A world transformed by technology

Information can be extremely powerful in terms of connecting people, providing more efficient services and encouraging behavioral change

Technology is becoming increasingly personalized, with mobile phones and tablet computers being designed to meet the bespoke demands of each individual user. This is possible due to the increasing amount of information that we are able to collect, process and make accessible for others. Through information technology, society has been given an opportunity to redefine the way individuals conduct their everyday lives.

This same information can be leveraged on a much larger scale by radically changing the way healthcare, transport links and education services are provided in cities. Communities are in a position to share data among themselves, and with the wider world, improve services and the lives of individuals. The way societies use this information will transform the economy, quality of life, and resource consumption.

One core opportunity offered by information systems is the ability to manage utility networks within cities, such as the creation of a smart energy grid. If operators are able to collect detailed information about what is going on in the grid, they’ll be able to manage it more efficiently, making the architecture increasingly robust, cost effective and ultimately provide better services to its citizens. Sensors located throughout the network detect energy flows in the system and visualize it on one central screen, helping controllers pinpoint any issues. In the case of a sudden surge in energy usage in a particular area, or if power lines are damaged, electricity can be rerouted immediately to avoid blackouts. Smart grid technology also enables individuals to feed electricity back into the grid from their own power supplies, such as solar panels.

In Rio de Janeiro, this concept has been taken a step further with the building of a central, state of the art control room to bring together information from over 30 city departments. This move has combined quality weather data and emergency services information to keep disaster response teams updated with real time critical information, vital in a city that suffers from yearly fatalities from flooding.

Information can also be leveraged in cities to encourage behavioral change. For example the Mushereib development in Qatar’s largest city Doha aims to redefine the way people interact with ICT systems by providing an array of services and tools, as part of the urban information architecture. On completion, this infrastructure will enable the occupants to make well-educated decisions about the way they conduct their personal and professional lives.

But the implications of a data-rich world stretch far beyond the operational efficiency. The wide range of information at our fingertips is also driving a new competitive marketplace and transforming not only the economy, but also the way people, companies and governments choose to operate. Global corporations are using information as a core asset, with companies like Google and Facebook building their whole business model around the availability of data and the public demand for information. City leaders have a similar opportunity to take advantage of the data available to ensure the welfare of their citizens.

Many cities, such as London and New York, are opening up their data to developers and other professionals. For instance, a New York company used subway information to create the journey-planning app Embark NYC, which responds to delays by rerouting users in real time. This not only makes the transport network easier to navigate for citizens, but it also means that failures in the system do not lead to large backlogs of passengers. If information is opened up to the public, the possibilities for innovation and development are limitless. This change can drive resource efficiency and improve the lives of citizens.

By 2050, 70% of the population will live in urban areas. It’s estimated that these communities will need to produce a tenth of current greenhouse emissions to avoid catastrophic climate change. Cities can offer real benefits, including better economic opportunities and quality of life, but this growing population also brings with it complex challenges, forcing city authorities to rethink their transport, waste and water strategies and deal with the issue of overcrowding. Information technology can enable whole communities to get involved in the decision making process and have a say in the way cities are designed. Imagination is the often the biggest restraint when tackling global challenges.

*Source:/www.theguardian.com ( by Guardian Professional)

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