Tag Archives: city

Your City as an Information Warehouse

Big data keeps getting bigger and computers keep getting faster. Some theorists believe that the universe is a giant computer or a computer simulation; that principles of information science govern the cosmos. While this notion is one of the most recent radical ideas to explain our existence, there is no doubt that information is our future. Data surrounds us, we are becoming data-points and our cities are our information-rich databases.

[div class=attrib]From the Economist:[end-div]

IN 1995 GEORGE GILDER, an American writer, declared that “cities are leftover baggage from the industrial era.” Electronic communications would become so easy and universal that people and businesses would have no need to be near one another. Humanity, Mr Gilder thought, was “headed for the death of cities”.

It hasn’t turned out that way. People are still flocking to cities, especially in developing countries. Cisco’s Mr Elfrink reckons that in the next decade 100 cities, mainly in Asia, will reach a population of more than 1m. In rich countries, to be sure, some cities are sad shadows of their old selves (Detroit, New Orleans), but plenty are thriving. In Silicon Valley and the newer tech hubs what Edward Glaeser, a Harvard economist, calls “the urban ability to create collaborative brilliance” is alive and well.

Cheap and easy electronic communication has probably helped rather than hindered this. First, connectivity is usually better in cities than in the countryside, because it is more lucrative to build telecoms networks for dense populations than for sparse ones. Second, electronic chatter may reinforce rather than replace the face-to-face kind. In his 2011 book, “Triumph of the City”, Mr Glaeser theorises that this may be an example of what economists call “Jevons’s paradox”. In the 19th century the invention of more efficient steam engines boosted rather than cut the consumption of coal, because they made energy cheaper across the board. In the same way, cheap electronic communication may have made modern economies more “relationship-intensive”, requiring more contact of all kinds.

Recent research by Carlo Ratti, director of the SENSEable City Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and colleagues, suggests there is something to this. The study, based on the geographical pattern of 1m mobile-phone calls in Portugal, found that calls between phones far apart (a first contact, perhaps) are often followed by a flurry within a small area (just before a meeting).

Data deluge

A third factor is becoming increasingly important: the production of huge quantities of data by connected devices, including smartphones. These are densely concentrated in cities, because that is where the people, machines, buildings and infrastructures that carry and contain them are packed together. They are turning cities into vast data factories. “That kind of merger between physical and digital environments presents an opportunity for us to think about the city almost like a computer in the open air,” says Assaf Biderman of the SENSEable lab. As those data are collected and analysed, and the results are recycled into urban life, they may turn cities into even more productive and attractive places.

Some of these “open-air computers” are being designed from scratch, most of them in Asia. At Songdo, a South Korean city built on reclaimed land, Cisco has fitted every home and business with video screens and supplied clever systems to manage transport and the use of energy and water. But most cities are stuck with the infrastructure they have, at least in the short term. Exploiting the data they generate gives them a chance to upgrade it. Potholes in Boston, for instance, are reported automatically if the drivers of the cars that hit them have an app called Street Bump on their smartphones. And, particularly in poorer countries, places without a well-planned infrastructure have the chance of a leap forward. Researchers from the SENSEable lab have been working with informal waste-collecting co-operatives in São Paulo whose members sift the city’s rubbish for things to sell or recycle. By attaching tags to the trash, the researchers have been able to help the co-operatives work out the best routes through the city so they can raise more money and save time and expense.

Exploiting data may also mean fewer traffic jams. A few years ago Alexandre Bayen, of the University of California, Berkeley, and his colleagues ran a project (with Nokia, then the leader of the mobile-phone world) to collect signals from participating drivers’ smartphones, showing where the busiest roads were, and feed the information back to the phones, with congested routes glowing red. These days this feature is common on smartphones. Mr Bayen’s group and IBM Research are now moving on to controlling traffic and thus easing jams rather than just telling drivers about them. Within the next three years the team is due to build a prototype traffic-management system for California’s Department of Transportation.

Cleverer cars should help, too, by communicating with each other and warning drivers of unexpected changes in road conditions. Eventually they may not even have drivers at all. And thanks to all those data they may be cleaner, too. At the Fraunhofer FOKUS Institute in Berlin, Ilja Radusch and his colleagues show how hybrid cars can be automatically instructed to switch from petrol to electric power if local air quality is poor, say, or if they are going past a school.

[div class=attrib]Read the entire article after the jump.[end-div]

[div class=attrib]Images of cities courtesy of Google search.[end-div]

Data, data, data: It’s Everywhere

Cities are one of the most remarkable and peculiar inventions of our species. They provide billions in the human family a framework for food, shelter and security. Increasingly, cities are becoming hubs in a vast data network where public officials and citizens mine and leverage vast amounts of information.

