Smart cities: how computers are changing our world for the better

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The world is flat, hot and crowded, as Thomas Friedman says in his last book. Luckily, we can also say that it is getting more and more intelligent. Our world is increasingly interconnected and increasingly able to talk to us: people, systems and objects can communicate and interact with one another in completely new ways. Now we have the means to measure, hear and see instantaneously the state of all things. When all things, including processes and working methods, are intelligent, we will be able to respond to changing conditions with more speed and more focus, and make more precise forecasting which in turn will lead to optimization of future events. This ongoing transformation has given birth to the concept of Smart Cities, cities that are able to take action and improve the quality of life of their inhabitants, reconciling it with the needs of trades, factories, service industries and institutions by means of an innovative and pervasive use of digital technologies.

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Smart cities: how computers are changing our world for the better

  1. 1. Smart cities: how computers are changing our world for the better  by Roberto Siagri  “Because, looking at today's world, the most striking change is not just the  availability  of  technology,  but  its  impact  on  humanity.  ICT  radically  alters  how  people  inhabit  the  world,  how  they  interact,  how  they  perceive  the  world around them: indeed, it is changing what it is to be a human being in  society.   Think of the awareness we have about the world around us, how it is altered  and  enhanced  by  having  available  multiple  flows  of  information  from  multiple sources, all tailored to our interests. This extended awareness has  an  impact  on  our  intelligence,  our  consciousness,  and  our  society:  on  the  very things which are fundamental to being human. (*)  Neelie Kroes            Vice‐President of the European Commission   responsible for Digital Agenda     Introduction The world is flat, hot and crowded, as Thomas Friedman1 says in his last book. Luckily, we can also say that it is getting more and more intelligent. Our world is increasingly interconnected and increasingly able to talk to us: people, systems and objects can communicate and interact with one another in completely new ways. Now we have the means to measure, hear and see instantaneously the state of all things. When all things, including processes and working methods, are intelligent, we will be able to respond to changing conditions with more speed and more focus, and make more precise forecasting which in turn will lead to optimization of future events. This ongoing transformation has given birth to the concept of Smart Cities, cities that are able to take action and improve the quality of life of their inhabitants, reconciling it with the needs of trades, factories, service industries and institutions by means of an innovative and pervasive use of digital technologies. To understand the concept of Smart City, we need first to consider the evolution of computers and of the human-computer interaction from a historical point of view. As Mark Weiser and John Seely Brown wrote in 1996 in the article “Designing Calm Technology”2, while technology evolves, the place it occupies in our life changes, progressively shifting from the center to the periphery. We could say that what really counts is not technology per se, but technology in connection with us humans, and it is important to consider how the modern computer, in its brief 60-year life, has changed the quality of this connection. We can identify three main stages (fig. 1), each with its own computational paradigm and its own connection mode: the mainframe stage, the PC stage and the IoT stage. We will analyze them later in more detail... for now let's say that the mainframe stage is when computers were mostly managed by experts behind closed doors, and users had to negotiate access and share computing time. The PC (personal computer) stage is when computers became a personal                                                              (*) Paradiso conference (The Internet for a global sustainable future) Brussels, 8 September 2011  1  Thomas L. Friedman. “Hot, Flat, and Crowded. Why we need a Green Revolution, and how it can renew America“, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008  2  Weiser & Brown. "Designing Calm Technology", PowerGrid Journal, v 1.01, (July 1996) http://people.csail.mit.edu/rudolph/Teaching/weiser.pdf (July 1996). 
