Exploring temporal pleats and folds: the role of urban AI and robotics in reinvigorating the cyborg city

Valdez, Miguel; Cook, Matthew and Potter, Stephen (2024). Exploring temporal pleats and folds: the role of urban AI and robotics in reinvigorating the cyborg city. In: Cugurullo, Federico; Caprotti, Federico; Cook, Matthew; Karvonen, Andrew; McGuirk, Pauline and Marvin, Simon eds. Artificial Intelligence and the City: Urbanistic Perspectives on AI. London: Routledge, pp. 136–154.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.4324/9781003365877-11

Abstract

In this chapter, the rapid response of a fleet of “Starship” delivery robots during the Covid 19 pandemic becomes an entry point for investigating cybernetic, or rather cybernetic and organic (or cyborg) (re)configurations developing around urban robotics. The notion of the “cyborg city” is used to investigate urban spaces where humans and machines interface with each other, undergoing processes of joint learning and distributed cognition as machines learn to be in the city and cities learn to live with intelligent machines. Ultimately, we investigate cyborg cities in terms of the (re)configurations that take place as robots and humans become enmeshed in rapidly changing configurations. The case suggests that the presence of autonomous robots and their integration into the urban fabric has potential to make cities more resourceful and better able to respond to shocks, as prefigured by early proponents of cyborg urbanism. However, it also suggests the presence of AI-driven robots is not by itself sufficient to produce such (re)configurations- here, renewed intensities of human-robot interactions resulted from joint responses to a sudden shock. The resulting human and non-human configurations persisted after the crisis, potentially revealing new ways of living with AI in the city.

Plain Language Summary

This chapter presents a case study tracing the response of a commercial system of grocery delivery robots to the unexpected shock to its urban environment caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. The article uses the notion of "cyborg cities" to investigate cities where humans and artificially intelligent machines learn together and adapt to a changing world.

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