The smart city is a hot topic because of the many advantages offered by IoT. The Japanese, however, want us to look beyond the technology itself.
Recently, the Dutch city of Eindhoven launched the Smart City StarterK!t. A fantastic idea, if you ask me. The local municipality kit enables governments and other parties to transform themselves into a smart society.
A golden market opportunity since smart cities -which are cleaner and safer- are trending in governments. Cities become smart primarily through the intelligent use of large amounts of data delivered by the Internet of Things (IoT).
Almost everything and everyone in the city can produce data, from sensors in the road to city dwellers who use smartphones to move through traffic. Eindhoven’s kit is essentially a manual for dealing with such data.
Self-learning systems make the city
Does this data make the city smarter? No. The city only becomes smart when the data is skilfully integrated while making decisions. The city becomes even smarter when systems make these decisions themselves and learn from them.
This brings us to the domain of Artificial Intelligence (AI), or self-learning systems that, by improving algorithms, can ‘organize’ a city efficiently without the need of human intervention. Take, for example, traffic lights that are red or green just a fraction of a second longer ‒ not because a person thinks of it, but because a system makes calculations that optimize traffic flows.
In a manufacturing world, these kinds of applications are called Industry 4.0, whereby many large companies embrace IoT, smart sensing and machine learning. In our society, this may even go a step further.
At Google I/O, the Google developers event that recently took place in the United States, the company had the Google Assistant call a hairdresser to make an appointment. For me, it was hard to tell whether I heard a real person talk, or a computer.
Like a real person, Google Assistant reacted to the hairdresser’s answers and successfully made the appointment. With the help of AI, software interprets the verbal input and because of its learning ability, it is able to improve every time.
Another example of these types of intelligent systems is Amazon Recognition, which was used by the BBC during the wedding of Prince Harry and his fiancée Meghan Markle: the system recognized faces in real time and in the TV report additional facts appeared when someone moved into the picture.
In the US, several cities have already shown interest in using Recognition for real-time tracking of people in public spaces. The system learns to recognize, interpret faces and movements and becomes better at it every time. Similarly, Fujitsu is able to do this with its Biometric-as-a-Service solution.
Last year at Fujitsu Forum in Munich, a case was presented involving a police car that used biometric data to recognize people (including wanted criminals).
From a technological perspective, these are all extremely interesting developments, but there is also a social aspect involved. After all, it affects a society where people live and work. Technology can make life a more pleasant experience, however within certain limits.
The Japanese have developed a term for this, namely Society 5.0: the smart society, as the next step in the society’s evolution. What once started with hunters/gatherers that evolved through the rise of agriculture and the industrial revolution has now arrived to a stage of the super-smart society where man and machine have come to understand each other and share the same logic.
Such a society involves much more than just the concept of a smart city, is in fact about sustainability, health and safety. In Society 5.0, humans clearly take centre stage.
It’s about people
Industry 4.0 focuses too much on machines, the Japanese believe that Society 5.0, is all about people. Machines serve mankind, not the other way around. Personally, I find this an illuminating insight that helps us make the data that society is gathering around us less distant and certainly less frightening to people.
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