Computerised City

Nowadays, we can see the increasing use of computerised technologies in our daily lives. These technologies run with software and remain unnoticed as they are in the background of our activities. The work place and transport, such as new cars or trains are run by computers. The city itself is run by software in the background, like CCTV camera systems.

Nigel Thrift and Shaun French (2002) studied the changing nature of space and quoted Ron Horvath’s (1974) argument around ‘machine space’, whereby Western cities are becoming like a ‘new kind of machine wilderness’. The idea is that the machine is taking more and more space in the city. He talked about the increasing quantity of space allocated to US cars in cities. We can see with the example of cars that physical spaces are transformed when new technologies arrive and it is mostly noticeable in the cities where there is a concentration of people, technologies and infrastructures.

Software programs use the language of text and code to operate. After the development in recent decades of sophisticated software, large corporations such as Facebook, Google and Apple are developing new technologies with artificial intelligence, like Google Now or Apple Siri (video below).

Source: – Apple Siri

Theorist Alan Turing, in the 1950’s with the birth of computing, raised the question of whether a machine thinks. We can see on Siri video that we are increasing the development of oral language software, hence, writing texts is the dominant form of communication today. At work we use mainly emails and at home we use mainly text message on our phones. The oral language is not yet fully adopted to interact between computers and humans as it is a complex task that machines cannot yet fully accomplish.

Source: – ‘Her’, 2013 by Spike Jonze

The movie ‘Her’, 2013 by Spike Jonze, tells the story of a man who falls in love with his smart device’s operating system called Samantha, a female voice, sensitive and funny. This film could raise a question around whether a machine could replace a human and fulfils its emotional needs.

Some other virtual assistant technologies are developed in telephony and are today widespread, such as HM Revenue & Customs’ phone line whereby you have a set of questions to answer to a voice-recognition system before getting to a human operator. The contact with a machine is cold and monotonous and the main challenge that face artificial intelligence laboratories is to replicate human conversation with a machine. The task is very complicated as there is not only words involved in a conversation, there are also feelings and emotions. When you are interacting with a voice-recognition technology, the human has to adapt to the machine to be understood. It should be the other way round where the machine has to adapt to human. These tendencies could pose a threat to humanity, and see human in the service of the machine adapting their voices like robots to be understood and to get a service from those technologies. We can think about the future and see all government services using more machine technologies and less human. We can also think about the people who speak English with foreign accents and thus had difficulties interfacing with the machine. This could pose a democratic threat to citizens in not having an equal access to public services.


Horvath, R J. (1974) Machine space The geographical Review

Thrift, N. and French, S. (2002) The automatic production of space -Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Vol. 27, No. 3. [Accessed 10/12/2014] [Accessed 10/12/2014]


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