  2. 2. property, and for the first time the owner had undivided access to its resources. Today we are in the stage of the IoT (Internet of Things), also called M2M (Machine to Machine), where the minimal cost and dimensions of electronic components, coupled with the evolution of the Internet, is leading to the pervasive presence of interconnected small computers in all things. Sales/Year      Fig. 1: Main trends of computational power and sold items per year in relative units3 In the present stage there is a deep interconnection between the digital world (where data are made of bits) and the real world (where things are made of atoms). At first Mark Weiser called it the era of the ubiquitous computer4, then it was called the era of pervasive computation or the era of Ambient Intelligence. In any case, it always refers to a kind of “augmented reality”, as opposed to the virtual reality that only exists inside computers. The pervasive presence of computers in the material things that surround us allows us to see the world as if we had more than our five senses. Better still, it increases our ability to perceive reality, as if we were wearing a computational exoskeleton5. While virtual reality is mainly a question of computational power and good simulation programs, augmented reality raises complex issues of integration among human factors, computer science, engineering and social sciences. And there is no better example of this kind of integration than smart cities, which make available to local administrators and citizens alike an enormous amount of information, gathered from the myriad computers scattered in the city area. In real time, these computers provide deep and detailed knowledge of every aspect of city life, from transportation to housing, from security to health care issues (including telemedicine), from energy-saving measures to pollution monitoring and waste management. Life is easier in a Smart City... When everything is under control, the world is a much more reassuring place. When the future can be planned effectively, it appears far less threatening and unfathomable.                                                              3   http://www.ubiq.com/hypertext/weiser/UbiHome.html   4  Mark Weiser, "The Computer for the Twenty-First Century," Scientific American, pp. 94-10, September 1991  5  Roberto Siagri, Pervasive computers and the GRID: the birth of a computational exoskeleton for augmented reality, ACM ESEC-FSE ’07, Sept. 2007   
  3. 3. Just like Weiser and Brown imagined back in 1996, technology approaches our lives in such a friendly way that they called it “the calm technology”.       The three stages of computer evolution As mentioned above, the first is the so-called “mainframe stage”, which lasted roughly from 1960 to 1990. At that time, computers were a scarce and extremely expensive resource. Users had to make agreements with those responsible of the computation center, and then had to share computing time with other expert users. Everything took place in a kind of sacred ceremony where the mainframe was a deity, the computation center was the shrine, the director of the center was the high priest, and the rare users were the chosen few admitted to the rites. The second big period is the Personal Computer stage, which lasted from 1985 to 2005 (fig. 2). Around 1985, the number of PC users surpassed for the first time the number of mainframe users6, and the computer became a personal property. Today we have our own computer, which holds our own data, and which is exclusively at our service. But when the PC first entered our homes, it was almost like a car – something special and rather expensive, which could take you “where you wanted to go” but required a great deal of care in order to function properly. Today, just as we can have several cars, we can have several computers, one for the home, one for the office, one for going around... Stages  Main trends in computer science Interaction   Human‐to‐Machine connection 1⁰ – Mainframe  many users sharing a single computer  1:N  2⁰ ‐ Personal Computer  one user, one computer  1:1  advent of the Internet   3⁰ ‐ Ubiquitous Computing  ... transition to ...  many computers shared by each one of us      N:1    The pressure toward standardization7, which today allows us to use the same software on machines made by different manufacturers, resulted in one PC winning over all viable solutions: the one based on the IBM project, working with the Intel processor and the Windows operating system. The well-known PC MAC, made solely by Apple, was able to resist up to now with an original architecture, but the hardware and software are getting more and more similar to the PC-Wintel (Windows-Intel). Before addressing the third stage, I would like to deal briefly with the Internet. We are all familiar with the term, but what is important here is how computer nets can drastically change (and improve) the way we humans work and interact, and this was exactly what Weiser had anticipated. Billions of people today are interconnected, exchanging billions of relevant data. When the Internet was born, the possibility to share information was not obvious at all... the web was read-only and the data flow was mono-directional, that is to say, it went only from the site to the user and not the other way around! Things changed with the read-write web, when the data flow became                                                              6  http://arstechnica.com/business/2012/08/from-altair-to-ipad-35-years-of-personal-computer-market-share/4/  7  The first PC as we know it was made by IBM. After its architecture was made public, the IBM PC was literally cloned, and many other makes entered the market. Later, compatible PCs reproduced the functions of the IBM PC, but using original implementations. Today, due to the extreme standardization of functions and components, any PC is the same no matter who the manufacturer is. 
