To better understand the invariably political character of the smart city, consider a logical extension of some current smart city thinking, proposed as a thought experiment by philosopher and legal theorist Lawrence Solum. Singapore has “smart intersections that var[y] their red/green cycles according to traffic” (Baum, 2001), and one can imagine far more elaborate methods of controlling the flow of automobiles. Solum posits the development of an “Artificially Intelligent Traffic Authority (AITA),” which could “adapt itself to changes in driver behavior and traffic flow” . The system would be designed to “introduce random variations and run controlled experiments to evaluate the effects of various combinations on traffic pattern” , recalling Jim Manzi’s (2012) recommendations for far more experimentation in public policy. But the system would not be very forgiving of individual experimentation with, say, violating its rules. Rather, as imagined by Solum, “[v]iolations would be detected by an elaborate system of electronic surveillance” and offenders would be “identified and immediately would be removed from traffic by a system of cranes located at key intersections” .
The shift in political language — wherein the social contract is replaced by the corporate contract — is subtle, but critical for understanding the politics smuggled into the technocratic agenda of smart cities (cf., Sadowski and Selinger, 2014). This explains why the six principles they propose are all based on admonishing “city leaders” for not valorizing (enough) the products and services offered by the ICT sector. Like savvy businessmen, the authors recognize the asymmetry of public-private partnerships in an era of neoliberalism. When top managers at firms earn many multiples of top civil servants, the latter readily allow the private sphere to reshape the public sphere in its own image. Corporations can afford a phalanx of economists, designers, attorneys, and public relations specialists, all skilled in presenting one possible future for the city as a technocratic pensée unique. Indeed, other than the corporate model, “there exist no large-scale alternative smart city models, partly because most cities have generally embraced a pro-business and entrepreneurial governance model of urban development”
But just as with the earliest gas lamps, the IntelligentCity system is also pitched as a way to maintain social control, “prevent[ing] crime by keeping lights on in problematic neighbourhoods”.