By 2010, there will be 59 metropolitan areas with populations greater than 5 million – up 50% from 2001. Many of these new city dwellers will be driving cars, so if you think your day is plagued by gridlock now, buckle your seat belt. Quite simply, our cities transportation infrastructure and management approaches can’t handle the world’s traffic.
We need to stop focusing only on pieces of the problem: adding a new bridge, widening a road, putting up signs and establishing commuter lanes, or deploying traffic copters. Instead, we need to look at relationships across the entire system.
Our cities can infuse intelligence into their entire transportation system – streets, bridges, intersections, signs, signals and tolls, which can all be interconnected and made smarter. We can reduce congestion, cut pollution, shrink fuel use and decrease CO2 emissions.
Experts today look at causes such as human behavior and the effects that architecture, urban design and engineering have. Efforts such as electronic road pricing systems have been implemented in cities like London, Stockholm and Singapore, which reduces traffic and offers a wealth of digital information that can lead to important mathematical analysis of patterns toward further solutions.
In this episode of Building a Smarter Planet, we take a closer look at some of these issues and hear from three experts in the field: author Tom Vanderbilt, engineer Sam Schwartz, and IBM researcher Laura Wynter.
Download the mp3:
"Building A Smarter Planet -Traffic"
- French-based EDF, the leading electricity
Europe, is investing further in R&D around smart grid issues such as better integrating renewables like wind and solar into the grid.
- American Electric Power’s gridSmart initiative will help it better distribute
power and reduce electricity consumption, ultimately to all of its 5 million customers.
- Consumers Energy which has about 6.5 million customers in
Michigan, will implement advanced metering technology and a
smart grid field pilot network that will start being built in 2009.
IBM is a key partner in each of the above initiatives. For more on how big blue is helping to make more energy green, click here.
Plan "Bee" — my personal quest to cross-pollinate smarter planet thinking inside and outside IBM — recently led me to reconnect with Gary Zamchick, below, a colleague from my early Internet days at Time Inc. New Media.
Gary had seen my post about Smarter Planet on the Time Inc. Alumni Group on LinkedIn. A technology savvy, pioneering designer of interactive services and physical spaces (with Rockwell Group and AT&T among others) Gary intuitively appreciated the implications of smarter planet, as well as the give and take approach of Plan Bee.
One characteristic of Smarter Planet is going to be more intelligent ways for us to see or visualize information and data. Gary and I agreed that visual thinking is so central to human nature and so universal that it is bound to inform not just the next iteration of the World Wide Web, but its evolution into the "Web Wide World," i.e. the embedding of all things digital into the physical world and human lifestyles.
One of Gary’s projects — WordsEye, a semantic innovation that enables people to create 3D scenes or pictures simply by entering text descriptions — spoke directly to this visual aspect of Smarter Planet. Imagine being able to build a 3D or virtual environment, or telling a story visually, just by describing it.
Natural language processing for graphical output is the kind of smarter planet I want to live on. If it can work with different languages it could even be the basis for a kind of visual translation service, or enable those who can’t physically speak to express themselves in entirely new ways.
Gary used the service to do something along these lines in this example, turning my shorthand description of Smarter Planet into a 3D image …that it is about the "3V" changes in data — greater volumes, varieties and velocity of data that will often require realtime processing power.
While Gary and his co-founders are looking for investors and partners to advance WordsEye, I offered to connect him to some of the amazing IBMers pioneering 3D, virtual and data visualization innovations.
One of them is Many Eyes, which the site describes as "a bet on the power of human visual intelligence to find patterns. Our goal is to ‘democratize’ visualization and to enable a new social kind of data analysis." (Jump right to our visualizations now, take a tour, or read on for a leisurely explanation of the
IBM and the New York Times recently started collaborating on Many Eyes via the Times’ Visualization Lab.
Enter the vConference
Our buzzing around visualization and collaboration led the discussion toward what might be consider the killer business app for 3D: a seamless and elegant virtual meeting solution. In today’s environment of global teams and endless teleconferences, what’s missing in that work experience is the value of face to face, highly human interaction.
