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333 posts categorized "Critical Infrastructure"

July 25, 2013

The Future of Urban Transportation: Moving Goods

In an earlier post (The Future of Urban Transportation: Moving People), I discussed some of the solutions that researchers are considering to help overcome traffic congestion challenges in urban areas. Moving people around in urban environments, however, is only half of the challenge. "In the grand scheme of urban mobility," writes Eric Jaffe, "it's easy to lose track of commercial freight movement." ["The Forgotten Urban Transportation Problem We Should Be Trying to Fix," The Atlantic Cities, 22 May 2013] No matter where people live they require food, clothing, and other consumer goods; however, not many people think about how those goods are delivered into the city. The more congested the city, the more difficult the challenge. Jaffe continues:

Key-visual-city-logistics
Source: Delivering Tomorrow
"Commuters are the primary source of traffic coming into and out of the city, and parking causes much of the street-to-street congestion within it. Fact is, says transport scholar Genevieve Giuliano of the University of Southern California, it's so easy to forget about freight that metropolitan areas have done so for years — at their own peril. 'Any of us who live in cities and metropolitan areas are very dependent on urban freight, because that's how all of the goods and services we purchase get here,' says Giuliano. 'It's fascinating to me that it's never been a part of city planning.' The consequence of this historical oversight is that handling cargo has become the 'newest urban transportation problem,' according to Giuliano. While cities have been places of trade and exchange for as long as they've existed, planners have only recently begun to give freight its due consideration. Even the new wave of smart growth strategies — with its emphasis on reduced road capacity as well as mixed-use development — has created some unintended complications for commercial movement. 'The more that you follow these types of strategies without thinking about how freight actually gets delivered, the more problems you're going to generate,' Giuliano says."

In the previous post on urban transportation mentioned above, I noted that one of the problems with getting people to use public transportation is that the so-called "first and last mile" challenge. It has yet to be solved. The "first and last mile" challenge for freight can be even more problematic. In fact, Jaffe says that challenge is the first of three significant categories of problems that plague cities. Giuliano calls it the "metro core" problem. Jaffe explains, "Essentially, [the problem involves] the congestion and double-parking that occurs in city centers when trucks aren't well-managed during the first and last mile of delivery." The second category of challenges identified by Giuliano involves "the environmental impact of moving freight through the metro area." She labels the final challenge, "the hub dilemma — the additional layer of commercial traffic that accrues at international nodes like Los Angeles (for port shipping) or Chicago (for rail freight)."

Jaffe reports that a survey conducted by Giuliano and some colleagues concludes that cities outside of the United States handle urban freight management better than American cities. The abstract for the survey states:

"The authors use three categories to describe urban freight strategies: last mile/first mile deliveries and pickups, environmental mitigation, and trade node strategies. The authors find that there are many possibilities for better managing urban freight and its impacts including labeling and certification programs, incentive-based voluntary emissions reductions programs, local land use and parking policies, and more stringent national fuel efficiency and emissions standards for heavy duty trucks. More research is needed on intra-metropolitan freight movements and on the effectiveness of existing policies and strategies."

As you can sense from that abstract, a great deal of emphasis appears to be on the environmental impacts of freight management in urban areas. Jaffe reports:

"London ... recently established a low-emissions zone in the metro area. The zone targeted the worst environmental offenders, including heavy diesel trucks, and the early results are at least a little encouraging. One new study found a measurable change in fleet quality as well as a small improvement in air quality."

The video found below (which was created by Oliver O'Brien, a researcher at University College London) demonstrates why controlling emissions in London is critical. London is a magnet for workers who commute in and out of the city each day. The video "is an animation of Oyster Card (commuter smartcard) taps in and out of London's tube and rail stations. Taps are recorded in 10-minute intervals, and red represents flow into the system, while green indicates exiting a station." ["Get Lost in These 19 Fascinating Maps," by Lauren Drell, Mashable, 24 April 2013] Road traffic data (both private and commercial) only add to the commute.

Jaffe reports that Paris "is way ahead of the curve when it comes to experimenting with potential solutions to freight congestion." Although he admits that Paris' scheme requires additional handling of goods and increases costs. He explains:

"The city's most ambitious program may be its model of consolidating shipments outside the metro area then shipping them into the city center for redistribution. The plan isn't perfect — for one thing, handling goods an extra time increases costs — but it does address the classic urban freight problem of partly full trucks taking up space on city roads."

Frankly, I'm a bit surprised that solutions to the "first and last mile" challenge haven't progressed any further than they have. A couple of years ago I published two posts on the subject of the "Surmounting the Last Mile Delivery Challenge is Urban Areas." In the first of those posts (Part 1: Pipe Dreams), I discussed some ideas that used pipes (either new ones or existing underground systems) to move packages from centralized warehouses situated outside of cities at rapid speeds into delivery centers within the city. The beauty of these kinds of systems is that they don't congest city streets. The drawbacks to such systems include increased costs as well as the limited size and quantity of things that can be transported in this manner. In the second post (Part 2: Small and Clean Vehicles), I discussed some of the new zero-emission vehicle designs that are generally smaller than the trucks and lorries used to make deliveries today. Many of those vehicles are already in use around the globe.

Because cities are at the bottom of the legal pecking order (i.e., federal and state laws take precedent), Jaffe reports that "Giuliano believes the most promising approach to freight problems in U.S. cities will be pacts negotiated directly with companies and operators." I expect to see a lot more public/private cooperation in the years ahead. Companies that opt out of collaborating with cities may, in a very real sense, find themselves on the outside. This will be especially true if those public/private partnerships involve the construction and operation of transways (e.g., roads, rails, canals, tunnels, pipes, etc.). Giuliano told Jaffe, "As states we can't impose regulations because of protection, so the next best thing is to have these negotiations to see what we can accomplish by providing incentives. The models we see in Europe, they're always initiated by government, but essentially they're partnerships: "We have a problem, let's figure out how we're going to solve it".'"

I would expect automobile/truck manufacturers, trucking/delivery firms, and railroads to play a major role in helping figure out solutions to the three major categories of challenges Giuliano noted above; but trucking/delivery firms will probably play the largest role. Typically about 80 percent of freight with a local destination is carried by truck.

To be of most use, these solutions will have to be integrated and that means that Big Data will play an essential role in helping make the delivery of goods in urban areas as efficient and effective as possible. There are currently experiments ongoing in Europe to demonstrate how "automatic data capturing and information sharing will make it possible to harmonize the urban transport to achieve environmental and economic benefits." ["Project Demonstrations," STRAIGHTSOL, 3 January 2013] In the post about moving people in and about in urban areas, researchers concluded that there is no silver bullet solution to the challenge. The same is certainly true when it comes to the movement of goods. A combination of strategies will have to be employed if progress is to be made. City planners will continue to ignore the movement of urban freight at their own peril. Elichi Taniguchi writes, "The need is urgent for more efficient and effective freight transport systems that not only address costs but also fully tackle environmental issues such as noise, air pollution, vibration and visual intrusion. ... It’s time to create real visions for City Logistics." ["The Future of City Logistics," 29 October 2012] He agrees with Jaffe that "logistics providers have an important role to play in in all of this." He concludes, "In the end we need to see a change in attitude among all stakeholders if we are to facilitate City Logistics. They need to recognize the importance of working together in the initial planning stages. If they do, everyone benefits."

July 22, 2013

The Internet of Things Looks Like Big Business

The world changed forever when people started connecting over the Internet. The world is going to change again as billions of devices and machines start connecting over what is being called "The Internet of Things" (IoT). Brian Proffitt writes, "The rise of the Internet of Things means billions of physical objects will soon generate massive amounts of data 24 hours a day. Not only will this make traditional search methods nearly impossible to use, it will also create an environment where instead of looking for things in the world, those things will be seeking us out to give us all sorts of information that will help us fix, use or buy them." ["How The Internet Of Things Will Revolutionize Search," readwrite, 26 April 2013] Proffitt continues:

"When talking about the Internet of Things, it is important to get past the hype and explain exactly what it is: vast numbers of automated physical devices and objects connected to the Internet. These devices are usually routers, switches, phones … but increasingly devices like security cameras and remote climate sensors are being added -- and over time we can expect everything from cars to refrigerators to join the party."

Kenton Williston notes that as "embedded systems grow increasingly interconnected, fragmentation is becoming a major problem." He reports that Intel is trying to solve the problem "with a set of interoperable solutions that can scale across applications. The framework brings together hardware, OSs, and software for connectivity, security, manageability." ["Intel Intelligent Systems Framework Simplifies 'Internet of Things'," Intel Embedded Community, 11 September 2012] Intel sees the Internet of Things as depicted in the following graphic.

Intel IoT

Although the Internet of Things seems to be the name with the greatest degree of stickiness, it has been referred to by other names as well. Early this century, for example, my friend Thomas P.M. Barnett predicted its rise and called it the "Evernet." Others prefer the term "Internet of Everything" (IoE). General Electric (GE) prefers the term "Industrial Internet" since it will primarily connect machines. For more background, read my post entitled Machine-to-Machine Communication. GE also believes that the Industrial Internet is going to be good for business. "GE believes the Industrial Internet will spur accelerated economic productivity, potentially boosting GDP by an average of $4,600 to $7,000 per person in the U.S." ["'Industrial Internet' Could Boost GDP $2 Trillion by 2020," by Patrick Brogan, USTelecom, 14 June 2013] Brogan reports that a study released by GE last November concluded, "The 'Industrial Internet,' the growing network of machines and sensors across all sectors of the economy linked through Internet communications networks, could add an estimated $1.5 trillion to $2.3 trillion to annual U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 2020."

