Chatting with an AI about urban inexistence

“Intentional inexistence” is a philosophical term adopted by the nineteenth century philosopher Franz Brentano (1838-1917) to indicate the commonplace human capacity to imagine things. We may suppose that inexistence refers to things that don’t exist (nonexistent things) or that are under demolition, but that presumes too much — or too little. As explained by Linda…More

Cryptographic City

The description of my next book is out with the cover design on the MIT Press website. The graphic designer says that the cover is in code, though I have yet to decipher it. Cryptography’s essential role in the functioning of the city, viewed against the backdrop of modern digital life. Cryptography is not new…More

Cryptographic index

To introduce cryptography as a theme in my Media and Culture class I provided each student with a customised string of code containing the name of an AI-themed film. The key to decode the secret message was the student’s unique 7 digit university identification number. If the encrypted string is uaroulojz and the student key…More

Of what do AIs dream?

Midjourney is an AI platform that deploys machine learning and processing techniques similar to Dall-e. The backend to the Midjourney platform drew (and continues to draw) on a vast repository of images and their associated texts. That’s as much as I dare surmise about its operations. I have yet to read the definitive academic articles…More

The phenomenological attitude

On moving to a new office I inherited a shelf of books from the room’s previous occupant. Amongst them were two books by the Austrian-German philosopher Edmund Husserl (1859-1938). I had come to the field of Phenomenology via the writings of Husserl’s student Martin Heidegger’s and Heidegger’s commentators and critics. That put Husserl in the…More

Learn to talk to your AI

I once attended a two week immersive course in Tours to learn French. One day a group of us who were native English speakers broke out of the immersive experience to organise a car rental — in English. Up until that point one of the Dutch members of our group confessed he thought I was…More

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

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

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

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