Webcam-based video conferencing is going to be one way to humanize the disembodied (see Tokbox, ooVoo and the new Google videochat for Gtalk), attention-deficit disorder of audio-only conference calls, but the ultimately richer (and smarter) solution is going to be even more immersive … a one-click, highly automated solution for bringing teams together in a virtual meeting.
Not only would this offer globally dispersed knowledge workers most of the social and human benefit of F2F, and less opportunity to be distracted, but it would also enable real collaborative work to get done ala whiteboards and other tools. What’s more, because the environment is not just immersive, but also digital, everything can be captured and shared.
To this end, IBM has been discussing the idea of Sametime 3D, a way to transition from IBM’s instant messaging environment (Sametime is already arguably one the most pervasive collaborative tools IBMers use) to a virtual meeting. The key will be for the experience, IMHO, to be dead on simple. Natural and intuitive controls, automated generation of avatars and sophisticated voicechat.
Are You Experienced?
Our back and forth moved on to fronts such as Gary’s experience designing physical environments for generating innovation and creative interaction.
That reminded me of IBM’s Innovation Discovery program, which brings together diverse teams of experts and executives from IBM and a client for a "collaboratory", an intensive brainstorming session designed to solicit big ideas for new ways to work together. Of course, IBM also has briefing centers and industry labs around the world to facilitate the same kind of knowledge exchange that Gary and I were engaging in.
Lastly, all the talk about making physical spaces smarter and more embedded with digital sentience lead us to discuss the important, if awkwardly coined idea of "augmented reality," or AR. Basically, AR is about overlaying, projecting or embedding digital, 3D or Web-based content in the physical world, usually via GPS-based location awareness. It could be in the form of a heads-up display that makes driving directions appear to be actually on the road, rather than on the navigation screen in the dashboard.
Let’s Get Digiphysical
To get to this "everyware" world of ubiqutious computing and "digiphysical" convergence, one prerequisite will be a kind of universal broadband wireless. On that front, Gary and I agreed that something like the new "white spaces" spectrum recently approved by the FCC could be the beginning of a kind of pervasive "wifi on steriods" that a smarter planet is going to need. This TV channel spectrum, also know as the "vertical blanking interval," is made up of the frequencies between TV channel broadcast signals. Broadcasters had opposed the use of this spectrum because they feared interference problems.
But as the United States wrestled with how to more rapidly ramp up its broadband infrastructure, this could be one direction to create a smarter wireless revolution.
Your Friendly Neighborhood Smart Planeteer,
IBM Global Business Services
The bad news: Because of inefficiencies throughout the utility system supply chain, the world’s grids are now incredibly wasteful. Since there is almost no intelligence in the grids to balance loads or monitor power flows, they lose enough electricity annually to power India, Germany and Canada for an entire year.
The good news: There are some folks working on making utilities smarter. James Governor mentions John Soyring in his recent post, and here’s a and a four minute interview with Ron Ambrosio on what IBM is working on:
UPDATE: we’re creating a new animation where the five-year-old boy’s analogy more accurately reflects how the utility grid operates.
Well, color me hopeful. In James Governor’s post, IBM Joins
Obama’s Coalition for a Smart Planet: Change!,
on exactly the right problems- the problems that Obama has also pledged to
make his own.”
As James mentions in his comparison, one priority we’re working
on is finding a solution for the lack of clean water for a fifth of the world’s
population. In the debate around this blog’s first post, the point is made:
"the economic structures do not exist in these regions to build the
necessary infrastructure making clean water delivery possible.”
But consider the Play Pump.
A handful of folks install a merry-go-round in sub-Saharan African countries. Kids spin this around as they play — which
apparently takes very little training — and energy from their play pumps water from the ground
for their community. The pump offers space
for advertising, which pays for the setup. It’s not complex. It’s not
technical. It’s just smart.
