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People get more connected and technology becomes part of our daily life. Between 2014 and 2015 there was a 27% growth of internet traffic in Amsterdam. Eleven out of fifteen Trans-Atlantic data cables are connected with or go through Amsterdam and the AMS-IX is the second largest internet exchange point in the world. In 2016 Amsterdam was ranked second in the European Digital City Index. Do you work on a smarter city? Share your technologies here!
Amsterdam krijgt de eerste Cyberbank van Nederland; een soort voedselbank voor laptops en digitale ondersteuning. 💻♻️
Heb jij een laptop of heeft jouw organisatie laptops die de Cyberbank een tweede leven kan geven? Vraag je werkgever oude laptops te doneren aan de Cyberbank en deel deze oproep binnen je netwerk!
Hoe meer laptops, hoe meer mensen er blij gemaakt kunnen worden.
Hoe het werkt?
➡️ Organisaties en particulieren doneren hun oude laptops.
➡️ Jongeren met een afstand tot de arbeidsmarkt knappen ze op.
➡️ Mensen met een Stadspas met groene stip kunnen tegen statiegeld van €20 euro aanspraak maken op een laptop. De eerste opgeknapte laptops worden begin 2022 verdeeld.
Informatie over de inzameling van gebruikte laptops en de eisen vind je op https://decyberbank.nl/
The fourth edition in the series Better cities. The Contribution of Digital Technology is about “digital social innovations” and contains ample examples of how people are finding new ways to use digital means to help society thrive and save the environment.
Digitale sociale innovatie – also referred to as smart city 3.0 – is a modest counterweight to the growing dominance and yet lagging promises of 'Big Tech'. It concerns "a type of social and collaborative innovation in which final users and communities collaborate through digital platforms to produce solutions for a wide range of social needs and at a scale that was unimaginable before the rise of Internet-enabled networking platforms."
Digital innovation in Europe has been boosted by the EU project Growing a digital social Innovation ecosystem for Europa (2015 – 2020), in which De Waag Society in Amsterdam participated for the Netherlands. One of the achievements is a database of more than 3000 organizations and companies. It is a pity that this database is no longer kept up to date after the project has expired and – as I have experienced – quickly loses its accuracy.
Many organizations and projects have interconnections, usually around a 'hub'. In addition to the Waag Society, these are for Europe, Nesta, Fondazione Mondo Digitale and the Institute for Network Cultures. These four organizations are also advisors for new projects. Important websites are: digitalsocial.eu(no longer maintained) and the more business-oriented techforgood.
A diversity of perspectives
To get to know the field of digital innovation better, different angles can be used:
• Attention to a diversity of issues such as energy and climate, air and noise pollution, health care and welfare, economy and work, migration, political involvement, affordable housing, social cohesion, education and skills.
• The multitude of tools ranging from open hardware kits for measuring air pollution, devices for recycling plastic, 3D printers, open data, open hardware and open knowledge. Furthermore, social media, crowdsourcing, crowdfunding, big data, machine learning et cetera.
• The variety of project types: Web services, networks, hardware, research, consultancy, campaigns and events, courses and training, education, and research.
• The diverse nature of the organizations involved: NGOs, not-for-profit organizations, citizens' initiatives, educational and research institutions, municipalities and increasingly social enterprises.
Below, these four perspectives are only discussed indirectly via the selected examples. The emphasis is on a fifth angle, namely the diversity of objectives of the organizations and projects involved. At the end of this article, I will consider how municipalities can stimulate digital social innovation. But I start with the question of what the organizations involved have in common.
A common denominator
A number of organizations drew up the Manifesto for Digital Social Innovation in 2017 and identified central values for digital social innovation: Openness and transparency, democracy and decentralization, experimentation and adoption, digital skills, multidisciplinary and sustainability. These give meaning to the three components of the concept of digital social technology:
The multitude of themes of projects in the field of digital social innovation has already been mentioned. Within all these themes, the perspective of social inequality, diversity, human dignity, and gender are playing an important role. In urban planning applications, this partly shifts the focus from the physical environment to the social environment: We're pivoting from a focus on technology and IoT and data to a much more human-centered process, in the words of Emily Yates, smart cities director of Philadelphia.
