Monday, March 05, 2012

IBM Smarter Cities Not Smart Idea

IBM is offering a cloud based Intelligent Operations Center for Smarter Cities. This is suggested as a way to centralize city operations and deal with a crisis. However, this is the same flawed approach as Microsoft's house of future. These visions assume centralized control is required, which makes the systems very fragile. We need resilient systems, with distributed local intelligence which will continue to operate when communications links are lost and retention of reliable mechanical systems for when the automation fails.

Similarly, you would be nuts to build a city which relied on a cloud based operations center. If the operations center was disabled, due to accident or attack, or the links to the cloud facilities were lost, the city would cease to function. The result would be a disaster, as you would not even be able to warn the citizens or organize an evacuation, as the communications to do so would also be down.

Apart from accident, deliberate attack needs to be considered. The Stuxnet computer worm is rumored to have damaged nuclear processing facilities in Iran. An attack on the centralized operations center and computer controlled equipment of a city could paralyze the provision of services and result in the deaths of thousands of citizens, directly and indirectly.

We need to build our city systems the way the army trains its troops: they are not trained to be mindless automatons following orders. In battle communications are often poor and those at the top have little idea as to what is happening on the battlefield. They rely on the judgment of those on the front line. Similarly the city needs its automated systems and its staff to know what to do in a crisis, without detailed orders from a center which may not be contactable, be there, or be giving sensible advice.

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