Akademgorodok is a former Soviet science town, in the depths of the Siberian woods. In 2006, Putin called for its revival and announced its prospects as ‘the next Silicon Valley’ – an ambition- yet unfulfilled.
AKDM is its virtual counterpart; an autonomous, extra-state territory inhabited by algorithms, who take on this promise of its future.
As definitions of ‘territory’ and ‘ontology’ are extended into the virtual realm – with the June 2016 NATO declaration of cyberspace as operational territory alongside land, air, and sea, as well as the February 2017 European Parliament resolution which calls for the recognition of bots as ‘electronic persons’ – the intangible (and yet irrefutably palpable) spaces and beings beyond the screen are increasingly legitimized as equals with their physical counterparts.
In acknowledging the growing influence of the virtual, these pieces of legislation mirror broader changes in global information infrastructures: simulation and CGI technologies are becoming indistinguishable from reality. Bots now represent 51.8% of Internet users, with billions of them autonomously crawling the web, as content creators, user impersonators, data miners, spammers and moderators. Profound changes in how information circulates, facilitated by the structure of the Internet and social media, means that facts and falsehoods are now distributed in the same way.
As realities multiply and truths are manufactured and post-produced, the interface between the physical and the virtual therefore emerges as a site of heightened tension – a multiplier that makes reality so fragmented that it becomes ungraspable.
In this context, AKDM speculates on the interface as the site for a new type of urbanism and territorial identity.
By extrapolating the aforementioned pieces of legislation, which grant bots and virtual territories unprecedented status, the project re-imagines Akademgorodok as a hyperreal tax-haven for algorithms, appealing to corporations which will now face the taxation and regulation of bots in light of their status as ‘electronic persons’. Rather than attempting to attract real scientists and tech experts in an effort to rival Silicon Valley, the Kremlin therefore targets tech companies’ algorithms instead – and relies on the resident bots to construct and control an autonomous, virtual territory, using the screen as a geopolitical tool to skew perceptions, exert influence and entice investment.
Real Akademgorodok is thereby virtually rendered invisible, while its hyperreal counterpart multiplies across a myriad of screens and streams, and reveals itself as fragments at the interface – a TV advert, a tweet, or a satellite image.
Driven by algorithms, this post-anthropocentric city operates at amplified scales and speeds, and what begins as a scripted choreography within a Kremlin framework spirals into unscripted contingencies. Each pixel becomes a tumbling unit accelerating far beyond its origin, and the city’s bots consolidate their position as autonomous actors as opposed to ‘tool of man’ through acts of revolution and subversion.
The interface reveals itself as the bounds of our influence. AKDM thereby challenges the primacy of man in the criteria on which the city is designed and questions the singularity of physical reality. As the city is multiplying, contradicting and overlapping itself, the truth becomes increasingly indiscernible – and increasingly irrelevant.
School of Architecture
MA Architecture, 2017
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