Archive for April, 2012

Your intelligent city run by a mega-corp

Monday, April 23rd, 2012

Will Doig in Salon writes a good piece on smart cities. His question is, once we give over our cities to increasing computerization and sensor integration, will we be unintentionally turning over our cities to big companies like IBM and Google? This isn’t an argument about the use of technology in cities–that’s an acceptable efficiency argument. Instead, it’s about turning over the management of key sectors of our cities to the consulting arms of these corporations.

the goal of these companies is not just to participate in the evolution of smart cities, but to connect and control virtually everything with massive operating systems that will run these cities in their entirety. “Everybody wants to be the architects of these systems because then you own them forever,” says Greg Lindsay, author of “Aerotropolis” and an urban-technology reporter for Fast Company. “You could say it’s sort of a land grab.”

What the article doesn’t mention, but should, is the data mining potential of gaining access to these city datasets. These companies are not looking to mine individual records–to know more about you personally. Rather, this access allows companies to refine their place-based inference engines and build incredibly detailed portraits about specific locations.

After reading Doig’s article, if you think there is no reason for embedding ethics into VGI, you need to look at this.

Under the Citypulse project in Paris, volunteer citizens were given the “Green Watch”, a special watch that contained two environmental sensors to detect ozone and noise levels. As these people went about doing their daily chores, the Green Watch recorded the noise and ozone in their surroundings and transferred this data via a mobile phone to an online platform to be used in various ways such as maps and models. The eventual aim of the project is to increasingly involve citizens in environmental measurements by disbursing several such environmental sensors and help build a sustainable city.

Okay, it can lead to cool stuff like this, but the public has to be able to know and control the chain of data usage.

The irony is in the phrase “If you’re not paying for the product then you are the product.” In this case, you’re both paying for the product and you are the product.

What does it take to empower citizens vv climate change?

Thursday, April 19th, 2012

Jacqueline McGlade, head of the European Environment Agency asks How do we empower citizens in the face of climate change?.

People power is at the heart of the effort to beat climate change, says Professor Jacqueline McGlade, head of the European Environment Agency. In this week’s Green Room, she says that the task is so great, and the timescale so tight, that we can no longer wait for governments and businesses to act.

To address this urgent need the European Environment Agency (EEA) is working with the European Union, developing new systems to engage citizens as suppliers and users of environmental data.

I think this is a fantastic initiative but this is going to be more challenging than EEA thinks. Especially if they wish to tie this to citizen empowerment–significant ability for citizens to influence the direction of science and policy. The data requires a great deal of formal coordination. You don’t want to dump any scientific observation into one general site. The reporting needs to be structured and tailored to specific scientific problems. As we’ve seen in species sites (e.g., e-flora) you may need genus and species names. Water quality reporting may require flow rate, sedimentation and temperature readings.

All science is not equal: citizen engagement with atmospheric science is not going to be as easy as biological reporting. No disrespect to biology. Indeed, I think it’s a credit to biology that there’s greater citizen understanding of that set of scientific practices. A lot of training is needed to correctly report the science. Brian Klinkenberg reports that different strategies are needed for errors in location reporting versus errors in content (attribute) reporting. Providing the correct taxonomy alone is challenging. Brian reports that citizens get the number of spots–the species id–on a ladybug wrong 70% of the time. Even providing observations on water/beach conditions is hard. We can use all the tech we want. Uploading photos to a website alone; this does not equal empowerment.