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July, 29th 2009

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Following is a guest post from Jai Menon:

Consider this: every year grocers and consumers throw away $48 billion worth of food, even as hunger inflicts millions. Congested roadways in the U.S. cost $78 billion annually, in the form of 4.2 billion lost work hours and 2.9 billion gallons of wasted gas. Sixty-two percent of all electrical energy is lost due to inefficiencies in the grid. 2.2 million dispensing errors are made every year in the U.S. alone because of handwritten prescriptions, a 100,000 people a year die in U.S. hospitals due to mistakes, and our healthcare system loses $100 billion dollars a year to fraud.

I find it difficult to accept that we, as a society, allow these things to happen. Smarter technology and smart people can surely fix these problems – indeed, don’t we have an obligation to fix these problems?

282x120_sp_jam2Earlier this year, we thought we would try to find out what the 20-something generation thought of these problems, and what they might want to do about it. So we hosted an online brainstorming conversation, called a “Jam”, with university students and faculty to discuss how we can make our planet smarter.

The Jam ran for 72 hours, and allowed 2000 people from 40 different countries to brainstorm online about how to improve healthcare; manage limited water supplies; build smarter electricity grids; and improve our cities. Some students jammed alone, others jammed together with their classmates. Because the Jam makes it easy to carry on a conversation and to build on what others have said, I found myself waking up first thing in the morning to see what new ideas had been added, on top of something I had previously contributed, by people in other time zones who were jamming while I was sleeping.

I was energized by the level of optimism I found among the students. 95% of students either are already in an environmental club on campus, or would like to join one, 90% are very sure or think there is a good chance we will all be driving 100 miles per gallon cars by 2025 and 65% are either sure or think there is a chance we will reverse Global CO2 emissions by 2025. These numbers are far more optimistic than if we were to poll average citizens.

I found fascinating insights in the discussion on education and the future of universities. Students proposed using project-based teams that span geographies, disciplines and institutions as the best way to learn the inter-disciplinary skills they saw as necessary for the future, they proposed  student-led learning concepts with faculty as coaches and they saw a large increase in global online classroom opportunities with use of video and virtual worlds. In the discussion on smart cities, I found some keen insights about how smart cities need to be adaptable and dynamic, how virtual worlds can be used to test out new ideas about a city, and the importance of smart evacuation systems which turn off gas valves and open/shut doors and windows automatically after a disaster.

I learnt from the students, but I also think they got a lot out of it. Here is what one of the student contributors said:

Before the Jam, I didn’t expect much from a discussion about our planet, but thanks to IBM, the Jammers were able to take me to another level. Topics like building smart cities had never crossed my mind and thanks to the discussions, I can now think in a new dimension when it comes to solutions for our towns here in Uganda. The ideas that emerged were far-reaching and I can’t wait for the next Jam.

Please read the Smarter Planet jam report if you get a chance. I think of this as the start of a dialogue that must continue. To help, we have launched a Facebook application that allows students to connect with IBM mentors, and we have also launched a new initiative that allows IBMers to remotely initiate and support university projects in smarter planet areas. These are being rolled out regionally and will be expanded world-wide following refinement.

I am looking forward to continuing this dialogue with students and faculty. The more of tomorrow’s leaders we can engage in this discussion of a smarter planet, the better all of our futures will be.

Jai Menon is an IBM vice president and vice chair of IBM’s Academy of Technology. Among other responsibilities, he serves as the global leader of IBM’s University Collaboration programs and works with academia to establish innovative research and build 21st century skills in support of the innovation economy.

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July 31, 2009
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[...] sure to check out some of the other blog posts talking about the Jam including one on this blog from Jai Menon, IBM vice president and vice chair of IBM’s Academy of [...]

Posted by: Student Insights on Smarter Cities | A Smarter Planet
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