smart cities: how computers are changing our world for the better

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Introduction The world is flat, hot and crowded, as Thomas Friedman says in his last book. Luckily, we can also say that it is getting more and more intelligent. Our world is increasingly interconnected and increasingly able to talk to us: people, systems and objects can communicate and interact with one another in completely new ways. Now we have the means to measure, hear and see instantaneously the state of all things. When all things, including processes and working methods, are intelligent, we will be able to respond to changing conditions with more speed and more focus, and make more precise forecasting which in turn will lead to optimization of future events. This ongoing transformation has given birth to the concept of Smart Cities, cities that are able to take action and improve the quality of life of their inhabitants, reconciling it with the needs of trades, factories, service industries and institutions by means of an innovative and pervasive use of digital technologies.

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  • 1. Smartcities:howcomputersarechangingourworldforthebetter byRobertoSiagri Because,lookingattoday'sworld,themoststrikingchangeisnotjustthe availability of technology, but its impact on humanity. ICT radically alters how people inhabit the world, how they interact, how they perceive the worldaroundthem:indeed,itischangingwhatitistobeahumanbeingin society. Thinkoftheawarenesswehaveabouttheworldaroundus,howitisaltered and enhanced by having available multiple flows of information from multiplesources,alltailoredtoourinterests.Thisextendedawarenesshas an impact on our intelligence, our consciousness, and our society: on the verythingswhicharefundamentaltobeinghuman.(*) NeelieKroes VicePresidentoftheEuropeanCommission responsibleforDigitalAgenda Introduction The world is flat, hot and crowded, as Thomas Friedman1 says in his last book. Luckily, we can also say that it is getting more and more intelligent. Our world is increasingly interconnected and increasingly able to talk to us: people, systems and objects can communicate and interact with one another in completely new ways. Now we have the means to measure, hear and see instantaneously the state of all things. When all things, including processes and working methods, are intelligent, we will be able to respond to changing conditions with more speed and more focus, and make more precise forecasting which in turn will lead to optimization of future events. This ongoing transformation has given birth to the concept of Smart Cities, cities that are able to take action and improve the quality of life of their inhabitants, reconciling it with the needs of trades, factories, service industries and institutions by means of an innovative and pervasive use of digital technologies. To understand the concept of Smart City, we need first to consider the evolution of computers and of the human-computer interaction from a historical point of view. As Mark Weiser and John Seely Brown wrote in 1996 in the article Designing Calm Technology2, while technology evolves, the place it occupies in our life changes, progressively shifting from the center to the periphery. We could say that what really counts is not technology per se, but technology in connection with us humans, and it is important to consider how the modern computer, in its brief 60-year life, has changed the quality of this connection. We can identify three main stages (fig. 1), each with its own computational paradigm and its own connection mode: the mainframe stage, the PC stage and the IoT stage. We will analyze them later in more detail... for now let's say that the mainframe stage is when computers were mostly managed by experts behind closed doors, and users had to negotiate access and share computing time. The PC (personal computer) stage is when computers became a personal (*) Paradiso conference (The Internet for a global sustainable future) Brussels, 8 September 2011 1 Thomas L. Friedman. Hot, Flat, and Crowded. Why we need a Green Revolution, and how it can renew America, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008 2 Weiser & Brown. "Designing Calm Technology", PowerGrid Journal, v 1.01, (July 1996) http://people.csail.mit.edu/rudolph/Teaching/weiser.pdf (July 1996).
  • 2. property, and for the first time the owner had undivided access to its resources. Today we are in the stage of the IoT (Internet of Things), also called M2M (Machine to Machine), where the minimal cost and dimensions of electronic components, coupled with the evolution of the Internet, is leading to the pervasive presence of interconnected small computers in all things. Sales/Year Fig.1:Maintrendsofcomputationalpowerandsolditemsperyearinrelativeunits3 In the present stage there is a deep interconnection between the digital world (where data are made of bits) and the real world (where things are made of atoms). At first Mark Weiser called it the era of the ubiquitous computer4, then it was called the era of pervasive computation or the era of Ambient Intelligence. In any case, it always refers to a kind of augmented reality, as opposed to the virtual reality that only exists inside computers. The pervasive presence