Keywords of the Greater Bay Area

Artificial Intelligence


Ho Ruian

Self-Driving Vehicle

Whatever happened to the flying car? Not only has this early staple of speculative fiction failed to materialize, it has rightfully been relegated to kitsch, brought up today only as an icon of retrofuturism that speaks to the way that any attempt at predicting the future inevitably sets itself up for embarrassment. Yet, for all its naivete, this projection of futurity through the vehicular survives in the Self-Driving Vehicle (SDV), which populates so many scenarios of the near future. Except that what makes this nascent iconography much less laughable is that the SDV is already a reality, with its mass adoption a prospect that is already transforming industry and society.

What are we to make of this displacement of mechanically propelled flight by algorithmically generated automation as the aspiration of human mobility? Has the desire for verticality, and its attendant possibility of sublation, been abandoned for a relentless horizontal drive that appears to demand no expenditure of labor? Indeed, in most promotional imagery of the SDV, what is made visible is the experience of repose in mobility. In one video of Singapore's Smart Nation initiative, the driver's hands rest by his sides, almost too idly, as if to declare: "Look, no hands!" Relieved from the labor of movement, we enjoy the temporary bliss of experiencing movement in itself, not least a movement which, in shuttling us between home and work, delivers us to the site of labor.

But then there is the steering wheel, spinning autonomously before the comically inactive driver. The joke is that the anachronism of the manually operated dashboard must remain as a check against the failures of the fully automated virtual dashboard. And we only need to recall how the driverless car originated in the popular imagination as an icon not of technofuturism but of modernity's malevolent underside in the form of the supernaturally possessed vehicle to know how easily farce can turn into horror. The horror of there being no perceiving subject behind the dashboard, of pure movement without vision.

About Keywords of the Greater Bay Area

The "Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area" is a new construction envisioned from a top-down perspective and territorial integration. It is a blueprint for a future urban development based on efficiency, speed, and mobility. What if we conceive the Greater Bay Area as an experiment, an imaginary experiment? On the one hand, there is the question of 'diversity'. When we talk about smart cities, artificial intelligence, automation, ecological crisis, information security, the future of virtual reality, global trade, etc., where does this view of the future come from, and what determines it? On the other hand, a profound political, spatial, historical, and geographical significance is present in the Greater Bay Area. Is it possible to develop a different imagination based on the history and culture of the "Pearl River Delta-Greater Bay Area;" meaning, to consider a development departing from local knowledge production, negotiating with accelerating technologies, facilitating collaborations between art and other disciplines, and reshaping the vision of institutions of art and technology? By exploring the diversity of technologies, human and non-human ecologies, and reproduction of social relations, might it be possible to reposition the "Greater Bay Area" as a pioneering experiment of southern China's technological and cultural imagination beyond a mere economic zone?

Editors: Jianru Wu, Guo Yun
English editor: Christy Lange