Ben Green writes in his book 'The smart enough city': One of the smart city's greatest and most pernicious tricks is that it .... puts innovation on a pedestal by devaluing traditional practices as emblematic of the undesirable dumb city.(p. 142). In digital social, innovation rather refers to implement, experiment, improve and reassemble.
Technology is not a neutral toolbox that can be used or misused for all purposes. Again Ben Green: We must ask, what forms of technology are compatible with the kind of society we want to build (p. 99). Current technologies have been shaped by commercial or military objectives. Technologies that contribute to 'the common good' still need to be partly developed. Supporters of digital social innovation emphasize the importance of a robust European open, universal, distributed, privacy-aware and neutral peer-to-peer network as a platform for all forms of digital social innovation.
Objectives and focus
When it comes to the objective or focus, five types of projects can be distinguished: (1) New production techniques (2) participation (3) cooperation (4 raising awareness and (5) striving for open access.
1. New production techniques
A growing group of 'makers' is revolutionizing open design. 3D production tools CAD/CAM software is not expensive or available in fab labs and libraries. Waag Society in Amsterdam is one of the many institutions that host a fab lab. This is used, among other things, to develop several digital social innovations. One example was a $50 3D-printed prosthesis intended for use in developing countries.
Digital technology can allow citizens to participate in decision-making processes on a large scale. In Finland, citizens are allowed to submit proposals to parliament. Open Ministry supports citizens in making an admissible proposal and furthermore in obtaining the minimum required 50,000 votes. Open Ministry is now part of the European D-CENTproject a decentralized social networking platform that has developed tools for large-scale collaboration and decision making across Europe.
It is about enabling people to exchange skills, knowledge, food, clothing, housing, but also includes new forms of crowdfunding and financing based on reputation and trust. The sharing economy is becoming an important economic factor. Thousands of alternative payment methods are also in use worldwide. In East Africa, M-PESA (a mobile financial payment system) opens access to secure financial services for nine million people. Goteo is a social network for crowdfunding and collaborative collaboration that contribute to the common good.
These are tools that seek to use information to change behavior and mobilize collective action. Tyze is a closed and online community for family, friends, neighbors, and care professionals to strengthen mutual involvement around a client and to make appointments, for example for a visit. Safecast is the name of a home-built Geiger counter with which a worldwide community performs radiation measurements and thus helps to increase awareness in radiation and (soon) the presence of particulate matter.
5. Open Access
The open access movement (including open content, standards, licenses, knowledge and digital rights) aims to empower citizens. The CityService Development Kit (CitySDK) is a system that collects open data from governments to make it available uniformly and in real time. CitySDK helps seven European cities to release their data and provides tools to develop digital services. It also helps cities to anticipate the ever-expanding technological possibilities, for example a map showing all 9,866,539 buildings in the Netherlands, shaded by year of construction. Github is a collaborative platform for millions of open software developers, helping to re-decentralize the way code is built, shared, and maintained.
Cities can support organizations pursuing digital social innovations in tackling problems in many ways. Municipalities that want to do this can benefit from the extensive list of examples in the Digital Social Innovation Ideas Bank, An inspirational resource for local governments.
Direct support through subsidies, buying shares, loans, social impact bonds, but also competitions and matching, whereby the municipality doubles the capital obtained by the organization, for example through crowdfunding. An example of a project financed by the municipality is Amsterdammers, maak je stad.
Involvement in a project, varying from joint responsibility and cost sharing, to material support by making available space and service s, such as in the case Maker Fairs or the Unusual Suspects Festival. Maker Fairs or the Unusual Suspects Festival. Municipalities can also set up and support a project together, such as Cities for Digital Rights. A good example is the hundreds of commons in Bologna, to which the municipality delegates part of its tasks.