General Electric isn't the only company that sees a big future for the Internet of Things. "The value at stake for the 'Internet of Everything' is $14.4 trillion that businesses and customers can capture in the next decade, according to Cisco. In other terms, Cisco is projecting that the Internet of Everything has the potential to grow global corporate profits by 21 percent in aggregate by 2022." ["Cisco: 'Internet of Everything' to yield $14.4 trillion in value," by Rachel King, CNET, 13 March 2013] At a Cisco-sponsored conference, Rob Lloyd, the company's president of sales and development, told the audience "that 99 percent of electronics in the world today still aren't connected to the Internet." King continues:

"The next step, therefore, is the Internet of Everything in which those devices will be brought online. 'If you look at those business imperatives and think of them in the context of those major technology trends, there is an entirely new role of IT coming out,' Lloyd said. 'The role of the network is critical to unlock these major market trends.' For the Internet of Everything, Lloyd said that means taking people, process, data -- all the things done so far in connecting the first 10 billion connected devices -- to unlock capabilities we haven't seen yet."

Brogan points out that most of the technologies required to make the Internet of Things a reality already exist. They include, radio frequency identification (RFID) sensors, real-time data analytics, cloud computing, machine-to-machine communications, mobility, and visualization of data. King reports that Cisco believes the Internet of Things will probably be implemented vertically before being connected horizontally. She writes:

"Cisco believes that there are at least seven verticals that will move more quickly, starting with manufacturing followed by the public sector, energy/utilities, health care, finance/insurance, transportation, and wholesale/distribution. But Lloyd stipulated that the Internet of Everything will be driven by business funding -- not IT funding -- as we embrace consumer devices (aka bring your own device, or BYOD), the cloud, and data analytics to drive insights. Cisco's chief strategy and technical officer, Padmasree Warrior, explained further, asserting that the next decade of work will be about making all of these processes more efficient. For the network, Warrior outlined some of the technology implications, asserting that networks need to be more programmable, automated, dynamic, aware, agile, and secure in the face of a growing 'app-based economy'. 'The network needs to be much more orchestrated rather than just being configurable,' Warrior added. Warrior also reflected that the discussion -- at least around big data -- is finally moving from data collection to data usage."

Once a robust Internet of Things is developed, pundits imagine all sorts of things will become possible. Bob Violino writes, "The most common examples are smart cars, IP-addressable washing machines and Internet-connected nanny cams." ["The Internet of Things: Coming to a network near you," Network World, 22 April 2013] Tom Soroka, Vice President for Engineering and Technology at USTelecom, sees huge potential in the industrial sector. "When we marry the power of a global Internet with the power of global industry," he writes, "one can just imagine the massive potential of an industrial-grade network built just for the purpose of developing, manufacturing, ordering, delivering and operating commerce around the world." ["Explaining the Industrial Internet," USTelecom Newsletter, subscription required] Proffitt envisions the day when the IoT will schedule maintenance work and direct customers to RFID tagged products. He writes:

"This world is not far off. Smartphones and other mobile devices can already tap into public search engines to discover more about the world around them. You can use augmented reality to see results displayed graphically on device screens. As more and more objects join the Internet, they'll create information that will be added to the potential data you can receive, raising the level of information available by orders of magnitude. This will be both a boon (more data to help make decisions) and a curse (so much data you could drown)."

Analysts at ABI Research agree that M2M networks and services are going to prove to be "golden eggs" of profitability for those who master the domain. However, they have found "porous security is exposing vulnerabilities in a large number of use-case scenarios" and that vulnerability threatens to slow the growth of the Internet of Things. ["Machine-to-Machine Application Market Grows, But Poor Security Is Major Issue, Report Finds," SupplyChainBrain, 13 February 2013] The analysts argue, "The horizontal evolution of M2M will require full end-to-end security. Significant efforts need to be invested into M2M application security in order for the M2M market to fully evolve. Whether this is through open source initiatives or standards development, the demand for increased M2M application security will have to be answered, and sooner rather than later."

Most analysts, however, are convinced that the Internet of Things will come about and that it will be big business. Earlier this year, Cisco CEO and chairman John Chambers, stated, "I believe that businesses and industries that quickly harness the benefits of the Internet of Everything will be rewarded with a larger share of that increased profitability. This will happen at the expense of those that wait or don't adapt effectively. That's why the value is 'at stake' – it's truly up for grabs." ["Economic impact of the 'Internet of Everything' will be US$14trn – Cisco's Chambers," by John Kennedy, Silicon Republic, 19 February 2013]

The U.S. Telecom Association expects its members to get a share of the trillions of dollars at stake. Brogan explains, "Central to this operation are the broadband networks that link machines and sensors together, connecting data centers hosting computers that collect data, process it into actionable information, and display the information in usable formats to end users or connected machines. To keep this system running, fiber-optic networks and systems will need to be built, and large quantities of routers and switches will need to be deployed." Obviously, there are still hurdles to be jumped and challenges to be met before a full-fledged Internet of Things emerges. The biggest players, however, are already involved and it won't be long before the Internet of Things is much larger than the Internet/World Wide Web used to connect humans.

July 11, 2013

Trends and Technologies that are Going to Change Your Life and Business: Part 4

McKinsey technologiesIn Part 3 of this 4-part series, I discussed the first six of twelve technologies identified as game-changers by McKinsey & Company analysts, James Manyika, Michael Chui, Jacques Bughin, Richard Dobbs, Peter Bisson, and Alex Marrs in a report entitled, "Disruptive technologies: Advances that will transform life, business, and the global economy. [1 May 2013] The McKinsey analysts used four criteria to select their 12 candidates. First, the technology had to be "rapidly advancing or experiencing breakthroughs." Second, the technology's "potential scope of impact" had to be broad. Third, the technology had to be to affect "significant economic value." Finally, that economic impact had to be "potentially disruptive." In this post, I'll discuss the remaining six technologies. The details concerning these technologies were drawn from the executive summary of their report.

7. Autonomous and Near-autonomous Vehicles

The author's write, "It is now possible to create cars, trucks, aircraft, and boats that are completely or partly autonomous. From drone aircraft on the battlefield to Google's self-driving car, the technologies of machine vision, artificial intelligence, sensors, and actuators that make these machines possible is rapidly improving." To put an exclamation point on this prediction, a Romanian teenager recently "came up with a low-cost autonomous car system. The idea brought Ionut Budisteanu the top prize, a $75,000 scholarship, in the Intel international Science and Engineering Fair." ["Teen Invents Low-Cost Self-Driving Car Concept," TechBeat, 21 May 2013] Below is a video about Budisteanu's invention.

8. Energy Storage

The authors write, "Energy storage technology includes batteries and other systems that store energy for later use. ... Over the next decade, advances in energy storage technology could make electric vehicles (hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and all-electrics) cost competitive with vehicles based on internal-combustion engines. On the power grid, advanced battery storage systems can help with the integration of solar and wind power, improve quality by controlling frequency variations, handle peak loads, and reduce costs by enabling utilities to postpone infrastructure expansion." This is an extremely important area that will become even more critical as populations expand and become ever more organized. Economic progress rides on the shoulders of the power grid. Dario Borghino reports, "A new 'wood battery' could allow the emerging sodium-ion battery technology to fit the bill as a long-lasting, efficient and environmentally friendly battery for large-scale energy storage." ["Wood nanobattery could be green option for large-scale energy storage," Gizmag, 6 July 2013] He explains:

"Scientists are speculating that sodium-ion batteries, currently in an early stage of development, could suit large-scale energy storage much better than Li-ion batteries, partially because sodium is cheap and plentiful and because sodium is environmentally benign. But for Na-ion batteries to become a viable energy-storage option there are still many obstacles to overcome, the greatest of which is the phenomenon known as sodiation. With each charge/discharge cycle, the sodium ions cause the anode of the battery to swell by as much as 420 percent and then return to normal. This phenomenon, known as sodiation, can literally pulverize the anode after only 20 cycles, rendering the battery extremely short-lived. University of Maryland (UM) researchers Liangbing Hu and Teng Li found a way around this problem. The stiff bases often used in existing batteries are too brittle to withstand the swelling and shrinking caused by sodiation, so the researchers turned to the much softer wood fibers. These have evolved to withstand these forces extremely well as they use capillary forces to transfer the sodium ions from the soil around them to the leaves of their tree. The resulting sodium-ion battery that uses wood fibers increases durability twenty-fold compared with previous designs. ... Because sodium doesn't store energy quite as efficiently as lithium, there is little chance of this technology eventually finding its way to your next-generation gadget. However, because of their low cost and use of environmentally benign common materials, sodium-ion batteries could be used to store large amounts of energy from renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar."

9. 3D Printing

Almost every list of trends and technologies that are going to change the world has additive printing somewhere on it. The authors write, "The performance of additive manufacturing machinery is improving, the range of materials is expanding, and prices (for both printers and materials) are declining rapidly — bringing 3D printing to a point where it could see rapid adoption by consumers and even for more manufacturing uses." Schmidt believes it will be the combination of new materials and new manufacturing methods that will bring about a new industrial revolution. This combination means, he states, "that it'll be possible to build very interesting things from very interesting, new materials, which have all sorts of new properties." Advanced materials is the next technology on the McKinsey list.

10. Advanced Materials.

The author's write, "Over the past few decades, scientists have discovered ways to produce materials with incredible attributes — smart materials that are self-healing or self-cleaning; memory metals that can never revert to their original shapes; piezoelectric ceramics and crystals that turn pressure into energy; and nanomaterials. Nanomaterials in particular stand out in terms of their high rate of improvement, broad potential applicability, and long-term potential to drive economic impact." In fact, the nanomaterial graphene has been called "the first wonder material of the 21st century." ["Graphene: Faster, stronger, bendier," by Clive Cookson, Financial Times, 27 January 2013] Cookson writes, "Its properties encompass an astonishing range of superlatives, including better electrical and thermal conductivity, mechanical strength and optical purity than any other material." It seems that new properties of uses for graphene are discovered every day.

