field lab Cities of Things Lab010 update

Wijkbot at Smart & Social Fest

Friday 21 April, we will discuss the progress of the Wijkbot project in a workshop at Smart & Social Fest, organised by the Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences.

Next to the discussion workshop, it is possible to use the Wijkbot kit to create an urban robot!

On Smart & Social Fest:

  • Walk with Wijkbot
  • Build your own neighbourhood robot

Are we closer to building an Oracle Machine?

With Cities of Things, we look at intelligent (behaviour of) things in our future cities. Robotics combined with an intelligence agency. Last week I attended a lecture by James Bridle, who wrote a book last year on other intelligence last year (Ways of Being), that I liked a lot. They showed how there is more than human intelligence and how these can inspire us. Bridle also made a link to how computing is designed still around the Turing machine. There is another concept that Turing once hinted at in a footnote (1) in his first paper on the automated machine, and later a bit more in the 50s in another paper, but never was able to flesh out. In short, the difference in computing concepts is the way it computes intelligence. The Turing machine uses as much of the existing information and generates the intelligence internally in the system. The Oracle machine is using the art of making theses and the learnings from responses to build intelligence, a machine that is looking outside itself to build knowledge. The lecture by Bridle will be online sometime soon I expect, but he explained the concept in earlier lectures like this one.

Last week Noam Chomsky wrote an opinion piece in The York Times on why ChatGPT offers a false promise (2). I see links here, and interesting enough, the thesis of Chomsky is built upon the notion that current machine intelligence is based on a limited form of computing. At the same time, you could make a case that the form of accessing this machine intelligence via the chat-routine is testing the promise of the oracle machine. On the verge of the introduction of GPT-4 it is useful to think about what we can learn from the application of GPT-3 in the world through these new interfaces, and what we need for the next iteration.

What is missing in the current models is an ability to learn, and to reference a general mental model of the world. If we are using the current tooling right, we make sure that these models (morality) are provided by the human in the loop. We need to be sure there is a human in the loop in using the tooling. And to be sure, having a human in the loop is not the same as a human using machine intelligence to provide answers to questions formulated by humans. It is definitely true that asking the right questions is key, and that is why prompt engineering is such a highly valued expertise in the near future. The example in the article of Chomsky is a speaking example.

The design of these tooling should facilitate, or even more maybe steer, the right flow of theses and claims. The human actor should always create a moral framework before the machine is asked to ‘oracle’ based on general knowledge, and the final judgement is also to the human. In the most sophisticated versions of this tooling, the AI can help to formulate the best claims. I wrote earlier on the concept of co-performance which provides some insightful poses. A useful metaphor is also the centaur, the half-human, half-machine; that is what we are developing more quickly than we might have expected. The most important challenge is to balance the right tasks for the machine and the human.

The image and reference that Bridle uses from the Cybernetic Factory by Stafford Beer (1959) is a possible implementation design. The goal was to create a better way of automating factory processes by using all kinds of outside knowledge and building a complete ecosystem. Bridle connect it to learning from other intelligence like how slime moulds can solve the traveller problem much more efficiently than our current computers can do.

Cybernetic Factory of Stafford Beer (via Research Gate)

What was not discussed is the relation of the current interaction model within tools like ChatGPT and the possibility of building a kind of Oracle Machine. It feels almost too simple to connect these; what if we can use the power of the dialogues with intelligence in a real learning environment, and what if the outcome is a new form of ecosystem computing? The biggest learning from the upheaval around the use of ChatGPT for all is that we should take into account what the value of the knowledge is. If we can build in the right human guardrails in the oracle machine we might be able to loosen up the limitations of current implementations.


(1) “We shall not go any further into the nature of this oracle apart from saying that it cannot be a machine” Alan Turing, Systems of Logic Based on Ordinals (1939)

(2) The oped of Chomsky has triggered a debate, Gary Marcus is reflecting on this debate here.

(This post was published earlier via the Cities of Things newsletter)

field lab Cities of Things Lab010 update

Update Cities of Things LAB010

This update was sent earlier in a slightly different form (and in Dutch) to the partners and participants in the LAB010 project. Read more on the backgrounds of this Cities of Things field lab project here.