Digital social innovation projects have provided a very wide range of useful software in many areas, including improving communication with citizens and their involvement in policy. Consul was first used in Madrid but has made its way to 33 countries and more than 100 cities and businesses and is used by more than 90 million people. In many cases there is also local supply. An alternative is Citizenlab.
Municipalities should seriously consider setting up or supporting a fab lab. Fab Foundation is helpful in this regard. Another example is the Things Network and the Smart citizen kit.. Both are open tools that enable citizens and entrepreneurs to build an IoT application at low cost. These facilities can also be used to measure noise nuisance, light pollution, or odors with citizens in a neighborhood, without having to install an expensive sensor network.
Municipalities can offer citizens and students targeted programs for training digital skills, or support organizations that can implement them, through a combination of physical and digital means. One of the options is the lie detector program, developed by a non-profit organization that teaches young children to recognize and resist manipulative information on (social) media.
Incubators and accelerators
We mainly find these types of organizations in the world of start-ups, some of which also have a social impact. Targeted guidance programs are also available for young DSI organizations. In the Netherlands this is the Waag Society in Amsterdam. A typical tech for good incubator in the UK is Bethnal Green Ventures. An organization that has also helped the Dutch company Fairphone to grow. In the Netherlands, various startup in residence programs also play a role in the development of DSI organisations.
A digital-social innovative moonshot to gross human happiness
It is sometimes necessary to think ahead and wake up policymakers, putting aside the question of implementation for a while. A good example of this from a digital social innovation perspective is the moonshot that Jan-Willem Wesselink (Future City Foundation), Petra Claessen (BTG/TGG). Michiel van Willigen and Wim Willems (G40) and Leonie van den Beuken (Amsterdam Smart City) have written in the context of 'Missie Nederland' of de Volkskrant. Many DSI organizations can get started with this piece! I'll end with the main points of this:
… not a single Dutch person is digitally literate anymore, instead every Dutch person is digitally skilled.
… every resident of the Netherlands has access to high-quality internet. This means that every home will be connected to fast fixed and mobile internet and every household will be able to purchase devices that allow access. A good laptop is just as important as a good fridge.
… the internet is being used in a new way. Applications (software and hardware) are created from within the users. With the premise that anyone can use them. Programs and the necessary algorithms are written in such a way that they serve society and not the big-tech business community.
… every resident of the Netherlands has a 'self-sovereign identity' with which they can operate and act digitally within the context of their own opportunities.
… new technology has been developed that gives residents and companies the opportunity to think along and decide about and to co-develop and act on the well-being of regions, cities, and villages.
… all Dutch politicians understand digitization and technology.
… the Dutch business community is leading in the development of these solutions.
… all this leads to more well-being and not just more prosperity.
… the internet is ours again.
A more detailed explanation can be found under this link
The digital economy of the Netherlands has topped a major new study for network readiness, by the Portulans Institute.
The findings are published in the new report ‘Shaping the Global Recovery: How digital technologies can help make the post-COVID world more equal’. The US was ranked #4 in the study – up from #8 in last year’s report – behind the Netherlands (#1), Sweden (#2) and Denmark (#3). Singapore (#7) was the only other market outside of Europe in the top ten. The USA’s overall NRI ‘score’ of 81.09 was also significantly higher than the average for high-income countries in the study (67.45).
Bruno Lanvin, co-founder of the Portulans Institute and co-author of the report comments, "This year's report puts the spotlight on post-pandemic recovery with strong digital transformation strategies. Digital transformation is creating new digital divides in some global regions, but high-income markets such as the US have demonstrated success in building resilient and sustainable digital economies with strong performances across all four pillars.”
This post is about the rise of the smart city movement, the different forms it has taken and what its future can be. It is the third edition of the series Better cities: The role of digital technologies.
The term smart cities shows up in the last decade of the 20th century. Most definitions refer to the use of (digital) technology as a tool for empowering cities and citizens, and a key to fuel economic growth and to attract investments. Some observants will add as an instrument to generate large profits.