  4. 4. bidirectional. Blogs and social networks further amplified this phenomenon, to such an extent that today we are talking about the social web or web 2.0. Interestingly, the Internet merges elements of the mainframe era and of the PC era, because a personal computer can also be seen as an evolved terminal that can operate without any connection to the PC-server. This is why we increasingly use the word “client” instead of “terminal” to indicate a PC connected to a server, where the server “serves” the data required by the client. It is clear at this point that the Internet amplifies, on a global and massive scale, the mainframe-terminal paradigm.                      Fig. 2:  Sales trends for Personal Computers, Tablets and Smartphones per year8 The third stage is the one in which we are living today. It began just after 2010 and will presumably last well over 2020. In this short period of time the web will change considerably, going from 2.0 to 3.0. Even if it is still in embryo today, the web 3.0 will certainly mean far better access to the enormous amount of data available on the net, thanks to the expected enhancement and optimization of the search engines and of the tools for data search and analysis. In the near future, each one of us will share a growing multitude of computers, from the hundreds that can be accessed in a few minutes of Internet surfing, to the thousands that will be available as soon as the Internet of Things reaches full operation. It will then be possible to communicate with computers embedded in walls, chairs, clothes, cars, appliances of all kinds, pretty much everything! Later on, the process of interconnection between the real and the digital world will expand to all dimensions, including (in a few years) the microscopic scale, as soon as nanomachines will begin to be built9. With the advent of nanomachines, many sectors will develop greatly, and medicine most of all: targeted medications, nanorobots                                                              8  This graphic was obtained by merging data from different sources: Gartner, IDC, Strategic Analytics, BI Intelligence  9  Gabriel, K. "Engineering Microscopic Machines." Scientific American, Sept. 1995, Vol. 273, No. 3, pp. 118-121  
  5. 5. that repair the body, clean up arteries, improve metabolism, find and destroy viruses10, and much more... just think of the treatment of lethal degenerative diseases. The era of the Internet of Things and Big Data If today we can predict the emergence of the IoT, it is thanks to the on-going trends of computer miniaturization, performance increase and cost reduction. Our home computers are more powerful than the one used by NASA for the Apollo project, which took the man to the moon, and they only cost a few hundred euros. In time, it will cost less than ten euros to install a web-server in every industrial machine, office equipment or home appliance. The more costs and dimensions of computers plummet, the more the IoT becomes a reality (fig.3). According to the most recent estimates, somewhat between 20 and 50 billion of intelligent devices will be connected to the Internet before the year 2020 (fig.4). Cost  per  Unit    Time Fig. 3:  Miniaturization and multiplication: everything is becoming intelligent Besides, these billions of interconnected devices will generate a huge data flow on the Internet. This data flow, so huge that it is called Big Data11 (fig.5), will in turn oblige us to find new management strategies. To understand the scale here, note that in fig.5 the unit of measurement is expressed in Exabytes (one billion of billions of bytes). As we can see, shortly after 2015 we will reach one thousand Exabytes per year, equal to one Zettabyte. To get an idea of what a Zettabyte is, think of the digital equivalent of 36,000,000 years of high definition video, or else 250 billion of DVDs. Besides the difficulty of handling such an incredible amount of data, there is another problem: how to assign a unique IP (Internet Protocol) address to each intelligent device connected to the Internet. The protocol most commonly used today is IPv4. As it is not powerful enough, a revision of the protocol has                                                              10    Robert A. Freitas Jr , TheFuture of Nanomedicine , 2010,   http://www.wfs.org/Dec09‐Jan10/freitas.htm IDC defines Big Data as a new generation of technologies and architectures designed to extract economic value from very large amounts of data, through high-speed data search, acquisition and analysis.   11    IDC defines Big Data as a new generation of technologies and architectures designed to extract economic value from very large amounts of data, through high-speed data search, acquisition and analysis. 
