One of the interesting sites that I have come across recently is Urban Age. It has a related site called Writing Cities which has released a book that is available to download as a PDF. The chapter I’ve read is called “Sensor Narratives” (chapter eight) and it highlights what could happen when a city is instrumented with sensors and the data is made available. How will this change how people understand or interact with their city? Some issues it raises are:
- the extent to which datasets (and resultant visualisations or mashups) could be manipulated for political ends or to affect public opinion
- how the datasets could be tampered with
- the “unreliability” of sensor networks
- will the data match what really happens in the city?
- how what is actually being measured by the sensors, and their location, could determine the “story” they tell
- why education is needed to allow people to interpret what they see and make their own decisions as to its validity
It is refreshing to look at this subject from a cultural point of view rather than simply a technological one.
Earlier in the year The Economist did an impressive special report on Data Deluge. This latest report – entitled ” It’s a smart world” – is about smart systems and sensors, and is just as good. The magazine definitely has a handle on this aspect of technology, and it’s great to see.
The report covers a number of areas – the main players in the field, the benefits and the challenges involved. Cities are a focus – the initial impact is likely to be felt by urban intrastructure and traffic systems. Particularly well covered is how instrumenting the world will change the nature of business. An example: as sensors allow precise measurement of usage, then there will be less need to buy things – you can rent them instead and be charged only for what you have used. Three main business effects are highlighted:
- improved pricing and allocation of resources
- a shift from physical goods to services (as in the example above)
- data becomes a factor of production, in addition to land, labour and capital
The last two sections deal with the barriers that could slow down the implementation of smart systems, whether they be institutional, bureaucratic, technological, legal, a lack of openness, a lack of understanding or a fear of intrusion of privacy.
In the past I thought that the one company that was all over this was IBM, but one benefit of reading this has been to highlight some of the other companies and groups also involved. There are a number of other sources mentioned that are worth following up – don’t be too surprised if I return to some of them in the future.
• The Economist: It’s a smart world
… cities aren’t just increasing the pace of life; they are also increasing the pace at which life changes. “It’s like being on a treadmill that keeps on getting faster,”… “We used to get a big revolution every few thousand years. And then it took us a century to go from the steam engine to the internal-combustion engine. Now we’re down to about 15 years between big innovations. What this means is that, for the first time ever, people are living through multiple revolutions. And this all comes from cities. Once we started to urbanize, we put ourselves on this treadmill. We traded away stability for growth. And growth requires change.”
One thing I have learned, having lived in London on and off, is that I like having access to the great things it has to offer – I just don’t like living there on a full time basis.
Maybe I should think again…
A new article in the New York Times highlights some of the reasons why cities can be so successful. It is the best article I have read in a long time – the advantages, disadvantages and the implications for innovation, technology and the pace of change.
• The New York Times: A Physicist Solves the City
I attended my first LondonR meetup earlier this week. I don’t normally go to things like this, but I was pleasantly surprised by the number of people. The atmosphere was warm and the talks inspired me to get back to my maths studies.
It also reaffirmed that the things that you learn are genuinely useful in the real world.
Most impressive was the talk about the use of R at GlaxoSmithKline… It can really make a difference…
As we approach the end of 2010, once again it is prediction time. IBM’s ideas for what life will look like in five years – based on what they are working on today, of course…
Now this was a great surprise. I had left the TV on last night and after the news came a documentary on Bruce Springsteen and the making of Darkness on the Edge of Town. It turns out that this was a shorter version (by about 30 minutes) of the film that is part of the new – very expensive – box set “The Promise”. I was very lucky to catch this out of the blue as it is not going to be repeated (although it will be on the iPlayer for three weeks if you’re in the UK.) I’d love to know what is in the half hour of footage that was edited out, but that can wait until I have a spare £70 burning a hole in my pocket (hmm..) An in-depth rundown of the programme can be found here, but check this out for an idea of the type of footage…
A highly enjoyable – enthusiastic, visually vibrant, accessible – look at statistics.