by KairUs – Linda Kronman and Andreas Zingerle
The Internet of Things (IoT), smart city initiatives, and smart home technology are marketed to us as sleek and glamorous 3D renderings promising a convenient and sustainable technology that will save us and our planet from a future of environmental distress. Yet the buzzword bingo of smart city rhetoric, the polished advertisements for networked devices, and the glossy packaging of smart home devices are in stark contrast to the news and research which investigates the vulnerabilities of our connected lives. The expansion of the IoT and the proliferation of virtually-connected data points are providing ever increasing amounts of information for those keen on use or abuse. The massive implementation of IoT in hyper-connected urban environments, paths the way to technocratic governance and urban development, corporatizing our living spaces into lock-in, hack-able, “pan optic” smart cities. The IoT seems to develop towards an Internet of other people’s things (IoopT), where users do not own their data, agree to Terms of Services that mean their data are then shared by default to third parties, and the risks that citizens rights are managed by technocratic governance or cyber criminals attacking critical infrastructures are always present.
In this cyberwar of ideas, an asymmetric battle for power and influence, systems will have to be more robust and people will have to be more vigilant. Therefore we turned to the community of artists, designers, activists, hackers and researchers with an open call for new critical perspectives on ubiquitous technology and its impact on our lifestyle. We were looking for for projects that abuse to expose; artistic research and tacit knowledge that is produced through cultures of making, hacking, and reverse engineering. Our aim was to collect artworks, projects, essays, and interviews discussing questions such as: What does privacy look like in a smart home of connected objects? How are citizens involved in co-design collaborations with private corporations and the public sector to build better cities? How can we enable a secure and trustworthy Internet communication so that business, personal, and machine-to-machine interactions can be conducted safely and without interferences?
From our previous project Behind the Smart World 1In 2014, artistic collective KairUs visited the biggest e-waste dump in the world, Agbogbloshie in Accra, Ghana. There KairUs bought 22 hard drives. As a hands-on part of this research lab some of the hard drives were reanimated and explored by a group of international artists exposing the kind of data traces that reveal the lives and behaviours of their prior owners. Retrieved from: http://kairus.org/portfolio/behind-the-smart-world-research-lab/, we knew that with a mix of essays, interviews with artists, and extended artwork abstracts, we were able to collect both an academic and a personal perspective on the issues of saving, deleting and the resurfacing of personal data in the smart world. Behind the Smart World focused on artistic research that touched upon topics such as how data is collected and saved, how hard it is to delete personal data, and how personal data can resurface again. The texts chosen for this new publication show how artistic and design research produces valuable insight into how we either adapt or resist “the Internet of other people’s things.” We have avoided categorizing the texts in chapters, but there are three loose threads than can be followed: how networked technologies affect our lives in the cities we live in, how they inhabit our homes, and how they materialize in the form of gadgets, sensors, cables, servers, and other infrastructures that constitute the Internet of Things. Two textual artworks by Mez Breeze and Tyler Coburn are also included in this publication.
The first four texts examine our lives in cities through the eyes of machine vision. Using unsecured public CCTV and private IP cameras, satellite images, and user generated social media content the discussed artworks offer an insight to our lives in the networked city that is constantly streamed and analyzed by machines, yet seldom seen by humans. As Russian artist Helena Nikonole notes in her essay Dystopian Artificial Intelligence within the Internet of Things, algorithms and machine vision registers, analyzes, recognizes, and even judges our data before it (if ever) reaches the human eye. According to Nikonole “IoT and AI together become a potential new tool for algorithmic regulation.” Hence, she finds it important to experiment with networked devices, AI, and Big Data as she does in the two artwork described in the essay: deus X mchn in which AI generated holy texts are broadcast through the microphones of unsecured networked cameras and The Other View, that records the “selfie” culture in a mirror hall through a security camera. Both of her works use unsecured networked cameras raising awareness of the machine gaze and how the perspective of the security camera differs from composed images recorded by another machine, the smart phone. There are similar aesthetics in The Other View used by Carlos Rene Pacheco in his work Found, which he describes as “an exploration utilizing social media and live streaming web-cams to pinpoint a moment in time from multiple perspectives.” In his extended artwork abstract he describes how virtual, armchair tourism into cities through streaming web cams became an investigation on the performance of taking pictures at the celebrated Abbey Road in London.
