THE AGENDA

GQ (Australia) - - GENTLEMEN'S QUARTERLY - BY DR SCOTT HAWKEN

Of all the smart tech – and by smart we mean con­nec­tiv­ity and the ac­cess to a vast world of in­for­ma­tion – cities re­main the ul­ti­mate tech­nol­ogy for in­ter­ac­tion. They’re ma­chines for the ex­change of goods, in­for­ma­tion and cul­ture, and they place us in close con­tact with strangers, col­leagues, po­ten­tial mates and friends through com­pli­cated net­works of streets, squares, lifts, build­ings, trains and in­fra­struc­ture. And when cities are com­bined with wire­less in­ter­net and the in­ter­net of things (IOT), they be­come the most com­plex and in­for­ma­tion rich global in­fra­struc­ture ever built. Big data, cre­ated by IOT, is trans­form­ing the way cities op­er­ate, and po­ten­tially, if we play our cards right, the way they per­form. This is crit­i­cal be­cause peo­ple are com­ing to cities in greater num­bers than ever be­fore. We are an ur­ban species. And most of this growth is hap­pen­ing in the de­vel­op­ing world, which is why In­dia is busily build­ing 100 smart cities and China has plans for 200. And it’s why Aus­tralia, lag­ging in re­gards to its smart cities, needs to se­ri­ously push things in this space. Out­num­bered in a world of our own wire­less creations (for ev­ery one of us, there’s at least two ad­di­tional ‘things’ con­nected to the in­ter­net) it’s time we gave a lit­tle thought to how this IOT is chang­ing our cities and started de­sign­ing the fu­ture. The con­ver­gence of three mega­trends (big data, in­ter­net of things and ur­ban pop­u­la­tion growth) present enor­mous chal­lenges – slums, dig­i­tal dis­rup­tion, elec­tronic es­pi­onage, traf­fic jams, black­outs, wa­ter short­ages and so on. But they also of­fer amaz­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties. IOT and its bil­lions of sen­sors, in­clud­ing a smart phone in ev­ery pocket, cre­ate an am­bi­ent in­tel­li­gence that senses, feels and thinks to cre­ate a vir­tual city within, and through­out the real city. Smart cities are about us­ing in­for­ma­tion tech­nolo­gies and IOT to make th­ese ur­ban en­vi­ron­ments more liv­able, safer, health­ier, more con­nected and far eas­ier to nav­i­gate. They do this by pre­sent­ing cit­i­zens with the power of choice and mak­ing the city it­self more re­spon­sive. It’s about in­tel­li­gent ‘hacks’ that help us de­sign, man­age and in­ter­act with our tra­di­tional cities in smarter ways – smart build­ings will mon­i­tor them­selves, con­trol en­ergy and wa­ter use and maybe even turn the ket­tle on when it knows the owner is com­ing home. To­mor­row’s smartest cities will have dig­i­tal concierges to au­to­mat­i­cally book meet­ings, car spa­ces, driver­less cars and ap­point­ments di­rectly from a phone’s cal­en­dar. They’ll have vir­tual aug­mented re­al­ity apps that al­low you to be in mul­ti­ple of­fices at once – to walk through walls’ to speak to a col­league in the next build­ing. They’ll have build­ings that trans­form with in­ter­ac­tive dig­i­tal screens, lu­mi­nous de­signs and per­son­alised cli­mates re­spond­ing to the emo­tions and sen­si­tiv­ity of in­hab­i­tants. In fact, th­ese tech­nolo­gies are al­ready here. We just need to be brave enough to em­brace them. All of this doesn’t mean your neigh­bour­hood will sud­denly look like some­thing out of Bladerun­ner – the smartest cities re­main sur­pris­ingly tra­di­tional, think Am­s­ter­dam, down­town San Fran­cisco and Barcelona. And for a smart city to suc­ceed, a firm fo­cus must cen­tre on liv­abil­ity. Be­cause the killer app, as An­thony Townsend points out in his book Smart Cities, is the one that makes us more so­cia­ble. The tech­nolo­gies that are gen­er­at­ing our smart cities are not new in­ven­tions, in so much as they are new ap­pli­ca­tions. To­day, in­for­ma­tion sur­rounds us in vir­tual datas­capes that in­flu­ence ev­ery­thing that we do from the mo­ment we wake up – trac­ing, mon­i­tor­ing and in­form­ing our move­ments, in­ter­ac­tions and even sleep pat­terns. And you can be fear­ful of that – some pre­dic­tions aren’t that rosy; smart cities seen by many as an ex­ten­sion of the cen­sor­ship and sur­veil­lance state, be­cause with data, Big Brother’s big­ger than even Or­well imag­ined. And the dig­i­tal land­scape is also a play­ground for hitech crim­i­nals whose great­est trick is iden­tity theft – and se­cu­rity must first be dra­mat­i­cally tight­ened for smart cities to truly flour­ish. But smart cities done the right way will al­low us to re­late to each other in more cre­ative ways. And there are three key ar­eas nec­es­sary for this kind of in­no­va­tion to hap­pen. The first is ‘open data.’ Data is the oil of our age and the big­gest com­pa­nies are those that own it. To make our cities work as we want, we need to keep con­trol of the in­for­ma­tion we cur­rently give away free to Google, Ap­ple and co without re­course. The sec­ond is the im­por­tance of cod­ing for good ur­ban de­sign. Au­to­mated ve­hi­cles are great, but they make con­ges­tion worse un­less we write code that puts the city first. And the fi­nal key is dig­i­tal lit­er­acy. To have any con­ver­sa­tion about smart cities we need to know what we’re talk­ing about. So let’s start by ed­u­cat­ing our lead­ers on the im­por­tance of in­vest­ment in fast in­ter­net. I don’t know about you, but I’m still wait­ing on the NBN. Are you lis­ten­ing Mal­com? Of course you are, be­cause since May, you’ve been ea­gerly col­lect­ing my meta­data.

THE UR­BAN DE­SIGNER RUNS TH E SMART CITIES RE­SEARCH CLUS­TER AT UNSW, A GROUP CAM­PAIGN­ING TO USE TECH TO IM­PROVE UR­BAN AR­EAS. HE TELLS GQ HOW TOWNS OF THE FU­TURE MAY LOOK.

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