Future Cities Digest #4 (13.12.2013)

by Lukasz Alwast

#smartcities #hype #debate #Economist

Throughout the week an enthusiastic debate on cities was taking place on the Economists online platform – the big question was  Are smart cities empty hype? Defending the notion was Anthony Townsend (Research Director, ITFT) while against was Irving Wladawsky-Berger (VP Emeritus, IBM; Strategic Advisor Citigroup). Townsend began with an argument that “the quest to centralise the distributed and messy intelligence of existing cities within a single network or piece of software is at best, quixotic”. Wladawsky-Berger held a position that “platforms are software frameworks designed to make it easier to develop, run and integrate applications of all kinds and will play a major role in the evolution of cities”. A guest contribution to the discussion came from Adam Greenfield (Managing Director, Urbanscale), who strongly defended that “systems currently being sold to municipalities, and the public, under the rubric of “smart cities” are by large repurposings of existing, off-the-shelf technology, force fit into contexts in which they may or may not make any sense, dressed with the most superficial mantle of metropolitan glamour”. Joe Dignan (Chief Analyst, Ovum) argued that “different industries approach the subject from their comfort zones. IT companies define a smart city through a technology lens; developers concentrate on physical infrastructure; utilities insist it is about sustainable energy; and the green lobby champions the environment – and smart cities are all of the above”. As of Thursday evening, the results of online voting where 47% agreeing with the motion & 53% against.

#datascience #institute #cities #Imperial 

Last Friday at event at TechCity, Imperial College announced its new hub for expertise in data-driven research – The Data Science Institute. The new institute is planned to underpin major developments across the College’s research in areas including healthcare, financial services and city infrastructure. One of the highlighted examples of potential work was the use of data fusion and analysis via the Digital City Exchange programme in exploring ways for digitally linking utilities and services within cities to enable new technical and business opportunities. Scientists are also said to use observational data to model and improve urban design to make cities more sustainable by reducing air pollution. The Institute at Imperial will open at its South Kensington campus in 2014. This is another news in the last weeks showcasing attention to growth in UK’s Data Science capabilities – at the end of November, University of Edinburgh announced its new Doctoral Training Centre in Data Science.

#mobile #communications #networks #5G

A recent article in the MIT Technology Review introduced some valid points on the possible transformation that might shape the future of communications network (5G). The piece relies on a conversation with Federico Boccardi, a wireless communications expert at Alcatel-Lucent Bell Labs. Boccardi sees the fifth generation of mobile communications as end of the “cell” as the fundamental building block of communication networks. In his opinion, the network will change according to a device’s data demands at that instant. Devices will have the ability to decide when and how to send the data most efficiently – “Our vision is that the cell-centric architecture should evolve into a device-centric one: a given device (human or machine) should be able to communicate by exchanging multiple information flows through several possible sets of heterogeneous nodes” says Boccardi. Another disruption these guys identify is the ability for devices to communicate with each other without using the network at all.  Boccardi and co say this will be essential for the ways in which future networks will be used. For example, a sensor network may have ten thousand devices transmitting temperature data and that means it will be easier if they can send it from one device to the next rather than through a single base station. Quite a valuable piece for those interested in telecoms.

#speech-recognition #AI #telemarketing #TIME

The TIME has posted two days ago an article revealing some rather ambiguous innovations happening in the ‘robo-call’ industry. The TIME journalist recorded a conversation he had on the phone with a telemarketing consultant, Samantha West, trying to offer him health insurance. The voice of the woman felt warm and charming, but once the journalist became slightly more suspicious and asked the question “Are you a robot?” he received answers suggesting this was not true (“… I am a real person, can you hear me OK?” and “I am a real person, maybe we have a bad connection, I am sorry about that”). You can listen to these recordings here. This incident rises a few important issues. It shows (unless it’s not a human being with a pre-recording set) how sophisticated the combination of voice-recognition technology & AI is becoming, and how easily such tools could be used against people from disadvantaged backgrounds, making them potential victims of scamming activities (eg the elderly, hard of hearing, with some intellectual disability). At the same time, an advanced level of speech recognition technology allows also other groups (eg blind people) to cope with day to day accessibility issues – a few valuable points about what can technology do for the blind is available in this Techonomy article from June 2013.

New releases on Amazon [City & Town Planning]:

 This week’s artefacts from the future:


A Machine That Prints Out Your Daily Nutrition (IFTF)
“That if self-care practices did not entail engagement, willpower, and attention? Through a quick body screen and a syncing up of your devices, e-z-health can create the appropriate nutritional needs and environmental conditions to optimize your health. While you wait 90 seconds for the customized nutritional tablet to print, your schedule is adjusted to ensure your day’s plan is right for your health. A daily dose of e-z-health, takes the guesswork out of self-care.”