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Daedalus was the mythical great architect and artificer of the classical world. Today, embedded intelligence is enabling the most profound changes in the way we create and use buildings since his day.

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The Song of Atlanta

I wake up unusually early, and unusually alert. All senses are wary, and I am waiting for something, for anything to happen. The city is all around me, humming its early morning song.

I am staying uptown in Atlanta, at my friend Paul’s flat in Buckhead, in the city to speak speaking of standards, and surfaces, and transacted energy. It is not really any noisier than home. There is no river roaring in the background. There is no early morning siren of an ambulance coming north from Scotland County to the teaching hospital in town. It is really much quieter than Bynum in summer when the cicadas and katydids are fiddling their mating tunes into the hot humid night.

What noise there is here is less personal. I can’t pick out the sound of Donnie’s truck on the street. I don’t have one ear cocked for Thalia’s car in the drive. Each noise is less personal, and therefore less important.

The pattern of sound is different, though. Pattern is everything. In the dog culture of Bynum, every ear is cocked to hear the sirens from the south as they hit the courthouse circle, miles away. Each canine wants to be first to raise the mournful howl that accompanies the ambulances passing. They all do it in unison; they all learn to do it within months of first living in town. There is something unworldly, yet fully grounded in that sound, something so fully based in place that it is reassuring, and restful; it sends one back to sleep rather than to wakefulness.

Here the sounds are different, and I do not know the pattern, and they defy categorization. It’s not just the cars. My parents’ house is above the interstate, with traffic noise that does not quit. If you look to the west, from that high hill, you can see where the freeway ends, its off-ramps curling into the beach-side neighborhoods like a rive fading into a delta. Weekend visitors usually exclaim on the sounds of the surf, and how well they slept because of it. It must be some trick of the valley that brings the shore sounds so far inland. But there is no trick of the valley, and there are no sounds of the shore; only the freeway below hums, its individual cars blended into one swirling sound that ebbs and flows, yet never dies down.

But these sounds are not mine. They feel like something ready to happen, and I feel alert, as if I just heard a stick snap in a silent northern forest late at night. I get up and shower, because I am not going back to sleep. Paul, the perfect host, rises, makes some coffee, and bids a cheery adieu before shambling back to sleep. He needs no alarm, because these sounds are his sounds, and he can hear what time it is.

But to me, they are the sounds of a strange city, and of a day speaking, and of people to meet and names to remember. To me, they say be alert, and be ready. It does not matter that nothing that I plan to do today starts for hours. It does not matter that none of these sounds being information to me. For I am surrounded by the sounds of the city, humming its early morning song.


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