A friend who sits a few cubicles away from me at work, Matt
Berry, recently returned from a Corporate Service Corps trip to
where he spent a month helping install stairmaster-type machines that pump
water for the village. I’m assuming the
kids weren’t aware there was an option for playground equipment. See photo below from his trip. Matt is the guy on the far right. (more on his blog, registration required).
For sure, solving the problems Governor mentions like getting clean drinking water to those who need it will require the world’s top thinkers. Sharon Nunes is trying to figure out how to provide enough clean water
to support the nine billion people who will inhabit our planet by the year
2050. She’s studying systems in nature,
like the mechanisms the ocean uses today to cleanse itself of pollutants, and applying that knowledge to learn how we might remove heavy metals or
contaminants from water systems. I won’t
be able to bring much to the table on that one.
But a PhD, economic structures, elaborate infrastructures or a trip to Africa are not required for me to be able to contribute to solving one of these tough problems. I can become part of the solution by contacting an organization like AmeriCares, UNICEF, Save the Children, etc. Heck, we can all do something like that.
Can’t we ?
When you read Sam’s speech, it’s obvious what a smarter planet would mean for the large, complex systems that constitute the way the world works. It’s obvious that our cities, organizations, supply chains, economies and the planet’s environment – from water systems to climate systems to forests and beyond – could become manageable and sustainable in wholly new ways.
But what does a smarter planet mean for the individual? The short answer, I think, is that this is a last-shall-be-first moment. If the job of leaders is, as Sam describes it, to act more like followers – by listening, facilitating, collaboration, acknowledging that they are not in control, opening up, becoming far more transparent, etc. – then perhaps the job of "followers" (i.e., the world’s poor, the new populations joining the middle class, employees, global citizens, et al.) may be to act like leaders – to be bold, to act like they own the place, to experiment, to expand their horizons.
How might individuals begin to do that? I’d suggest three ways:
- Go Web 2.0. Embrace the long tail.
- Look at your own area of responsibility through the lens of ‘smarter planet,’ and see what this frame lights up… what it transforms… what it could expand.
- Personally engage in the big-picture societal work that is newly possible.
Sam’s speeches so far have been directed to leaders. For them, the challenge is to seize this moment, to embrace the world’s eagerness for change and use it to be bold, game-changing.
But as families, as neighbors, as employees, as partners, as suppliers, as scholars, as global citizens… we can seize the same opportunity, too – the chance to change our lives, our work, our communities, our future. And the way to do that is to participate, to co-create, to network, to jam. The key is to understand that these amazing new capabilities make the planet’s infrastructure available to the individual, to every individual, without regard to wealth or physical location or power.
In other words, the exponential increase in connectivity — and therefore in ‘smart’ connections — means an exponential increase in new ideas, new products, new businesses, political and economic relationships and institutions and new communities. That’s the deeper promise of a smarter planet – far larger and more consequential than the initial increases in efficiency it will drive.
So, for instance, any of us could choose to get involved in any of the big-picture societal/planetary possibilities Sam tees up: an Energy Internet (see Tom Friedman’s new book), monitoring natural systems, social epidemiology, microfinance, access to clean water, etc. For IBMers, things like On Demand Community and World Community Grid are directly related to the new capabilities we’re describing. Any of the systems described in Sam’s speeches is going to have its primary transformation from billions of diverse, unconnected but networked individuals acting locally and collectively having an enormous impact.
So, a Linda Richman moment…
Discuss: Web 1.0 was the Information Web. Web 2.0 is the Social Web. And Web 3.0 (a.k.a. the smarter planet) is the Societal Web.
Here’s another: If a smarter planet is going to become sustainable (ecologically, politically, humanistically) – in other words, if our species is going to survive – it will be because the billions of people on the Net make it so.
When we talk about the “networked” economy, many people assume that this refers to the way that the Internet has revolutionized many facets of business and life. While the Web has transformed the world, the forest we may be missing for all the online trees is the way in which all kinds of physical and organizational networks, not just digital ones, are poised for any even bigger leap in the Smarter Planet era.
A better understanding begins with a simple question: what is a network, anyway?
