Volume, a leading magazine on architecture and design, published an article on the GoogleUrbanism project. Conceived at a renowned design institute in Moscow, the project charts a plausible urban future based on cities acting as important sites for “data extractivism” – the conversion of data harvested from individuals into artificial intelligence technologies, allowing companies such as Alphabet, Google’s parent company, to act as providers of sophisticated and comprehensive services. The cities themselves, the project insisted, would get a share of revenue from the data.
A three-stage Speculative Expansion Strategy for Google in physical space, starting with the co-creation of a new type of “public license” within its existing digital infrastructure, and through which the “access to users’ presence” in public spaces could be generating financial returns for the city..
Google creates a new partnership with the city, and grants it access to new mechanisms for financial revenue (but under Google’s terms). This process helps it build public goodwill and political capital, but also lays down the foundation for more dependency…
Google simplifies the bureaucratic and aggregates more urban stakeholders within its new platform and provides them with new mechanisms for value creation. This process helps it to become a standard for future planning, citizen mobilization and event-hosting efforts…
Google becomes the go-to partner for the Smart City, displacing all other competitors because of its focus on “human behavior” rather than infrastructure. This helps it to establish a monopoly over both the physical and digital realms, leading the next generation of global tech conglomerates…
Sidewalk Labs (Google Alphabet company) will turn Quayside, a 12-acre undeveloped waterfront area in Toronto, Canada, into a digital marvel and demo of this new revenue generation.
Alphabet is building a city “where buildings have no static use”. For example, the centrepiece of the proposed neighbourhood in Toronto – the Loft – will offer a skeleton structure that “will remain flexible over the course of its lifecycle, accommodating a radical mix of uses (such as residential, retail, making, office, hospitality and parking) that can respond quickly to market demand”.
Here lies the populist promise of Google Urbanism: Alphabet can democratise space by customising it through data flows and cheap, prefabricated materials.
The main “input” into Alphabet’s algorithmic democracy is “market demand” rather than communal decision-making.
That Alphabet’s “urbanism as a service” might not appeal to the residents of Toronto does not matter. As a real estate project, its chief goal is to impress its future missing residents –above all, millions of Chinese millionaires flocking to Canada’s housing markets. Doctoroff was not equivocating when he told the Globe and Mail that Alphabet’s Canadian venture “primarily is a real-estate play”.
Alphabet’s urban will also impact politics. The courting of Alphabet by Canada’s politicians along with the bidding war that has erupted over Amazon’s second North American headquarters – some cities have offered it incentives to the tune of $7bn to relocate there indicate that cities still want Silicon Valley Tech Giants.
Alphabet’s capabilities – Cheap, modular buildings to be assembled quickly; sensors monitoring air quality and building conditions; adaptive traffic lights prioritising pedestrians and cyclists; parking systems directing cars to available slots. Not to mention delivery robots, advanced energy grids, automated waste sorting, and, of course, ubiquitous self-driving cars.
Alphabet essentially wants to be the default platform for other municipal services.
Google also can have Wifi from bus stops and street lights and ads from billboards and public flat screens and ads to mobile devices from the Wifi.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.
A frequent speaker at corporations, he has been a TEDx speaker, a Singularity University speaker and guest at numerous interviews for radio and podcasts. He is open to public speaking and advising engagements.