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The fifth Vertical Atlas event focuses on the implications of AI developments for Chinese city management, political and economic governance, as well as its place in the current Chinese cultural imagination. With presentations by Harvard University anthropologist Shuang Lu Frost and Chen Qiufan (aka Stanley Chen), renowned sci-fi writer.

The program opens with the book launch of Introduction to Comparative Planetology, by Lukáš Likavčan, that  presents an analysis of visual cultures of imagining the Earth and the geopolitics of climate emergency.  Different figures of the planet – the Planetary, the Globe, the Terrestrial, Earth-without-us and Spectral Earth are compared in order to assess their geopolitical implications.

The most competitive domain in global technology is the development of AI. Many believe that it holds the key to economic, political and technological dominance for the parties managing to wield its power. China stands at the forefront of these developments, in direct competition with various states and tech companies, and is developing a specific, Chinese version of manmade intelligence (a literal translation of the Mandarin phrase for AI) based on the unique techno-political circumstances in the Chinese geo zone.

China is one of the only states to have achieved a near complete integration of state and national cloud-tech platforms - Baidou, Alibaba, Tencent -  enabling the mass gathering of data to train AI systems at all levels of society. The resulting governing infrastructure is implemented on all scales of the Chinese digital ecology, and aims to cover material as well as social domains. It incorporates land based and off-shore mining for raw ores and the processing of e-waste, and at the same time aims to bring about a renewable energy economy that is able to cope with the exponential growth of the energy needs of computation. 

Chinese cities are continuously being built and rebuilt in an attempt to integrate the latest digital technologies in their infrastructures. Several cities already host a wealth of bots and machine learning systems, capturing data from nested sensors and processors scattered in the urban environment, exemplified by the Alibaba City Brain project. 

State sovereignty over cyberspace is implemented through the Golden Shield technology and the Great Cannon, which control what kind of information is accessible, when and where and to whom, in China and beyond, and which manifest as a globally present ‘Great Firewall of China’. Within this digital environment, the behaviour of individuals is both measured and influenced by a variety of social ranking systems that contribute data to, as well as implement, the development of different AI solutions. 

For certain western sensibilities China is rapidly approaching an ideal type of digital dystopia. Without downplaying the extent to which sophisticated information technologies in China are used to exert control over society, it is also important to recognise how different cultural values relating to the role of the individual and the morals of intelligence shape the role, use and perception of digital technologies.

Stanley Chan

Chen Qiufan (A.K.A. Stanley Chan) Chinese representative speculative fiction author, translator, curator. Chan is known for his stylistic combination of SF realism and new wave. His works have been translated into many languages and received multiple domestic and international awards. His representative works include Waste Tide, Future Diseases and The Algorithm for Life. Now he's running Thema Mundi Studio on developing Scifi relevant contents.

Shuang L. Frost 

Shuang L. Frost is a social anthropologist at Harvard University (Ph.D. candidate, 2020). She works on digital technology, political economy and social policy with a regional focus on China. Employing ethnographic and computational methods, she explores how individuals produce, experience, and moralize technological disruption in their local moral worlds. She is also committed to use her research findings to inform technological design and social policymaking that empower grassroots communities in global technological transformations. 

Lukáš Likavčan

Lukáš Likavčan is a researcher and theorist, writing on philosophy of technology and political ecology. He is a PhD candidate at Department of Environmental Studies, Faculty of Social Sciences, Masaryk University, Brno. Likavčan teaches at Center for Audiovisual Studies FAMU, Prague, and Strelka Institute for Media, Architecture and Design, where he also graduated from The New Normal education programme in 2018. He is a member of display – association for research and collective practice, Prague. 

Vertical Atlas

Vertical Atlas is a series of five events that attempt to develop a techno-political cartography, departing from the conceptual model laid out by Benjamin Bratton in The Stack. This series aims at investigating specific geozones where the entanglement of different sovereignties surface and different stacks clash. Each event consists of a public programme in Het Nieuwe Instituut and a research lab for invited guests. 

This project is initiated by Benjamin Bratton, Leonardo Dellanoce, Arthur Steiner and Klaas Kuitenbrouwer, and is developed and produced by Het Nieuwe Instituut and Hivos Digital Earth.

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20:00 – 22:00

Het Nieuwe Instituut
Museumpark 25
3015 CB Rotterdam


Vertical Atlas was made possible thanks to the generous support of:

Kévin Bray
Het Nieuwe Instituut and Digital Earth
Benjamin Bratton, Arthur Steiner, Leonardo Dellanoce, Klaas Kuitenbrouwer