A holistic approach to be ready for a smarter world

EMartinez_postBy Eduardo Martínez, consultant at Smart Cities Excellence Center, Indra

Analyzing the success, at least in affluence, of the Smart City Expo World Congress held in Barcelona last November, we could say that we are ready for a smarter world, or at least interested in this world full of opportunities for both, businesses and citizens and of course, for public administrations.

In a sense, I would say that the smart city concept could even seem a little bit disrespectful, I don’t know if we would tell a citizen of Memphis in ancient Egypt, or ancient Roman or Greek cities, that their cities were not smart because they didn’t use technology. The challenge is being able to leverage technology to meet the needs of an advanced city in an increasingly intelligent world, where objects have and will have more intelligence (or at least more communication skills, which by the way are not the same), but all with one purpose: that technology provides added value. It is necessary that this transformation is directly linked to civic participation and especially the double sustainability: economic project sustainability and the environmental one, probably even more important than the former.

«The challenge is being able to leverage technology to meet the needs of an advanced city in an increasingly intelligent world»

When you sit in front of an auditorium, a mayor, a TV camera, or a newspaper and begin to explain the smart cities concept, there is always the same chat about the need to adapt to a new paradigm where cities have 70% of the world population, 75% of energy consumption and 80% of greenhouse gas emissions. But if it ends up talking about a solution for your smartphone to locate the nearest pharmacy and guide you there through a map, it means that we were wrong at some point.

In fact, the mentioned congress drew something different this year, something that some of us had already bet: the urban platform. Revolving around the idea that solutions have to be comprehensive and holistically planned. The sensorification, data obtained, etc., must be reused and the different solutions or strategic areas of the city that make up the urban platform must seek the interaction among them holistically. And not because the concept is nice, but because like there is no smart city without citizens, without interconnected services with an integrated view there are no smart city services; there would be just “smart” solutions in a “dumb” city.

Are we ready to live in smart cities?

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By Javier Araujo, Smart Cities Business Development Manager, T-Systems Iberia

We are living in an ever more connected world thanks to all the devices at our disposal, but that is not enough, it is necessary to go one step further. We need networks that enable us to connect to the different spheres of our lives, as well as to improve and control our energy consumption. This is what we call smart networks.

All technological business sector players are aware of the challenges, for the public administration as well as companies and citizens, posed by the growth of cities. We are not just speaking about growth in the number of inhabitants or the square kilometres they occupy, but rather we are referring to efficient growth that is respectful with the environment, using natural resources as far as possible, so as to optimise the use of water, electricity, telecommunications, gas, transport, emergency and security services, public utilities, etc.

«The totally smart city will not arise until we first become smart citizens»

According to a recent report by McKinsey Global Institute, the most dynamic cities in 2025 will be in the Far East, mostly in China. Another interesting fact is that only 600 urban centres currently generate 60% of global GDP. Researchers have indicated that there are three characteristics that have placed these cities in the lead. The first is that they have adopted a strategic approach, planning the changes, achieving intelligent and sustainable growth; secondly, they evaluate and manage expenses in a rigorous manner and invest transparently and responsibly, and finally, they obtain the maximum support for changes, forging a consensus between the affected parties and implementing it with highly qualified people.

Here we can highlight the importance of exploring possible alliances, searching for models and having a commitment to technology as a key factor for creating smarter cities. But the question is: Are we ready to live in smart cities? I think so, but what is clear is that the totally smart city will not arise until we first become citizens fully involved in achieving this goal, i.e., we become smart citizens. We already have the new technologies that are going to enable us to evolve towards the city of the future, but the key is to make sustainable and efficient use of each of them, so as to manage to live (in the long term) in the perfect city of the future.

The Internet of Things: what is it, where is it gaining traction and what does the future hold?

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By Rhonda Walker, Vice President, Corporate Marketing & Brand, Jasper Technologies

The Internet of Things (IoT), which can be thought of as the extension of the Internet to the physical world, is reshaping the human experience and changing the way business is done across every industry. From connected cars to heart pacemakers, from the Amazon Kindle to connected Heineken beer kegs, industries, user experiences and lives are being transformed.

