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The Smart City Meets the Internet of Things: IBM and ATT Announce Alliance

More and more businesses, as well as governments, increasingly see added value as well as risk avoidance by investing in minimizing waste, boosting energy and water conservation and efficiency and tapping into clean renewable energy sources. Networked information technology is a key enabler.

IBM and ATT develop technology dubbed "the internet of things" for better city planning and resource managementA growing range of information and communications technology (ICT) centers on enabling companies and communities to reduce the pressure put on vital ecosystems, including the carbon and greenhouse gas emissions that are tipping climate change. IBM has been at the forefront of this movement as a developer, vendor and end user.

One focal point of IBM’s green technology strategy is promoting and fostering development of smart cities. The key enabler here is the veritable profusion of broadband sensors and wireless networked information processing equipment that has emerged in recent years, which just keeps getting smaller, more powerful, and cheaper with a rapidly expanding variety of applications and growing demand.

IBM, energy & the environment

“The challenges have become clear: the need for clean water and air; affordable and reliable delivery of energy; the dwindling supply of fossil fuels; the reality of climate change and its implications for future generations,” IBM states on the Energy & Environment section of its website.

IBM has adopted a two-fold approach in finding the ways and means of coming to grips with these increasingly urgent and pressing issues, one that reaches inward and the other outward. “We are working to make our existing products and processes more efficient for both the environment and for business, while also developing new innovations that can help the world become smarter, drive economic and operational improvements, increase accountability and lessen environmental impact,” the company continues.

The hive mind

A collective mind for human society envisioned in many different guises in science fiction is truly beginning to emerge today. Decisions that affect, and direct, millions and millions of people are increasingly being automated. The buzzwords and catch phrases for this at present revolve around the words “connected” and “smart”.

Such automated decision making based on real-time data and distributed computing infrastructure had been known by the rather prosaic term machine-to-machine communciations, or M2M. That is until the much catchier and suggestive phrase the Internet of Things was coined and caught on.

The key enablers of this next step in the evolution of human civilization are ever expanding networks of distributed information gathering and processing devices, from tiny sensors to massively parallel computers in ginormous data centers, all networked together in a web that enables data to be gathered, transported, organized, analyzed and acted upon at speeds approaching that of light.

Green tech in the big city

On February 18 IBM announced the launching of a global alliance with another storied enterprise in the history of ICT. IBM and AT&T are joining in an effort “to develop solutions that help support the Internet of Things,” according to a press release.

Bringing together their respective analytic platforms, cloud and security technologies, “with privacy in mind,” IBM and AT&T expect “to gain more insights on data collected from machines in a variety of industries.

The partners expect the insights gained could yield valuable, actionable information for urban and town planners, and all the other involved in the building of smart cities.

Among the new, improved capabilities IBM and AT&T foresee providing city planners in such connected cities:

  • Better allocate and distribute resources based on information reported from incidents and service disruptions.
  • Analyze the movement of people to improve traffic management, parking capacity, location and number of first unit responders. City officials can better prepare and react to potential bottlenecks and other issues in case of an emergency.
  • Identify inefficient traffic patterns so that traffic can be re-routed; better allocate public safety resources in places where majority of people congregate.
  • Monitor social media updates from citizens reporting bad weather or major traffic so the city can take best course of action.

“Smarter cities, cars, homes, machines and consumer devices will drive the growth of the Internet of Things along with the infrastructure that goes with them, unleashing a wave of new possibilities for data gathering, predictive analytics, and automation,” Rick Qualman, vce president, Strategy & Business Development, Telecom Industry at IBM was quoted as saying.

“The new collaboration with AT&T will offer insights from crowdsourcing, mobile applications, sensors and analytics on the cloud, enabling all organizations to better listen, respond and predict.”

Where this all leads and whether it turns out to be good, bad or indifferent for society, for ecosystems, businesses, communities, and for how many and which individuals is anybody’s guess, but it does depend on how we humans put all this fantastic technology to use, and the judgment we use in drawing ethical and moral boundaries around that use, which is itself a collective decision making process. It certainly will change the face of life on planet Earth. It already has.

Image credit: World Bank Photo Collection, courtesy flickr

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