A number of live streaming webcams are made publicly available by various institutions, yet a large number of webcam streams that are intended to be private are insecure by design meaning that the web servers they are connected to are not protected by a password or have hard-coded login credentials saved as plain text. By default, then, the servers stream unencrypted and on publicly-accessible network ports, providing potential risks of being intercepted and allowing unknown third parties unintended access to the set up function of the cameras. In our (KairUs) essay Artistic Reconnaissance, we discuss three of our recent artworks: The first, Panopticities emphasizes the vulnerabilities of unsecured public CCTV and private IP cameras. The video installation portrays views of life in the cities of Seoul, Tokyo, Bangalore and New York from the perspective of the networked cameras following the aesthetics of smart city control rooms such as the one in South Korea’s Songdo. Security cameras are supposed to offer safety and security, yet they enable hackers to enslave these cameras with botnets and malware that use insecure webcams to infect the rest of the network, routers and other devices in the smart home. The second artwork Sharing locations: YONGSAN & HUMPHREY GARRISON, investigates various mapping services and reveals how satellite images are obscured to hide military infrastructures whereas site specific data tracked by fitness devices are revealing new layers of data of our urban landscapes. Finally, the third artwork, Ruins of the Smart City, is a photo series which portrays how a smart city still in construction already feels like it is part of the contemporary past.
The Artistic Reconnaissance essay also outlines methods of artistic research. The term reconnaissance is originally used in military contexts, yet it can be subverted and used to investigate military or other structures of power. Owen Mundy in his essay Listening Stations: A Prompt to Examine the Histories of the Internet of Things, refers to “Operation Igloo White,” a mission carried out by the 553rd Reconnaissance Wing, a U.S. Air Force unit active during the Vietnam war obtaining reconnaissance information using electronic sensors, radio communication, and computer processing. The camouflaged sensors used during the mission serve as a starting point for his Physical Computing course in which subversive strategies are used to oppose “surveillance capitalism.” Shoshana Zuboff the Charles Edward Wilson Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School popularized the term “surveillance capitalism,” she describes the harvest of user-generated data such as Tweets, e-mails, texts, photos, videos etc. as “data exhaust 2Zuboff, S. (2014, September 15). A Digital Declaration. Frankfurter Allgemeine. Retrieved from https://www.faz.net/aktuell/feuilleton/debatten/the-digital-debate/shoshan-zuboff-on-big-data-as-surveillance-capitalism-13152525.html.” The existence of a city can also be experienced through “data exhaust” as endless streams of site specific, user-generated content as in Mark Lee’s 10’000 Moving Cities, a VR installation in which Tweets, images, videos, and sound from a chosen city are rendered real time on cubes staging a city landscape. Yvonne Volkart in her essay, Journey into Predictability, reflects on the meaning of the cloud of a city through Mark Lee’s work 10’000 Moving Cities. Volkart articulates how the streams of data are constantly evaluated in the attempt to predict and control our behavior: “Patterns lead to prognoses that, as mathematically calculated assumptions about the future, destroy both the present as well as the possible future.” The data streams of our connected cities are analyzed by machines resulting in prognostic data simulations consulting urban planners, thus the data we produce by living in a city feeds back into how our cities are shaped.
To better understand how life in a corporate owned smart city can look, we collected a series of interviews for this publication featuring artists who have, in the process of creating their artworks, researched the South Korean smart city Songdo. Tyler Coburn, Binna Choi and artist duo Nana & Felix discuss their experiences of the mega construction Songdo, a newtown smart city built from scratch on 600 hectares of reclaimed land, owned by three companies: Gale International a privately owned real estate development based in New York City, holds a majority stake of 61%, the Korean steel company Posco 30%, and the remaining 9% is owned by Morgan Stanley Real Estate – part of the giant US investment bank3 Wikipedia contributors. (2018, October 31). Songdo International Business District. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Songdo_International_Business_District.
