban systems based on principles of ‘minimum viable datafication’. This paper explores how knowledge in a series of ‘smart city’ projects exceeds what can be optimized, from sensor systems that fail (but succeed in revealing living knowledge) to social movements. Optimization can narrow the frameworks for civic action in cities  to align with techno-social systems and commercial expectations.  Its undoing promises a more contingent acknowledgement of urban relationships, intelligence and persistence.

Speaker: Alison Powell

Alison Powell is Associate Professor in Media and Communications at the London School of Economics. She directs the JUST AI Network: Joining Up Society and Technology for AI, which is supported by the AHRC and the Ada Lovelace Institute. Her research examines how people’s values influence the way technology is built, and how ethics in practice unfolds in technology design contexts. Alison’s work on open source projects, open hardware products  and community-based innovation has spanned the past fifteen years and her book Undoing Optimization: Civic Action and Smart Cities is published by Yale University Press.

Her previous projects include the Horizon 2020-funded VIRT-EU, which examined ways to explore ethics in practice among Internet of Things developer communities and responsible innovation, and Understanding Automated Decisions, which considered the possibility and consequences of explaining how algorithms work. Alison also shares her insights about how people make knowledge about the city through ‘data walking’ – see www.datawalking.uk – and her public writing at  http://www.alisonpowell.ca.

Moderator: prof. dr. Linnet Taylor

*Attendance is free. To register for this event please contact: Maartje van Genk