[div class=attrib]Krystal D’Costa for Scientific American:[end-div]

Once upon a time there was a family that lived in homes raised on platforms in the sky. They had cars that flew and sorta drove themselves. Their sidewalks carried them to where they needed to go. Video conferencing was the norm, as were appliances which were mostly automated. And they had a robot that cleaned and dispensed sage advice.

I was always a huge fan of the Jetsons. The family dynamics I could do without—Hey, Jane, you clearly had outside interests. You totally could have pursued them, and rocked at it too!—but they were a social reflection of the times even while set in the future, so that is what it is. But their lives were a technological marvel! They could travel by tube, electronic arms dressed them (at the push of the button), and Rosie herself was astounding. If it rained, the Superintendent could move their complex to a higher altitude to enjoy the sunshine! Though it’s a little terrifying to think that Mr. Spacely could pop up on video chat at any time. Think about your boss having that sort of access. Scary, right?

The year 2062 used to seem impossibly far away. But as the setting for the space-age family’s adventures looms on the horizon, even the tech-expectant Jetsons would have to agree that our worlds are perhaps closer than we realize. The moving sidewalks and push button technology (apps, anyone?) have been realized, we’re developing cars that can drive themselves, and we’re on our way to building more Rosie-like AI. Heck, we’re even testing the limits of personal flight. No joke. We’re even working to build a smarter electrical grid, one that would automatically adjust home temperatures and more accurately measure usage.

Sure, we have a ways to go just yet, but we’re more than peering over the edge. We’ve taken the first big step in revolutionizing our management of data.

The September special issue of Scientific American focuses on the strengths of urban centers. Often disparaged for congestion, pollution, and perceived apathy, cities have a history of being vilified. And yet, they’re also seats of innovation. The Social Nexus explores the potential awaiting to be unleashed by harnessing data.

If there’s one thing cities have an abundance of, it’s data. Number of riders on the subway, parking tickets given in a certain neighborhood, number of street fairs, number of parking facilities, broken parking meters—if you can imagine it, chances are the City has the data available, and it’s now open for you to review, study, compare, and shape, so that you can help built a city that’s responsive to your needs.

[div class=attrib]More from theSource here.[end-div]

[div class=attrib]Image courtesy of Wikipedia / Creative Commons.[end-div]

Cities Might Influence Not Just Our Civilizations, but Our Evolution

[div class=attrib]From Scientific American:[end-div]

Cities reverberate through history as centers of civilization. Ur. Babylon. Rome. Baghdad. Tenochtitlan. Beijing. Paris. London. New York. As pivotal as cities have been for our art and culture, our commerce and trade, our science and technology, our wars and peace, it turns out that cities might have been even more important than we had suspected, influencing our very genes and evolution.

Cities reverberate through history as centers of civilization. Ur. Babylon. Rome. Baghdad. Tenochtitlan. Beijing. Paris. London. New York. As pivotal as cities have been for our art and culture, our commerce and trade, our science and technology, our wars and peace, it turns out that cities might have been even more important than we had suspected, influencing our very genes and evolution.

Cities have been painted as hives of scum and villainy, dens of filth and squalor, with unsafe water, bad sanitation, industrial pollution and overcrowded neighborhoods. It turns out that by bringing people closer together and spreading disease, cities might increase the chance that, over time, the descendants of survivors could resist infections.

Evolutionary biologist Ian Barnes at the University of London and his colleagues focused on a genetic variant with the alphabet-soup name of SLC11A1 1729+55del4. This variant is linked with natural resistance to germs that dwell within cells, such as tuberculosis and leprosy.

The scientists analyzed DNA samples from 17 modern populations that had occupied their cities for various lengths of time. The cities ranged from Çatalhöyük in Turkey, settled in roughly 6000 B.C., to Juba in Sudan, settled in the 20th century.

The researchers discovered an apparently highly significant link between the occurrence of this genetic variant and the duration of urban settlement. People from a long-populated urban area often seemed better adapted to resisting these specific types of infections — for instance, those in areas settled for more than 5,200 years, such as Susa in Iran, were almost certain to possess this variant, while in cities settled for only a few hundred years, such as Yakutsk in Siberia, only 70 percent to 80 percent of people would have it.

[div class=attrib]More from theSource here.[end-div]

[div class=attrib]Image courtesy of Scientific American.[end-div]