11. Advanced Oil and Gas Exploration and Recovery

The author's write, "The ability to extract so-called unconventional oil and gas reserves from shale rock formations is a technology revolution that has been gathering force for nearly four decades. The combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing makes it possible to reach oil and gas deposits that were known to exist in the United States and other places but that were not economically accessible by conventional drilling." Robert Nelsen, co-founder and Managing Director of ARCH Venture Partners, agrees with the McKinsey analysts. He states, "The biggest trend is innovation in our core energy sector, more specifically fracking, and new technologies that can turn natural gas into oil. The first is a product of oil industry and academic research; the second is a product of biotech innovation. This is probably the largest change in our economy in 50 years, and will rival the existence of Silicon Valley in its importance. It will make the USA a net exporter of fuels in 20 years, will take the ability to price oil away from OPEC and thus reduce tension in the Middle East, and will reduce strategic energy competition between the USA and China and Russia by letting them all increase their own domestic production." ["Top 20 Under-the-Radar Trends in Innovation," by Gregory T. Huang, Xconomy, 30 May 2013] Environmentalists don't hail these new capabilities as breakthroughs; rather, they see them as expensive attempts to cling to the age of oil. They believe that the money being spent oil and gas exploration would be better spent on the final technology identified by McKinsey: renewable energy.

12. Renewable Energy

The authors write, "Renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, hydro-electric, and ocean wave hold the promise of an endless source of power without stripping resources, contributing to climate change, or worrying about competition for fossil fuels." What has held back renewable energy from achieving greater market share in energy production is cost. The McKinsey analysts note, however: "In the past two decades, the cost of power produced by solar cells has dropped from nearly $8 per watt of capacity to one tenth of that amount." Despite advances, however, renewable energy generation in the U.S. still lags behind other fuel sources (see the following image).

Outlet-graph-medium

The McKinsey analysts note that there are other technologies "on the radar" awaiting breakthroughs that give them the same kind of economic impact as the twelve candidate technologies they selected. The point is, there are amazing advances being made every day and we never know how they will change our lives.

June 20, 2013

Smart Cities and Traffic

One simply can't discuss smart city initiatives without including the topic of traffic -- that is, how things move within the confines of an urban environment. Perhaps the most talked about challenge is how motorized traffic can move most efficiently and effectively through crowded streets. In some planned cities, like Masdar in the UAE, traditional automobiles are simply not allowed. Cars must be parked and specially designed urban vehicles must be utilized. Some pundits dream of a day when most cities restrict traffic to a limited number of routes so that people can cross streets anywhere in safety and children are allowed to play stickball without fear of being run over. Neal Peirce reports that one such dreamer is Enrique Peñalosa, former mayor of Bogota, Colombia, who proposed "a radical 'green' and 'safe' prescription for building and rebuilding streets, both city and suburban" ... in an article for the March-April edition of Urban Land magazine." ["Greener Cities Will Push Cars To The Curb," Hartford Courant, 15 May 2013] Peirce continues:

"Peñalosa proposes a radical remedy: cities with generous numbers of auto-free streets and with greenways reserved for pedestrians and bicycles. He challenges us to imagine a Manhattan — or another city — 'where alternate streets and avenues are reserved for use by pedestrians and bicycles, with a few of those streets, green with trees, allowing trams or buses on narrow busways.' The result would be a network of pathways free from competition with autos and trucks except at every-other-street intersections. It would constitute a return, in major aspects, to the safer pedestrian walkways and life of the pre-auto era."

Frankly, such radical plans aren't likely to be implemented in most existing cities. They would simply create too many new challenges (e.g., garbage collection, deliveries, parking, etc.). Since city fathers don't have the luxury of planning from the ground up, they must deal with things as they have evolved. That is why Carlo Ratti and Anthony Townsend are interested in developing what they call "Truly Smart Real Cities." ["Harnessing Residents' Electronic Devices Will Yield Truly Smart Cities," Scientific American, 17 April 2011] They understand that most "real" cities will have a difficult time finding a way to pay for new infrastructure embedded with sensors; so, as the title of their article suggests, they recommend harnessing the power of the mobile devices already being carried by residents. Google is already taking advantage of these devices with the help of volunteers. Ratti and Townsend explain:

"Rather than focusing on the installation and control of network hardware, city governments, technology companies and their urban-planning advisers can exploit a more ground-up approach to creating even smarter cities in which people become the agents of change. With proper technical-support structures, the populace can tackle problems such as energy use, traffic congestion, health care and education more effectively than centralized dictates. And residents of wired cities can use their distributed intelligence to fashion new community activities, as well as a new kind of citizen activism. ... An ideal beginning is to leverage the growing array of smart personal devices we all wield and recruit people as the sensors of a city rather than relying only on formal systems embedded into infrastructure. The traffic function on Google Maps is a good example. Instead of building a costly network of dedicated vehicle sensors along roadways, Google constantly polls a large network of anonymous volunteers whose mobile devices report their up-to-the-minute status, which reveals where traffic is flowing, slowed or stopped. The information is delivered to drivers via mobile mapping applications in various ways — as colored overlays indicating traffic speeds, as estimated driving times that account for delays or as a factor in determining alternative routes."

The primary concern with this approach involves safety issues surrounding drivers getting distracted while responding to polling queries in the midst of congested traffic. And, in many cities, that's the norm. There are lots of good reasons for wanting to get a handle on urban traffic problems. One of those reasons is money. According to a report by Texas A&M University, traffic congestion "costs the U.S. $121.2 billion per year." ["Big Data Has ‘Big Impact’ in Beating Traffic," by Steve Rosenbush, Wall Street Journal, 27 March 2013] "At the micro level," Rosenbush explains, "commuting time and jammed highways can have an impact on whether a particular house gets sold or if a shipping company can make money on a given trip."

Another reason for promoting better traffic flow is reduced stress. Drivers on the move are much happier than those stuck in traffic. When one thinks about congested roads in the United States, the Los Angeles area is generally pretty high on the list. As Mike Wheatley reports, "Los Angeles' reputation for being an absolute nightmare for drivers is well-deserved." ["Big Data Traffic Jam: Smarter Lights, Happy Drivers," SiliconANGLE, 3 April 2013] Wheatley reports, however, that Los Angeles has been working hard to improve traffic flow through the city.

"A new traffic control system might just be able to ease some of their suffering. Almost three decades in the making, the city's newly completed Automated Traffic Surveillance and Control System will synchronize all 4,500 traffic lights in the metropolis, with the goal of not just reducing drive times, but cutting down on pollution as well. ... The project is totally unique with regards to its size and its scope, and is reputed to have cost more than $400 million to implement. The New York Times gives us a breakdown of how it all works:

'Magnetic sensors in the road at every intersection send real-time updates about the traffic flow through fiber-optic cables to a bunker beneath downtown Los Angeles, where Edward Yu runs the network. The computer system, which runs software the city itself developed, analyzes the data and automatically makes second-by-second adjustments, adapting to changing conditions and using a trove of past data to predict where traffic could snarl, all without human involvement.'

"The system is intelligent in that it can automatically adjust the time delay between light changes whenever issues arise."

Getting traffic to move more intelligently through urban streets obviously relies heavily on the availability of big data, analytics, and artificial intelligence. "Synchronized traffic lights aren't the only thing that's in store for cities of the future," Wheatley writes. "What with the number of cars on our roads rapidly piling up in cities across the world, tech companies like IBM are designing numerous solutions to cut back on congestion and pollution." As an example of what IBM is working on, Wheatley pointed to the following video about IBM's efforts in Istanbul.

Another company involved with the big data analytics effort regarding traffic is INRIX Inc. It was founded in 2004 by former Microsoft employees. According to Steve Rosenbush, INRIX analyzes "10 billion data points a day." Shira Ovide reports, "Start-ups including Waze Inc. and Uber Technologies Inc. and such tech giants as Google Inc. and Apple Inc. are also applying big data to transportation issues." ["Tapping 'Big Data' to Fill Potholes," Wall Street Journal, 12 June 2012] As a side note, Waze was just acquired by Google for over a billion dollars. Ovide continues:

"For many cities and cash-strapped agencies, officials say, the proliferation of data technologies can help them cut costs and make smarter choices about transportation projects, direct people to empty parking spots and otherwise ease annoyances for citizens. In Boston, for instance, the city is planning to launch Street Bump, a mobile-phone app that can identify potholes as people drive on city roads. The app detects minute changes in a phone's accelerometer—the same technology used to shift the orientation of a smartphone screen when it's tilted sideways. Chris Osgood, co-chair of city hall's Office of New Urban Mechanics, says Boston also hopes to use Street Bump technology to figure out which roadways are most in need of repaving. Today, municipalities often make such decisions based on cumbersome surveys that involve engineers in pickup trucks dragging chains behind them and measuring the vibrations of the metal."

Wheatley worries that such efforts might be too successful. He explains:

"One danger lies in the prospect that – if we can leverage technology to reduce congestion – people might suddenly decide that the roads aren’t so bad and start buying even more cars to clog them up with, creating a vicious circle if you will. Ultimately, the technology will only help us so much, but it's nice to know that we seem to be on the right track."

Although this post primarily deals with automobile traffic, there are obviously a number of people thinking about other ways of moving people and things about in the urban environment. I focused on automobile traffic, however, because some pundits believe that the automobile industry is about to experience its "Kodak Moment" after which everything is going to change. The following video provides a glimpse into that discussion.