Barcelona, Ottawa, Brisbane, Amsterdam, Kyoto, and Bangalore belong to the forerunners of cities that flagged themselves as ‘smart’. In 2013 approximately 143 ‘self-appointed’ smart cities existed worldwide. To date, this number has exploded over more than 1000.
Five smart city tales
In their article Smart Cities as Company Story telling Ola Söderström et al. document how technology companies crafted the smart city as a fictional story that framed the problems of cities in a way these companies can offer to solve. Over time, the story has multiplied, resulting in what I have called the Smart city tales, a series of narratives used by companies and city representatives. I will address with five dominant ones below: The connected city, the entrepreneurial city, the data-driven city, the digital services city and the consumers’ city.
The connected city
On November 4th 2011, the trademark smarter cities was officially registered as belonging to IBM. It marked a period in which this company became the leader of the smart city technology market. Other companies followed fast, attracted by an expected growth of this market by 20% per year from over $300bn in 2015 to over $750bn to date. In the IBM vision cities are systems of systems: Planning and management services, infrastructural services and human services, each to be differentiated further, to be over-sighted and controlled from one central point, such as the iconic control center that IBM has build in Rio de Janeiro (photo above). All systems can be characterized by three 'I's, which are the hard core of any smart city: Being instrumented, interconnected and intelligent.
The corporate smart city
In many cities in the world, emerging and developing countries in the first place, administrators dream about building smart towns from scratch. They envisioned being 'smart' as a major marketing tool for new business development.
Cisco and Gale, an international property development company, became the developers of New Songdo in South Korea. New Songdo was in the first place meant to become a giant business park and to enable a decent corporate lifestyle and business experience for people from abroad on the first place, offering houses filled with technical gadgets, attractive parks, full-featured office space, outstanding connectivity and accessibility.
Quite some other countries took comparable initiatives in order to attract foreign capital and experts to boost economic growth. For example, India, that has planned to build 100 smart cities.
The data driven city
The third narrative is fueled by the collection and refined analyses of data that technology companies ‘tap’ for commercial reasons from citizens’ Internet and mobile phones communication. Google was the first to discover the unlimited opportunities of integrating its huge knowledge of consumer behavior with city data. Sidewalk Labs - legally operating under the umbrella of Alphabet - responded to an open call for a proposal for redevelopment of Quayside, brownfield land around Toronto's old port, and won the competition. Its plans were on par with contemporary urbanist thinking. However, that was not Sidewalk Labs’ first motive. Instead, its interest was ‘ubiquitous sensing’ of city life’, to expand Google’s already massive collection of personalized profiles with real-time geotagged knowledge of where people are, what they are whishing or doing in order to provide them with commercial information.
As could be expected, privacy issues dominated the discussion over the urbanist merits of the plan and most observers believe that therefore the company put the plug out of the project in May 2020. The official reason was investors’ restraint, due to Covid-19.
The consumers’ smart city
The fourth narrative is focusing on rise of urban tech targeted on consumers. Amazon, Uber and Airbnb are forerunners disrupting traditional sectors like retail, taxi and hotel business. They introduced a platform approach that nearly decimated the middleclass in in the US. Others followed, such as bike- and scooter-sharing companies Bird and Lyme, co-working companies like We Work and meal delivery services like Delivero.
City tech embodies the influence of entrepreneurship backed by venture capitalists and at the same time the necessity for city governments to establish a democratic legitimized framework to manage these initiatives.
The smart services city
Thanks to numerous ‘apps’, cities started to offer a wealth of information and services to citizens concerning employment, housing, administration, mobility, health, security and utilities. These apps enable city administrators, transit authorities, utility services and many others to inform citizens better than before. With these apps, citizens also can raise questions or make a request to repair broken street furniture.
Some cities, for instance Barcelona and Madrid, started to use digital technologies to increase public engagement, or to give people a voice in decision making or budgeting.
