The Soft Sentience project is a research collaboration operating at the intersections of neuroscience, computation, and urban theory, exploring new modes of representation and mapping in the space of the computationally- and cognitively- mediated city.

This project is a collaboration between Jordan Kanter, a designer and theorist currently working in Beijing, China, and Walter Fischler, a neurobiologist at Columbia University in New York.

The work builds on Walter’s work on perception, representation, and spatial mapping, as well as Jordan’s research into urban data modeling, and the development of information and computational rich models  of the city as a key platform for rethinking city- (and ultimately planetary-) scale design.

The focus is on mechanisms of representation and abstraction. The basic assumption is that the brain has has no a priori structure for mapping the perception of space or time, rather it emerges out of experience and an active engagement with the world – “scanning the landscape and learning to think”. Extending out to the city, this idea of abstraction is considered both from the perspective of “embodiment” – projecting-in to create models or maps of the world  – and “enactment” – projecting-out to construct or produce the world based on these maps. We are interested in how these two mechanisms entangle, particularly in the context of the increasing dispersion of autonomous, and partially autonomous synthetic agency in the fabric of the city.

These issues are explored through the development of new maps and models of the city, drawing on city data, physical computing, agent modeling, machine learning, game theory, and more.