Three of the connotations that are most meaningful in the Smarter Planet context are:
- A complex, interconnected group or system
- An extended group of people with similar interests
- An interwoven or interrelated number of things
Consider all these examples.
Transportation systems – including roads, railways, airlines, shipping companies – are all networks. So too are the various ways in which goods and services are manufactured, produced and sold. Think of supply chains, distribution centers and logistical services.
Financial systems of all kinds, from banks and investments firms to stock and bond markets, real estate listings and transactions and all institutions that help manage the flow of money, are all networks too.
Human organizations of every type, from neighborhoods and towns, to cities, states, and nations, from businesses and civic to public communities and learning institutions are all networks of people. Add to that things like museums, amusement parks, archives, foundations, interest groups and the like.
Our electricity and utility infrastructures are of course networks that are deeply entwined in human civilizations.
Our brains are a neural network. Space satellites. Pools of cable TV, magazine, and newspaper subscribers. Healthcare providers and patients. Legal and law enforcement systems. Credit card holders and services. Scientific collaborators. Families. Religions. Pipelines. Toll booths and ticket machines. Entire industries. Political parties. Even terrorism.
In the modern era of computers and the Internet, we’ve come to equate “network” with the information technology meaning of the term, i.e. a series of points or nodes interconnected by communications paths. Or in the case of the Web, an almost endless series of interconnected networks and subnetworks.
What’s key here is that all the preceding examples of networks –- social, commercial and informational –- existed long before digital networks came along. Yet in only little more than a decade, we’ve almost come to see physical, interpersonal and economic networks as synonymous with their digital and online incarnations.
But the key idea about Smarter Planet is that the digital and physical will converge in profoundly literal, and deeply conceptual, ways. One might begin to think of this melding — the digiphys, to coin a term — as two sides of the same coin.
The Next NetWorks
As powerful as this intermingling of human and digital networks has been, something bigger is on the horizon. It is summed up, at least metaphorically, in what’s come to be known as Metcalfe’s Law of network effects….that the value of a network is proportional to the number of users of the system.
How? In short, all of the aspects of human civilization that are networks have made huge strides through the first phase of the Internet, but the next phase will see the size and interconnectedness (and therefore the value) of these various systems skyrocket. The reason: billions of new users, as well as trillions of new network nodes, via new devices, sensors, pieces of software, and new kinds of ways to manipulate all of these things.
The result will be a shift from relatively crude networks to more complex systems that can become more intelligent, that is, more interactive, more self-aware, more information-rich and more useful to participants.
Some people don’t see this transformation as more than just pat of an ongoing continuum of technology improvement. I would contend that this emerging meme or paradigm is a disruptive change, more like the arrival of the Internet itself.
And like it, the smarter planet era promises to be an evolutionary phase change like moving from ice to water, or from single-celled organisms to larger animals.
Yet despite how truly revolutionary the opening act of the Internet has been, we aren’t particularly amazed at how far the world has come. I can now do more on my Blackberry on the train to and from Manhattan — all kinds of Web-based work, answering email and scheduling meetings, online banking, uploading photos to Facebook, updating Twitter, etc. — than I could have ever done by most computers just a decade ago.
Conversely, people have a hard time projecting the same trajectory of change and innovation into the future. My bet is that even just five years from now the world will be transformed by emergence of the New NetWorks that will form the foundation of a worldwide intelligent infrastructure.
Consider the century-old telephone. Today, it not only is increasingly digital and mobile, but every aspect of the system it is connected to it is increasingly intelligent and more capable. Caller ID lets you know who is phoning you, and call histories, speed dial and even voice activation mean a user rarely has to remember or dial a number. Voice mail means you never miss a message. Location awareness brings a whole new realm of possibilities in terms of services and utility. Mobile phones are even beginning to serve as transactional tools. And wireless broadband technologies now mean that billions of users will have the entire universe of Internet innovation in their pocket.
As all of our first-generation Internet-enabled networks evolve into systems with all kinds of richer intelligence embedded in them, they can begin to serve the pressing needs of a world that Tom Friedman’s describes in his forthcoming book as Hot, Flat & Crowded.