  6. 6. been implemented, known as IPv6 12. The new version will be able to address more than one thousand devices for each atom on the surface of earth13. There is therefore nothing to be concerned about: humanity will cope with any level of proliferation of intelligent nanomachines. Figure 4: projection of the number of devices connected to the internet There is no doubt that such an enormous amount of computers and data will have a great social impact. If we analyze this phenomenon from a historical point of view, we can see that computers are having the same impact of two other great technologies of the past, language and writing. Both language and writing have been huge innovations, but now they are simply a natural part of our background, taken for granted by everyone, and every single day we forget how long it took us to master them, and how much they changed human life... the same will be true for computers and computation. We have seen that the third stage was made possible, on the one hand by lower cost and increased performance of microchips, an unstoppable trend illustrated by the well-known Moore law14, on the other by the spreading of the Internet.                                                              12    Internet Protocol Specification Version 6, http://www.ietf.org/rfc/rfc2460.txt; if compared to IPv4, the internet protocol currently adopted, the most evident advantage of IPv6 is its address space. IPv4 has 32 bits available for addresses, that is a maximum address number of 2^32 or else 4.3×10^9 (4.3 billion, less than the totality of humans on Earth). IPv6 has 120 bits available for addresses, that is 2^120 or 1.3×10^36 (1,3 peta zetta), largely enough for future needs. 13   http://www.edn.com/electronics-blogs/other/4306822/IPV6-How-Many-IP-Addresses-Can-Dance-on-the-Head-of-a-Pin-  14    In 1965 Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel, observed that silicon chips followed a predictable trend: since their invention in 1958, the density of transistors on a chip doubled each year. In practical terms, this means that the performance of a  personal computer doubles every 18 months. This has been happening for decades now, and it is widely known as  Moore's law.    
  7. 7.   Figure 5: the explosive growth of data ( source Cisco 2011) Today, in western countries, an average of 50 microprocessors can be found in any home, and more than 30 can be found in a medium to high level car. We find them in thermostats, remote controls, audio and video devices, telephones, toys and many other objects, even if not all of them already feature a persistent channel allowing them to communicate with the external world, that is, with the mobile computers that we always carry along with us, and that we will soon wear like clothes. Many objects, although already equipped with a computer, cannot be considered as IoT yet, as they can only be used one at a time and are not connected to the Internet. We will say that we have effectively entered the era of the Internet of Things when all these objects are connected and able to communicate with any other object and with human beings. When this happens, we will gain access to billions of information sources, both at home and at the office, and even while we are on the move. The kitchen oven will download new recipes that can be prepared with what is left in the fridge, the fridge will update us on the expiry date of foods and will prepare the grocery list for us, the scale will check with the other appliances and suggest the recipes most suited to our diet... in the near future we can even imagine intelligent walls changing color and texture according to our mood and to the situation, and floors warning us of the presence of intruders. Even setting aside this domestic scenario, we can observe how the IoT in general will simplify our lives, taking care of our daily chores and tasks, leaving us more time to do the things that are most important to us. In a Smart City, a pervasive computer network can give us assistance and support in many ways: interactive road signs that regulate traffic and reduce traffic jams, use of buses and trams according to real needs, smart control of energy efficiency and security in buildings, in short, the solution to many problems that today hamper sustainable growth and restrict quality of life. The IoT is also radically changing the way computers are designed. Now that computers are becoming so essential in our lives, it is more and more important that they have low consumption levels and are battery-operated. Given that consumption must be evaluated in relation to performance, the most important unit of
