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Monday, September 05, 2011

Would calculation save central planning?

“The Smart City will benefit from artificial intelligence, as human intelligence will not be able to manage the complexity of challenges and decisions that smart supercomputers will be able to.

“By 2035, machines with super-intelligence will proliferate, especially in and for managing the complexity of cities. Complex planetary control or geo-engineering will only be able to be managed by a city’s artificial intelligence. “

That’s James Canton writing on Megacities in he June 2011 issue of Significance, an ASA and RSS journal.

This is Canton’s rosy scenario. His other scenarios are Chaos City, Gang City and Fortress City.  But in the Smart City there seems to be an assumption that central planning is good and necessary, and the only reason it failed (notably in the Communist experiment of the 20th century) was that those darned computers just weren’t big enough yet.

That doesn’t seem right to me. It seems to be that the failure of central planning was a more fundamental failure – a failure to incorporate simple market mechanisms as a way to deal with conflicting priorities. 

There are some aspects that one can imagine artificial intelligence systems doing well. One can imagine a smartly computerized mass transit system – or expressway – that moved cars much faster because all their movements were controlled. One could imagine continuous water quality checks on beaches tied in with fluid dynamics so that beach closures could be automated. But it’s a big step from that to imagining that super-intelligent machines will run the cities of the future.