More of the conversation can be viewed by clicking on this link. In future posts about smart city initiatives, I hope to discuss more about how people will move through the urban environment without having to rely on personal automobiles. Automobiles are not going to disappear; but, even the automobile industry understands that the business landscape is rapidly shifting beneath its feet. Although some pundits believe the end is in sight for the industry, I believe the automotive industry's eyes have been opened and we should continue to see some exciting ideas emerge from the industry itself about how to best address how people will transported in the future. The industry will increasingly think of itself as being in the people and goods transport business rather than in the automobile business.

June 14, 2013

Numbers in the City, Part 2

In Part 1 of this series, I discussed an emerging movement called quantitative urbanism and how mathematics can be used to better understand life in city. The goal of the movement is to use this knowledge to make life better for people living in urban environments. The article from which many of the observations were drawn was written by Jerry Adler. ["Life in the City Is Essentially One Giant Math Problem," Smithsonian, May 2013] According to Adler, the movement can trace its origin to a collaboration between Geoffrey West, Luís Bettencourt, and José Lobo. West and Bettencourt head up the "Cities, Scaling, and Sustainability" initiative at the Santa Fe Institute. This "research effort is creating an interdisciplinary approach and quantitative synthesis of organizational and dynamical aspects of human social organizations, with an emphasis on cities. ... A particularly important focus of this research area is to develop theoretical insights about cities that can inform quantitative analyses of their long-term sustainability in terms of the interplay between innovation, resource appropriation, and consumption and the make up of their social and economic activity." The movement is catching on and they have been joined by others. Adler reports:

Numbers in the City"If Bettencourt and West are building a theoretical science of urbanism, then Steven Koonin, the first director of New York University's newly created Center for Urban Science and Progress, intends to be in the forefront of applying it to real-world problems. Koonin, as it happens, is also a physicist, a former Cal Tech professor and assistant secretary of the Department of Energy. He describes his ideal student, when CUSP begins its first academic year this fall, as 'someone who helped find the Higgs boson and now wants to do something with her life that will make society better.' Koonin is a believer in what is sometimes called Big Data, the bigger the better. Only in the past decade has the ability to collect and analyze information about the movement of people begun to catch up to the size and complexity of the modern metropolis itself."

Bettencourt writes, "A science of cities, recognizable across the full spectrum of urban disciplines, from physics and biology to social psychology and sociology is starting to emerge." ["The Kind of Problem a City Is," Santa Fe Institute Working Paper, 2013-03-008] He concludes his Working Paper this way:

"Cities reveal at once the best and the worst aspects of humanity, in terms of our creativity and imagination but also in our tendencies for violence or discrimination. Because of this enormous potential for human development cities should not be seen as systems to be controlled or resisted, but encouraged to evolve spontaneously in the direction of achieving the best open-ended expressions of our collective nature. That then is our challenge. We are living the last few decades of the great urban transition and finally fulfilling our potential as the most social of all species to create something altogether new in Earth's history. We have within sight age-old human aspirations, such as to eliminate extreme poverty, to end most injustice, to gain access to good health for all, and to do all that in balance with the Earth's biosphere. All this will have to happen in cities and it can now happen very quickly. Bigger data and a more scientific approach to cities will certainly help. But the ultimate challenge for all of us involved in influencing and practicing urban planning is to translate, apply and further develop these new ideas to promote urban environments that can encourage and nurture the full potential of our social creativity, targeted at sustainable and open-ended human development."

Koonin agrees with Bettencourt. He told Adler, "We have acquired the technology to know virtually anything that goes on in an urban society, so the question is, how can we leverage that to do good? [How can we] make the city run better, enhance security and safety and promote the private sector?" Driving all of this potential is big data analytics. As we now know, the data comes from all sorts of sources: mobile phones, CCTV systems, the Internet, and so forth. Increasingly, data will come from machine-to-machine networks that help our systems run more efficiently and effectively.

Adler goes on to point out how mathematics can help us understand other things about how a city grows. For example, Glen Whitney, who founded the Museum of Mathematics in New York City, has a theory about the height of skyscrapers in cities (i.e., the better the Gross Regional Product the taller the buildings). Whitney admits that "building heights are constrained by engineering , while there's no limit to how big a pile you can make out of money, so there are two very rich cities whose tallest towers are lower than the formula would predict. They are New York and Tokyo. Also, his equation has no term for 'national pride,' so there are a few outliers in the other direction, cities whose reach toward the sky exceeds their grasp of GDP: Dubai, Kuala Lumpur." Adler notes, "Deep mathematical principles underlie even such seemingly random and historically contingent facts as the distribution of the sizes of cities within a country. There is, typically, one largest city, whose population is twice that of the second-largest, and three times the third-largest, and increasing numbers of smaller cities whose sizes also fall into a predictable pattern. This principle is known as Zipf’s law, which applies across a wide range of phenomena." He concludes:

"As West and his colleagues are well aware, this research takes place against the background of a huge demographic shift, the predicted movement of literally billions of people to cities in the developing world over the next half century. Many of them are going to end up in slums — a word that describes, without judgment, informal settlements on the outskirts of cities, generally inhabited by squatters with limited or no government services. 'No one has done a serious scientific study of these communities,' West says. 'How many people live in how many structures of how many square feet? What is their economy? The data we do have, from governments, is often worthless. In the first set we got from China, they reported no murders. So you throw that out, but what are you left with?”

The challenge, of course, is the fact that slums are generally considered to be places that are "off the grid." The ubiquity of mobile phones is making this less true every day; nevertheless, getting data about slums remains difficult. Adler reports that "the Santa Fe Institute, with backing from the Gates Foundation, has begun a partnership with Slum Dwellers International, a network of community organizations based in Cape Town, South Africa," to address challenges associated with off the grid communities. "The plan is to analyze the data gathered from 7,000 settlements in cities such as Mumbai, Nairobi and Bangalore, and begin the work of developing a mathematical model for these places, and a path toward integrating them into the modern economy." Lobo told Adler, "For a long time, policy makers have assumed it's a bad thing for cities to keep getting larger. You hear things like, 'Mexico City has grown like a cancer.' A lot of money and effort has been devoted to stemming this, and by and large it has failed miserably. Mexico City is bigger than it was ten years ago. So we think policy makers should worry instead about making those cities more livable. Without glorifying the conditions in these places, we think they're here to stay and we think they hold opportunities for the people who live there." To read a little more about slums, see my post entitled: Will Cities Save Us?

Adler writes that he hopes Lobo is correct because Michael Batty, who runs the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis at University College London, predicts "that by the end of the century, practically the entire population of the world will live in what amounts to 'a completely global entity ... in which it will be impossible to consider any individual city separately from its neighbors ... indeed perhaps from any other city.'" Although I doubt that prediction will come completely true, I certainly believe that urbanization is going to continue unabated. Bettencourt told Adler that we are seeing "the last big wave of urbanization that we will experience on Earth." Adler believes that it will be the math men, like West, Koonin, Batty and their colleagues, that will unlock the formulae that will point us down the road to a better urban future.

June 07, 2013

Numbers in the City, Part 1

You've probably heard the expression, "I'm tired of being treated like a number." In the past, "being treated like a number" has been a bad thing. That may change if experts in the emerging field of quantitative urbanism have their way. They "believe that many aspects of modern cities can be reduced to mathematical formulas" and want to use those formulas to make urban life richer and more efficient. ["Life in the City Is Essentially One Giant Math Problem," by Jerry Adler, Smithsonian, May 2013] Ben Hecht argues that, thanks to big data analytics, being treated like a number will make things more, not less, personal in the future. ["Big Data Gets Personal in U.S. Cities," Huffington Post TED Weekends, 8 February 2013] He writes:

Numbers in the City"Much has already been said about how big data is dramatically changing the way that organizations make decisions. Today, more data is being created from more places than ever before. Blogs, Facebook, YouTube videos, retailer loyalty cards, mobile phones, and sensors on buildings are producing tons of data daily. Private sector companies, in their real-time data warehouses, are storing, analyzing, and harnessing it to help them to better understand their customers, dynamically alter pricing based on real-time demand, and even change their business models. And, increasingly government is putting the wealth of data that it generates to work to increase efficiency, save dollars, and create more proactive policy. But, as Deb Roy highlights in his TEDTalk, the true promise is where the numbers and patterns from this data connect and become personal -- enabling us to understand and to respond to humanity and the world in ways previously unimaginable."

Deb Roy's TEDTalk begins with the story of how big data analyzed his son's journey to an "adult" vocabulary and ends with how big data can be used to demonstrate important connections in society. If nothing else, the visualizations Roy uses in his presentation are stunning. Hecht asserts, "Already, in U.S. cities, we are seeing many promising signs of the transformative personal application of Big Data." Adler calls mathematical principles "the highest product of the human intellect." And even though he believes that "many aspects of modern cities can be reduced to mathematical formulas," he doesn't believe that means that all cities are alike. "Cities are particular," he writes. "You would never mistake a favela in Rio de Janeiro for downtown Los Angeles." Having made that point, he nevertheless asserts:

"Cities are also, at a deep level, universal: the products of social, economic and physical principles that transcend space and time. A new science — so new it doesn’t have its own journal, or even an agreed-upon name — is exploring these laws. We will call it 'quantitative urbanism.' It's an effort to reduce to mathematical formulas the chaotic, exuberant, extravagant nature of one of humanity's oldest and most important inventions, the city."

