Perspectives Transcript

 
 

What do you do?

Elizabeth Christoforetti So I am a designer and I design spaces, design technologies, specifically architecture.

Daniel O'Brien I'm an urban scientist which means I use data and technology to better understand and serve the city and also examine the ways data and technology are reshaping the city.

Andrew Witt I'm an architect and Digital Designer. So I apply quantitative techniques and digital technologies to problems around space and those problems can be architectural problems, they can be problems around understanding the city. They can be problems around understanding data spatially.

Sae Kim I design, I create spatial experiences at the intersection of Architecture, Urban Design, branding.

Courtney Costello So I work in human resources and I hire people and let people go and help engage employees while they're employed. So whether it's training and development or assistance with really anything. Payroll makes sure everyone get paid, gets paid.

Fábio Duarte So I'm a research scientist at MIT Sensible City Lab where we deal with technology and how technology changes the way we think and live and design cities.

Ever Drewicz I'm a student and I go to school.

Richard Bertman I'm an architect. I sculpt. I'm a husband and a father, and have grandchildren. I do all those things associated with that kind of work.

Eric Gordon I am a professor of media art at Emerson College and I direct a research and design lab called the engagement lab. And the lab is a collaborative design lab where we work with organizations and partners around the world to design civic solutions to complex problems.

 

How do you define technology?

Courtney Costello When I think of technology I think of gadgets. I think of devices, softwares. Things that are supposed to make life easier.

Ever Drewicz Technology, it doesn't just have to be on the screen, it can also be like, it's mostly on screen. But, I guess it's like it has all different games. You can do a lot with it. Gives you Wifi. So that's cool.

Andrew Witt So I heard it once jokingly said the technology is everything new since you've been born. But actually I like to think of technology as a way to leverage knowledge that you don't yourself have.

Richard Bertman I think technology is the application of scientific knowledge to help us create things that will benefit us and solve problems, meet our objectives.

Eric Gordon Technology is anything that is an extension of the human body that allows someone to get something done.

Elizabeth Christoforetti I imagine it's things that humans produce to solve problems more than once. That then go on to impact the way that other spheres of development or growth are happening.

Sae Kim I define technology as a product of one of humans innate desires. And I think that desire is closely tied to on one hand curiosity and on the other hand legacy.  On the curiosity aspect, I think we are inclined naturally to explore, to be curious about knowledge, to get curious about the world in which we live.

Fábio Duarte So technology is any device created by humans that mediates relationships among human beings or between humans and the environment.

 

How has technology changed the way cities are experienced?

Richard Bertman The wonderful thing about the city is it's life and the variety and all of the stuff that really make life interesting. And so there are these advances in technology that I think are removing some of the, the need to do, to make those contacts in the city so I think that's hurtful. On the other hand it's certainly easy to call an Uber and go across town to see something that you wouldn't have gone to previously. So in a way, previously there was, you know, a radius that you were familiar with the city that you could walk to, you know, half an hour walk around and you became very friendly with the knowledgeable about that area. Now I think that's expanded because it's much easier to, I think public transportation is improving although slowly.

Sae Kim I think the way technology has changed how I experience cities has been that it has increased the level of specificity. At the same time it decreased the level of precision. So what I mean by that is I think in terms of the things that I look for in the places that I want to go to, and the information that I'm looking for when I navigate around a city. I think I'm more specific than I used to be. And I think at the same time I think it reduced the level of precision because a lot of that precision is coming from technology.

Andrew Witt I think technology has given me and others access to sort of knowledge and intuitions and an understanding of the city that we wouldn't necessarily have just parachuting in otherwise. And so while we can browse and get to know the city in a very sort of more classical way we can also have a better understanding of how people in the city themselves understand that space. And that's something that was really difficult to access before.

Ever Drewicz So if I'm with my family and we're going somewhere a lot of times we'll use like a device to help us get there. So like we might just ask Siri or something like that. So we use a G.P.S., stuff like that.

Elizabeth Christoforetti It's made it more fluid I think. So fluid sometimes that you miss things maybe? But if we think about it through the lens of mobility. Who'd say, you know, given the ability to pay for things one can move in a more kind of frictionless way. And it's created a kind of hybridity that allows for a very different way of experiencing the city, a much more maybe convenient? But certainly friction, more frictionless way of seeing things.

