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The Platform Insurgency: Does Urban Tech Have an Ethics Problem?

October 28, 2020 @ 12:00 pm - 1:15 pm

A special joint session with the Cornell Tech Digital Life Initiative Seminar

Much of urban tech exploits today’s most ethically-charged technologies and business practices—such as indiscriminate location tracking, facial recognition, and gig work to fundamentally reprogram how urban systems function. As these failures become clearer, and broader awareness of systemic injustice in society grows, how can the emerging field of urban tech clarify choices between right and wrong? Cornell Tech’s Helen Nissenbaum and Anthony Townsend co-host a panel discussion featuring Molly Turner from UC-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, UNStudio’s Ren Yee, and Gary Johnson, Director of Strategy and Operations for the NYC Mayor’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer.

Key takeaways from the discussion:

  • Focus on first principle thinking – be clear about the problem you are trying to solve, and whose problems we are solving
  • We should anticipate a machine-readable world
  • Individuals should take charge of the ways in which their data is used
  • Urban innovation would focus on cross-domain synergy to develop and deliver better services to local residents
  • We have to incorporate vulnerable communities in user-centered design
  • We need smarter communities in order to have smart cities


Read a discussion paper by Cornell Tech Urbanist In Residence, Dr. Anthony Townsend, “What is urban tech? Definitions, aims, and ethical tensions” (PDF, 924k)


October 28, 2020
12:00 pm - 1:15 pm
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Via Zoom Video Conferencing