The Cities of Things Lab010 project has been running for a year now since its kick-off on February 16, 2022 at Gemaal op Zuid. It has been a busy year for everyone, and also for our project. In this update, I’d like to bring you up to date on the progress and plans for the rest of the project.

field lab MUC-AMS update

Workshop at MCBW in Munich

Cities of Things will organize a workshop during the yearly Munich Creative Business Week (MCBW) on 16 May 2022 (13:30 – 15:30 at MunichUrbanColab).

field lab MUC-AMS update

MUC-AMS Amsterdam workshop

Last 23 March we organized a workshop at the Marineterrein in Amsterdam to discuss the progress of the field lab plans and connect with existing and new contacts. The session was a step towards the planning of a field lab program – hopefully – later this year.

We had a good group of people in the hybrid workshop, both from Amsterdam and Munich (and Berlin). We first updated the attendees with the latest developments. Four agencies of the starting consortium have been developing the first conceptualization for the neighborhood hub we now call Collect|Connect Community Hub. Focus is a ‘commoning buffer’ that plays an active role in the neighborhood community life. From the people for the people.


blog – Balancing act of sharing agency with the intelligent things

Dear readers. The last edition was just released after the war in Ukraine started. The flow of the war is maybe different than expected in some parts, like the resistance and duration. On the other hand, patterns seem the same as earlier wars initiated by Putin, and also compared to the rituals of growing dictatorships. Some are predicting a long-lasting fight for dominance by democratic systems or dictatorial systems. We only can hope that France will not vote for a extremist new president in two weeks…

How does this all relate to the topic of this newsletter? I made the connection when thinking about one of the key elements of the explorations in Cities of Things: the agency balance. We see that part of our own agency is delegated to the intelligent systems, and that there is a shift happening toward technology as a partner above being a tool. A silent partner though, it is not always visible what is defining the help we get. There is a danger in that, linking it back to the balance between centralized and decentralized systems, between democratic and dictatorial systems. Even if we can resist that shift and if the war is not coming to our own country, we can expect more centralized ruled systems, as part of a warlike state of being. And in the end we are integrated in a geopolitical ecosystem that is already balancing value systems.

field lab Cities of Things Lab010 update

Social citythings in the IoTRotterdam hackathon

As announced in the latter post the field lab Cities of Things Lab010 was invited to organize the hackathon together with Creating010 and Civic Prototyping Lectorate of this year’s IoTRotterdam event. In the end, four teams participated and build some very nice citythings; autonomous moving objects on the streets of our near-future cities. The goal of the citythings was not defined and part of the process of the teams. Great to see it turned out most of the teams made the decision to let the citythings take a social role in the city life.

The winning team and the judges
field lab Cities of Things Lab010 update

Hackathon IoT Rotterdam

At the 10th edition of the IoT Rotterdam event on 8 April 2022, organized by Creating010 of Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences, Cities of Things will be one of the organizers of the hackathon. More than even hacking, prototyping “urban smart-things” as a different name for citythings will be key. And these prototypes will be tested on the streets of Rotterdam by the teams.

In the hackathon teams of participants will rapidly conceptualize and prototype an “urban smart-thing”: a plausible, autonomously operating agent envisioned to roam the public spaces of the near-future Rotterdam. The participants will confront the prototype with the citizens of Rotterdam in the public areas of the city, interview them and jointly reflect on the necessary forms and shapes of the public debate around the role of AI in cities.

The prototype will use a pre-made “wizard-of-oz” platform, allowing a human operator to remotely simulate an AI algorithm, and control the movement of the prototype. Examples of possible prototypes include, but are (by far) not limited to a mobile garbage bin, interactive street signage, or a mobile plant.

See this movie to get an impression:

The teams will work at the new VONK Innovation Center located just off Coolsingel in Timmerhuis. The results of the explorations will be presented end of the day at Het Nieuwe Instituut where the conference program of IoT Rotterdam is located.

Find more information on the website of IoT Rotterdam, and if you read this on time, please join us!

preparing the wizard-of-oz platforms

The hackathon is part of the activities of Cities of Thing Lab010 field lab. We keep you posted on the results!


