Humans, robots and artificial intelligences reconfiguring urban life in a crisis

Valdez Juarez, Alan and Cook, Matthew (2023). Humans, robots and artificial intelligences reconfiguring urban life in a crisis. Frontiers in Sustainable Cities, 5




Autonomous urban robots were introduced in Milton Keynes (MK), UK, in 2018 to automate on-demand grocery delivery. Two years later the COVID-19 pandemic rendered routine activities such as delivering groceries or visiting the supermarket unexpectedly unsafe for humans. The ensuing disruption provided opportunities to investigate the potentialities of robotic and autonomous systems to provide cities with resources for coping with unexpected situations such as pandemics, heatwaves and blizzards and ultimately to transform and reinforce urban flows, leading to new ways of living in the city that arise as a result of emerging human-robot constellations. The crisis accelerated the ongoing transformation in human-robot relationships and made its tensions and potentials visible. The case of MK suggests that the cognitive capabilities of urban AIs are not to be found exclusively in computer bits and human neurons but arise from encounters and contexts, with institutions, policies, practices and even the materiality of the city itself being crucial to the emergence of urban AI.

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