Sentient city survival kit

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Presentation Title:

  • Sentient city survival kit

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Abstract:

  • Artist Statement

    The Sentient City Survival Kit is a design research project that explores the social, cultural and political implications of ubiquitous computing for urban environments. It takes as its method the design, fabrication and presentation of a collection of artifacts, spaces and media for survival in the near-future Sentient City. As computing leaves the desktop and spills out onto the sidewalks, streets and public spaces of the city, information processing becomes embedded in, and distributed throughout, the material fabric of everyday urban space. Pervasive/ubiquitous computing evangelists herald a coming age of urban information systems capable of sensing and responding to the events and activities transpiring around them. Imbued with the capacity to remember, correlate and anticipate, this ‘sentient’ city is envisioned as being capable of reflexively monitoring our behaviour within it and becoming an active agent in the organization of our daily lives.

    Few may quibble about ‘smart’ traffic light control systems that more efficiently manage the ebbs and flows of trucks, cars and busses on our city streets. Some may be irritated when discount coupons for their favourite espresso drink are beamed to their mobile phone as they pass by Starbucks. Many are likely to protest when they are denied passage through a subway turnstile because the system ‘senses’ that their purchasing habits, mobility patterns and current galvanic skin response (GSR) reading happens to match the profile of a terrorist. The Sentient City Survival Kit critically explores the darker side of this near-future city. Conceived as an ‘archaeology’ of the near-future, it posits a set of playful, ironic techno-social artifacts designed to raise awareness of issues of privacy, autonomy, trust and serendipity in technologically augmented urban environments. Components in the kit include: an umbrella studded with infrared LEDs visible only to CCD surveillance cameras, designed to frustrate object detection algorithms used in computer vision surveillance systems; a travel mug designed for creating ad-hoc ‘dark’ networks for communication along a morning commute; his and hers underwear designed to sense hidden Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) Tag readers and alert the wearer to their presence through vibrating motors sewn into the garments; and a GPS navigation software application for mobile phones that determines a route to a destination that the user has not previously taken, designed to facilitate finding something by looking for something else.