I’m a massive sci-fi fan and when I started researching the idea of smart cities I kept thinking of his speech about the inspiration behind his book ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep’ from which I drew inspiration for / appropriated / stole my work’s title. It’s the book that was made into the movie Blade Runner. With the orange sky in the photos created from the sodium in the street lights and the wafts of smoke from the new whisky distillery next door it felt relevant when I started beaming images against the tower.
Dick gave a fascinating talk called ‘The Android and the Human’ where he said:
“Our environment — and I mean our man-made world of machines, artificial constructs, computers, electronic systems, interlinking homeostatic components — all of this is in fact beginning more and more to possess what the earnest psychologists fear the primitive sees in his environment: animation. In a very real sense our environment is becoming alive, or at least quasi-alive, and in ways specifically and fundamentally analogous to ourselves...Rather than learning about ourselves by studying our constructs, perhaps we should make the attempt to comprehend what our constructs are up to by looking into what we ourselves are up to.”
I think what he was talking about were the psychological effects of technology on us, and if we are increasingly going to be living in smart cities this felt relevant. We psychologically project a lot on to technology, understanding computers as metaphorical computational brains. The idea that a city can be smart implies intelligence, the city as an intelligent agent. But as soon as we started to think of machines as somehow intelligent we also started to think of ourselves as machines, the metaphor runs both ways. Dick hints at this when he says in the same talk that the android can be taken as a metaphor for humans that lack ethics, empathy or sincerity. More than this, because this illusion of intelligence is being created in machines by us, we create and train the algorithms, this impression of animism is like a warped mirror of humanity. We have trained AI with all our preferences, interests and biases, you can start to see this when you look at the things the Google Vision AI picks out as the most the thing it’s most certain of, in the Freudian slips it makes when it misidentifies fingers as packaged goods; or the way the NLTK struggles to meaningfully relate terms.
Jaron Lanier wrote similarly in the 90s about the limiting effects on us of artificially intelligent programs which he called agents:
“An agent's model of what you are interested in will be a cartoon model, and you will see a cartoon version of the world through the agent's eyes. It is therefore a self-reinforcing model. This will recreate the lowest-common-denominator approach to content that plagues TV. "You're interested in Balinese ritual, therefore you're interested in travel, therefore you're interested in the Infobahn Travel Game Show!”.
Anyone who uses the internet can see we already now live in this world.