What makes cities chaotic, exuberant, and extravagant, are not the structures, the climate, or the location as much as the people. That's why big data analytics are so important in ensuring that our cities get smarter in the decades ahead. Big data analytics help us get personal. Adler explains:

"The systematic study of cities dates back at least to the Greek historian Herodotus. In the early 20th century, scientific disciplines emerged around specific aspects of urban development: zoning theory, public health and sanitation, transit and traffic engineering. By the 1960s, the urban-planning writers Jane Jacobs and William H. Whyte used New York as their laboratory to study the street life of neighborhoods, the walking patterns of Midtown pedestrians, the way people gathered and sat in open spaces. But their judgments were generally aesthetic and intuitive (although Whyte, photographing the plaza of the Seagram Building, derived the seat-of-the-pants formula for bench space in public spaces: one linear foot per 30 square feet of open area). 'They had fascinating ideas,' says Luís Bettencourt, a researcher at the Santa Fe Institute, a think tank better known for its contributions to theoretical physics, 'but where is the science? What is the empirical basis for deciding what kind of cities we want?' Bettencourt, a physicist, practices a discipline that shares a deep affinity with quantitative urbanism. Both require understanding complex interactions among large numbers of entities: the 20 million people in the New York metropolitan area, or the countless subatomic particles in a nuclear reaction."

Adler reports that "the birth of this new field can be dated to 2003, when researchers at SFI convened a workshop on ways to 'model' — in the scientific sense of reducing to equations — aspects of human society." The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation believe this new field is so important that it provided a half-million grant to the Computation Institute (CI), a joint initiative between the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory, in order to fund "a new Chicago-based research center using advanced computational methods to understand the rapid growth of cities. ... The funds help launch the Urban Center for Computation and Data (UrbanCCD), an initiative ... dedicated to data-driven urban research, planning and design." ["MacArthur Foundation grant supports Urban Center for Computation and Data," Green Car Congress, 20 January 2013] The MacArthur grant complements a $600,000-grant previously provided by the National Science Foundation.

Adler reports that Geoffrey West, a theoretical physicist, along with Bettencourt and José Lobo, an economist at Arizona State University, were the trio that founded the quantitative urbanism movement. They "produced the seminal paper in the field: 'Growth, Innovation, Scaling, and the Pace of Life in Cities.'" The abstract of that paper reads:

"Humanity has just crossed a major landmark in its history with the majority of people now living in cities. Cities have long been known to be society’s predominant engine of innovation and wealth creation, yet they are also its main source of crime, pollution, and disease. The inexorable trend toward urbanization world- wide presents an urgent challenge for developing a predictive, quantitative theory of urban organization and sustainable development."

Lobo told Adler, "What people do in cities — create wealth, or murder each other — shows a relationship to the size of the city, one that isn't tied just to one era or nation." Adler goes on to explain some of the math described in the paper:

"The relationship is captured by an equation in which a given parameter — employment, say — varies exponentially with population. In some cases, the exponent is 1, meaning whatever is being measured increases linearly, at the same rate as population. Household water or electrical use, for example, shows this pattern; as a city grows bigger its residents don't use their appliances more. Some exponents are greater than 1, a relationship described as 'superlinear scaling.' Most measures of economic activity fall into this category; among the highest exponents the scholars found were for 'private [research and development] employment,' 1.34; 'new patents,' 1.27; and gross domestic product, in a range of 1.13 to 1.26. If the population of a city doubles over time, or comparing one big city with two cities each half the size, gross domestic product more than doubles. Each individual becomes, on average, 15 percent more productive. Bettencourt describes the effect as 'slightly magical,' although he and his colleagues are beginning to understand the synergies that make it possible."

Adler reports that not only positive effects scale superlinearly. Some diseases, like AIDS, and serious crime also demonstrate superlinearity. On the other hand, he reports, "some measures show an exponent of less than 1, meaning they increase more slowly than population. These are typically measures of infrastructure, characterized by economies of scale that result from increasing size and density." The important point about these calculations is that "this phenomenon applies to cities all over the world, of different sizes, regardless of their particular history, culture or geography." Adler continues:

"One implication is that ... 'big cities are not just bigger small cities,' says Michael Batty, who runs the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis at University College London. 'If you think of cities in terms of potential interactions [among individuals], as they get bigger you get more opportunities for that, which amounts to a qualitative change.' ... There is a point, Whitney says, at which a system — a market, or a city — undergoes a phase shift and reorganizes itself in a more efficient and productive way."

That is exactly what the smart cities movement is trying to do as more of the world becomes urbanized. Adler goes on to discuss how mathematics can help people move through lines more quickly and how communications networks can be made more efficient using "a branch of mathematics called queuing theory." He discusses how mathematics can help people save money or logisticians run a transit system. In the final installment of this series, I'll continue the discussion of how quantitative urbanism can help make cities more efficient and livable.

May 31, 2013

A Thought Probe Series on Tomorrow's Population, Big Data, and Personalized Predictive Analytics: Part 6, Getting Personal

In the final segment of this series on tomorrow's population, big data, and personalized predictive analytics, I want to get personal. The series has primarily focused on cities because that is where the majority of the world's population lives. We must remember, however, that the world's cities are occupied by millions of individuals. Too often we lump all city dwellers together and treat them as a homogenous group (e.g., we say, "He's a New Yorker"). New York City residents know, however, that the city is a melting pot of cultures and individuals. Understanding these differences is at the very heart of what makes a city smart -- and only big data analytics can provide that understanding.

Big data can be empowering and transformative. Individuals, corporations, and governments all over the globe are generating zettabytes of data every year as they connect to networks using their computers and cell phones. People all over the world can search for and purchase consumer products; make dinner reservations at their favorite restaurants; perform research; conduct banking transactions across country boundaries; interact socially with their friends; perform activities associated with their careers; and deepen the interactions of their lives. And, as recent events have demonstrated, newly connected individuals in the developing world can also transform countries and drive social change using mobile telecommunications and social media. As these developing countries grow and millions of more people come "on-line," the next large marketplace in the global economy is being created for consumer goods and services that cater to the needs and desires of these newly connected consumers (who are estimated to be more than 2 Billion in number). ["Capturing the world’s emerging middle class," David Court and Laxman Narasimhan, McKinsey Quarterly, July 2010]

However, big data presents challenges for today's networks and computing systems. Major challenges include: data comes from everywhere, is mostly unstructured, is in many shapes and forms, and is far too large to move. Historically, data has come from traditional structured sources, such as corporate and governmental computer systems. Today it increasingly comes from unstructured data sources such as the Internet, mobile devices, social media interactions, GPS location information, weather models, RFID, transportation and logistics scans that do not reside neatly within the tables and columns of traditional uniform databases and computer systems. What this means is that big data is too "Big" and too "Unstructured" to be currently leveraged by most organizations.

Even if the data could be centralized, today's computing systems still have difficulty making sense of the data (i.e., understanding and learning) from the interactions between both related and seemingly unrelated data elements. Using current analytic techniques, most decision-making frameworks are challenged to process and understand volumes of data and then instigate actions that foster desired outcomes within timely decision cycles.

That is why it is essential in today's business and government environments to employ technologies that process and analyze big data in a way much like the human mind senses its environment and processes data. For example, an individual assesses the risks of crossing a street when a car is approaching. The mind processes variables like car speed, distance, obstacles, personal motor skills, and so forth, before making the decision to cross or wait. Like human thought processes, cognitive reasoning ingests and transforms data into prioritized information; creates rich referential connections between data elements; enables understanding and learning; and is then presented as actionable intelligence (within relevant timeframes). This kind of cognitive reasoning can be used by businesses and governments to take on some of today's most vexing challenges. Many of these challenges are cross-industry and cross-discipline in nature. They require complex simultaneous analysis on many levels that can model real, or open, world considerations. Some of these interdisciplinary challenges that apply to the global Consumer Products/Food and Retail Industries include, amongst many others, how to:

  • Feed and provide water to a hungry and thirsty planet;
  • Efficiently develop and deliver energy to a highly consumptive population without increasing the carbon footprint;
  • Motivate consumer-centric outcomes with differentiated insights to maximize value for the consumer, Consumer Packaged Goods companies, and retailers alike;
  • Personalize recommendations for global consumers about the products they purchase;
  • Develop and deliver new drugs to cure disease and increase quality of life;
  • Manage the global supply chain efficiently and with fewer risks; and,
  • More accurately predict weather and its impacts on the environment.

As noted in previous posts, each of the world's 50 largest cities is unique. Some have deep historical roots as large cities and others have only recently joined the list as a result of massive building efforts in places like China (see the attached map -- based on a map from Free World Maps). As the global population continues to grow, new "greenfield" cities are likely to emerge. Regardless of whether a city labeled a "brownfield" (i.e., older) or "greenfield" (i.e., newer) city, some challenges they face are universal (e.g., infrastructure, sanitation, education, healthcare, food security, and so forth). Meeting those challenges, however, can differ significantly. That is where big data analytics plays its most important role.

50 Largest Cities v02 w cities

Making smart decisions about urban growth and lifestyles is important. I agree with Parag Khanna, Director of the Hybrid Reality Institute and a leading geo-strategist, that cities will play a leading role in world affairs. ["Cities, Not Countries, Will Once Again be Key to World Order," The National, 26 March 2013] He argues, "Urban corridors are a force multiplier, a source of great strength." Such corridors can exist within a country as well as between countries. These corridors exist because they link the largest number of people and, therefore, provide the most opportunities (and challenges) associated with life's endeavors. At the international level, most of the traffic along these corridors involves the flow of information, goods, and services. Ensuring that these flows are optimized is going to require cooperation and technology. Khanna believes there are seven activities that cities must embrace if they are going to provide a good quality of life for their residents. They are:
  • First, use technology to empower the population. ...
  • Second, the use of scenario planning to forecast diverse possibilities and strategies for a turbulent world. ...
  • Third, complement urban master planning with economic master-planning. This means investing in the vocational training systems that prepare the labour force for rapidly shifting supply chains.
  • Fourth, use data and social media as a tool of governance to more efficiently deliver public services and manage traffic.
  • Fifth, constantly upgrade infrastructure to meet sustainability standards.
  • Sixth, expand the economic footprint through investing in special economic zones in neighbouring countries.
  • Seventh, and finally, think of all residents of increasingly multinational/ethnic cities not as citizens versus non-citizens, but as stakeholders.

