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Sentient cities : ambient intelligence and the politics of urban space

Crang, M.; Graham, S.

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S. Graham


Increasing amounts of information processing capacity are embedded in the environment around us. The informational landscape is both a repository of data and also increasingly communicates and processes information. No longer confined to desk tops, computers have become both mobile and also disassembled. Many everyday objects now embed computer processing power, while others are activated by passing sensors, transponders and processors. The distributed processing in the world around us is often claimed to be a pervasive or ubiquitous computing environment: a world of ambient intelligence, happening around us on the periphery of our awareness, where our environment is not a passive backdrop but an active agent in organizing daily lives. The spaces around us are now being continually forged and reforged in informational and communicative processes. It is a world where we not only think of cities but cities think of us, where the environment reflexively monitors our behaviour. This paper suggests that we need to unpack the embedded politics of this process. It outlines the three key emerging dynamics in terms of environments that learn and possess anticipation and memory, the efficacy of technological mythologies and the politics of visibility. To examine the assumptions and implications behind this the paper explores three contrasting forms of 'sentient' urban environments. The first addresses market-led visions of customized consumer worlds. The second explores military plans for profiling and targeting. Finally, the third looks at artistic endeavours to re-enchant and contest the urban informational landscape of urban sentience. Each, we suggest, shows a powerful dynamic of the environment tracking, predicting and recalling usage.


Crang, M., & Graham, S. (2007). Sentient cities : ambient intelligence and the politics of urban space. Information, Communication and Society, 10(6), 789-817.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Dec 1, 2007
Deposit Date Jan 9, 2009
Publicly Available Date Dec 15, 2009
Journal Information, Communication and Society
Print ISSN 1369-118X
Electronic ISSN 1468-4462
Publisher Taylor and Francis Group
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 10
Issue 6
Pages 789-817
Keywords Ubiquitous computing; ambient intelligence; embedded


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