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Dark sentience

Architecture and media theorist Mark Shepard offered a helpful definition of “sentience” in his appropriately titled 2011 book Sentient City. What are the implications of calling a city ‘sentient’? The word sentience’ refers to the ability to feel or perceive subjectively, but does not necessarily include the faculty of self-awareness” (31). He states that self…More

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Inattention and power

Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) provides one of the most enduring depictions of machine intelligence, a spaceship that exhibits sentience. HAL, the onboard computer provides an interface to the ship’s functions. In his chapter “Toward the sentient city,” Mark Shepard identifies the conversational aspect of HAL’s interface, “symbolized by his iconic and…More

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Cringe and inattention

It’s lunchtime at Cheers bar and there are no customers. Diane is a waiter in the bar. She says, “I think if nobody minds I’ll have my lunch now. I got some lovely roast beef today for a sandwich.” She notices Carla, her co-worker, who is pregnant. “I’m sorry, Carla. If it bothers you I…More

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Sitcoms in the city

I wish I could recall when my parents bought our first television set. That moment marked a clear decline in my capacity for sociability, outdoor pursuits, team sports, and homework. I recall rollerskating down our street, visiting friends, adventuring in our apple tree, improvising a bow and arrow set from strips of dowel, and hitting…More

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Urban discourse

Dialogue typifies what it is to be intelligent. I’m thinking of two or more people engaged in conversation. Alan Turing proposed conversation as the test for AI. If participants or observers can’t tell the difference between a human conversing with a simulation and a human being conversing with another human then it’s fair to say…More

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Intimately conscious

Sentience draws attention to feelings and sensations. Consciousness is more cognitive. It derives from Latin conscius, which is “sharing knowledge.” In my previous post I searched key texts for occurrences of “intimations of sentience” which yielded very little. A similar search on consciousness is more instructive. Intimations of consciousness “It takes a thief to catch a…More

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Intimations of sentience

Something is sentient if “feels or is capable of feeling; having the power or function of sensation or of perception by the senses” (OED). Consider the following: “An AI platform that delivers conversational responses to my inputs is sentient.” That’s a very bold claim about AI. To intimate that an AI platform is sentient would…More

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The imitation game

Alan Turing proposed : ‘Can machines think?’ should be replaced by ‘Are there imaginable digital computers which would do well in the imitation game?’ (442) The following is my unedited conversation with OpenAI about the Imitation Game and Alan Turing’s test of effective AI. I’ve highlighted some key terms. AI: I am an AI created…More

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Dall-E and me

The image below is one of my photographs of Mãe d’Água das Amoreiras (Mother of the Water) Reservoir, Lisbon, taken in August this year. If I was conscientious I would label it with alt-text: “plan view of a large thin metal wheel tap in a horizontal position above a reflective underground cyan pool in a…More

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Thicker narrative

Gossip is a vital element of community, according to historian Yuval Harari, necessary as an ingredient in social bonding. People who gossip also like to eavesdrop on other people’s conversations, then pass along what they hear. Dialogue in stories meets a similar need. Stories that include dialogue encourage engagement. Readers put themselves in the position…More

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Text therapy redux

Text therapy is simply communication between clients and their counsellors, clinicians or therapists via text media, such as email (non-synchronous) or real-time (synchronous) chat. Text chat has grown in many consumer contexts, abetted by automation: archiving, analysis, templates and AI-assisted bot technology. Those who are sufficiently literate sometimes prefer the protections and security afforded by…More

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Text therapy

I met with my text therapist last week. She advised me to incorporate more story-telling into my writing. “It will help you connect with your readers on a deeper level,” she said. “How do I do that?” There was a pause. This communication was online. She could have been sipping her coffee, or composing her…More

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Lucky places

Imagine two worlds: one in which apparently random events have a positive outcome for most people most of the time — it only rains when you have an umbrella, you only run out of petrol while next to a petrol station, a knocked vase falls on a soft cushion, toast always lands jam side up.…More

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Quantum VR

A widely cited article in IEEE states the goal of virtual reality (VR). “The overarching goal of VR is to generate a digital real-time experience that mimics the full resolution of human perception. This entails recreating every photon our eyes see, every small vibration our ears hear, and other cognitive aspects (touch, smell, etc.)” (111).…More

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Work-life imbalance

Severance is a dark scifi comedy-drama about a high-tech company capable of splitting the memory life of its office workers in two. As soon as a worker comes into the office she/he loses all recollection of what happened on the outside. When she leaves the office she immediately forgets what happened at work as she…More

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In here and out there

The theory of extended mind, elaborated by philosophers David Chalmers and Andy Clark, appeals to anyone involved in the built environment. The theory proposes that cognitive functioning (reasoning, perceiving, remembering) rely on various augmentations from the environment we are in. Hence, we have notepads, drawing tools, computers, smartphones, the Internet. These extensions are not just…More