Eric Gordon The thing that's most exciting to me is the way that information can augment the urban landscape and not just that but the way in which users or residents or citizens can have access to that information. So what are ways in which that information can be a kind of heads up display? What are ways in which we can access information and people more directly through, through technology and not kind of fall or retreat into our own, our own devices and our own selves as we access that information? Because ultimately cities are social constructs and  personal devices tend to perpetuate this notion of hyper individualism and extreme personalization. Whereas the urban landscape should be just the opposite. So there is this tension between those things. And so where we find that, where we find that kind of happy place where we're able to access all that information and be able to sort of build our mental constructs of the city while also at the same time increasing the sociability of the city is where I think we have the greatest possibilities for change, positive change in the future. When people were sharing these public spaces like a like a train. There was always a thing to retreat to whether it was a newspaper or book or something else that people would retreat into. But the sheer scale of the retreat now seems greater to me.

 

What technology is considered good or bad?

Andrew Witt That's an interesting question because I think our understanding of technology is biased by our understanding of high technology, essentially digital technology. Of course technology is a lot a lot broader than that. I mean the city is kind of a technological artifact. And one of the things that I think is really critical about technology and one of the things that makes it powerful is the fact that it can be recombined in many different ways. You can take a piece of technology. You can add a second piece. You can tie them together to create something kind of new. And so it's really like orchestrating these various technologies which is one of the ways that technology evolves. So I think a good technology is really a technology that's reliable and effective regardless of what it's trying to do because if you know that thing is reliable you can tie it with a series of other things and make essentially a new kind of machine. So the paradigmatic technology is a machine, that machine is composed of a bunch of parts. And so when I think of a good technology there are ways to think about that ethically but from a purely sort of technological point of view I guess it has to be reliable and has to be effective. Bad technology is a technology that doesn't do what it claims to do or it fails or it's unreliable. And, I think, you know, this is different than the technology that somehow behaves in ethical ways. I think by sort of like transferring or projecting certain ethical demands onto technology we kind of abdicate a little bit of our own responsibility. So I think it's important to sort of like draw a boundary and just say OK well as technology, if technology is bad it's failing in some way. It's not meeting the objectives that we've set for it.

Sae Kim I think there are two perspectives to this question. One side is functional perspective and the other is ethical perspective. I think one definition would be, you know, something that makes our lives easier, more convenient and more efficient. But I think there is another way of defining good technology and I think that is a technology that actually enables an array of technologies to come. So what that means is that there are certain technologies that are invented that might not be so efficient, that might not be so convenient, that might not be so easy to use or that might not just have a use, let's say. But I think if that technology actually can kickstart an array of ideas, an array of other technologies, that actually uses the initial technology as a stepping stone I would consider that initial technology as a good technology.

Richard Bertman So, I don't think there is such a thing as good technology or bad technology. I think there's technology and it's a tool. And so it's really the person who's using it that makes it either good or bad. Although I would say that one thing, when I think of good technology I think of making things easy, user friendly technology to me especially at, you know, many younger people or all younger people have them brought up on the computer. So it's like a second hand thing. You know, you just know how to use it. But for someone my age it's not that way. So everything that has a computer is difficult for me. You know, it's always learning something new.

Ever Drewicz I think the old technology wasn't good because that was like flip phones and stuff like that. So I think those didn't work as properly as they do now. Because now we have iPhones instead of those. And the computers that used to be like my height are now like smaller. So.

Courtney Costello No bugs. That's my answer. I think good technology is efficient. And it makes your life easier. Yeah. No bugs.

Eric Gordon What do I consider good technology? That's an impossible question to answer. And the reason it's impossible is because technologies are contextual. So a good technology is the thing that meets your goals and the thing that meets the goals of the group of people trying to achieve something. Now here's the problem. Sometimes our goals are not correct. So sometimes if we think about, let's just think about technology and governance and ways in which governments are adopting technologies to create greater efficiency in every aspect of people's lives which on one hand is a, you know, a great goal to achieve efficiency in certain aspects of people's lives. But when that model of a goal is applied to every aspect of governance where deliberation and debate and discussion and relation is squeezed out because of the pursuit of that end goal which is efficiency then that technology isn't good. So the questions are "does the technology meet one's goal?" and "are the goals that one defines for themselves right?"

Daniel O'Brien Good technology is any technology that we develop that serves our values as a society. I think there are two forms of bad technology. One which I like to believe is less common at least here in America, but maybe very common in certain types of countries around the world, is technology that has been developed to coerce or control other individuals, right? It intentionally either causes detriment to others or manipulates them to do something. The second one though, which I think we have to be much more conscious of here in the United States especially during this moment of smart cities, is technology that started out with a particular purpose that then evolved to no longer be consistent with our values.

Fábio Duarte Good technology is the technology that changes the way humans live in a better way in cities. So bad technology is technology that's developed only for the sake of technology itself. So again if we think that technology can make a system more efficient but it's not improving the way humans live in cities, this is a bad technology.

 

What technology do you think will have the most impact on the urban environment?