Despite the term, the IoT isn’t about things; it is about services. At Jasper, we work with more than 1,000 enterprises that are embedding connectivity in an astonishing variety of different ways, enabling an amazing array of new benefits and experiences for customers, and unlocking new business models and revenue streams in their markets. When the products that companies sell are connected to the rest of the world in real-time, all the time, it fundamentally changes how businesses operate, interact with customers and make money. As a result value shifts from the products they make to the services they make possible.

«When the products that companies sell are connected to the rest of the world in real-time, all the time, it fundamentally changes how businesses operate, interact with customers and make money»

Looking at the IoT landscape, certain industries are leading the way. Automotive is at the forefront of innovation, and we already work with 12 of the world’s top automotive original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), all of which are already starting to execute on their ‘connected car’ vision. Connected car applications range from in-car entertainment, to automated emergency services call-outs, real-time traffic monitoring, remote security capabilities and more. Plus industries that also serve drivers are leveraging vehicle telematics to deliver new experiences like usage-based insurance and online tracking to recover stolen vehicles. In other areas, like the connected home, smart metering, wearables and even food and beverage, the rate of implementation for new connected business models continues to accelerate.

Traction in the transportation category isn’t limited to cars, the aviation industry is also benefitting by embracing IoT. GE Aviation is using the Jasper platform to connect jet engines and thus better manage maintenance processes and dramatically reduce unplanned downtime. Connecting engines to centralized systems is one step that GE Aviation is taking to help reduce the more than 60,000 flight delays and cancellations per year that combine for more than $8 billion in operational costs annually.

Looking to the future, governments have seen the transformative potential of the IoT, and the value in both monetary terms and human experience. Earlier this year the UK government pledged to invest $75 million into companies developing devices that can communicate over the Internet; and the US government is expected to invest an enormous $1.2 trillion in IoT related technology over the next three years. With investment will come the education, talent, infrastructure, materials and most of all the motivation needed to enable the Internet of Things to reach its full potential.

Will better health-technology help us build a smarter world?

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By Lorenzo Sabatelli, founding director, GLOBMOD1

With regard to the health and healthcare sectors, I think we are getting everyday smarter and readier to the opportunities and challenges of a smarter world, but more work is needed to ensure that new technologies are used to better satisfy user, e.g. patient, necessities. For instance, it is essential that digital and mobile health systems and applications are designed taking into account the cognitive status of those who will actually use them. In fact, if applications require active participation of users and fairly steep learning curves, their performances will depend on the cognitive status and learning capacity of target patients, and may not be necessarily suitable for population groups that might otherwise greatly benefit from their use.

In general, it would be desirable for health technologies (from drugs to mobile applications) to include or be complemented by automated data-collection systems that allow real-time monitoring of effectiveness (e.g. adherence, intermediate health outcomes, health indicators, etc.) Of course, that would come with a few technical challenges, primarily associated with the volume, high frequency, and heterogeneity of data, and with obvious privacy concerns. Nevertheless, if properly managed and interpreted, this data may contribute to a better (almost real-time) understanding of what is working and what it is not.

«It is essential that new digital and mobile health systems and applications are designed taking into account the cognitive status of those who will actually use them»

This would not only help provide better healthcare but also help ensure sustainability of public health systems, and a fair profit for private insurers and providers. In most cases, the cost of introducing new technology is paid out of a fixed budget, which implies that every time we invest in a new piece of health-technology we are implicitly disinvesting from something else. Prioritization is therefore essential, and needs to be based on scientific, ethical, and economic considerations.

Ageing population, shrinking budgets, and the epidemiological transition from acute deadly diseases to chronic, long lasting and highly disabling diseases is, and will, force policy makers to rely more on technology for planning, delivering, and assessing the impact of healthcare programmes. The final objective is to improve health, and possibly to increase convenience, within the population, and to do it at an affordable cost.

