City-dwellers tend to accept the presence of [algorithms, software and smart technologies] passively – if they notice it at all. Yet this acceptance is punctuated by intermittent panic over privacy – take, for example, Transport for London’s latest plans to track passenger journeys across the transport network using wifi, which drew criticism from privacy experts. If there was more widespread understanding about how these technologies work, then citizens would be in a better position to judge what data they’re comfortable with sharing, and how to better safeguard their privacy as they navigate the city. 

That’s why, in recent study, I set out to unpack how some of the algorithms behind AI and machine learning operate, and the impact they have on familiar urban contexts such as streets, squares and cafes. But instead of trying to explain the mystifying mathematics behind how algorithms work, I started looking at how they actually “see” the world we live in. 


Machines see better than you think
Machines see better than you think © The Creative Exchange/Unsplash, FAL

Big Data, Code and the Discrete City: Shaping Public Realms, 1st Edition

By Silvio Carta, Routledge; 212 pages | 58 B/W Illus.


Big Data, Code and the Discrete City explores how digital technologies are gradually changing the way in which the public space is designed by architects, managed by policymakers and experienced by individuals. Smart city technologies are superseding the traditional human experience that has characterised the making of the public space until today. This book examines how computers see the public space and the effect of algorithms, artificial intelligences and automated processes on the human experience in public spaces.

Divided into three parts, the first part of this book examines the notion of discreteness in its origins and applications to computer sciences. The second section presents a dual perspective: it explores the ways in which public spaces are constructed by the computer-driven logic and then translated into control mechanisms, design strategies and software-aided design. This perspective also describes the way in which individuals perceive this new public space, through its digital logic, and discrete mechanisms (from Wi-Fi coverage to self-tracking). Finally, in the third part, this book scrutinises the discrete logic with which computers operate, and how this is permeating into aspects of city life.

This book is valuable for anyone interested in urban studies and digital technologies, and more specifically in big data, urban informatics and public space.