I love the human glitch

In our daily life we interact with different “humans” – colleagues, friends, partner(s), family, etc. Our interaction is not at all linear. We get¬†excited (ūüėä), angry (ūüė° ), annoyed (ūüėí ). We, humans, react to human to human interactions with emotions, which is a kind of language that expresses our thinking beyond, and within, our social and cultural background. Human emotions can be unpredictable; they constitute the glitch of human interaction, and¬†require some planning and exercise to understand, and possible, predict human reactions.

In our social interaction everyday we are quite often catalogued by data. Our behaviour becomes a cluster of information, which informs patterns that¬†put us¬†in a box. Such system is increasingly¬†becoming the way to get a job, a relationship, a morgage. According¬†to¬†data we are patterns of behaviour that encode the possibility of an event. In her book “Weapons of Math Destruction”¬†Cathy O’Neil describes the frustration of such a system applied to humans. She indeed describes how the pattern based social hierarchy¬†discriminates more than a human based judgment. Such a system, indeed, doesn’t take¬†into account the unpredictable factor of human reactions, the human glitch that makes us diverse, unique and odd, which is the beauty of being human.

Here I am not suggesting any better system, which is capable of encoding the human glitch. Human beings are special animals, which life is made of productive and less productive moments. In this blog I quite often come back to the Roman concept of otium and negotium: enjoy your laziness as much your productive time; otium and negotium are complementary aspects of our being that make us a better humans in society. IN this specific case otium is the glitch. Data are a great system to cluster information that reveals patterns that tell us a different truth. Such truth is not the absolute system of reference, but one of the many that any of us should look at to evaluate decisions, whether it is the case to get pissed off, or the journey we like to take or employing a candidate.

Once Upon a Time the Bell Rang

When life¬†didn’t know what Internet was and the most advanced technology was based on horses, the rhythm of the everyday in the western Christian world was marked by the bell in the city¬†tower. You can still experience it in some¬†remote villages lost in the Italian countryside.

From morning odes to¬†vespers time had its phased, organic rhythm¬†that organised the day. The¬†pace of the everyday¬†was perceived as much linear as circular. The¬†linear sequence of events made¬†one look forward towards the future; the circular loop assured the possibility of something¬†better¬†to come¬†because of the sense of continuity; the present was¬†perceived as an extension of the past; the future as projection. The perception of time as linear loop belongs to¬†humanity: it protects from the “unknown”¬†and¬†makes one look forward: “Next year by this time I will be….”

In my PhD I looked at the disruption that in 1920s technology provoked to the rhythm of the everyday. Mechanic production was detached from the reassuring linear loop. Modernist life appeared broken in fragments: there was no sense of beginning and, equally, no end. Just a series of random fragments that can be meaningless arranged in a plethora of different sequences on the conveyor belt. Bucolic time is over. The mechanic rhythm of the everyday upset the relationship humans have with nature.

Globalised humanity is reshaping the way Romanticism shaped the concept of nation, borders and belonging. We live an uninterrupted time, which crosses east to west, north to south. We communicate with people living in any corner of this world, as long as there is a device connected to the internet. There is no day, no night. The dystopian sense of time, as shaped by machines that can operate at any time, is our reality. The value of time, as a sense of dwelling space, is perceived as a network of connected points; space, and the sense of belonging, is a cloud haunting our bodies. Do we feel to be anywhere?

In ancient Roman society leisure was an important moment of the everyday. It was the time to think, to talk, to debate and argue. In other words it was a very social event, although part of private life. For the rule of pausing negotium (the time for business), leisure helped the acknowledgement and understanding of the surrounding. Leisure time can be still experienced in Italy when people sit on the streets and squares and argue about local and global politics, or observe passers-by.

The value of a city and its vitality don’t rely on any¬†aesthetic quality, but on its citizens’ engagement and the power of connection.

Technology is a medium that enables and supports human behaviour. Nonetheless the experience component is currently the main offer we get, which makes us feel always connected. Being always connected is perceived as sense of belonging; we exists, thus we tap, pinch, and so on. To be connected means to dwell space. However when we live the digital space there is no time to think; information takes continuously our attention, with no break. The experience of information, via technology, is an uninterrupted flow of data, which rarely transforms in content. Information is just noise that catches our attention, for the time which is good enough to induce a particular behaviour.

Experience is no longer the notable event of our life, which we remember as memory; experience is a form of entertainment, which contemporary capitalism needs to get people behavior. To step back and think what we really remember is quite difficult, even though we have our Facebook timeline that recalls what happened in the Facebook past. Is it our lived life what social network reflects to us? Is there a life that transcends the photos we post, the information we share and the activity we engage with the internet?