From a global perspective, we are living a very exciting (almost science-fictional) time. With the contribution of multiple disciplines such as public health, genomics, proteomics, phylodynamics, game theory, and artificial intelligence new horizons in the prevention and treatment of diseases, and in the provision of healthcare are emerging. In addition, technology will hopefully take away most of the mechanical and less creative components of health research and healthcare operations, leaving more resources to focus on more creative and rewarding tasks.

«The final objective is to improve health, and possibly to increase convenience, within the population, and to do it at an affordable cost»

This has certainly been the case in the past, technology has freed time and resources for doing other things. Nevertheless, we should not forget that there are differences in health conditions, care, and systems between countries around the world, and sometimes even within the same country. And there are also differences in the way new technologies are perceived and used. There are great variations in the ways health systems are organized and funded, and in their ability to absorb and use new technology, which sometimes may depend on availability and training of personnel, and on the type of patients they have. And if the differences between health systems are big, even bigger (and growing) are the differences between health-information systems.

In the US, massive private and public resources are being invested into building and strengthening health-information capability to collect, analyze, and interpret data at different levels, from individual hospitals to the entire World. In most low-to-middle income countries there is little or no health-information capability, and in Europe we are somewhere in between. Collection and processing of data vary from country to country, and local ability to turn health (and other types of) data into unbiased actionable information is still relatively limited. This translates, into a distinctive operational and strategic disadvantage which will become more acute, and painful, in the forthcoming years.

There are also concerns associated with potential ‘side effects’ of health technology. For instance, with regard to potential addiction to e-health devices, and with regard to the potential economic burden of healthcare on low-income families. If we do not find smarter ways to reduce R&D costs and make health technology accessible and affordable to those who need it, we are going to see, even in Europe, more and more people significantly impoverished as a result of illness, especially of chronic illness.

«The integration of public health with genomics, proteomics, phylodynamics, game theory, and artificial intelligence will open new frontiers in the prevention and treatment of diseases, and in the provision of healthcare»

And then there is the whole issue of ensuring health and wellbeing while also preserving the environmental capacity to support healthy human life. Last year I started working on new quantitative metrics encompassing health and sustainability, and I realized that there is very little work done, and little financial resources to do it.

Getting ready for a ‘smarter world’ entails addressing these issues. Technology is definitely a key component, in the health sector and beyond, but a ‘smarter world’ should not only focus on individual pieces of technology, in a reductionist fashion. It needs to take a systemic approach and use all available resources to help develop individual and collective long-term human potential, ensuring a fair access to opportunities, quality healthcare and education, and a balanced distribution of risks and rewards.

It may all sound overambitious, but it is by setting the bar high, and by asking, and answering, a series of ambitious, and sometimes seemingly foolish, questions that we can mobilize the individual and collective energies necessary to get ready for future challenges, and to promote progress that really makes the world, and allows us all move forward.

 

1. This contribution was possible thanks to the kind collaboration of the BigDataWeek 2014 event in Barcelona, media140 and the CCCB.

Information technologies and liquidity management in SMEs: a good partnership?

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By Renatas Kizys, senior lecturer, Subject Group of Economics and Finance, Portsmouth Business School.

The global financial crisis shaped the economic and financial landscape of many countries throughout the world, and it has changed lives of billions of persons. In the euro area, where the economies are dominated by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), the recessionary effects of the crisis were particularly adverse.

Large firms that are listed on a stock exchange can raise capital through bond and equity issues. By contrast, SMEs are heavily dependent on the supply of bank credit. But banks experienced an acute credit crunch, and they were forced to cut the volume of lending to SMEs that were perceived as less creditworthy than large well-established firms.

