Tech can 'smarten' up cities, planet

Cities are "microcosms" of planet and can become smarter by leveraging information and communications technology, says IBM executive.
Written by Liau Yun Qing, Contributor

SINGAPORE--Cities are "microcosms" or miniature examples of the major challenges and opportunities facing the planet today, and can lead the way to a smarter planet by leveraging information and communications technology, said IBM executive.

At a media roundtable here Wednesday, Mark Cleverley, director of strategy for IBM's global government industry, touted sustainability in the company's "smart planet" initiative and reiterated its push to make cities "smarter".

Smarter Planet, Cleverley explained, is IBM's observation of how technology and society are changing to open up new solutions to problems the world faces today.

As the world continues to urbanize, problems such as transportation, food and water supply, are most stressed in cities, he said. "If we're going to build a smarter planet, we'll have to start from our cities, to solve problems at the most intense pressure points," he added.

IBM believes cities need to leverage information and communications technologies to achieve its vision of smarter cities, he said. Cleverley added that by linking the three key attributes of ICTs, which IBM identifies as the "3 I's", cities can address today's key challenges. The "3 I's" are:

  • Instrumented: Devices and sensors can be distributed in all sorts of places to measure, sense and see conditions of practically everything.
  • Interconnected: The information gathered by sensors can be communicated among people, systems and objects in more effective ways.
  • Intelligent: People can use analytics to draw insights from an even larger quantity and source of all the information gathered than before.

Describing cities as "systems of systems", Cleverley listed six "man-made systems": government services, transportation, energy and utilities, healthcare, public safety and education. IBM believes that by solving problems within an individual system, people can use the "3 I's" to gather more insights of how other systems interact.

Cleverley underscored the ability of technology to solve any problems. "The ability of technology to help us with problems is only limited by our imagination, and ultimately, by the ability of people to organize themselves to solve these problems," he said.

However, he noted that the vision can only be successful with more cities and people participating, or what he described as "coalitions of scale". "We're not pretending to be the best urban planners in the world," he said. "We need to work with people and we need to get the debate going in order to make certain things work."

"I think it's more about getting these coalitions together to enlighten them of what is possible," he said, adding that IBM hopes to bring the vision of what is possible to the leaders of cities. However, Cleverley added, it is up to the leaders and communities to decide which these problems, and solutions, are applicable to their individual cities.

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