Still don’t think it’s a technological problem, but human.

The Infrastructure of the Urban Cloud and the Dichotomy of Private and Public Space

The intricacy of the city is deployed by the system of streets, cables, people. Similarly the Internet is based on connections, which allow information to circulate and get exchanged. The challenge that private network companies, economists, politicians and policy makers are facing is the concept of “interface”. It is not only a matter of interfacing information, but interfacing people that use information, likewise streets, cables and people do in physical space. If people¬†are happily interfaced – with other humans or machines – it is possible to generate information derivatives, which are¬†more¬†valuable¬†than¬†the original primitives. The interface is then the key. The interface is real, it is not abstract, as “data”. It is something that you can interact with, touch it. Nonetheless the interface is a gateway that facilitates information traveling through it. What is the relationship between the world of interface and the urban space?

If looking at the scale of the city, smart city studies are generally looking at big data and, most importantly,¬†at¬†data¬†consume/production variables. The way people and things consumes information is the contemporary commodity.¬†The consumeristic data society ¬†generates markets and, also, political patters. As “The Economist” describes, data are currently key values¬†to win elections. “Democracy” doesn’t happen any longer in the polls but in Twitter or Facebook.

Similarly Alphabets is investing capital on connecting the city, physically and digitally. The Sidewalk¬†project is a platform that aims to design the infrastructure 2.0. Urban data are the system by which cities render their social section. By¬†combining and interfacing¬†many aspects of the everyday – from commuting, to shopping and meeting friends or family – it is possible to understand new directions, and, most importantly, how to “drive” them.

The ubiquity of data  is possible through the interface and, most importantly, to the personal relationship we have with it, which is scalable. We hold an object in our hands or in our wrists but the scale is just apparent. The object can scale up and down by means of the connection it is enabling, which happens in any time and any space.

The question I would like to ask is, who owns my private space, if any is left? While writing I am in a specific space, physically. Digitally I am in many spaces, which are facilitated by the number¬†of interfaces I am using¬†and¬†help me to organise my day. From the exhibition I would like to see, the trip I would like to make or the food I would like to eat.. Is this “space”? Is this private or public? Is space defined by my interface?

This lecture from the LSE gives a very interesting perspective on the subject. Professor José van Dijck describes what a platform society is by looking at the private and public. I cannot agree more. If we want to talk about cities, the concept of the private V public is one of the most important elements to be analysed. Urban space looks at the dicothomy between private and public space since its origin. The relationship between them renders the quality of society and politics. The way people coexists together is quite pivotal. An unbalanced system might lead towards social decay, that does affect society. To affect what people are allowed to wish, hope and desire for their life affects urban space and, with it, innovation, curiosity and any of the human qualities which has been driving human being towards a better world to live.

Cities are not made of buildings; city are made of people. Urban form is given by the way people interact. Indeed the space of the public and the space of the private need to understand diversities, whether physical or digital.

In this blog post I zoomed in and out, with the intention to look at infrastructure from a different perspective. The cloud infrastructure can enable urban innovation in the specificity of people interactions.

The Res Publica of Data


The literature on “smart cities” inflates everyday. The syntax and visualization of data yield¬†custom meaning out of¬†citizens’ life, which is mainly trusted as truth. We consult our pocket oracle, then we follow directions. The detached engagement that governments have in the politics of data leave communities in the mist of information. Do we share? Can we share? What is left to my own “authentic” decisions? Every single interaction with the World Wide Web requires few minutes of strategy, which aims to preserve the¬†ghost of privacy.

Cities are the origin of human civilisation; the idea of coexisting in the same place, with the common intent of organising common space with systems and rules, aimed to make life better when together.

The sense of community is the first element that makes us part of it. We create the form of our spaces by participating to its organisation and management.

The experience of data dwells between a coat of mystery and fear. Nonetheless data¬†can help to understand the contemporary machine of the real. Data are an achievement of our society, the management is the failure. In an ideal world, the democracy 2.0 would like citizens engaged in the everyday politics by sharing, discussing and editing data, as substance of contemporary politics. So far the trend didn’t exactly follow¬†this way.

I believe that something¬†might change though. Helsinki looks to follow¬†this direction¬†via a ticket. Small¬†steps are indeed the beginning to test big ideas. If politics steps in the administration of the contemporary¬†res publica¬†via citizens opinions (based on needs and wishes), which are regulated by an old democratic system,¬†we might speculate around the¬†contemporary form of politics that adapts, directs and suggests people’s trends.

Custom Infrastructure

GoLA is the app that wants to ease the mobility experience of Los Angeles. Car, indeed, is not the only medium available to navigate the city. It is one of the many, including walking (yes walking) and cycling. You might switch and combine different mobile media according to filters, like those you select when looking for hotels.

