ALGORITHMIC CITY WALK

iPhone app that guides participants on a 30-minute walk around Westminster, London, revealing the ubiquitous use of algorithmic decision making in public space and by government and the private sector.

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 has been commissioned as part of the Shadow Walks app produced by the London-based arts organisation GRAD. Due to COVID-19, the launch has been re-scheduled for Spring 2021. 

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.
Supported by Bundesministerium Kunst, Kultur, öffentlicher Dienst und Sport, Austria