All aforementioned narratives suggest a tight link between technology and the wellbeing of citizens, symbolizing a new kind of technology-led urban utopia. In essence, each narrative puts available technology in the center and looks for an acceptable rationale to put it into the market. The fifth one witnesses an upcoming change into a more human-centric direction.
An upcoming techlash or a second wave of smart cities
It is unmistakably that business leaders, having in mind a multi-billion smart city technologies-market overstate the proven benefits of technology. Garbage containers with built-in sensors and adaptive street lighting are not that great after all, and the sensors appearing everywhere raise many questions. According to The Economist, it is not surprising that a techlash is underway. As I accentuated in last week’s post, politicians are becoming more critical regarding behemoths like Google, Amazon and Facebook, because of their treatment of sensitive data, their lack of transparency of algorithm-based decision making, their profits and tax evasion and the gig economy in general. Skepticism within the general public is increasing too.
Nevertheless, a second wave of smart cities is upcoming. The first wave lacked openess for the ethics of urban technology and the governance of urban development. The second wave excels in ethical considerations and intentions to preserve privacy. Intentions alone are insufficient, politics will also have to break the monopolies of Big Tech
Besides, in order to gain trust in the general public, city governors must discuss the city’s real challenges with residents, (knowledge) institutions, and other stakeholder before committing to whatever technology. Governance comes prior to technology. As Francesca Bria, former chief technology officer of Barcelona said: We are reversing the smart city paradigm. Instead of starting from technology and extracting all the data we can before thinking about how to use it, we started aligning the tech agenda with the agenda of the city.
Apart from Barcelona, this also happens in cities such as Amsterdam, Boston, Portland and the Polish city of Lublin. The question is no longer which problems technology is going to solve, but which exactly are these problems, who is trusted to define them, which are their causes, whose intersts are involved, who is most affected, and which ones must be solved most urgently. Only after answering these questions, the discussion can be extended to the contribution of (digital) technology. In a next contribution, I explore digital social innovation, as a contribution to a revised smart city concept.
This post is a brief summary of my article Humane by choice. Smart by default: 39 building blocks for cities in the future. Published in the Journal of the American Institution of Engineers and Technology, June 2020. You will fine a copy of this article below:
Manon den Dunnen is the Dutch police force’s strategic specialist on digital transformation and co-organiser of the IoT Sensemakers Community.
“The IoT Sensemakers Community has over 7,000 members worldwide. Our members share knowledge and experiences about Internet of Things (IoT) solutions and AI. IoT plays an important role in the smart city, as sensors are often used to make the city smarter. We believe you should do this in a responsible manner.”
“In the offline world, we fight discrimination and exclusion, but digital solutions introduce new forms of discrimination and exclusion that undermine our constitutional values. This may be caused by poorly chosen sensors (check out this viral video of the ‘racist soap dispenser’), the algorithms used in ‘smart’ applications or by data being unnecessarily collected and stored.”
“Sensemakers joined forces with Waag, Sensing Clues, Ombudsman Metropool Amsterdam and the City of Amsterdam to use sound sensors to analyse the noise nuisance in the city centre. At Marineterrein, a test area for creating liveable cities, we are now testing a sound sensor that can classify different types of noise. The sensor does not store data, but labels the different types of sound. A few years ago, we also tested sensors for measuring water quality, and we’re still testing indoor air quality.”
Tinkering with technology
“Every first Wednesday evening of the month, we meet at the Amsterdam Public Library (OBA) Makerspace to tinker with technology. People can work on their own projects and discuss their ideas with the likeminded, but they can also start learning with Arduino or 3Dprinting. We also organise lectures, for example with Schiphol Real Estate about smart buildings and with designer Anouk Wipprecht about robotic wearables like her Spider Dress. In January we’ll have interesting speakers making sense of the Metaverse, the latest hype, or isn’t it…?”