In¬†2008 my MA thesis, iTravel (iBus)¬†looked at a feasible¬†and flexible¬†infrastructural¬†system that could provide a¬†customised journey in London. The¬†trigger of my¬†interest¬†on the topic¬†was people’s engagement on sustainable mobility.

I organised public transportation accessibility via personal needs, via the riddle of gaming. Do you need to travel fast, green or cheap? Do you want to have a shopping sale route? These and other questions are guideline of the algorithm that organises the journey for you.

What GoLA does is not far off from my proposal. Nice to know I had a good intuition and that in a small way i can contribute to the plethora of ideas populating the ocean of smart infrastructure. My thesis has been recently featured in the Architectural Design curated by Tom Verebes “Informational Cities” .



The Duality of Human Being

Perception is¬†a topic I am investigating from a philosophical point of view to understand the human concept of space, as something that is “detached” from our ontological, then phenomenological, understanding of being. In other words we understand¬†“space” as entity¬†outside our body. We then create¬†forms and shapes in relation to the memories we build along our life.

Nevertheless such a basic concept, which¬†helps to acknowledge and reify the “real”, is at stake¬†in the context of the¬†intelligence that machines are acquiring and developing “against” humans.

Perception is something that appears to be mainly guided by sight, even though we get a sense of the physical real by means of senses, which feedback our mind through concepts like depth.

Google Project Tango, and similar, are¬†projects which give machines¬†the understanding¬†of depth. By collecting information from physical reality machines can learn what depth means, as much as human thinks. Google DeepMind is moving beyond the direct understanding of depth by teaching machines the¬†knowledge of space, which is intended as a sequence of “depths”,¬†represented by patterns created by crowds of images.

The interesting way by which this process takes shape is via¬†video games. What is the reason? Space. Indeed according to this Wired article video games are the means to¬†teach machines the¬†concept of spatial navigation (hence the acknowledgement of the “sequence of depths”). Machines create the concept of space by associating patterns of sequence of¬†images.

The process imitates the way children learn. In other words we are feeding machines of spatial information, which is derivative of physical space. Machine learn physical (?) reality within the digital domain of the Internet.

Would that generate a completly new form of space, of course as understood by analog human? Human understating of space is per se noumenal; it works by a series of associations given by memories, i.e. real events that thaught us lesson we will never forget.

I am intrigued when the two process of learning, the human analog and machine digital, are interfaced.

Perhaps Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner and Lugi Pirandello’s “Late Mattia Pascal”¬†had a good intuition on pointing out the value of memories as detector of humanity.


The Architecture of the City: Content Maps, Data, Space and Design

Last May I gave a¬†talk¬†at the Scene Gallery in London, which I called “The Elegy of Public Space”. The talk looked at spatial effects in physical space as drawn by¬†the language of “Content Maps”. I called “Content Maps”¬†those GPS maps that display the city under specific themes. Uber with its drivers, Airbnb with the available places, Foursquare and Yelp with leisure or Zoopla and Rightmove (among many) for housing hunt. Under “Content Maps” the city is a collection of themes whose adjacency constitutes what¬†we once called city. “Content Maps” flat¬†the complexity and intricacy of urban space (with its pedestrian, square, benches, lights, green areas, etc..) for rendering the city as clusters of cloud information.

Where is urban design? Well design is the allocation of new private space to be managed according to a specific theme. Once established, then streets, bus stops, facilities, and so on, come along.

The top of this trend will be reached once Google, or Apple, will put on streets driverless cars that will possibly introduce a new infrastructural revolution to the way we (pedestrian users) will experience urban space.

In this post from Dan Hill argues about the lack of design in contemporary cities. Cities are data clouds that network companies manages for third agents. My last slide at Scene Gallery represented the London Garden Bridge as the effect of current urban politics, where general public assumes that physical space is private as much as the digital one. It is a big kind of Facebook piazza owned by private companies. To some extent we are already going there.

The lack of architecture in the space of the city is result of different interwoven factors. In my view there is a general lack of understanding of data.  Data, beyond their use for scaling up and down stuff (utilities, square, infrastructure) and beyond infographic representation of phenomena, have a valuable urban design role. The flexibility of understanding real time behaviour is an element that can be integrated into the analysis and design of the urban fabric, where with urban fabric I intend the space that citizens  dwell everyday. I do agree that the kernel is not the building but the network , which constitutes the contemporary urban tectonic of exchange points. In other words buildings  are terminal, or interfaces (if I can borrow words) that enact urban behaviour.

When thinking about the city scale is the first element thats should come in mind. We don’t have the scale of screen, i.e. apps that can understand the territory, but architecture that displays urban life.