For the remainder of this post, I want to concentrate on three of those activities: Using technology to empower people and companies; improving "rapidly shifting supply chains"; and upgrading infrastructure.

Using technology to empower people and companies

Since most of the new consumers that form the global middle class are found in cities, companies want to connect with them. Because business, like politics, is local, global companies need to act like local enterprises, regardless of their size, if they want to succeed in this new business landscape. That's because cities are so diverse. Each neighborhood has its own character, lifestyle, and preferences. From one street to the next, the culture can change dramatically. If companies want to get in front of the money, they need to understand neighborhood differences and tailor their offerings to meet local preferences. Although some of those offerings will be made available in local brick-and-mortar stores, tomorrow's business landscape is going to be dominated by mobile devices. This makes the digital path-to-purchase a critical element of any company's business strategy. The most successful companies will find a way to seamlessly weave together multi-channel sales opportunities.

In order to sell a product or service, however, manufacturers need to ensure that consumers know about it. That's where technology can empower consumers, manufacturers, and retailers. In mega-cities, the ability to target consumers will be the sine qua non of successful business strategies. For a more in-depth discussion of targeted marketing, read my posts entitled Personalization and Targeted Marketing, Part 1 and Part 2. Even areas that are supposedly "off the grid" have been penetrated by mobile phone technology. The so-called "bottom billion" who live in these areas still require products and services. There are profits to be made selling to the bottom billion, if the products and services can be tailored to their circumstances. Big data analytics can help companies and governments better understand the requirements of people living in these "off the grid" areas so that they are not destined to live forever in poverty and squalor.

Improving "rapidly shifting supply chains"

At Enterra Solutions, we believe that companies must obtain full visibility into their supply chains -- from the issuance of a purchase order (PO), continuing through production milestones, transportation (i.e., ocean shipping, rail/truck), to warehouse delivery, and ultimately shipping to a customer. In order to achieve this, they need to implement what we call Global Network Synchronization. For a company, Global Network Synchronization refers to the ability to understand the complex interactions and dependencies within its supply chain. If a supply chain can be synchronized, it can quickly adjust to disruptive events (e.g., production delays, raw material shortages, weather, port delays, labor disputes, and other events). Global Network Synchronization can also reduce systemic risk by looking for supply chain risk exposures and pre-planning to mitigate those exposures. A company's global sourcing strategy requires real-time supply chain visibility and understanding the perturbative effects of any delays, so that action can be taken to mitigate any negative consequences. Understanding the perturbative effects of a supply chain disruption is a complex multi-threaded analysis that must take into account the entire range of critical supply chain issues and risks.

Upgrading infrastructure

Cities are not going to get smarter if their infrastructure remains dumb and outdated. The single most important infrastructure a city needs is a good electrical grid. Without a stable and reliable source of electricity, cities can't attract businesses, create new jobs, or become an "always on" hub of activity. The next most important infrastructure requirement is a good water and sanitation system. Without such a system, the population is likely to remain unhealthy and exposed to disease. With water forecast to be in short supply in the future, having a state-of-the-art water system could mean survival for some cities. For more on this topic, read my posts entitled Water, Water, Every Where -- What Can We do About It? -- Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Transportation infrastructure is essential for economic growth. Goods cannot move on dirt roads during severe storms. Container-laden ships cannot offload at ports whose harbors are not deep enough or whose docks can't handle the containers. Some analysts believe, however, that the greatest infrastructure shortfall in the developing world is found in the so-called "last mile" of distribution. For example, Andrew Youn and Nicholas Fusso write, "Today’s greatest need is not for scientists and engineers to create new tools. The real need is for better distribution of solutions that already work." ["Distribution, the Key to Unlocking the Development Toolbox," Next Billion, 25 April 2013] Although developing countries suffer from significant infrastructure shortfalls, even countries like the United States have infrastructure issues (see my post entitled Infrastructure, the Supply Chain, and Economic Growth. You cannot discuss transportation-related infrastructure issues in isolation. The logistics world has always been intermodal, but the complexity of orchestrating intermodal shipments is increasing. Only technology can deal with this complexity; which leads to the final infrastructure that is becoming essential for economic growth -- an information grid.

Analysts are predicting that we will shortly have an Internet of Things that will primarily involve machine-to-machine communication. Smart buildings, smart grids, smart robots, smart cars, and every other "smart" machine will be communicating on the Internet of Things ensuring that systems are functioning efficiently and effectively. Technology has always made progress easier and improved the quality of life for millions of people. I don't see this trend ending any time soon.

May 24, 2013

A Thought Probe Series on Tomorrow's Population, Big Data, and Personalized Predictive Analytics: Part 5, Beyond Smart Cities

I borrow the tagline for this post from Dr. Tim Campbell, author of a book entitled Beyond Smart Cities. Explaining the premise of his book, Campbell writes, "To really achieve smart cities — that is to create the conditions of continuous learning and innovation — this book argues that there is a need to understand what is below the surface and to examine the mechanisms which affect the way cities learn and then connect together." [Beyond Smart Cities] Campbell argues that the same technologies that will make cities smart will also help make the planet smarter -- something, he claims, the world desperately needs. He explains:

"Over the last few decades, nations states and bumped up against real limits in their ability to solve problems in global goods. The failures on climate change and trade in Copenhagen and Durban and Doha, respectively are only the most visible of many such issues, such as environmental sustainability, peak water, and renewable energy use. All have failed to gain much traction among national governments and international organizations. At best, progress has been slow and disappointing. Yet we cannot and should not surrender our ability to tackle global goods issues until all options are given a hearing. One unexpected source of new ideas is coming from below, from cities."

He claims his book reveals "a flowering of city-to-city exchange[s] in policy and practice that may hold promise for some global issues and many local issues of global significance." He continues:

"Cities can never solve globally significant problems by themselves, much less pay for the costs. But they are beginning to act like self-sponsored laboratories of invention. At the same time, they are establishing a new edge in best practice that can lead to more readily adoptable standards by nation states. Perhaps more important, cities are forging a system of learning and exchange that stretches right around the world, north and south, rich and poor. As national policy makers debate intractable problems of global goods, the solutions for some problems might be popping up where we least expect them."

I believe that Campbell is correct in his assessment that solving many of world's most pressing challenges begins in the city. As researchers at MIT note, "In the future, cities will account for nearly 90% of global population growth, 80% of wealth creation, and 60% of total energy consumption. Developing better strategies for the creation of new cities, is therefore, a global imperative." [City Science website] To peel the onion one more layer, if cities are important in the effort to solve many of the world's challenges, then the people living in and governing those cities are even more important. Andrea Di Maio, a vice president and distinguished analyst in Gartner Research, claims that too much attention is being given to technologies and processes and not enough attention is being given to the people involved in smart city initiatives. ["Technology Is Almost Irrelevant for Smart Cities To Succeed," Gartner, 10 August 2012] Technology," he writes, "is mostly irrelevant unless policy-makers, city managers, heads of department and city CIOs get the fundamentals right." He must have realized shortly after writing that sentence that it was too constrained in the list of people that matter. He continued:

"What really matters is how different sectors (not just government) cooperate and, how they can exchange meaningful information. Of course there is technology involved, but that's not enough to make cities smart. Cooperation requires solid governance and a roadmap that is respectful of (1) the different – and potential diverging – business objectives and timeframes of different stakeholders involved and (2) the inevitable resource constraints that affect most urban areas. Actually many people still associate smart cities to environmental sustainability and carbon footprint reduction, but the truth is that the main challenge going forward is financial sustainability and the ability to deal with an increasingly turbulent and uncertain future."

The MIT researchers quoted above mainly discuss building new infrastructure to handle the swelling number of urban residents expected in the future. As I pointed out in Part 4 of this series, smart city initiatives must deal with existing infrastructure as well as new construction. Di Maio agrees that "greenfield" projects aren't going to be sufficient to make cities smarter. He notes, "The vast majority of cities that need to become smart are developed in a brownfield environment. So there are major constraints as far as the physical infrastructure, the availability of budgets and how flexibly or cooperatively they can be used, the entrenched governance processes and the different ways in which city governments provide different services." He is spot on with that assessment.

Because smart city initiatives must be applicable to the real world in which we live, their implementation is going to require cooperation and partnerships amongst an array of stakeholders. It's going to be messy, but necessary. Di Maio explains some of the challenges:

"In some cities most public services are entirely operated by the city government: there are government-owned energy companies, transportation companies, water management companies, telcos, or they are even part of the city government itself. In other cases, city government is just a payer or a supervisor of services provided by external service providers. In either case, the roadmap to make – say – transportation smarter in conjunction with public safety is very different. If the city government owns both, it can ideally establish a common program or a common enterprise architecture or a common interoperability framework that both domains (transportation and public safety) will apply when cooperating on their smart objectives. If the city owns only one of the services and outsources the other, the cooperation must be built through a more careful negotiation process, where vendor management and governance play a much greater role. So, while technologies that can be applied to capture, process, exchange information, to control sensors and actuators, to analyze and visualize performances are pretty much the same around the world, the roles that city governments play in each and every one of the domains that must cooperate to make the city smart vary a lot. Early focus on how these roles can contribute to help or hinder smart city objectives is far more important than looking at technologies and vendors."

