Notes from Cognitive Cities

Cognitive Cities in Berlin was a lot of fun. My visit was fleeting, and I didn’t get to enjoy the second day of demonstrations and workshops, but the talks on Saturday were great. A few notes bubble up among the bunch;

* Adam Greenfield made me think for the first time in a while about the inherent politics of objects, something we need to pay “exquisite attention to” as networked cities ramp up in gear.

* BASAAP and related themes about interaction and integration cropped up a few times, with the core theme being “do exactly enough”; Don’t be too smart, don’t over-explain, don’t overcompensate for edge cases, and beware the feedback loop of the uncanny valley; puppy-smart is enough, human-smart can be scary.

* “Futurism and forecast fail due to the incompleteness of our knowledge.” – Dannie Jost

* Cities are a serendipity hub. As much as I might find something romantic about running off to Eigg, the chances of doing that and still enjoying the kind of chance encounters I have in London are slim.

* Berlin is nice.

* I should probably read Invisible Cities.

* Lots of us are chasing ghosts. I’ll come back to this one. A world of “inaudible machine chatter” is blooming, and we are trying to find ways of tracing those conversations. Are there more important things we could be doing?

Before Warren Ellis‘ keynote I was explaining to him my frustration that a narrative didn’t seem to be emerging among the talks that framed the larger debate. Warren’s talk brought that in spades, a thump of story that actually managed to be shocking; he stopped just short of asking ‘What are you lot playing at?’

I needed that.

Anyway, huge thanks to Jens for putting me up. Definitely hoping to go back to Berlin this year; I’ll find an excuse somehow.

Pantomime villain

When they start writing histories of the wave of networked revolutions in the Middle East, there will forever be a paragraph that says something like this.

“Despite statements deploring the violence from Downing Street, British Prime Minister David Cameron used the revolutions as an opportunity to shore up sales of military hardware. He met with the leaders of undemocratic Gulf states as well as weapons manufacturers responsible for outfitting the armed forces who, in Libya, were firing on civilians.”

That’s my take. The Guardian has more, with enough room between the lines for you get very angry at our deplorable Prime Minister.

Something about ‘Hope’

I caught Ditch this weekend in the tunnels under Waterloo station. It was okay. The space was dressed fabulously, and wandering around the ‘tableaux’ scattered about in the dark beforehand was a pretty fascinating snapshot into one set-designer’s apocalypse daydreams.

The thing is though, whatever ‘the national mood’, the only thing I walked out thinking was “Why didn’t I watch something cheerful down there?” Because when I left I stepped out onto Leake Street – a.k.a. The Tunnel, the graffiti-friendly project in Lambeth – a space filled with bright colour and art in what should have been a forboding, dingy little walkway.

There’s a staggering lack of imagination in taking a grimy, dark space and filling it with gloomy stories. Why can’t I head down to the Old Vic Tunnels and see something cheerful, even optimistic? I really want to see these spaces claimed for hopeful things, things that make me think, even for a minute, about the things we could be. It makes me think of a line from the latest series of Doctor Who, in which the Doctor directly appeals to his companions “Come on, be extraordinary.” It’s the only bit of pop-culture I’ve encountered recently making that kind of claim of its audience, the only thing asking us to inspire.

Do this for me; go into the gloomy spaces, the crappest little hidey-holes you can find, and fill them with colour.

Towards a UK netroots

My latest piece for Global Comment follows on on the heels of this weekend’s dead-end negotiations for a coalition government. I’ve spent the whole weekend telling anyone who’ll listen that we’ll see no formal coalition, instead witnessing a Tory/Lib Dem pact on some economic measures aimed to shore up the economy but short of an actual coalition, i.e. Tory Minority Government. But I have no idea. The Global Comment article emphasises the need for Labour and the Lib Dems to make the most of their opposition years while accepting that we’ll never see tide of people looking for Obama-level change. We might see US style campaigning appearing in other ways, but only if it’s done ‘smart’.

EDIT: to add that, given this evening’s events, not only do I have no idea, but that ANYTHING could happen. (17:15)
EDIT: And it looks like, at the very least, prospective candidates for the Labour leadership might be on the right track. (17:31)

A reply from Jeremy Corbyn, MP

Dear Matthew Sheret

Thanks for your recent email about the Digital Economy Bill. The subject is complex and the bill is proving to be hugely contentious; because of this it is crucial, more than ever, that Parliament fulfils its democratic duty and gives the bill proper debate and scrutiny.

Although it is imperative that jobs in the creative industries are protected, and it is right that artists be paid fairly for work they produce, the bill, as it stands, seems to be heavily weighted in favour of rich and powerful copyright holding companies.

Provisions to suspend file sharers’ connections and to require internet service providers to block access to websites hosting “substantial” amounts of copyrighted material are an over reaction, dangerously intrusive and will only prove to be counter productive.

You may be aware that the next significant stage for the bill will be its second reading in the House of Commons. Despite the front bench consensus there is significant back bench concern on all sides, and I and my colleagues will do all we can to ensure the bill is not rushed through the House without proper debate and scrutiny.

Yours sincerely

Jeremy Corbyn MP

Harriet Harman, MP, Leader of the House of Commons, will be presenting the bill on Thursday. This is your last chance to e-mail her and to directly address the strong possibility this could be rushed through Parliament during ‘wash up’. Once again, 38Degrees have a form that allows you to do just that.

ORG will be demonstrating tomorrow (24/03/10) afternoon at 17:30, protesting against disconnection and censorship on the internet. It will be held at Old Palace Yard (opposite Parliament, next to Westminster Abbey). After that The Indelicates, Akira The Don and Dan Bull will be playing a Stop Disconnection show at Camden’s Monarch. It should be a strong night.