“We just celebrated our 10th anniversary and are working on a lot of fun little projects. I really love the diversity and creativity. Recently, someone built an insect recogniser. We had an older volunteer in a care institution who wanted to program games for the elderly on a care robot. That evening, a teenage boy came to learn how to build a robot car. They were helping each other. I love that serendipity.”
“A lot of technology is supplier-driven. But as a society—as buyers of these solutions—we are insufficiently trained to ask the right questions to truly assess this new technology and its long-term risks. We sometimes even forget to critically analyse the problem we’re dealing with, overlooking obvious low-tech or no-tech solutions. With my work for Sensemakers, I hope that we all become more critical and have a network we can consult.”
If you’d like to get in touch with Manon, you can find her on this platform.
This interview is part of the series 'Meet the Members of Amsterdam Smart City'. In the next weeks we will introduce more members of this community to you. Would you like to show up in the series? Drop us a message!
Interview and article by Mirjam Streefkerk
This post is about the omnipotence of Big Tech. So far, resistance mainly results in regulation of its effects. The core of the problem, the monopoly position of the technology giants, is only marginally touched. What is needed is a strict antitrust policy and a government that once again takes a leading role in setting the technology agenda.
A cause of concern
In its recent report, the Dutch Rathenau Institute calls the state of digital technology a cause for concern. The institute advocates a fair data economy and a robust, secure and available Internet for everyone. This is not the case now. In fact, we are getting further and further away from this. The risks are pressing more each day: Inscrutable algorithms, deepfakes and political micro-targeting, inner-city devastation through online shopping, theft of trade secrets, unbridled data collection by Google, Amazon and Facebook, poorly paid taxi drivers by Uber and other service providers of the gig economy, the effect of Airbnb on the hotel industry and the energy consumption of bitcoin and blockchain.
The limits of legislation
Numerous publications are calling on the government to put an end to the growing abuse of digital technology. In his must read 'the New Digital Deal' Bas Boorsma states: In order to deploy digitalization and to manage platforms for the greater good of the individual and society as a whole, new regulatory approaches will be required… (p. 46) . That is also the view of the Rathenau Institute, which lists three spearheads for a digitization strategy: Strong legislative frameworks and supervision, value-based digital innovation based on critical parliamentary debate and a say in this for citizens and professionals.
More than growing inconvenience
In recent years, the European Commission has launched a wide range of legislative proposals, such as the Digital Services Act package, the Digital Market Act and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). However, these measures do not get to the kernel of the problem. The near-monopoly position of Big Tech is the proverbial monster behind the curtain. The Rathenau Institute speaks in furtitive terms of "the growing inconvenience" of reliance on American and Chinese tech giants. Even the International Monetary Fund is clearer in stating that the power of Big Tech inhibits innovation and investment and increases income inequality. Due to the power of the big technology companies, society is losing its grip on technology.
To curb the above-mentioned risks, the problem must first be named and measures must then be tailored accordingly. This is done in two recent books, namely Shoshana Zuboff's 'The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power' (2019) and Cory Doctorow's 'How to destroy surveillance capitalism' (2021). Zuboff describes in detail how Google, Amazon and Facebook collect data with only one goal, to entice citizens to buy goods and services: Big Tech's product is persuasion. The services — social media, search engines, maps, messaging, and more — are delivery systems for persuasion.
Big tech's monopoly
The unprecedented power of Big Tech is a result of the fact that these companies have become almost classic monopolies. Until the 1980s, the US had strict antitrust legislation: the Sherman's act, notorious for big business. Ronald Reagan quickly wiped it out in his years as president, and Margareth Thatcher did the same in the UK, Brian Mulroney in Canada and Helmut Kohl in Germany. While Sherman saw monopolies as a threat to the free market, Reagan believed that government interference threatens the free market. Facebook joins in if it sees itself as a 'natural monopoly': You want to be on a network where your friends are also. But you could also reach your friends if there were more networks that are interoperable. Facebook has used all economic, technical and legal means to combat the latter, including takeover of potential competitors: Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp.