The interviews are preluded with Tyler Coburn’s mock “diary,” written from the perspective of someone working in the Integrated Operations Center in Songdo. Together, the artists interviews draw an image of a city that failed as a “future city,” yet succeeded as a Korean middle class residential area. Songdo has, however, become a city where everything is installed like elements in a game environment. A city of “ecological gentrification”4 Choi, B. (2012) Generic Nature. Seoul: mediabus. ISBN 978-89-94027-47-0 90600 in which words such as eco, green, and sustainable are merely company marketing. And, yet, for Koreans the smart city prototype still seems to stand as a Korean invention and a success model. As Nana notes, “koreans actually really like smart cities.”
Indeed, there are few critical voices questioning the idea of the 4th industrial revolution, much heralded by the Korean government. As Binna Choi explains “Korean society just follows what happens or what is offered…,” [we] “have to achieve it without any critical thinking.” The technocratic Koreans make “ideal” smart citizens. In her book, Program Earth: Environmental Sensing Technology and the Making of a Computational Planet5 Gabrys, J. (2016). Program Earth: Environmental Sensing Technology and the Making of a Computational Planet. Minneapolis/London: University of Minnesota Press., Jennifer Gabrys describes smart citizens as monitoring, real-time data producing “citizen sensors” that are expected to be computationally responsive nodes in a frictionless system, making informed and responsible choices for the common good. They are expected to “become governable to the extent that they operate as homo economicus,” effective and responsive.
Even if Koreans are enthusiastic about their smart cities, is the rest of the world? Adam Greenfield, once an enthusiastic advocate of urban informatics, warns that we should “resist the attempts of companies to gather ever more data about our lives.”6 Greenfield, A. (2017, June 6). Rise of the machines: who is the ‘internet of things’ good for? The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/jun/06/internet-of-things-smart-home-smart-city The corporate agenda to attain control over our cities is worrying other critics as well, who warn that smart city plans support proprietary platforms leading to technological lock-ins, foretelling that both digital participation and the urban land of smart cities are soon governed by companies rather than elected governments7Barns, S. (2017). FCJ-214 Visions of Urban Informatics: From Proximate Futures to Data-Driven Urbanism. The Fiberculture Journal, 29. (p.38). Songdo might be the most prototypical example of what a corporate owned city looks like but, as Tyler Coburn notes, most of “our experience of smartness is more in insidious and often imperceptible weavings of public and private.”
To challenge which visions of the “good life” are promoted in smart cities, we conclude the discussion on smart cities with interaction designer Bastien Kerspern essay Critical and playful mitigation, Tackling smart city controversies with fictions and games. As a member of the Design Friction design studio, he has been experimenting with three mitigation tactics playfulness, participativeness, and weirdness to question the directions of decision making in today’s cities. He describes smart cities as a “playground to observe and discuss socio-technological controversies.” And, in the essay, he describes three of Design Friction’s participatory projects: Flaws of the Smart City, a card game, A City Made of Data , a series of one-day workshops, and Animals of the Smart City, speculating on the role of wild life and domestic animals in a smart city.
With Lily Martinet’s essay, Resisting the deployment of Linky in France, we move into the private realm of our homes. She describes why and how French citizens were resisting the implementation of a smart electricity grid, a “prerequisite” to a smart city. Linky is a “smart meter” and it is mandatory to have it installed in every French home. Martinet discusses the problematics around the top-down approach of fostering sustainable energy consumption that neglected issues of privacy, data security and electromagnetic hypersensitivity. Isabelle Stenger’s cosmopolitical proposal encourages us to “build an active memory of the way solutions that we might have considered promising turn out to be failures.”8Stengers, I. (2004, October 1). The cosmopolitical proposal. Balkan Express. Retrieved from https://balkanexpresss.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/stengersthe-cosmopolitcal-proposal.pdf Martinet achieves this by recording the flawed execution of the Linky introduction program hence, questioning the “accepted” ideal of modernity and growth.