Intelligent systems may be emerging just in time to help us deal with all of its most pressing challenges: energy and climate change, a sustainable model for economic growth, and the political stability to become a new world fueled by new innovation capabilities.
In some sense, we already have the blueprint of a complex, intelligent system: human civilization, science and the Internet model. Thus the first challenge is to marshal our collective will and energy around the possibility of creating all the various flavors of intelligent systems that we may need to grow and prosper, economically, culturally and globally.
If we succeed, we promise to redefine the key concept we started with, from network to NetWork, from an organizational construct to one that suggests a dynamic and ongoing process of value creation.
Your Friendly Neighborhood Smart Planeteer,
IBM Global Business Services
Plan Bee is my approach to evangelizing Smarter Planet beyond IBM, and in my new role as a social media communications expert in IBM’s consulting practice, Global Business Services.
As the title suggests, Plan Bee is about cross-pollinating ideas and knowledge through a mixture of old-fashioned conversation and storytelling and a share them through a variety of Web 2.0 vectors such as this blog, its companion version on Tumblr and the #smarterplanet "stream" on Twitter.
The idea is to work like a bee: listen and learn from a variety of experts inside and outside IBM, let some of my own knowledge about smarter planet rub off on them, and carry new insights on to others. Rinse and repeat. (And see Postscript below for how you can participate.)
The plan jumpstarted itself this week when I sat down with Robert Goldberg (right), co-founder of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest, to compare notes on how the smarter agenda might impact healthcare. Bob and I had both been blogging about "ehealth" — healthcare IT, electronic medical records, genomics, bioinformatics and personalized medicine — for several years (he through DrugWonks and myself via Healthnex). We also happened to live in adjacent NJ suburbs.
While I hadn’t intended to apply the Plan Bee approach, our discussions naturally followed that course. Bob showed me several examples of ways that healthcare and medicine are becoming smarter. One service, iGuard, is a kind of social network for people to share their experiences with various medications, get alerts, check interactions and securely share their meds with healthcare professionals.
(I’d also heard about healthcare social networking or computing services such as PatientsLikeMe that
enable groups of people with particular ailments to share their information with each other and their scientific data with researchers. This idea of MySpace meets Mayo Clinic is, I think, a great model of smarter healthcare.)
Bob also showed me MediCompass Connect, from a company called iMetrikus that is focused on remote healthcare monitoring systems. As the Website explains, the MediCompass enables patients to:
“seamlessly upload biometric data from over 45 personal health monitoring devices … including glucose monitors, insulin pumps, blood pressure monitors, digital spirometers, pedometers, and weight scales”
and then send their data via device connected to a standard phone line or networked PC.
Like a good worker Bee, I pointed Bob to services such as FitBit, which makes a small wireless device that can monitor your daily health activity such as calories burned or steps taken, as well as the quality of one’s sleep. The data flows to the Web where it can help people become more cognizant of their
health and automate some of the tracking of activity level that can help all of us become smarter about our bodies and more in charge of our health.
Both of us agreed that this trend toward “patient-centric” healthcare – where individuals are both more empowered to manage their health as well as more responsible for it, economically and otherwise – is where the world should be moving.
The Psychology of Smarter Planet
We also talked about trends and books, and Goldberg was kind enough to lend me The Watercooler Effect, by psychologist Nicholas DiFonzo on the power of rumors.
In the first chapter DiFonzo described two fundamentals of human nature or behavior that deeply inform how smarter planet is about much more than technology and data. In addition to our social nature and need to communicate with each other, DiFonzo note that “humans have a deeply rooted motivation to make sense of the world.”
Eureka. DiFonzo had put his finger directly on the human impulse that was the real driving force behind IBM’s ambition to help the world’s infrastructure become more sentient. Smarter Planet isn’t really about cars that could drive themselves, sensors and computing embedded in everything or artificially intelligent grids that would shuttle power around like bits. It is about human mastery of the world we need to live more sustainably in. It is about being able to understand and coexist with the physical world. It is about making sense of the complex social, economic and informational systems and networks that we are part of.