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Ultimate VR

In his book Reality+ philosopher David Chalmers restates a common view about the future of VR. My guess is that within a century we will have virtual realities that are indistinguishable from the nonvirtual world. Perhaps we’ll plug into machines through a brain-computer interface, bypassing our eyes and ears and other sense organs. The machines…More

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Heidegger and panpsychism

Martin Heidegger’s teacher Edmund Husserl foregrounded consciousness, though Heidegger adopted a different vocabulary and different concepts. Nor does the term “panpsychism” or anything like it crop up in Heidegger’s writing, though no doubt it can be inferred. In his latest book Reality+: Virtual Worlds and the Problems of Philosophy David Chalmers references Heidegger. The 20th-century…More

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Panpsychism versus religion

Religion, religious practice, and religiosity are central in architecture and built form, not least as domestic, commercial and civic buildings mimic or resist the elements, forms and types of religious buildings — altars, pilgrimage routes, temples, churches, mausoleums . Religious ritual and performance are enacted, repeated, copied and even parodied in open and purpose-built spaces.…More

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Panpsychism and pragmatism

The city as organism, living city, sentient city: these concepts invite reflection on the putatively intimate relationship between mind and matter — panpsychism. The pragmatic philosopher Charles Sanders Pierce was in a long line of influential philosophers who developed the theme of panpsychism. I have already attempted to explain the importance of Peirce in architecture…More

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Panpsychism and the origins of the city

Does a city think about its inhabitants? The question invites panpsychism into the urban discourse. “The spaces around us are now being continually forged and reforged in informational and communicative processes. It is a world where we not only think of cities but cities think of us, where the environment reflexively monitors our behaviour” (789).…More

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Panpsychic city

In my recent “conversation,” the openAI GPT-3 natural language processing (NLP) platform responded to my question about whether a city could be conscious with: “Yes, it makes sense to think that cities are conscious if you believe that all matter has a conscious mind. This is because cities are made of matter, and therefore they…More

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Urban consciousness

What follows is a “Socratic dialogue” I had with the openAI’s GPT-3 platform about consciousness. In spite of the limitations, the conversation is likely as good or better than I have had or will have with human interlocutors on this difficult subject. The text here is verbatim and unedited, except for some comments indicated in…More

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Benefits of artificial misinformation

Natural language processing (NLP) programs seem able to take as input words and phrases provided by a human operator and generate coherent sentences in response, simulating a kind of dialogue that some scholars (e.g. David Chalmers) think “hints of general intelligence.” I think that one aspect of that dialogue is to simulate how human interlocutors…More

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An intelligent conversation about architecture

I conversed about architecture in the Open Playground section of the beta.openai.com website (that uses GPT-3 natural language processing). The dialogue here is verbatim with no edits. Responses were quicker than you would expect from a human interlocutor. This chat app doesn’t do humour, but takes note of the context set by previous questions and…More

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Automated essay writing

Copysmith is a web-based AI writing tool that deploys an extensive database of texts to generate new content. The human writer provides a few key terms, a title or phrases relevant to their subject of interest. In response, the program offers up a selection of relevant short paragraphs. The writer selects from these to spur…More

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Bitcoin cosmopolitans

Narrative economics is “the study of the viral spread of popular narratives that affect economic behavior” (3) — spending, investing, starting a business, hiring staff, etc. Economic narratives influence government policies and the formation of institutions. Economist Robert J. Shiller introduces his book Narrative Economics: How Stories Go Viral and Drive Major Economic Events by…More

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City of gold

In 2012 the architectural firm FR•EE proposed a master plan for a generic high tech city they immodestly called FR•EE City. The firm was founded by Mexican architect Fernando Romero. “Envision a place where residents are guaranteed security, healthcare and education, a city where access to information is unrestricted and innovative technologies are fully integrated…More

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Bitcoin City

In 2021, the the president of El Salvador in Central America declared Bitcoin legal tender. So businesses had to accept the digital currency as well as US dollars. The country had already abandoned its own currency, the colón, in 2001. By many accounts, the move to Bitcoin has not gone well. Vendors are reluctant to…More

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A useful world

It matters little for the survival of an organism (plant, animal, human) whether we have an accurate or “true” understanding of the world around. It’s more important that our understanding is useful to us. That’s according to neuroscientist Anil Seth in Being You: A New Science of Consciousness. We don’t perceive the world as it…More

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The hallucination machine

Imagination is a commonplace idea. To imagine is to form an image in the mind, to contrive, devise or represent something. Most would affirm that a vivid imagination is an asset, a function exercised by competent designers, poets, artists, authors and inventors. Here I am continuing a theme from an earlier post Creative cognition. Now…More

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Exaggeration (revisited)

I’ve just returned from Dubai, a city subject to analysis across many dimensions (smart city, meeting of cultures, diversity, development, opportunity, entrepreneurship, particular labour practices). Not least, it is a city of exaggerated dimensions, scales, shapes, social dimensions, politics. Here are some images that confirm that exaggeration, followed by something I wrote in 2016 in…More