AI is increasingly used in cities to improve their efficiency, as part of urban services and infrastructure, but is also being embedded in various kinds of soon-to-be-autonomously operating agents. Autonomous passenger cars are only one example of such use of AI that will become commonplace within the coming decade. There will also be autonomous garbage collection vehicles, safety, and traffic monitoring agents, advertising and informational bots, delivery vehicles, and many more… As citizens we still rarely think about the impact that such autonomous AI agents will have on our everyday life, beyond the advertised improvement of everyday conveniences, such as the comfort of care-free riding in a self-driving car, or receiving fast online deliveries. Autonomous AI agents will soon, however, impact almost every aspect of our lives, for example

  • will share the public space with us on every step, 
  • will take over automatable jobs (chauffeurs, vendors, cleaners),
  • will be used to monitor us and enforce rules and laws (street signage and access control).

We can’t fully predict what the impact of autonomous AI agents will be on our society and cities, but we can try to collectively envision, understand and democratically shape the applications of this future technology so that it serves our society to the best possible extent. However, as non-expert citizens, we lack first-hand experiences with autonomous agents in the everyday-life setting, which we could use as a point of reference for debate and contestation of AI-related developments.


Update activities Cities of Things

Spring officially began. A good moment to share some of the activities of Cities of Things in the last months. I write a monthly update and reflection via this email newsletter you can subscribe to.

The two biggest programs at this moment are the field labs in Rotterdam as part of the CityLab010 program, and the field lab as part of Creative Embassy Munich-Amsterdam.

City of Things Lab010

We had the official kick-off with the consortium parties in February and we did start the research activities with a graduation student looking into the design for the Cities of Things design toolkit, and a team of Technical Information students that will work on a prototype of a citything that can be used in the further explorations in the neighborhoods.

We also will organize the hackathon of the IoT Rotterdam program on 8 April with the same prototype as a basis. The first wizard-of-oz version of the prototype was made by Tomasz Jaskiewicz.

MUC-AMS Cities of Things field lab

As reported here before we signed the Letter of Intent in October in Munich. Four of the Dutch consortium partners started to develop a possible field lab research program: a logistic neighborhood hub that will be designed for the neighborhood. Springtime, Space&Matter, Sophisti, and INFO are working towards the first concept to present to possible partners in both Amsterdam and Munich.

Coming 23 March a hybrid session will be organized at the Marineterrein Amsterdam to meet partners, both from Amsterdam and Munich, to update the program plans and discuss the hub concept. If you like to join, contact Iskander.

16 May we will travel to Munich again to participate in the Munich Creative Business Week with a workshop dedicated to the same goal; connecting the right partners for making the field lab project happen.

Other activities

Next to these more activities are starting or in the planning.

  • Together with Advier we are looking into a research program for Living as as Service in Cities of Things.
  • We plan to partner more with Responsible AI group of Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences. We commissioned a assignement for prototyping natural interactions with vocal citythings in the Applied AI minor.
  • Cities of Things is part of two RAAK research proposals by AUAS.
  • We organized a workshop at Mozfest March 11 with a presentation by Maria Luce Lupetti.
  • Iskander was invited to


blog – Designing agency in a troubled world

Dear readers. As everyone is writing stuff on a routine (at least planned to do so), you think about the relevance at a moment that a big crisis is happening so nearby (I am based in the Netherlands); the invasion of Ukraine, that is, of course, Putin’s War. The images of what is happening are so sad and terrible.

I would have probably been writing a reflection on how this example of human-tech interactions is taking an interesting different stand on what autonomous driving is about with an AI taking the role of an attentive passenger and how that can be related to a different form of coaching relation. But I think it would make more sense to reflect on some of the analyses of the developments in the conflict and potential follow-up. There is a link with the themes that drive Cities of Things, I think, on a certain level. I read analysis and listened to a podcast that made me connect some of the aspects to the usual topics of this newsletter: is there a shift in agency of control that we need to be aware of?

There are a lot of assessments on the intentions of Putin’s crew for this war. Is it about re-establishing the Russian Empire or more? Is it economically driven or military defense? Is he getting crazy or sick and fighting for a place in history? It is useful to know the motivations to anticipate; it would be useful too to focus on the context. And instead of being surprised, anticipate the worst.