After the crisis, liquidity remains a key issue for SMEs. However, there are several ways to improve SMEs’ access to short-term finance. On the liabilities side, SMEs can mitigate the shortage of working capital through trade credit (TC). TC involves supplying goods and services on a deferred payment basis. Alternatively, SMEs can exploit funding opportunities through relationship banking. Relationship banking involves offering customers financial products based upon the so called “soft” information that is provided to banks through long-term business relations and repeated transactions.

«In business-cycle downturns and in periods of slow recovery, local banks are more willing to lend to SMEs than global banks»

Admittedly, local banks are better equipped to monitor “soft” information that includes management skills, company strategy, market share and other intangibles. In business-cycle downturns and in periods of slow recovery, local banks are more willing to lend to SMEs than global banks, which typically rely on “hard” information that is reflected on a borrower’s balance sheet.

On the assets side, SMEs can sell receivables by means of factoring. Factoring a financial transaction in which a firm sells its accounts receivable to a third party (a factor) at a discount. A flip side of factoring is that a factor typically does not advance the whole amount of funds upfront while charging a substantial fee.

Liquidity management would be less costly for SMEs if they could securitise TC and sell it off in the asset-backed securities (ABS) market as a short-term financial instrument. Increased volume of transactions in the ABS market could boost liquidity in the industry of financial services, which in turn can be translated into faster recovery of the euro area economy.

«Recent advances in simulation and optimisation have made possible to efficiently solve complex managerial problems of SMEs»

However, after the crisis that originated in the US sub-prime mortgage market, confidence in ABS is yet to be restored. The ABS market in the euro area remains underdeveloped in comparison with that in the US. For example, in 2013, European issuance of such securities was just around a tenth of US issuance, owing in part to conservative monetary policy measures and stringent regulatory requirements in the euro area. Thus, currently there is an ample area of opportunities for financial regulators, policy makers and SMEs.

In addressing the above challenges, liquidity management has become the key to business success. Academic research has relied upon econometric, mathematical and statistical models to formulate managerial strategy for SMEs. However, the use of information technologies has been lagging behind the changing business environment characterised by high levels of uncertainty.

But the recent advances in the fields of simulation and optimisation — in particular, the new generation of these methods termed simheuristics — have made it possible to efficiently solve complex managerial problems and thus to improve the performance of SMEs. Outsourced liquidity management and information technology-based solutions should be viewed as an opportunity rather than a challenge to small businesses.

New technologies and the Flynn Effect

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By Germán Tenorio, International Baccalaureate Diploma Program Coordinator, Colegio de San Francisco de Paula (Sevilla, Spain).

The article The effects of new technologies: History repeats itself, by Carlos A. Scolari, reminds me about how new technologies could help human intelligence and how this could be tested.

A well known way to measure the human intelligence is by mean of tests in order to determine the intelligence quotient (IQ). Although there are some proves that humans are evolving, like those related to our cultural evolution, it is much more difficult to find evidences of our biological evolution1. In this sense, you may expect that the IQ has not changed in humans for the past hundreds of thousands years as our brains keep mostly unchanged since then, however, not only the IQ has changed, but also has increased over the past 50 years.

James R. Flynn, Emeritus Professor of Political Studies at the University of Otago in New Zealand, discovered that IQ scores increased from one generation to the next in all of the countries studied. Does it mean that we solve problems more easily than our parents or even worse than our sons? It is interesting to highlight that this surprising phenomenon called the Flynn Effect shows that this generational increase in the IQ scores only takes place in one type of intelligence called fluid intelligence, which is related to the ability to solve unfamiliar or novel problems by using reasoning. In contrast, crystallized intelligence is related to knowledge-based ability or experience and education.

«Why is our capacity for solving abstract problems growing but not our vocabulary, memory or math skills?»

The arising question is: why is our capacity for solving abstract problems growing but not our vocabulary, memory or math skills? Several explanations have been proposed to explain the Flynn Effect, such as an increased level of people’s education, a better nutrition or even infectious diseases. But, may the answer be found in new technologies?

