Category Archives: Robert Douglas McKaye

editing the urban encyclopedia

Sin título-1Of the critical proponents of emergent intelligence outlined by Thompson in ‘Emergence: the connected lives if ants, brains, cities and software’, the notion of useful ignorance is the most puzzling. It poses that an ignorance of the global order is critical for maintaining an efficient interaction and exchange of information between subordinate parts of the system. For example, a single neuron’s awareness of the behavior of the brain removes it from the scale at which it can develop local knowledge through interaction with its peers, and the system experiences an overall decrease in operating potential. This can be analogously compared to urban life, where street level interactions yield the highest productivity in terms of exchanging information with new parties and expanding the overall knowledge of the system itself.

Though the existence of swarm intelligence and the emergence of complex intelligent systems is supported through research at many scales, certain questions arise when thinking about implementation at the scale of our cities. Does a knowledge of the existence of emergence as a social phenomenon play into our societal structure? If so, who are the actors in implementing this knowledge? How is it implemented? How do we overcome the paradox of implementing strategies which will strengthen the phenomenologics of swarm intelligence within our societal structure while curbing the development of a top-down state where knowledge of the systems overall operations are reserved only for those who are in the know?

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down the multi-scalar rabbit hole

snowWhat is the nature of complex systems? How do seemingly desperate parts  of an organism constitute a greater whole despite their ignorance of its presence? This condition is observed at the cellular level, at the level of interaction between organisms, and in information systems, though through each successive scale the set of criteria and the environment for the development of this nature is changed. The ambiguity is a result of local information, that is, knowledge which is acquired by an individual component or organism through the direct interaction with its immediate environment and those other individuals which inhabit it. In ‘Emergence: the connected lives of ants, cities, brains and software’, Steven Johnson examines systems in an impressive cross section of scales to discuss the notion of local information and its impacts.  He draws parallels between the organizational structures of intelligent systems that are able to self-organize through the processing of local information, and in doing so is able to clearly define the phenomenon of emergence and the importance of scale in understanding it.

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Tarzan and his Computer

Pop-Up city

In an increasingly digital world where information systems are operating at a much higher level of transparency and where knowledge is uploaded and downloaded readily regardless of geographic location, it is critical for architects to push the redefinition of tools which are at their disposal in a way that is relative to the environments in which they are being deployed. Somewhat ironically, this phenomenon tends to imply a lack of, or deconstruction of definition rather than a clarity of architectural methods and practices. To further this confusion, just as the technologies in our world are continually changing, we ourselves are on an evolutionary path in terms of our perception of space, sound and scale. The disconnection lies in the conflicting identities of the ‘people’ and the ‘city’. Technology plays an important role in these identities, but is defined in an additive fashion, as opposed to one which is integral. This idea of the position of technology within the dual identities of the people and the masses is touched on by Toyo Ito in “Tarzans in the Media Forest”, where he explains shifts in his ideology through the use of personal experience.

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