Bruce Sterling: Smart City States

Posted By on August 20, 2015


A thought-provoking wake-up call by Bruce Sterling at the 10th international FAB LAB conference and FAB Festival Barcelona, 2-8 July 2014.

Here are some key quotes from his talk:

“And there’s like open source guys down at the bottom doing all the heavy lifting. And then there’s like platform guys like self guys and the rich guys are up in the right-hand corner and they’re like super rich. And they’re like super rich powerful guys that can help you.”

“Where’s the money coming from? Holy macro! Look at those Arab sovereign wealth funds! Yeah! This is like Dubai cultural imperialism on a smart city platform. Look at them: Google, Citibank, airBnB. You wouldn’t think they would all be in the same packet, but they are. They are! They’re all in the same boat together.”

“Except that none of them likes standard capitalist property relations. And everyone on this finds some method to hack, rangel or disrupt and come up with new products and new ways to do things that just don’t depend on the standard patents, lawsuits, trolls etc… Coming up with various kinds of workarounds again oozen up like Blackwater.”

“What does a taxi strike look like when Uber carries it out? Because if Uber takes over your town, they will have all the power that these taxi driver have. And more. And if they wanna paralyze your city, you’re much worse off than if you’re facing a communist taxi union. Because they’re global and they have 17 billion dollars. Not like these immigrants with their pathetic little taxi licensed tabs. What are the political implications? And you’ve actually sold off control over your streets. You’ve off-shored it to Silicon Valley.”

What happens when states are disrupted by sanctuarized online Silicon Valley billion dollars corporations? Is the transnational privatization of normally state owned/operated functions generating real values for citizens, suddenly becoming only consumers? The comparison between the sharing economy and the smart city ideology with Blackwater is particularly relevant. It draws a parallel where a normally restricted, legislated state-only activity, bound to precise rules while remaining accountable for its action, becomes privatized and operating on a global gray area dictated by a market and revenue only reality.

You may also enjoy Bruce’s Sterling’s vision of the future city from a 2013 BBC article and “Colonising the Clouds – Infrastructure Territory and The Geopolitics of The Stacks“.


Nikolas Badminton is a world-respected futurist speaker that researches, speaks, and writes about the future of work, how technology is affecting the workplace, how workers are adapting, the sharing economy, and how the world is evolving. He appears at conferences in Canada, USA, UK, and Europe. Email him to book him for your radio, TV show, or conference.

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