If Linky is an example of smart technology being forced into our homes the vast majority of smart devices are consumer goods that we buy and install in our homes in the hope of a more convenient, time saving, and smooth life. At the same time, we invite machines, algorithms, and AI into our most private sphere. Lauren McCarthy decided to become a human version of Amazon’s Alexa to “have a conversation about letting AI into our data, our decision making, and our private spaces.” In her essay Feeling at Home: Between Human and AI, she explains how microphones, cameras and other electronics where installed in a volunteer’s home and how she then got full access and control over their homes for three days. The performances emphasize how the smart home utilities really invade our personal space. Lauren tried to be better than an AI implement, after all, she is a human.
Another perspective is offered by Luke Munn who is interested in how Amazon’s Alexa and other smart home devices “index, filter and frame the world, producing particular formations of knowledge.” His attention was caught by a news report in which communication logs of Amazon’s Alexa were requested by the Bentonville Police Department investigating a homicide. In his essay he describes how the story inspired a work of speculative fiction arguing that the smart home is a perfect example of Le Corbusier’s motto “house is a machine for living in.” Munn’s artwork and essay Monitor – code, browser, viewer reveals how the house as a machine both creates an intimate profile of it’s resident’s, and how it fails to register certain everyday activities.
Also Anuradha Reddy, in her essay Feeling at home with the Internet of Things, discusses the desire to automate different aspects of living. She questions if we really can feel “at home” with technology that is created to accumulate value, and serve companies and governments rather than its users. She argues that designing for IoT should, rather, focus on the “ethics of caring” rather than data collection. Reddy’s call for more human values are supported by many other critics of IoT. For example, Andrew Keen, who was one of the few critical voices at the Smart City Expo World Congress 2018 in Barcelona, emphasized that agency over technology and human values such as empathy and creativity is what should matter in our future cities, not algorithms.
Human values in designing IoT and smart cities sounds like a reasonable goal, yet as Shoshana Zuboff observes, surveillance capitalism has met with little resistance. Why? Because plenty of people agree that surveillance capitalism is a reasonable business model9 Zuboff, S. (2014, September 15). A Digital Declaration. Frankfurter Allgemeine. Retrieved from: https://www.faz.net/aktuell/feuilleton/debatten/the-digital-debate/shoshan-zuboff-on-big-data-as-surveillance-capitalism-13152525.html . We agree to conditions of data collection to use products and services for free. Mez Breeze’s literary piece, ToSS (Terms of Service Static), extracts from several Terms and Conditions/Terms and Services agreements that we blindly agree to when using apps, digital platforms or other types of software. For the ToSS Breeze has invented an imaginary software called FacePalm, in its Terms and Conditions we recognize the form of language that obscures the intentions of the global digital powerhouses to demolish our privacy.
The last set of texts reminds us of the material aspects of the Internet of Things. As Lasse Scherffig writes in his essay Leaked Locations from Your Networked Past, the Internet of Things “are material things and changing physical quantities in cables or the ether.” He uses his artwork, Where have you been?, as a case study showing how companies and governments use protocols defined in IEEE 802.11 to track and surveil devices connected to the Internet. Scherffig’s work reveals how the Internet of Things is a deeply political technology, inherently material, and how local protocols blur the distinction between the public and the private.
Control of the material infrastructures enabling data streams between physical devices also gives authority over the data. César Escudero Andaluz considers the socio-political effects of underwater Internet cables in his essay The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Distribution. His starting point is three companies that, since the 1990’s, have controlled the Internet traffic in submarine networks cables: Alcatel Submarine Networks from France, TE Subcom from the USA, and NEC from Japan. By noticing that tech giants Google, Facebook, and Microsoft, have also begun installing their own cables he shows that the ownership of the physical Internet infrastructure gives access to its data streams. In the essay we learn how artists such as Trevor Paglen and Joana Moll, and the series of lectures DEEP CABLES organized by Tatiana Bazzichelli. investigate various dimensions of fiber-optic and undersea network cables. Additionally Escudero Andaluz illustrates the political nature of the undersea cable network in his artistic project Free Universal Cut Kit for Internet Dissidence [F.U.C.K-ID], which he describes as “an autonomous cutting device, powered by marine currents able to cut underwater Internet cables.” As an advocate of tactical media, remix culture, and reverse engineering, Escudero Andaluz intends the 3D printable [F.U.C.K-ID] cable cutter, at least symbolically, to give us back the agency over technology and, hence, over our data by damaging the cables.