“We are sensemaking beings,” DiFonzo continued. "To make sense is to give meaning to our sensations, to put context around them so that they gain significance and fit into an understanding that coheres … To make sense is to put our experiences into perspective so that they can be understood, known about, navigated, and predicted.”
DiFonzo also tied human social and cognitive propensities together as shared sensemaking. That, for my money, is the real story of Smarter Planet: our creative and collaborative desire to build the kind of world we want, and need.
Lastly, The Watercooler Effect mainly investigates the under-appreciated aspects of rumor, and in that spirit, I’ll end by taking on two questions about Smarter Planet that if not rumors, are two speculations or misconceptions that I’d like to address.
The first is the skeptical notion that Smarter Planet is not much more than a marketing or publicity campaign. I think the simple answer is if it is, then it will fail. I don’t think IBM would be staking so much of its reputation and its strategic focus on something it didn’t believe in, both in terms of its business objectives and corporate values. That doesn’t mean a smarter planet is going to emerge miraculously overnight to save us from the hydra-headed challenges of energy, climate, financial malaise and healthcare costs. Nor can IBM be a solitary white knight in this endeavor. It takes a planet to build a smarter planet.
The other hesitation I’ve heard is that there’s nothing really new about the smarter planet meme. I think that is a fundamental misunderstanding of the changes in the world around us. We are on the cusp of an order of magnitude change in the nature of realtime, massive data gathering, processing and
application to human life. The one thing smarter planet isn’t about is just “the Internet, only more.”
In fact, what’s taking shape is a three-dimensional shift in the order of magnitude of the information around us, what I call Data 3V: a sea change in the volume, variety and velocity of data processing. I’ll pick up on that topic in my next post.
Postscript: Does this Plan Bee approach to Smarter Planet get your brain buzzing? If so I’d like to talk to you and share our stories. Please include Plan Bee in the subject of your email.
Your Smart Planeteer,
IBM Global Business Services
It isn’t hard to rattle off a long list of problems facing the world these days. The systems that make the world work – food, healthcare, traffic, energy, and financial systems to name a few – are in dramatic need of change. They are all in need of becoming smarter to meet the needs of a complex world.
On November 6th, IBM’s CEO, Sam Palmisano, outlined a new agenda for addressing many of these issues – for building a smarter planet – during a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations.
In the speech, he outlines a number of the challenges faced today by people, governments, businesses and organizations. A lack of clean water for a fifth of the world’s population. Energy systems that waste more energy than they produce. Traffic in our cities that clogs roads and chokes economic growth.
Clearly there are no simple solutions for these problems.
Technology can play a big role in helping find answers to these problems. While the Internet currently connects more than a billion people, in just a few years, it will connect more than a trillion objects. Everything from cell phones, cars, roads, buildings, and even objects in nature itself, will have embedded technology and be connected to one another, enabling tremendous advances in how we understand how the world works and make smarter decisions to make it work better.
But technology is just part of the solution. Without the people, policies and culture to inspire and execute the change, nothing ultimately gets done. From Sam’s speech:
Leaders will need to hone their collaboration skills, because we will need leadership that pulls across systems. We will need to bring together stakeholders and experts from across business, government and academia, and all of them will need to move outside their traditional comfort zones.
I’m struck by the questions this raises. What investments need to be made by both public and private institutions? What policy issues need to be debated and resolved? What role can individual citizens and employees play in helping bring about meaningful change?
I’m also struck by the potential opportunities inherent in finding solutions to these problems.
The hope for this blog is to explore some of those opportunities. To surface some of the issues and challenges facing us as we collectively look to build a smarter world.
In coming days, weeks and months, we’ll be exploring new ideas and interviewing some of the world’s smartest people on these topics to address these issues that matter to the world.
In the meantime, tell us what you think. What matters to you? What do you see in the world that needs to be smarter? And what are your ideas on how to get there? Leave a comment. Let us know. We are listening.