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Cultures of the desert

I’m on holiday, but this is a good chance to revive former reflections on desert life, at least from the viewpoint of the tourist philosopher. See posts: Infinite souq, Chasing the line, Don’t go into the crypt! and The twist of the pen.More

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Creative cognition

As I’m reading about brains and cognition again, I thought I would revisit an article I penned some time ago that tried to address the issue of creativity. Coyne, Richard. “Design reasoning without explanation.” AI Magazine 11, no. 4 (1990): 72-80.  At the time there was a debate between two schools concerning how human reason…More

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Hallucination everywhere

Perception of the world is a “controlled hallucination.” That’s one of the main propositions of the recent book by neuroscientist Anil Seth, Being You: A New Science of Consciousness. For me the idea that the things we perceive in the world are conditioned by what we imagine, or project into it, accords with the phenomenology…More

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“Blockchain for architects” revisited

In 2017 the editors of arq (Architectural Research Quarterly) approached some of us to contribute articles for an anniversary issue to celebrate the journal’s twenty-first year. The invitation was to reflect on the past, or future, 21 years of architectural research. With co-author Tolu Onabolu I decided to beat the drum for blockchain and the…More

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Phenomenology and data

In 2013 a group of us published an article describing our early attempt to use head-mounted mobile EEG to gauge people’s emotional (affective) responses to spaces while on the move. Aspinall, Peter, Panagiotis Mavros, Richard Coyne, and Jenny Roe. “The urban brain: Analysing outdoor physical activity with mobile EEG.” British Journal of Sports Medicine 49,…More

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Permaweb

Data objects are different than physical objects. Data files can be fragmented and distributed across storage locations, then re-assembled instantly as needed. Even on my laptop, files are stored in different parts of a hard disk (or flash drive) as fragments. Networks of personal computers can also host distributed file fragments. The most recent innovation…More

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History is my witness

Independent Russian news website Meduza has operated in Latvia since 2014. It aims to provide independent reporting and commentary about Russia for Russians. It is inevitably critical of Putin’s government. Since launching its attack on Ukraine the Russian government blocked Meduza in a raft of measures to silence criticism. Meduza is blocked from its main…More

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Primary research

Researchers in the humanities and social sciences like to compare, contrast, synthesise, critique build and dissect theories, ideas and preconceptions. We attempt to formulate compelling arguments and narratives, drawing on relevant literature, reflections and insights from our intellectual communities. We sometimes encroach across borders between communities and frameworks to encounter otherness that challenges our own…More

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Wordle secrets: from CAULK to CYNIC

There’s a pleasant sociable aspect to the online puzzle Wordle. Every day there’s a new word challenge, where you have to guess a new hidden five letter word. Every player has the same secret word to guess. So the puzzle encourages low grade rivalry and serves as a conversation starter amongst players — as long…More

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Advise, advocate, lobby, conspire

Terms people associate with the intellect are often grounded in the material world of everyday experience: sight, sound, space and breath. Terms that contribute to communicating truths are no exception, as a browse through the ever-accommodating online Oxford English Dictionary (OED) attests — supplemented by excursions into http://www.etymonline.com. Advise To advise is to offer an…More

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The advocate

It is common in professional life to advocate on behalf of a client (student, patient, customer, group, special interest, idea). I recall as an architect in practice advocating for planning permission for a white corrugated iron clad holiday home. Whereas the local council wanted “natural” colours (olive green and brown) to blend in with the…More

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It’s just a performance

However much I disagree with the sentiments, I think I get political conservatism: putting high value on the status quo, small government, individualism, minimally regulated free enterprise, nostalgia for a reconstructed past. I’ve read Ayn Rand. Beyond that it’s performance: as Laura Ingraham and other Fox News Channel media presenters scoff, look bemused, chuckle, deride…More

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Designed to confuse

The article “The Dark (Patterns) Side of UX Design” by Colin Gray et al provides a compendium of techniques designed to induce online consumers to make purchases, commit to regular subscription payments, pay more than the initial price, prevent consumers from considering competitor offerings, and that enable platforms to use consumers’ private information or monitor…More

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Dark patterns

Most design practitioners think they are on the side of the good. Design training typically elevates positive values. Architecture for example harbours a strong sense that it is supporting the public good. It is never comfortable if aligned with enabling corporate greed. HCI (human computer interaction) and UXD (user experience design) are disciplines similarly founded…More

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Hash blogs

Hash is a prominent term in computing and cryptography, according to the OED, “so called because it consists of small pieces of code arranged in an apparently jumbled and fragmented way.” See posts tagged hash. To hash is to chop up, to hack, a term applied readily to food (recooked and chopped meat), narcotic dried…More

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Hiding messages in DNA

DNA origami is predicated on various tropes of hiddenness: nano-scale locked “boxes” made of folded DNA strands to conceal active molecular agents (enzymes, drugs, active DNA material) from their immediate environments where they may be harmed or cause harm. Nano-objects are in any case hidden from direct view, detected via sensing apparatus such as electron…More