History and Theory

Design, Geopolitics, and Planetary-Scale Computing

History and Theory
16 Nov, 2015

Design, Geopolitics, and Planetary-Scale Computing


Read the Revisited post of this event.

Original Post

On A.I. and Cities: Platform Design, Algorithmic Perception, and Urban Geopolitics

"Intelligence” is one way that matter organizes itself into durable complexity. A special form of that complexity is the city: a settled accumulation of a material intelligence, both human and inhuman. As Artificial Intelligence becomes more sophisticated what will be its urban design project? What should it be?

Computation has evolved into a planetary-scale megastructure. It is both a vast envelope that frames cities and an elemental substance that helps define every object; we are both inside of it and it is inside of us. Some designers (architects) may see software as something added onto space. They see the idea of smart cities as stupid because it assumes that cities are not already intelligent. They are right. Some designers (programmers) may see cities as modules of hardware that fit together, one at a time into that megastructural matrix. They too are right, and so one mode of design is nested in the other. Seen together, the Smart City is inside the Internet of Things just as the Internet of Things is inside the Smart City.

In this wide-ranging new lecture, Design Theorist, Benjamin H. Bratton, maps the city layer of The Stack, the computational megastructure we have, and outlines how cities may evolve in relation to computationally-rich algorithmic perception, sensation, cognition and physical automation. From deep infrastructure to immediate affects, what we today gather under the name “artificial intelligence” will shift not only what counts as “thinking” but also what counts as architecture, design, politics and programming.

The implications of A.I. platforms for our geopolitics are profound, and extend from the biochemistries of climates and ecosystems to the rhetorical conventions of citizenship and sovereignty. Bratton argues that the Anthropocene should be understood as the geologic expression of a Humanist illusion that cannot survive an honest encounter with the philosophical and practical implications of pervasive artificial intelligence. Along the faultlines of that encounter, the work of Design begins.

Benjamin H. Bratton is an author whose work spans Philosophy, Computing and Design. He is Associate Professor of Visual Arts, Director of The Center for Design and Geopolitics, and founder of the Speculative Design undergraduate major at the University of California, San Diego in La Jolla. He is also Professor of Digital Design at The European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland, and Visiting Professor of Critical Studies at SCI_Arc The Southern California Institute of Architecture in Los Angeles.

He has two new books. In The Stack: On Software and Sovereignty (MIT Press, 2015) Bratton develops a comprehensive political and design theory of planetary-scale computation. He proposes that The Stack --an accidental information technology megastructure-- is both a computational apparatus and a model for a new geopolitical architecture. Dispute Plan to Prevent Future Luxury Constitution (e-flux/ Sternberg Press, 2015) is a collection of architectural fictions.

Bratton’s current book projects develops a critical design philosophy for robotics and synthetic intelligence. Other design and consulting projects focus on intersections of computation from molecular to ecological scale, machine vision/ sensing/ intelligence, and new sovereignties and platforms better suited to our Anthropogenic predicament.

Twitter: @bratton. Email:

The History and Theory of New Media Lecture Series brings to campus leading humanities scholars working on issues of media transition and technological emergence. The series promotes new, interdisciplinary approaches to questions about the uses, meanings, causes, and effects of rapid or dramatic shifts in techno-infrastructure, information management, and forms of mediated expression. Presented by the Berkeley Center for New Media, these events are free and open to the public. For more information, visit:

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