Algorithmic City

Algorithmic City – a walk through the heart of London

Developed with in collaboration with Mukul Patel, mathematician and composer, this AR-enhanced smartphone guide leads the user around Westminster through encounters with some of the algorithmic systems that impinge upon daily life. The concept of an algorithm is first explained using the example of the church bells of Westminster Abbey – there is a distinct art of bell ringing (‘ringing the changes’) in the UK in which different permutations of a set of tuned bells are sounded according to algorithms called ‘methods’. After being reminded about the algorithms used for traffic control, the user is led past the Supreme Court (and introduced to the idea of algorithmic decision making in courtrooms), CCTV installations that deploy facial identification, government departments that vet visa applications algorithmically, and the offices of an agency that intercepts and decrypts communications.

Narration is from a teenager’s perspective. The commentary is structured as a series of anecdotes, provocations and humorous meditations, triggered by GPS location and augmented by aural and visual cues (church bells, traffic lights, the Home Office, a supermarket). The app supports AR enhancements such as overlays on the smartphone’s live camera view, which reveal the non-obvious algorithmic mechanisms that surround us. The work is part of Shadow Walks produced by GRAD , a London-based arts organisation. and scheduled for launch in Spring 2020. 

Research for this art piece was supported in part by the Open Society Foundations. The opinions expressed herein are the author’s own and do not necessarily express the views of the Open Society Foundations.