It is interesting to note that one of these explanations is based on having a more stimulating environment2 due to the increase of exposure to many types of visual media, such as those related to technological devises. We have moved from reading to our 2-year-old sons a story with pictures to do it themselves using an interactive tablet with sound and 3D effects.

To sum up, it seems clear that the use of new technologies could allow us a better training in multiple stimuli environment, tune up our skills to be focused on a task with lesser distraction. However, future research must be carried out to identify the specific factors that contribute to this sustained increased of the IQ scores.

________

 

1 Perreault C (2012). The Pace of Cultural Evolution. PLoS ONE 7(9): e45150.

 

2 Diamond, M. C., et al (1972). Effects of environmental enrichment and impoverishment on rat cerebral cortex. J. Neurobiol., 3: 47–64.

The DNA of books

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By Radamés Molina, publisher.

Books as we know them are very comprehensive tools. Pagination, bibliographies, contents and indexes are key navigational tools in a world dominated by screens where the internet has turned information into a homogenous, amorphous flow.

Let’s imagine that books have DNA: each and every book has its own structure based on a code it shares with other books. Every book has an author, a synopsis, a bibliography (revealed in its content and in the influence of and references to other books). Books can also have a summary or an index of keywords; its own semantic field; visual or geographical references, etc.

Given that new digital technologies are perfectly compatible with the pleasure of reading, we want to develop a self-learning tool that processes the text in a book and gets to work searching cyberspace for everything related to it. This tool would work like an app or could be included on e-readers.

What would happen if we taught books to look for their fellow texts on the internet? What kind of knowledge would we have if we used books’ set of references as the keys for an online “string search”?

«What would happen if we taught books to look for their fellow texts on the internet?»

We would have software on our phone, our computer or the internet to tell us the best online encyclopaedias, dictionaries and glossaries to use to understand what we’re reading or to find out more about a word’s meaning.

In addition, this app could also show other books that talk about our book and put these references in a kind of changing ecosystem. At the start of each chapter there could also be an option to access all the keywords, the geographical places mentioned or related music, to give just a few examples.

With our tool, the works cited in the bibliography would have active or inactive links indicating where we can refer to or acquire these works. In addition, readers’ interactions could help us identify their interests so books could be adapted to match them.

And, finally, these sequences of genetic code could reorganise, personalise and interpret the huge amount of information we would find on the internet linked to the contents we consume.

Cities in a smarter world

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By Manu Fernández, researcher and consultant on urban policies, founder of Human Scale City.

An urbanizing world is the scenario where smart technologies will show their value. This is why smart cities have become a major topic as a framework to face the challenges of the future in terms of new forms of democratic procedures, enhanced public management tools, environmental sustainability goals, efficient infrastructures and so on. We are still trying to figure out how cities will be reshaped thanks to a wide array of digitally-enabled solutions that seek to integrate in how cities work.

It is not a future issue, indeed. Smart cities comprise different types of projects, strategies and visions, and most of them tend to set their promises in yet to come technologies and deployments, particularly those related to large investments and physical infrastructure upgrading.

«Urban media determine the way we enjoy cities, the way we move around and the way we engage with others to share our lives»

This is just one part of the equation: smart cities as a promising mean for advanced public services and urban management to ease integration, efficient use of public budgets and better decisions for policy makers. But smart cities are mostly about how urban life everyday experience changes for individuals, communities and organisations. In this sense, smart cities can be thought in present tense, as a transformation that is already happening.

Urban media (from mobile technologies to Internet of things) determine the way we enjoy cities, the way we move around and the way we engage with others to share our lives. It happened as a silent revolution and societies have embodied new ways to design public services, to create digitally-enabled solutions for local needs, to build new platforms for social collaboration. This entails a smarter society exploring new forms of social interaction, engagement and ownership in its dawn, but already happening.

Democracy: There’s an App for That

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By Douglas Rushkoff, author, teacher and documentarian.

The best thing about Occupy Wall St. wasn’t what it argued politically or accomplished legislatively, but what it modeled for us: a new way of engaging with issues, resolving conflict, and reaching consensus. It was a style of engagement that seemed like it could only happen in person, between young people willing to sit in a cold park all night until they could come to an agreement over an issue.

