With the first sessions just now concluded, I’m left with two overriding and related impressions.
First, I was impressed with the substance presented about the role that technology is playing in the modernization and urban development around the globe. Now, I’m sure you are saying, “of course you’d say that, you are from IBM.” True, perhaps, except that this sentiment didn’t come from IBM. It came clearly from the first two presenters, Madam Ma Xiuhong, Vice Minister of Commerce, People’s Republic of China, and Yang Xiong, Senior Vice Mayor, City of Shanghai. Both Madam Xiuhong and Mr Xiong spent considerable time discussing the specific role technology has played in the massive transformation of China over the past two decades. Madam Xiuhong spoke at length about how the Chinese Government sees the Internet of Things as fundamental in the future development of cities and fueling worldwide growth. In fact, considering every speaker spoke at length about the Internet of Things, I’ll be writing up a separate post on that later.
Second, it was clear that the the massive modernization and urbanization happening in China places it at a monumental point in its long history. This fact has not been lost on its leaders and they articulated a very clear vision of how they plan to use the government’s resources to actively exploit these factors to shape the future development of China’s cities and the country as a whole. China wants to build smarter cities, from the ground up.
This underscored a point that IBM’s CEO, Sam Palmisano, made during a panel discussion with China Mobile’s CEO, Wang Jianzhou. The panel moderator, Yang Lan, (the famous Chinese TV host, businesswoman, and Chairperson of Sun Media Group) asked whether the concepts for a smarter city were more relevant to developed cities, rather than developing cities. Sam countered that the opposite, in fact, is true because many developed cities have to deal with a built infrastructure that heralds from a bygone era.
This point was illustrated by the story Mr. Jinzhou shared about how a 13-year old boy called his mother from the summit of Mount Everest to tell her he was “on top of the world.” In one of the most remote places on earth, he had access to a regular cell connection. By contrast, Sam shared his experiences in trying to make calls in Greenwich Connecticut, one of the richest suburbs in the world, but can rarely connect the call because of the lack of cell towers in the area.
Of the 100 fastest growing cities in the world, 97 are in developing economies. The opportunity to build from scratch smarter, sustainable cities is a luxury only the developing world enjoys.