Concerning the changing urban landscape, analysts at Pike Research state, "The social, economic, environmental, and engineering challenges of this transformation will shape the 21st century." ["Smart Cities"] They continue:

"While there are many innovative pilot projects and small-scale developments that are looking at the smart city from a holistic perspective, there are no examples yet of a smart city that supports hundreds of thousands, never mind millions, of people. The smart city offers a coherent vision for bringing together innovative solutions that address the issues facing the modern city, but there are many challenges still to be faced. If the smart city is to truly become a blueprint for urban development, then a number of technical, financial, and political hurdles will need to be met."

For those interested in this topic, Pike Research offers a downloadable report about smart cities. The Smart Cities project, whose goal "is to create an innovation network between governments and academic partners leading to excellence in the domain of the development and take-up of e-services," also offers a number of downloadable publications on its website. All smart city initiatives rely on the collection and analysis of big data. Rather than seeing this as a "big brother" effort, MIT's Professor Alex "Sandy" Pentland believes that a win-win situation can be established that benefits individuals as well as their communities. As you will see from the following video, he also explains why targeted marketing has such a promising future and why that future is intimately connected to smart city initiatives.

I share the sense of optimism displayed by Professor Pentland. Big data analytics have the potential to change individual lives as well as cities and the planet. And if Professor Pentland is correct, and I believe he is, most of us will be voluntarily and cooperatively involved in making our cities and the world better places in which to live.

If this series of discussions about smart cities has convinced you of one thing, it should have be that the collection and analysis of big data is critical. It should also be apparent that no one company is capable of addressing all of the challenges or providing all of the insights that will be necessary to achieve smart neighborhoods, smart cities, smart regions, smart nations, and/or a smart planet. That is why I'm suggesting that an open-architecture framework be created that can integrate information from diverse databases, apply big data analytics and artificial intelligence reasoning, and develop reference ontologies for the myriad of activities that combine to help explain the complex structure of neighborhoods, cities, regions, states, and, eventually, the planet.

I'm not suggesting that such a framework will be easy to create in the short-term. I suspect that it will take decades to develop properly so that actionable insights can be drawn from the repository of knowledge that will be created. As the knowledge repository is populated, I believe this framework can be built in such a way that it provides incremental benefits to neighborhoods, cities, regions, and nations. Because the knowledge repository will be linked to ontologies and artificial intelligence technologies, the system itself will provide new insights, discover new relationships, and research and test promising hypotheses that could significantly improve how people live and interact.

There is much we don't know about cities and the data needed to help us know more is not readily available in some cases. For example, author Robert Neuwith recently discussed on NPR's TED Radio Hour why squatters and slums are going to be critical to the planet's future in the decades ahead. Neuwith believes these slums represent the "cities of the future" because by 2050 one out of every three people living on the planet will be living in them. Neuwith notes, that while it may appear to outsiders that slums are lawless areas filled with poverty and crime, there actually are rules and organizations to be found within these "cities." Understanding the relationships in these areas (as well as their relationship to more formal urban networks) won't be easy because, by their very nature, most of them are "off the grid." Only the kind of framework I suggest above can help provide the kind of bottom-up insights that will help make the lives of those billions of people better. Improve their lives and you improve the world.

May 17, 2013

A Thought Probe Series on Tomorrow's Population, Big Data, and Personalized Predictive Analytics: Part 4, What Lies Ahead?

To get a glimpse of what lies ahead for smart cities, one need only to look to Singapore. As Mark Fischetti reported last year, "LIVE Singapore uses real-time data recorded by myriad communications devices, microcontrollers and sensors to analyze the pulse of the city, telling residents how they can reach their homes fastest, reduce their neighborhood’s energy consumption and find a taxi when a rainstorm hits." ["The Smartest Cities Will Use People as Their Sensors," Scientific American, 17 April 2011] The following short video, created by MIT's SENSEable City lab, gives you a glimpse of the future.

Looking to the future, Jemima Kiss, writes, "From transport to entertainment, work to education, our lives are already being transformed by high-speed internet that will help create the fully wired city. Within 10 years, faster, comprehensive, wired and wireless networks will not only become the norm, they will become free, says Gerd Leonhard, chief executive of the business thinktank The Futures Agency. The reason? The enormous benefits to government and education." ["City design: A digital revolution," The Guardian, 2012] While I agree that networks will continue to grow in importance, especially in urban environments, I'm not as sanguine as Kiss that ubiquitous connectivity will be free a decade from now. As connectivity increases, concerns over privacy issues will also rise, but Leonhard told Kiss, "While the debate about appropriate use of our personal data will continue, consensual services could be to our benefit." Among the benefits referred to by Leonhard is targeted marketing. "You'll walk past a department store and the window will show a personalised display with your size and preferences," says Leonhard.

Most smart city initiatives are not primarily focused on shopping experiences. Carlo Ratti and Anthony Townsend report that a number of countries are trying to create utopian urban environments. The furthest along is "Masdar in the United Arab Emirates, a walled community intended for 50,000 residents in the desert outside of Abu Dhabi, in which every building, streetlight and personal electric 'pod' vehicle has been preplanned and preloaded with high-tech gear, largely to maximize energy efficiency." ["Harnessing Residents' Electronic Devices Will Yield Truly Smart Cities," Scientific American, 17 April 2011] To learn a bit more about Masdar, read my posts entitled Abu Dhabi's Masdar Plan and Update on Masdar City. Ratti and Townsend continue:

"At Masdar, as well as New Songdo City in South Korea and PlanIT Valley in Portugal, real estate developers, global information-technology companies and governments are attempting to build urban centers from scratch that are filled with technologically enhanced infrastructure and services. The designers say their grand conceptions will determine how future cities will be built. But as models, these top-down projects pale in comparison to the emergent form of intelligence that is bubbling up from millions of newly cyber-connected residents. Truly smart—and real—cities are not like an army regiment marching in lockstep to the commander's orders; they are more like a shifting flock of birds or school of fish, in which individuals respond to subtle social and behavioral cues from their neighbors about which way to move forward."

Ratti and Townsend claim that this bottom-up view of smart city evolution represents "an immensely powerful, democratic and organic alternative vision of the smart city." They explain:

"Rather than focusing on the installation and control of network hardware, city governments, technology companies and their urban-planning advisers can exploit a more ground-up approach to creating even smarter cities in which people become the agents of change. With proper technical-support structures, the populace can tackle problems such as energy use, traffic congestion, health care and education more effectively than centralized dictates. And residents of wired cities can use their distributed intelligence to fashion new community activities, as well as a new kind of citizen activism."

Ratti and Townsend call this effort "going beyond urban efficiency." They note that "over the past decade digital technologies have begun to blanket our cities, forming the backbone of a large, intelligent infrastructure." They believe that this backbone holds the key to the future for all cities, not just planned developments like Masdar. They explain:

"Broadband fiber-optic and wireless telecommunications grids are supporting mobile phones, smartphones and tablets that are increasingly affordable. At the same time, open databases—especially from the government—that people can read and add to are revealing all kinds of information, and public kiosks and displays are helping literate and illiterate people access it. Add to this foundation a relentlessly growing network of sensors and digital-control technologies, all tied together by cheap, powerful computers, and our cities are quickly becoming like 'computers in open air.'"

Rather than embedding sensors in infrastructure, for many daily activities, Ratti and Townsend believe that mobile devices and cooperative owners will drive smart applications. They write:

"An ideal beginning is to leverage the growing array of smart personal devices we all wield and recruit people as the sensors of a city rather than relying only on formal systems embedded into infrastructure. The traffic function on Google Maps is a good example. Instead of building a costly network of dedicated vehicle sensors along roadways, Google constantly polls a large network of anonymous volunteers whose mobile devices report their up-to-the-minute status, which reveals where traffic is flowing, slowed or stopped. The information is delivered to drivers via mobile mapping applications in various ways—as colored overlays indicating traffic speeds, as estimated driving times that account for delays or as a factor in determining alternative routes. ... Bottom-up approaches to sensing can also provide rapid, cheap deployment of new kinds of sensors that measure and record data about people's activities, movements, surroundings and health."

Michael Durham claims that "Smart cities have always existed in people's heads." ["City design innovation," The Guardian, 2012] He asserts, that from the time that Plato wrote his Republic, "people have dreamed of the perfect community, where citizens live in harmony, life is good, technology is harnessed and everything works. Today, big ideas about improving city life continue to pour forth from futurologists, academics and thinktanks." Terry Kirby provides his own view of a future smart city. He writes:

"Imagine life for the citizen of the smart city: you awake in your sustainably built home, and take your morning shower in recycled industrial waste water, cost-efficiently heated overnight. Eating breakfast, you scan the flat screen, fed by maximum bandwidth internet, where the special, easy click local neighbourhood menu allows you to compare your daily energy use with other houses in the area, confirm your webcam appointment with your doctor, top up the balance of your all-purpose travelcard, order your groceries and leave messages for your child's teacher. You can even watch television on it. Outside, your electric car is waiting. On the edge of the central congestion zone, you park in a charging area and, paying with your travelcard, get into a three-wheeled utility vehicle which, via a network of special lanes and sensor-controlled pedestrianised areas, delivers you to another parking dock at your workplace." ["City design: Transforming tomorrow," The Guardian, 2012]

To me that sounds a bit like something out of The Jetsons cartoon show; but Kirby claims that "this is not some Dan Dare meets Minority Report fantasy of life in the future, where we all walk around in metallic jumpsuits. Smart thinking is here already." The problem, of course, is that cities aren't going to start over. London, for example, has had the same basic street layout (and some of the same buildings) for hundreds of years. We need to make sure that smart city initiatives help real people, living in existing dwellings, and carrying on with normal daily activities. Fortunately, Kirby is correct that smart thinking is already here and thinking about those challenges as well. He admits that smart city initiatives are "not simply about integrated transport or sustainable housing." He writes:

"The accumulation of electronic data online, digitally accessible and searchable, creates other opportunities for the consumer to know more about their neighbourhoods and the wider world we live in, and to use that information on a daily basis. It also allows local government, architects, transport bodies and utility companies to work together in partnerships to make the most of these technologies."

