May 10, 2018

The Right Way to Make Our Cities Smarter

We have a problem with modern cities. Increasingly, a growing proportion of economic innovation and value is born in cities, and people are migrating to them, all over the world, as almost half the earth’s population lives in cities. At the same time, cities are increasingly clogged with vehicle traffic, causing wasted time, accidents, fatalities, injuries and stress.

How can we make vital transportation improve our wellbeing, rather than detract from it? A common answer? Smart cities. Harness technology. Former

World Bank Chief Economist Paul Romer, a leading candidate for the Economics Nobel Prize, advocates “charter cities” — “thinking bigger than anybody in government right now”, Romer claims.

Writing in the New York Times (Feb. 24)[1] Emily Badger quotes Dan Doctoroff, whose company Sidewalk Labs is “techno-urbanist”. Doctoroff complains, “the smart city movement as a whole has been disappointing in part because it is hard to get stuff done in a traditional urban environment.”

Translation: You can’t demolish cities and start from scratch. And making cities smart, with existing infrastructure, is tough. Cities lack money. Central governments tend to starve cities rather than feed them.

There is a simple answer. Use what you have. Make better use of what already exists. Leverage it with clever, relatively inexpensive software.

For example: Increasing numbers of drivers use navigation services to get around. Process those aggregated anonymized data points using AI, and synthesize the data inputs with widely-used video cameras to better manage traffic flows and traffic safety.

There is a basic principle here, drawn from high-tech. Hardware is relatively expensive and software is relatively cheap. As IBM learned when it assumed true value lies in computer hardware and gave away the ‘trivial’ operating system software to Microsoft, software is the brains, the hardware is simply the muscle.

When you reframe the ‘smart city’ dilemma — how can we use existing infrastructure to better manage traffic flows? — you can get quicker, more productive, more cost-effective answers. This is, we believe, the lesson from the rather disappointing decade of global experience with smart city technology — and the key to faster future progress.

[1] Emily Badger. “Tech envisions the ultimate startup — An entire city!”. New York Times, Feb. 24, 2018.

Posted By: Noam Maital CEO at Waycare

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