Confronting the Dark Side of “Smart Cities”

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April 8, 2015

Confronting the Dark Side of “Smart Cities”

Torin Monahan talks with attendees after his presentation at Hickerson House on April 8, 2015.

Torin Monahan talks with attendees after his presentation at Hickerson House on April 8, 2015.

Torin Monahan, Associate Professor of Communication Studies and
2014-2015 Scholar-in-Residence at the Center for Urban and Regional Studies

Under the banner of “smart cities,” regional governments around the world are embracing sensing and networking technologies in hopes of solving a wide range of urban problems. Rather than view smart-city developments as neutral, it is important to probe their underlying politics and ask what kinds of worlds are being created in the name of efficiency, economic growth or security.

Smart cities sort populations and flows differentially, determining which street traffic has priority, whose thermostats can be load-shifted to reduce demands on the electrical grid or who lives in a criminal “hot spot” and should therefore be subject to more routine police scrutiny.

Monahan flyer FINALAs these sorting principles are infused in algorithmic code, they normalize and invisibly enforce the value systems of their programmers, typically without any public awareness or debate. In this sense, the systems undergirding smart cities are antidemocratic in their design and in many of their effects.

In this talk, Torin Monahan critically explored the potential dark side of smart cities by drawing on a handful of case studies from U.S. cities, analyzing the values encoded in the respective systems and discussing their likely impacts upon social relations and experiences.