Simply accumulating and accessing data doesn't provide the answers or insights needed to make smart city initiatives successful. Big data analytics and other cognitive reasoning technologies are required to make sense of mountains of data being generated every minute of every day. Michael Durham claims, "In 40 years' time cities will not just be smart, they will be so brainy it hurts." ["Forty years from now ...," The Guardian, 2012] Most of that brainpower will be supplied by artificial intelligence. Among the smart people contemplating how to create smart cities are scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. MIT's City Science website notes:

"The world is experiencing a period of extreme urbanization. In China alone, 300 million rural inhabitants will move to urban areas over the next 15 years. This will require building an infrastructure equivalent to the one housing the entire population of the United States in a matter of a few decades. In the future, cities will account for nearly 90% of global population growth, 80% of wealth creation, and 60% of total energy consumption. Developing better strategies for the creation of new cities, is therefore, a global imperative. Our need to improve our understanding of cities, however, is pressed not only by the social relevance of urban environments, but also by the availability of new strategies for city-scale interventions that are enabled by emerging technologies. Leveraging advances in data analysis, sensor technologies, and urban experiments, City Science will provide new insights into creating a data-driven approach to urban design and planning. To build the cities that the world needs, we need a scientific understanding of cities that considers our built environments and the people who inhabit them. Our future cities will desperately need such understanding."

The following video discusses some of the interesting and exciting things that are being developed at MIT.

Achieving the objectives of smart city initiatives won't be easy (and probably won't be cheap). That is why public/private partnerships will be required. Smart city initiatives begin with people because their goal is to make cities more livable for people. If smart people fail to get the fundamentals right, technologies and processes that support smart city initiatives won't be able to overcome that shortfall.

May 10, 2013

A Thought Probe Series on Tomorrow's Population, Big Data, and Personalized Predictive Analytics: Part 3, Where Things Stand

"What makes a city?" That is a question asked on IBM's Smarter City website. The company believes that a city is "an interconnected system of systems" that rests on three pillars: infrastructure, operations, and people. The site goes on to state that a city is "a dynamic work in progress, with progress as its watchword. A tripod that relies on strong support for and among each of its pillars, to become a smarter city for all." That definition may be a bit too cheery for some because they know that for years many inner cities have not progressed but languished or deteriorated. That entropic trend must change, because the world is becoming more urbanized every day. If tomorrow's cities are not going to become vast areas of poverty and decay, we have to be smarter about how they are planned, managed, and maintained. In a special issue about smart cities, the editors of Scientific American wrote:

"Many otherwise lucid thinkers, from Tho­mas Jefferson to Frank Lloyd Wright to President Gerald Ford, tended to think of cities as centers of poverty, crime, pollution, con­gestion and poor health. In recent years, though, the thinking has shifted along with the demographics. Many experts have come to realize that people are better off when they live in a city. This is not to dismiss the problems of urban life; cities, particularly fast-growing ones in the poorer parts of Asia and Africa, can be places of great human suffering. But even a city slum has benefits that you won't find on the farm or in the village. The move from the country leads, for instance, to dramatic changes for many women. As Kavita N. Ramdas of the Global Fund for Women notes in Stewart Brand's Whole Earth Discipline (Penguin, 2010), 'In the village, all there is for a woman is to obey her husband and relatives, pound millet, and sing. If she moves to town, she can get a job, start a business, and get education for her children.' Indeed, the city has come to look less like a source of problems than as an opportunity to fix them. Investments in sanitation and water have turned many cities in the developed world from places of disease and pestilence into bastions of health. City folk are at lower risk of death from motor vehicle accidents and suicide by firearms (although they are overstressed). From the stand­point of the metropolis, climate change also seems less intractable. Because city residents rely less on cars and live in more compact dwellings than suburbanites, they tend to leave smaller carbon footprints. The challenge is to extend the efficiency of the urban center to the wider conurbation, embracing the city center, suburbs and satellite towns. Although climate is bigger than any one fix, how we build our cities, and how efficiently we live in them, is going to factor large in our response." ["Street-Savvy," 17 April 2011]

In Part 1 of this series, I discussed suggestions from experts on how to begin smart city initiatives. One of those experts, Dr. Boyd Cohen, created a model he calls the Smarter Cities Wheel. IBM has also developed a model that is reminiscent of Dr. Cohen's Wheel. The IBM model shows how it believes the three pillars of a city discussed above are interconnected.

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Like most organizations involved in smart city initiatives, IBM believes that data collection and analysis is the undergirding that makes such initiatives useful. IBM's site states:

"As demands grow and budgets tighten, solutions also have to be smarter, and address the city as a whole. By collecting and analyzing the extensive data generated every second of every day, tools such as the IBM Intelligent Operations Center coordinate and share data in a single view creating the big picture for the decision makers and responders who support the smarter city."

In Part 2 of this series, I noted that participants in a study published by the Institute for the Future expressed some concern that companies like IBM are trying to establish data monopolies that could be used to hold cities hostage in the decades ahead. IBM obviously sees itself as providing a much-needed service that cities can't provide for themselves. The company offers a nifty interactive Smarter Cities experience that can be explored at your leisure. Of course, IBM isn't the only global company that sees business opportunities in helping cities operate more efficiently. Oracle has its own interactive website that highlights its solutions for smart cities. The launch page for that interactive site also shows how Oracle sees connectivity within an urban setting (with business and citizens being the focal point).

Oracle smart cities

Although the site explains that "Oracle offers a complete, integrated set of solutions to meet the complex needs of local government," some people, like Greg Lindsay, believe that companies like Oracle, IBM, and Cisco are "offering 'smart city in a box' solutions" that don't take into account the nuanced complexities that make each city unique. ["The Battle for Control of Smart Cities," Fast Company, 16 December 2012] See Part 2 of this series to learn more about Lindsay's concerns. Cisco's offering is called Smart+Connected Communities. Cisco's Shane Mitchell explains, that "the main barrier to adopting [smart city] solutions is the complexity of how cities are operated, financed, regulated, and planned." ["Smart City Frameworks: A Systematic Process for Enabling Smart+Connected Communities," Cisco Blog, 10 October 2012] Rather than offering a set of solutions, Cisco begins with "a 'Smart City Framework' designed to move the Smart City debate from merely an academic or esoteric discussion to a call for action." The framework is shown below.

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Mitchell explains, "The Smart City Framework ... describes a potential process that will help key stakeholders and city/community participants 1) understand how cities operate, 2) define city objectives and stakeholder roles, and 3) understand the role of ICT within physical city assets." I agree with Mitchell that all stakeholders must be involved in smart city initiatives. As I wrote in Part 2 of this series, the only way to move forward is to embrace public/private partnerships that benefit both sectors." Terry Kirby agrees with that position. He writes, "When it comes to achieving the high-tech, sustainable, and smart cities of the future, there is one word that sums up the pathway to success: partnership." ["Getting smart cities connected," The Guardian, 2012] He continues:

"Imaginative and collaborative partnerships between local authorities, utilities, universities and the private sector – whether it is bus companies or software providers – are the defining characteristics of 'smart thinking', according to leading figures in cities around UK and Europe. All agree that so-called 'smartness' – which at its most basic level is about using new technology to improve lives – is necessary to adapt to the demands of urban growth. ... These kind of partnerships can range from multi-agency infrastructure ventures aimed at transforming the lives of millions, to simple projects improving digital access for everyday users of public services. They include new ways of using mobile phones and smartcards to pay for a wide range of goods and services, to schemes designed to recycle waste water for heating."

The editors at Scientific American conclude:

"The most hopeful impact of city life may be its effect on the mind. Humans are social animals; we draw stimulation from other minds close at hand. Plato and Socrates both lived in fifth-century b.c. Athens, a city-state. Galileo and Michelangelo lived in Renaissance Florence. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak grew up in a western U.S. conurbation that includes Silicon Valley. The young, agile minds at work on the next Big Thing are probably tweeting—they live, as author William Gibson points out, ... in a kind of digital meta city. Chances are, they are living in a physical city, too. Technology is reshaping city life and making it more intellectually productive, but it will not soon replace the easy interchange of ideas that comes from casual proximity, the cornerstone of city life."

While some pundits believe that smart city initiatives may drain city centers of their vitality, I agree with the editors at Scientific American that making cities more livable will actually increase the vitality of cities and make urbanization a boon rather than a bane to mankind. Gerd Leonhard, chief executive of the business thinktank The Futures Agency, agrees. He told Jemima Kiss, that "the more digitised our lives become, the more we will value real experiences. 'The landscape of the cities of the future will be a huge place to do the things that don't work in digital form – food, culture, contemplation. Digital tools drive us to want to have the actual experience much more than before.'" ["City design: A digital revolution," The Guardian, 2012] The thing I appreciate most about the smart cities movement is its optimism. There are enough Cassandras in the world warning us of impending doom. Optimists bring about progress and, as the IBM website states, progress is the watchword.