Our planet is becoming smarter, and this isn’t just a metaphor.
Three years ago, 100 Parisians volunteered to wear a wristband with a sensor in it. The sensors measured air and noise pollution as the wearers made their way around the city, transmitting that data back to an online platform that created a virtual map of the city’s pollution levels, which anyone with an Internet connection could take a look at.
This was a peek at an urban future when “smart cities” will collect data of all kinds (in all kinds of ways) and use it to make themselves better places to live. With the market projected to be worth $16 billion by the end of the decade, big companies like IBM and Cisco have much grander — and more profitable — ambitions: they’re going all-in on smart cities, with designs that supposedly do everything from end traffic jams to prevent disease outbreaks to eliminate litter.
As IBM Chairman Samuel J. Palmisano said at the 2010 SmarterCities forum in Shanghai:
Computational power is being put into things we wouldn’t recognize as computers. Indeed, almost anything—any person, any object, any process or any service, for any organization, large or small—can become digitally aware and networked.
Think about the prospect of a trillion connected and instrumented things—cars, appliances, cameras, roadways, pipelines… even pharmaceuticals and livestock.
And then think about the amount of information produced by the interaction of all those things. It will be unprecedented.