  8. 8. measurement is MIPS/Watt, or Millions of Instructions Per Second for every needed Watt15. Jonathan Koomey and his colleagues at Stanford University discovered that the number of operations performed for every joule16 of dissipated energy doubles every 18 months. This is known as Koomey's law, and it describes fairly well the improvement in computers' energy efficiency from 1950 to the present day. Periphery and the calm technology Before discussing the impact that technological progress will have on cities, there is another aspect that needs to be tackled, and it is the meaning of the two concepts of center and periphery. With the word "periphery" we mean all the things that surround us but that do not specifically require our attention in a given moment 17. According to some studies18 we know that the average human brain can deal with three variables, and with a maximum of five with extreme difficulty. In these conditions, it becomes evident that the real world needs to be shifted almost in its entirety to the periphery of our conscious mind, where it remains in a state of relative irrelevance, but whence it can be retrieved and placed at the center almost instantaneously whenever necessary. When we learn to easily move objects back and forth between the periphery and the center, we suddenly become able to deal with far more than five variables at a time, and this in turn makes us feel relaxed and in control. It is to this perception of tranquility that the definition of “calm technology” applies. Smart cities The idea of the Smart City originates from the large availability of ever smaller and cheaper computers, and from the spread of wireless and non-wireless data connection. The pervasiveness of interconnected computers, which provides a huge amount of detailed information, makes it finally possible to conceive more integrated and efficient cities, where administrators and operators of all kinds can take more knowledgeable decisions, based on the analysis of data collected over a long period of time, or else available in real time. This in turn makes it possible to offer better services and assistance to residents, and to foster a more harmonious development of urban areas. To be really smart, a city has to provide a safe and clean environment, reliable public transportation, opportunities for sports, cultural activities, residential development.. The urban space has to be so attractive and lively, the quality of life has to be so good, that the city becomes enormously appealing to residents and                                                              15     On the Green500 List released on June 28, 2013, which lists the 500 most energy efficient computers, the first position is held by the Aurora Tigon supercomputer of Eurotech, with 3,2 GFLOP/Watt. One GFLOPS equals one billion floating point operations per second. One Watt equals the power required to lift from the table and take to one's lips an espresso coffee.  16     One Joule roughly corresponds to the energy required to lift from the table and take to one's lips an apple, or to lift an apple ( 100g) of one meter (100 cm). One watt, which is one Joule per second, is the power required to take an apple to one's lips in one second. Joules tell us how much energy we need or use. Watts tell us at what speed we can use or supply that energy.   17     [10] Brown, J.S. and Duguid, P. Keeping It Simple: Investigating Resources in the Periphery Solving the Software Puzzle. Ed. T. Winograd, Stanford University.  18     G. S. Halford, R. Backer, J.E. McCredden, J. D. Bain, How many variables can humans process? , American Psychological Society, Vol 16, N.1 
  9. 9. investors alike. There are five main areas in which the new pervasive technology can be of great help: security, mobility, quality of life, sustainable growth, and dealing with great events. The correct and efficient management of these issues will be fundamental in tomorrow's cities. Let's not forget that half the world population today lives in urban areas, and that over 70% will be living in cities by 2050, when the world population will be over 9 billion, based on current estimates. This strong trend alone is already a very good reason to start thinking about smart cities. It is obvious that the rapidly increasing density in urban areas will pose a great challenge, if only in the fields of security, crime prevention, handling of emergencies and natural disasters. City planners are already developing complex strategies that heavily rely on a net of interconnected computers to monitor basic services, like water and electricity supply, public transportation, first-aid and remote medical assistance, but these nets still tend to be structured vertically, each dealing with a specific sector. A real interconnection of the whole system remains to be implemented (fig. 7).        Fig. 7 : Integrated vision of data flow in a Smart City  System integration provides many benefits: it removes the barriers that traditionally delay access to relevant information, and real time data are made available to help administrators deal effectively with problems like pollution, traffic jams, energy consumption, emergencies of any kind. The confluence of all data then makes it easier to take all the variables into account and to decide on the best course of action. Besides, a Smart City is extremely attractive for highly qualified workers, and in a world of high-density knowledge, competence and creativity are essential resources for the economic success of a city... just think about the incredible development of Kochi, Malta and Dubai!   