Ever Drewicz I know in like animated movies and stuff they show like trains going through the sky. But I think it might be like, I know we have earpieces but kind of things like that that can like just go on you instead of you having to carry them around.

Daniel O'Brien The most important technology for the city right now is what we would call "naturally occurring data" right? So data that's being generated by administrative processes, data that are freely available on the Internet. All of these things that are coming as a result of the digitization of our society. So administrative processes have been collecting data for years, right? Technically the census has been collecting data since Augustus implemented it in the Roman Empire, right? Those are data but they served a particular purpose previously of accountability, of management that now that they're in spreadsheets, now that they're readily available to say statistical software, we can derive so much more information from them than we ever have before.

Elizabeth Christoforetti My bias is always the financial technologies. Those are the technologies like the real estate investment trust and one can even say "the grid". These are the things that organize the money in the capital in our urban systems and they become incredibly powerful and often invisible. I think, you know, there's something about the social technologies that's very interesting in terms of the way that we think about aggregating ourselves culturally and as communities. I don't know if I think they're going to be the most transformative. But I'm intrigued by them. I'm intrigued by the idea that there's a new way or a new set of ways of coming together or identifying as a culture.

Sae Kim We are in an era where we are beginning to compile data at a rate that we have never been before. And in terms of how those data gets organized and gets to the end user I think it really depends on what kind of algorithm that people put together. With that in mind I think there is a, I think the people and the companies that are actually acting as a platform or as a deliverer of the data has a huge power in shaping how we experience cities and how we actually live.

Andrew Witt The kinds of technologies that I hope have the most impact really have to do with the way that we consume things in the city. How do we get our food.? How do we get our water? How do we get our energy? How do we do that in such a way that has the least impact? And there's a whole range of things around making the city sort of like more efficient or allowing it to operate more efficiently. I think there's another set of technologies which are really about how do we grow our food and how do we clear, how do we sort of cleanse our water and how do we do those kinds of things. I think those have a really amazing potential to change the way that, to change the way that we're responsible for the city and change the way that we're responsible for its impacts.

Eric Gordon I think transportation. So we're already seeing a difference between the notion that one needs to own their own vehicle to a comfort with vehicles being a tool to get to where you need to go and it doesn't need to be a piece of personal property. That's already changing. And then technology will enable that to, enable that existing social trend to move faster as autonomous vehicles become more present and populated. So I think the way we move about the city will radically change over the next decade. And, and it requires the most attention, I think by the public as we understand the implications of those changes.

 

Should technology be accessible?

Andrew Witt A key aspect of technology is its ability to take very complex processes very particular kinds of knowledge and put it in a format that's usable by many more people. And so one of the purposes of technology ultimately is to diffuse expertise and make expertise more generally available. So to the extent that that's in a way the purpose of technology then I think accessibility is an essential, is an essential part of that. So I think of the point that we're at in history now is being a little bit analogous to when public libraries became a sort of national phenomenon. The whole idea behind public libraries was that it was a way to drive the diffusion of knowledge and information and elevate the population in the city. Part of that was about literacy. And so I think in a similar way there is an amazing explosion of technology which is not about static information as we may think of it in the context of a library in a sort of like a set of books but instead is about is about processes. And there's a project of literacy and creating literacy around that which I think is, which I think is important and fundamental.

Fábio Duarte Yes in principle technology should be accessible to everyone but we have to be very careful. First thing is when companies, private companies, they get data from the city. All this data should be accessible to the city itself. I'll give you an example. Google Street View. So they are collecting data from several hundreds of cities around the world. This data needs to be fully accessible even these historic data. And why? Because cities can get a lot of information out of this data. But should we make all data open to the public? This is not necessarily good. First because we would violate privacy issues but also we have a huge concern right now when we are using some communities or some countries where we go there and we collect data but these communities or these countries they don't have knowledge to make sense of this data. So actually they are simply data providers. But we're not giving them back knowledge. So if these communities are not trainined as scientists, if they don't have the resources to make sense of this data, we are almost extracting data from them for our own purpose and this is really bad. So I think the balance between giving access to technology and giving access to data, is two completely different things.

Daniel O'Brien When we're thinking about equitable access to data. I think for each community we have to consider what is the level of data literacy and what is the level of technological access or technological literacy in this community? And then those who work with data, like myself and many of my colleagues, we can then think about what are the technologies that we need to provide in order to meet people where they are? Some of that could be training and education and some of that could be putting the data into more and more accessible formats and those could be digital or they could be analog. And really figuring out where does the community need us to get the data to? What form does the community need the data be in to really get value out of it? And that I think is an additional part of sort of the technological advance process that we don't always think about. We sometimes think okay we did this, we built this technology, we created these data insights. And then we don't go the next step of thinking about well what extension of the technology is required to empower communities to gain value from this on their own terms?

