Hi Computer Scientists, let’s talk about reality in Cities
If you are an engineer, statistician, computer scientist or working in a related field and trying to get into the digital, urban or smart city world, you may notice that what you thought as a solution is not working. Believe me, it won’t. Never*.
Yesterday I was talking with a colleague from my Ph.D Program regarding Smart Cities. He told me that it is hard to involve stakeholders in decision processes because things change, different need makes things complex and requisites change as well.
It was quite complicated to me find out how to explain to him that some assumptions that he had were wrong. I can’t say that I got surprised. It is really common to find people that think that life can be programmatically anticipated.
As an example, we took a discussion regarding bike lanes and the friction with local shops that usually complain in the beginning and takes time until the effect of a policy is clear to be evaluated. That time, is not the same for the expectation of different groups.
My suggestion was to consider that change is permanent and the negotiation between groups is constant. In that sense, is up to people in charge to change over time and to adopt policies. Including different groups of interest will bring new opportunities to make Cities more inclusive. I explained that some cities have children committee for Urban planning, or agency that looks over accessibility. Considering any system as socio-technical assemblages mean that systems are dynamically built, meaning is also changing, and nothing should be taken for granted.
The conversation moved to ethics. The question was, how is it possible to develop policies and also technology without harassing or displacing people and groups of interest?
I had to take the focus to philosophy. As scientists, we should have philosophic inquiry a priori on our work. Things that are in the air, will be used for good or for bad.
In that sense, designing solutions and policies should be ethical by-design. That means that Fiction and possible and plausible future scenarios should be included in the process as methods
Maybe what I’m saying here is too obvious for some. Working with the unexpected could be a natural environment for designers or people in humanities. But there is a lot of other people that see things different. If you are one in the latter group, and you want to participate in this field, consider to have my suggestions in mind.
After all, part of the success of doing policy is mutation. Changing plan, measure and learn is part of it. As it is said in this article, part of the success of Amsterdam is to embrace change openly.
Finally, we can do the best. We must. That is our commitment to our work, no matter what we do. And this means that you care of others, of the consequence of your work, and also that you will help others to accomplish it in the best way. It is a matter of responsibility. If you want a better world, it is not an option. Future problems and others problems are also part of your present problem, help, contribute and collaborate to fix them.
*After some feedback, I’m forced to clarify regarding to what I meant with “never”. “Never” is not a point in time. “Never” is usually thought as a point in a future time, where we never reach. But thinking as a common contruction regarding our inmediate present, we can think that the reallity is always updating. In that sense, “never” is closer to the idea that things are mutable and we never update enought our perspective to catch them. I don’t want to enter on the debate of different perspectives that Heidegger, Watari, Deleuze, Whitehead, Latour and others already discussed.