  10. 10. Cloud Computing and ICT In order for smart cities to become a reality, we need first of all to be able to “measure” all phenomena and events, and smart computers are here to help us. Note that the shift from a disconnected analogic world to an interconnected digital world highly simplifies remote data collection. Once data will have been collected in the field, they will be sent through the net to a computation center to be stored, processed and redistributed. Large computational infrastructures will be available for the management of huge amounts of incoming data but, thanks to the Cloud Computing19 technology, there will be no need to buy or build them physically, because it will be possible to rent computation and storage services according to one's needs. This is extremely important, because it means that every local administration, even the smallest one, will be able to provide useful data and information on demand, communicating with its citizens through the portable and personal “smart” devices (smartphones for instance) that we all know and own. While state-of-the-art technology has almost completely solved hardware issues, there are still some software problems that need tackling, specifically as regards data management. The setting of standards and shared procedures is of the utmost importance, especially in the first stages. To prevent the growth of a digital Tower of Babel, it is absolutely necessary to head toward Open Data20, and toward the technologies that enable the transformation of a product into a service. Just as we do not need to own a power plant to have electricity, we no longer need to buy computers and hard disks to process and store large amounts of data. It can be done on-demand and as-aservice, paying only for what is used. This incredible result, which seemed mere fantasy only ten years ago (even if the basic concept dates back to 196121), was reached by going through different stages of hardware and software standardization and hierarchization. In fact, when the complexity of a system grows, the only way to handle it is to split the system into many subsystems or functional modules, linked to one another through very few points of interaction (think of module standardization in mechanics or hydraulics22). But how can we split such complex systems into separate modules? Is it better to adopt a strategy of vertical or horizontal subdivision? In Cloud Computing, components are split horizontally (fig. 8a) into three superposed layers: the hardware infrastructure (computers, disks, communication and power devices) is called IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service), the platform, which exchanges information with the infrastructure and provides functions to simplify the development of specific applications, is                                                              19     Cloud Computing is the most recent evolution of the Internet, where the server is no longer a property but is shared by many users. Servers are therefore simply rented, and users pay for the service according to their requirements, based on time of use, type of transactions, amount of used memory and so on.  20     From Wikipedia: Open data is the idea that certain data should be freely available to everyone to use and re-publish as they wish, without restrictions from copyright, patents or other mechanisms of control. The goals of the open data movement are similar to those of other "open" movements such as open source, open hardware, open content, and open access. The philosophy behind open data has been long established, but the term "open data" itself is recent, gaining popularity with the rise of the Internet and World Wide Web and, especially, with the launch of open-data government initiatives such as Data.gov and Data.gov.uk.  21     In 1961 John McCarthy ( 1927- 2011) publicly suggested (in a celebration speech for the MIT centenary) that the timesharing technology of computers would lead to applications and computational power being sold as utilities, with the same business model used for water and electricity.  22    Herbert A. Simon, The Architecture of Complexity, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society,, Vol. 106, No. 6. (Dec. 12, 1962), pp.467-482. 
  11. 11. called PaaS (Platform as a Service), and the application software is called SaaS (Software as a Service).        (a)                                                                                                   (b)  Figure 8‐  Cloud architecture and its logical/functional layers  (a),  and  for  number of objects per layer (b)  The three layers can be represented as an inverted triangle (fig.8b) with the infrastructure (Iaas) at the bottom (Cloud technology is very efficient and spares on hardware resources and energy). There are countless “virtual” computers (i.e. programs) running on the physical computers. If communication channels are wide enough (i.e. there is enough bandwidth), the physical computers running the programs can be located anywhere on earth. Built upon the virtual hardware there are different software platforms, according to the services required (customer handling, production management, data reading from counters, localization, geographical positioning systems, and so on). The third layer is the largest and consists of all the software applications. At this level, anything is possible. To clarify this description of the Cloud structure, we can use an analogy. Imagine you want to build a house. First you need a parcel of land in a residential area. These areas are usually provided with all the infrastructures that give access to basic utilities like water and power supply, sewer pipes, telephone lines and so on. This area could be seen as the equivalent of the IaaS. Now, imagine a building contractor who wants to have every possible material on the spot before getting started. He surrounds the parcels of land with everything that is