Another attempt to re-imagine our relationship to telecommunication infrastructure is Martin Reiche’s Razor Wire Modem. In his essay Razor Wire Modem: An Artistic Intervention at the Schengen Border, Reiche describes how a fence between Slovenia and Croatia, intended to stop feared mass migration yet obsolete from the very day it was built, was repurposed to become something “inclusive, meaningful, and desirable.” Inspired by cases in the 1900’s when barbed wire fences were used as telephone lines in rural areas of the United States, the essay describes how suppressing the architecture of a fence was subverted to the free infrastructure of a simple computer network. Both [F.U.C.K-ID] and Razor Wire Modem can be viewed just as smart hacks, nevertheless they invite us to think about the seemingly invisible but very material infrastructures of our networked life.
Marie Kondo, a Japanese organizing consultant10Wikipedia contributors. (2018, August 6). Marie Kondo. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marie_Kondo famous for the both loved and criticized Konmari method of organizing one’s belongings, “treats her possessions as if they were alive.”11Murai, Y. (2015, April 10). 12 Ways the #KonMari Method Will Transform the Way You Organize Your Home. Brit+co. Retrieved from: https://www.brit.co/konmari-method/ The idea is that, if we treat our belongings with respect, they will last longer. This might apply to belongings such as a loved sweater or book, but what about the maintenance of the increasing number of connected devices which depend on software updates, platform services, cloud storage, and the success of start up companies offering the device. The complexity of the maintenance of loved belongings like the Little Printer, a small Internet-connected thermal printer, is the focus of Andrew Lovett Barron’s essay The Decay of Digital Things. Through a couple of anecdotes Lovett Barron reflects upon the importance of company strategies and values as well as a striving user community support in ensuring a sustainable product maintenance.
At the recent Smart City Expo World Congress two quite contrasting approaches to future cities were apparent. The dominating technocratic approach in which problems are solved with technology, selling abstract futures with buzzwords such as “AI,” “Big Data,” “sustainability,” “ecology,” and “green-ness.” Impressive exhibition booths from cities such as Dubai and Moscow, or from companies such as Genetec (a Canadian provider of IP video surveillance, access control and license plate recognition solutions), Inesa (a Chinese provider and operator of total solutions for smart cities), and Ubiwhere (software and R&D company for the smart cities), just to mention a few, selling sophisticated control systems including vehicle, facial, and mood recognition purveyed a bright future for “surveillance capitalism.” On the other hand, mainly northern European countries were also offering some hope in terms of citizen participation.
Citizen participation can easily become a buzzword or succumb to the real challenges of actually engaging citizens, and this was discussed in panels in the side events at the Congress such as “Grow smarter – sustainable urbanism”12GrowSmarter. Retrieved from: http://www.grow-smarter.eu/home/ and the “Sharing Cities Summit: How to engage citizens?”13Share Barcelona. Sharing Cities Summit. Retrieved from: https://www.teixidora.net/wiki/Share_Barcelona_2018_es_documenta It is imperative that citizens are engaged in shaping the technologies that are eventually becoming part of their cities and homes. As we look to the future, we must recognize Winston Churchill’s statement,“We shape our buildings and, afterwards, our buildings shape us,” and Marshall McLuhan’s insight, “We shape our tools and, afterwards, our tools shape us.” Inspired keynote speaker at the Smart City Expo Congress, Andrew Keen, added: “We shape our technology and, afterwards, our technology shape us.”14Keen, A. (2018). How to fix the future. Smartcity Expo World Congress Conference 2018 Keynote Presentation. In the attempt to bring together the collection of texts for this publication, we wanted to bring forth the research of artists and authors who question: who is shaping and who should be shaping our technology? And, then, how is it shaping and how should it be shaping us?