Temples For Machine Gods
Perhaps its not a good thing for conference programmers to reveal their favourite speakers and sessions, but James Bridle's Where The Robots Work was my personal highlight from our programme at FutureEverything 2011.
James' keynote explored how cities were reorienting themselves around our emerging information infrastructure, notably how the built environment was now as much designed for machine habitation as it is for human occupation.
One of the session's more fascinating anecdotes illustrated how the price of real estate in Manhattan is dramatically affected by proximity to supernodes of connectivity; proximity that can shave fractions of seconds from Wall Street trades.
60 Hudson Street's art deco motifs underline its role as a communications hub that originates prior to the era of copper lines and early telephony. Its physical architecture is fitting, given its centrality in civilisation past and present.
However, it's somewhat strange that 60 Hudson Street's modern equivalents are so innocuous and prosaic. Given how crucial these facilities are to humanity, shouldn't we beatify and exalt them with the very best in modern architectural practice; aren't they the modern temples of our civilisation?
Though there are pragmatic reasons to avoid drawing attention to these facilities, perhaps their elevation to templehood would put them beyond humanity's destructive impulses. Indeed, could future generations venerate the temples of machine gods as did the surviving humans of Beneath the Planet of the Apes and their veneration of atomic weapons.
Perhaps we wish our machines to remain anonymous and mundane, not only to confine their magic to the Elysian cloud, but also to remind ourselves that humanity remains in charge and they inhabit prisons of our making.
(incidentally Life-Art-Us has a great summary of James' talk)