But now, a small collective in New Zealand has developed a digital platform through which any group — large or small, local or global — can take a page from the Occupier’s handbook. It’s called Loomio, and it’s already being used by civic activists in Ukraine, thousands of direct democracy advocates in Greece, municipalities in England, foundations, and credit unions.

It’s all based on what the Occupy movement called the General Assembly, an alternative to parliamentary procedure, borrowed from the Ancient Greek senate. It’s a deceptively simple (and easily satirized) process where the crowd waves their hands to indicate their approval or level of objection to a proposal. It may look a little silly, but it proved a valid or even superior method for forging consensus than traditional debate, where one side wins and the other, well, loses.

«Loomio is an app based on what the Occupy movement called the General Assembly, an alternative to parliamentary procedure borrowed from ancient Greece»

The problem with the general assembly, like representative democracy, is that it’s quite limited in scale. You can only have so many people engaging with one another, blocking motions, and making arguments. Plus, it just has to happen in person. Well, now there’s an app for that. The first time I saw it in beta, I asked if I could be an advisor to the non-profit collective working on it. (They agreed.) And by the end of March, they finally released the application and started a campaign to develop it further.

Amazingly, there exists no great tool online for groups to make decisions. There are plenty of platforms on which to collaborate or work together. But the most complicated decisions most of us have made online deal with the time or location of a meeting.

The Loomio application lets members of a group offer proposals, discuss their merits, make changes, and register their feelings all along the way. By entering into this process in good faith, even large groups can steer towards outcomes that may not be perfect for everyone, but make the fewest people unhappy — and nobody too very upset.

«The most complicated decisions most of us have made online deal with the time or location of a meeting»

Debate itself is a form of combat, not an approach to reaching an agreement. It’s geared toward creating no greater number of winners than losers. That’s not what democracy was supposed to be about. As one of Loomio’s founders, Ben Knight explains, “Democracy is about collaboration — people coming together and making decisions. Democracy is not a scarce resource — it doesn’t need to be this abstract thing that we only get access to once every 4 years, managed by a professional class far away. With the right tools, it can be a skill that we practice together every day, in our schools, our workplaces and our communities.”

While Loomio might not replace representative democracy — nor should we necessarily want it to — it may take some of the pressure off our democratic institutions by giving people the ability to make a whole lot of decisions for themselves, and with one another.

A longer version of this post was first published at Rushkoff’s blog on March 24, 2014. The text is hereby adapted and reproduced with permission from its author.

The effects of new technologies: History repeats itself

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By Carlos A. Scolari, professor, Department of Communication, Pompeu Fabra University.

There is much debate today about the effects of the new media (social networks, video gaming, web) on people. This debate arises whenever a new communication technology appears: More than 2,500 years ago, Plato reflected on writing and its effects on memory.

Something similar occurred in the 19th century with the novel, when these fictional stories were accused of producing apathetic and introverted people. This happened yet again when television appeared: For several decades, sociologists and psychologists dedicated themselves to studies about “the effects of TV on children”. Today, some are back at it again with similar arguments: “New” technologies make people superficial… Once again, history repeats itself.

«Communication technologies model our brains: This was said by Marshall McLuhan 50 years ago and is constantly reaffirmed by neuroscience today»

It is evident that communication technologies model our brains: This was said by Marshall McLuhan 50 years ago and is constantly reaffirmed by neuroscience today. A generation that has been brought up in an oral society is not the same as another that grew up with television, just like a book-based generation will see things differently to another that uses video games, Wikipedia and interactive screens.

Are the young of today smarter than those of yesterday? Gregory Bateson used to tell a story that in a way responds to this question:

A little boy asked his father:

— Daddy, do fathers always know more than their sons?

— Yes!

— Who invented the steam engine?

— James Watt.

— So why didn’t James Watt’s father invent it?