needed to build a house (bricks, pillars, beams, walls, windows, doors, tiles etc.) regardless of the final project. This could be the equivalent of the PaaS. We said before that the platforms can be different according to the service required; in our example it is as if some parcels had the building materials for a one-story house, others for a two-story house, others for a skyscraper, or a sports facility, or a school... The equivalent of the SaaS (Software as a Service) is the finished house. What is really interesting here is that, while in the world of atoms it is unrealistic to have a complete platform available for all possible kinds of buildings (this would mean an enormous waste of time and space), in the digital world it is very possible and does not entail any additional cost or waste, because in Cloud Computing the various components are shared among countless users from the start. Due to this intrinsic resource-sharing mode, everything can be rented as a
  12. 12. service, and no longer has to be bought beforehand. SaaS applications can also be used on remote by any device featuring for instance a web browser. Sustainable growth and information technology Personal Computers and the Internet have grown without regulations, in an apparently chaotic and maybe also de-humanizing way, but they are slowly setting down to a standard and getting organized into a hierarchical structure, able by now to handle the ever growing complexity of our world, and to contribute to the development of a collective conscience and of a better socialization among humans. The only technology that thrives is the one that becomes universal, the one that is able to balance the need for standards, protocols and evolution models on one side, with freedom, creativity and innovation on the other. When the radical transformation brought about by the Internet became apparent, many were those who worked hard to safeguard its transparency, openness and sharing. Thanks to the use of common and open languages, today the Internet is becoming more and more social and “ethical”, and with this new orientation, which involves all the ICT compartment, a new concept of city, and of society, is taking shape. Today's digital technologies have an enormous potential for innovation; in the coming years, billions of people will have access to these technologies, people who are already virtually connected to billions of devices. There are places in the world that are going through a stage of incredible and unstoppable development, right at the moment when the challenges posed by climate change, energy efficiency issues and economic problems are dictating the search for unconventional solutions that are sustainable economically and on a global scale. Thanks to the progress made by ICT, cities and communities can change, and become the driving force of a new sustainable social and economic development. In the last few years, the topic of smart cities has been raised all over the world, and some experimental attempts have been made, but we still have not taken a common road, based on a shared concept of what makes a city intelligent and sustainable, and we still lack the capability to replicate best practices and projects of acknowledged value. The reason is that the many players involved don't speak the same language yet. There are no shared models, procedures or technical standards, no specific solutions to refer to; there are not enough tools, like platforms for data collection and distribution, to help local administrators, companies, citizens, service providers to create the communities of the future. To say the truth, data can already be gathered, but we need to collect them in such a way that they can be interconnected and re-used in the future. To ensure this, it is essential that platforms be implemented where data collectors are kept separated from data users23, that is, where smart computers are kept separated from the applications that are using or will use the data. The idea is to find a way of implementing interconnected systems that can be expanded indefinitely, without it being necessary to rewrite the acquisition and control software or to modify data storage techniques. Besides, data should be gathered in the roughest possible form, in order to protect the integrity of the original information.                                                                  23     An example of such platform is the EDC product by Eurotech, designed to simplify the collection of large amounts of data in the field. For more details please go to: http://www.eurotech.com/dla/white_papers/Eurotech_reinvents_embedded_connected_computing_for_M2M.pdf http://www.eurotech.com/en/products/software+services/everyware+device+cloud/edc+what+it+is 
  13. 13.   Technological patterns repeat themselves, but improving each time When we look at technological progress, we notice that it seems to consist of the endless creation and repetition of very similar patterns, but that these patterns tend to become, at every further replication, more and more global and more and more available to an ever larger share of the world's population (fig.9). The evolution that took us from mainframes to PCs to smart pervasive computers is nothing else than the replication of the client-server paradigm, but it has clearly led to incredible advancements as far as sustainable growth and democracy are concerned. The concept of Smart City is indisputable evidence of this.                                            Fig. 9: From the Mainframe to the Cloud  In this vision, there is no difference between computers used by humans and computers used by other computers, nor between data coming from a temperature sensor, a CO2 sensor or any other smart device. It is how we use these data that will make the difference. It is the Internet of Things, where humans and machines work together to build a better world.    

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