of computers in the material things that surround us allows us to see the world as if we had more than our five senses. Better still, it increases our ability to perceive reality, as if we were wearing a computational exoskeleton5. While virtual reality is mainly a question of computational power and good simulation programs, augmented reality raises complex issues of integration among human factors, computer science, engineering and social sciences. And there is no better example of this kind of integration than smart cities, which make available to local administrators and citizens alike an enormous amount of information, gathered from the myriad computers scattered in the city area. In real time, these computers provide deep and detailed knowledge of every aspect of city life, from transportation to housing, from security to health care issues (including telemedicine), from energy-saving measures to pollution monitoring and waste management. Life is easier in a Smart City... When everything is under control, the world is a much more reassuring place. When the future can be planned effectively, it appears far less threatening and unfathomable. 3 http://www.ubiq.com/hypertext/weiser/UbiHome.html 4 Mark Weiser, "The Computer for the Twenty-First Century," Scientific American, pp. 94-10, September 1991 5 Roberto Siagri, Pervasive computers and the GRID: the birth of a computational exoskeleton for augmented reality, ACM ESEC-FSE 07, Sept. 2007
  • 3. Just like Weiser and Brown imagined back in 1996, technology approaches our lives in such a friendly way that they called it the calm technology. The three stages of computer evolution As mentioned above, the first is the so-called mainframe stage, which lasted roughly from 1960 to 1990. At that time, computers were a scarce and extremely expensive resource. Users had to make agreements with those responsible of the computation center, and then had to share computing time with other expert users. Everything took place in a kind of sacred ceremony where the mainframe was a deity, the computation center was the shrine, the director of the center was the high priest, and the rare users were the chosen few admitted to the rites. The second big period is the Personal Computer stage, which lasted from 1985 to 2005 (fig. 2). Around 1985, the number of PC users surpassed for the first time the number of mainframe users6, and the computer became a personal property. Today we have our own computer, which holds our own data, and which is exclusively at our service. But when the PC first entered our homes, it was almost like a car something special and rather expensive, which could take you where you wanted to go but required a great deal of care in order to function properly. Today, just as we can have several cars, we can have several computers, one for the home, one for the office, one for going around... Stages Maintrendsincomputerscience Interaction HumantoMachineconnection 1Mainframe manyuserssharingasinglecomputer 1:N 2PersonalComputer oneuser,onecomputer 1:1 adventoftheInternet 3UbiquitousComputing ...transitionto... manycomputerssharedbyeachoneofus N:1 The pressure toward standardization7, which today allows us to use the same software on machines made by different manufacturers, resulted in one PC winning over all viable solutions: the one based on the IBM project, working with the Intel processor and the Windows operating system. The well-known PC MAC, made solely by Apple, was able to resist up to now with an original architecture, but the hardware and software are getting more and more similar to the PC-Wintel (Windows-Intel). Before addressing the third stage, I would like to deal briefly with the Internet. We are all familiar with the term, but what is important here is how computer nets can drastically change (and improve) the way we humans work and interact, and this was exactly what Weiser had anticipated. Billions of people today are interconnected, exchanging billions of relevant data. When the Internet was born, the possibility to share information was not obvious at all... the web was read-only and the data flow was mono-directional, that is to say, it went only from the site to the user and not the other way around! Things changed with the read-write web, when the data flow became 6 http://arstechnica.com/business/2012/08/from-altair-to-ipad-35-years-of-personal-computer-market-share/4/ 7 The first PC as we know it was made by IBM. After its architecture was made public, the IBM PC was literally cloned, and many other makes entered the market. Later, compatible PCs reproduced the functions of the IBM PC, but using original implementations. Today, due to the extreme standardization of functions and components, any PC is the same no matter who the manufacturer is.
  • 4. bidirectional. Blogs and social networks further amplified this phenomenon, to such an extent that today we are talking about the social web or web 2.0. Interestingly, the Internet merges elements of the mainframe era and of the PC era, because a personal computer can also be seen as an evolved terminal that can operate without any connection to the PC-server. This is why we increasingly use the word client instead of terminal to indicate a PC connected to a server, where the se

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