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The fifth Vertical Atlas event focuses on the implications of AI developments for Chinese city management, political and economic governance, as well as its place in the current Chinese cultural imagination. With presentations by Harvard University anthropologist Shuang Lu Frost and Chen Qiufan (aka Stanley Chen), renowned sci-fi writer.

The most competitive domain in global technology is the development of AI. Many believe that it holds the key to economic, political and technological dominance for the parties managing to wield its power. China stands at the forefront of these developments, in direct competition with various states and tech companies, and is developing a specific, Chinese version of manmade intelligence (a literal translation of the Mandarin phrase for AI) based on the unique techno-political circumstances in the Chinese geo zone.

China is one of the only states to have achieved a near complete integration of state and national cloud-tech platforms - Baidou, Alibaba, Tencent -  enabling the mass gathering of data to train AI systems at all levels of society. The resulting governing infrastructure is implemented on all scales of the Chinese digital ecology, and aims to cover material as well as social domains. It incorporates land based and off-shore mining for raw ores and the processing of e-waste, and at the same time aims to bring about a renewable energy economy that is able to cope with the exponential growth of the energy needs of computation. 

Chinese cities are continuously being built and rebuilt in an attempt to integrate the latest digital technologies in their infrastructures. Several cities already host a wealth of bots and machine learning systems, capturing data from nested sensors and processors scattered in the urban environment, exemplified by the Alibaba City Brain project. 

State sovereignty over cyberspace is implemented through the Golden Shield technology and the Great Cannon, which control what kind of information is accessible, when and where and to whom, in China and beyond, and which manifest as a globally present ‘Great Firewall of China’. Within this digital environment, the behaviour of individuals is both measured and influenced by a variety of social ranking systems that contribute data to, as well as implement, the development of different AI solutions. 

For certain western sensibilities China is rapidly approaching an ideal type of digital dystopia. Without downplaying the extent to which sophisticated information technologies in China are used to exert control over society, it is also important to recognise how different cultural values relating to the role of the individual and the morals of intelligence shape the role, use and perception of digital technologies.

Vertical Atlas

Vertical Atlas is a series of five events that attempt to develop a techno-political cartography, departing from the conceptual model laid out by Benjamin Bratton in The Stack. This series aims at investigating specific geozones where the entanglement of different sovereignties surface and different stacks clash. Each event consists of a public programme in Het Nieuwe Instituut and a research lab for invited guests. 

This project is initiated by Benjamin Bratton, Leonardo Dellanoce, Arthur Steiner and Klaas Kuitenbrouwer, and is developed and produced by Het Nieuwe Instituut, Hivos Digital Earth and Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam.

Thursday Bite

Before the Thursday Night you can grab a bite to eat with the speakers and staff of Het Nieuwe Instituut. At 18:00 Het Nieuwe Café will a light vegetarian meal. Dinner vouchers are available for € 7.70 up to a day before the particular Thursday Night event via the Tickets link.

Become a Member

Become a Member of Het Nieuwe Instituut and you’ll support our mission to navigate the vast and evolving field of design. You’ll also be inspired by our special program of Members’ events, meeting up with other like-minded people as we invite you to reflect with us on design’s changing role in technology, economics, culture and society.

20:00 – 22:00
also this evening

18:00-19:30 Thursday Bite 

The museum is free of charge from 17:00-21:00


Het Nieuwe Instituut
Museumpark 25
3015 CB Rotterdam


Standard€ 7.50
Students, CJP, Friends and Members of Het Nieuwe Instituut€ 3.75

Thursday Night at Het Nieuwe Instituut
Luca Napoli

Thursday Night Live! is a weekly programme of lectures, screenings and discussions on architecture, design and digital culture. Developments and critical insights are discussed by thinkers, designers and makers from the Netherlands and abroad.