Eyes of the City, an exhibition at the Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism/Architecture in Shenzhen by Carlo Ratti uses facial-recognition technology to spark debate in a working train station.

The main theme of the 2019 Shenzhen Biennale was the evolution of the relationship between urban spaces and technological innovation

Eyes of the City, aiming to emulate a duty-free airport with the help of Dutch architects MVRDV, aimed to start a critical discussion on the impact of new technologies on cities through artificial intelligence, algorithmic design, autonomous mobility and facial recognition.

Carlo Ratti, founder of CRA design and innovation office and director of the Senseable City Lab says that a Biennale cannot be, as it once was, a gallery of curated projects, but needs to be a forum for debating pressing societal issues.

“Our tech-enhanced cities could become spaces that improve people’s well-being, but they could also become dystopian.”

The exhibition, which featured more than 60 projects from leading architecture firms, research centres and emerging practices, was a 12-month long ‘open curatorship’ process.

Most works engaged with new technology on the premises, the pivotal discussion point being MVRDV’s opt-in or opt-out facial recognition technology.

A mark left on the visitor’s face signalled to the cameras, and one another, their choice to be recognised or not.

Personifying a city by its ability to “see” and inevitably “sensor”, Ratti insisted on the importance of opening discussion surrounding people’s choice to ‘opt out’ of being tracked.

With the topical global discussion on internet censorship and surveillance beginning and ending with China (and Russia), the so-called ‘Great Firewall’ stops its citizens using the world wide web freely, but more importantly, the ‘Great Cannon’ spies on those of us on the outside.

Whether taking down Github in 2015, exploiting Google’s zero day iOS to spy on iPhones or placing citizens under house arrest for activism, China’s willingness to surveillance its citizens and peers has become common knowledge.

Aside from the globe’s ongoing backlash, the curatorial team for the Biennale collected over 280 contributions from 28 countries consisting of essays, design and research projects, to provide a well-balanced representation of China and the globe.

Image: Cisco