Sae Kim I don't think I'm in a position to say whether a technology should be accessible or not but what I can say is that I think education to technology should be accessible to everyone. And what that means is that there are certain technologies that are not accessible to everyone at this time and day which will become accessible in the future. And with a time, when that time comes, I think it's critical that the general public know how to access that technology and be able to basically use that technology for their benefit.

Courtney Costello I think some technology should be accessible but I also think that there should be a period of time that it shouldn't be accessible. And there are times where it just needs to go through the kinks. And there are the times where, you know, the, it's not quite there yet or the consumer just isn't ready for it. So I think it depends on the technology.

Ever Drewicz I think like you have to pay a lot of money to get things like this. So if they could lower the price people that didn't have a lot of money to get them. And I think that's really the only idea I have right now.

Eric Gordon I think the public realm should be accessible. So any technology that is part of the experience of being in the public realm should be accessible and we should counter logics of the market that dictate, that dictate who and when people can access things. So absolutely. The value that we should be designing our cities with is accessibility. And beyond accessibility, and that means people need to be able to get where they need to go, equally. People need to have access to every part of the city, equally. And the technology that enables that mobility and access needs to be equal. So the bigger question of should technology be accessible, the answer is absolutely yes. And I'm not suggesting that Apple needs to give away their products for free. But I am suggesting that when cities purchase technologies their primary motivator needs to be accessibility and equity.

Richard Bertman I can't think of a reason why it wouldn't be accessible to everyone with oversight. And I think that's true about our whole society, in a way democracy. I mean you have a lot of freedoms but there is, there are oversights. It's like the, Facebook and things like that, you do need some controls. Just so it doesn't get out of hand like it happened this last election.

 

What should we ask ourselves as we try to balance the emerging technologies with the urban environment?

Courtney Costello I guess my question would be, is how do we ensure that individuals have the connection of people to people with the integration of technology without losing that face to face and personal connection?

Richard Bertman So the question is how do we improve the quality of our lives by technology?

Andrew Witt I think an elemental question is how do I hope my grandchildren will live? Not only in this city but around the world and I think that adds a critical dimension of humanity to these technological questions. It gets to the heart of what the potential of technology is and also our responsibility to those future generations.

Elizabeth Christoforetti Yeah, I think the timescale question is a really big one for me. The timescale of the civic and the timescale of technological development are radically different from each other. If bureaucratic infrastructure does something like this, right? On a timeline of growth, technological infrastructure does something like that. So how the civic and the technological become aligned in terms of time and implementation and cultural accessibility is a huge challenge. It's a huge problem and I think one that we haven't quite figured out how to handle given the very very smart in many cases and, you know, really well-meaning bureaucratic infrastructures that we have in place who also don't happen to have the capacity to keep up with say Google, right? It's just, it's a disconnect.

Daniel O'Brien What are our societal values? A lot of technology is built right now with two impulses: efficiency and that would be cool. I think one of the challenges in the smart cities world is we don't often think about, we think a lot about optimizing, right? There's a lot of lot tech tech guys and algorithm nerds like myself who think about optimization. But optimizing for what? Right? Optimizing for efficiency? That's actually relatively easy. Optimizing for equality? That's a different question. I would argue that the time spent developing the technology to do that is well worth it because at the end of the day we'll end up with technology that is actually serving the goals and values that we really have at heart rather than taking us towards particular things like efficiency or like cool without necessarily considering the byproducts and the implications that might have for other values we didn't consider at the forefront.

Eric Gordon There are two questions we need to ask: "Is it the right tool for the job?" and "is the job the right one?" This exhibit should be focused on the latter. We should be asking is the job the right one. Is this future city that we imagine the future city we all want? Are all the people, are the people that need to be at the table at the table to determine what that city is that we all want? Often we include, we include governments, we include technology leaders, we include civil leaders, but we don't do the job of actually spending the time to make sure that more voices are heard when we understand, when we try to understand what the right future city is. So the real question is "how do we live together better?" That's what technology is for. That's what we think about when we try to design cities. How do we live together better? And I'm hoping that this exhibit can get us close to that.

 

What was the motivation behind the exhibit?

Sae Kim I think it's more and more people are listening and getting exposed to the things that they want to be exposed to, the things that they want to listen to. Whether that may be the kind of music, whether that may be a kind of TV show, the kind of restaurant food, which I think is all good. But at the same time I think it's important for people to listen to others and be aware of other opinions as well. And technology is I think one of these things that I think people have very specific stands on. And there's a way of facilitating that kind of discussion for people to come together to be able to talk about how technology can best be implemented as we move forward into the future. I thought that kind of a platform was essential.