In the early 21st century, there was still a broad belief that emerging digital technology could lead to a better and more networked society. Bas Boorsma: The development of platforms empowered start-ups, small companies and professionals. Many network utopians believed the era of 'creative commons' had arrived and with it, a non-centralized and highly digital form of 'free market egalitarianism' (New Digital Deal, p.52). Nothing has come of this: Digitalization-powered capitalism now possesses a speed, agility and rawness that is unprecedented (New Digital Deal, p.54). Even the startup community is becoming one big R&D lab for Big Tech. Many startups hope to be acquired by one of the tech giants and then cash in on millions. As a result, Big Tech is on its way to acquire a dominant position in urban development, the health sector and education, in addition to the transport sector.
Thanks to its monopoly position, Big Tech can collect unlimited data, even if European legislation imposes restrictions and occasional fines. After all, a lot of data is collected without citizens objecting to it. Mumford had already realized this in 1967: Many consumers see these companies not only as irresistible, but also ultimately beneficial. These two conditions are the germ of what he called the megatechnics bribe.
The only legislation that can break the power of Big Tech is a strong antitrust policy, unbundling the companies, an absolute ban on acquisitions and rigorous taxation.
Technology does not develop autonomously. At the moment, Big Tech is indisputably setting the technology agenda in the Western Hemisphere. China is a different story. With Mariana Mazzocato, I believe that governments should take back control of technological development, as they did until the end of the last century. Consider the role of institutions such as DARPA in the US, the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany and TNO in the Netherlands. Democratic control is an absolute precondition!
In the chapter 'Digitally just cities' in my e-book 'Cities of the future: Always humane, smart where it helps' (link below), I show, among other things, what Facebook, Amazon and Google could look like after a possible unbundling.
Next months, I will post a weekly contribution answering the question how digital technologies can contribute to the development of better cities. Here's what to expect from these posts:
According to the WEF Global Risk Report, anyone committed to the contribution of digital technology to solving the problems facing society should realize that technology and the underlying business model itself is one of those problems. The last thing to do is uncritically follow those who see only the blessings of technology. Some of their prophecies will send shivers down your spine, like this one from tech company Siemens: In a few decades, cities will have countless autonomous, intelligently functioning IT systems that are perfectly aware of users' habits and energy consumption and provide optimal service. The aim of such a city is to optimally regulate and control resources through autonomous IT systems. The company precisely articulates the fear expressed by Lewis Mumford who wrote in his seminal book The Myth of the Machine: Emerging new mega-techniques create a uniform, all-enveloping, super-planetary structure, designed for automatic operation in which man will become a passive, purposeless, machine-conditioned animal. This was in 1967, before anyone could even think about the impact of digital technology.
Fortunately, there are of governments, companies and institutions committed to developing and adopting technology to address the challenges the world faces: Energy transition and other impacts of climate change, pressure on mobility, setting up a circular economy; making society inclusive and improving the liveability of cities. However, technology alone cannot reach these goals. Far-reaching social and economic reforms are needed, also to ensure that the benefits of digitization are shared by everyone.
I join those who 'believe' in the potential of digital technology for society, if done in a responsible and value-driven way, but also are skeptical whether this will happen indeed. This ambivalence will not have escaped the notice of those familiar with my previous publications. In my first ebook Smart city tales (2018) I explored the use and abuse of technology in so-called smart cities. In the second ebook Cities of the future, always humane, smart if helpful (2020) I presented the problems of contemporary cities, collected possible solutions and mapped out which digital techniques can contribute. The conclusion was that humane cities are still a long way off.
What you are reading now is the first post (Read the Dutch version here) in a new series that focuses on digital technology itself. In the first part of this series, I discuss the demands that can be placed on the design of digital technology for the sake of better cities. In the second part, I apply these requirements to a broad range of technologies. The integration of digital technology into urban policies will be discussed in part three.
I foresee the publication of about 20 articles. The link below opens a preliminary overview of their topics. I will take the liberty of adapting this plan to the actuality and advancing insight.
The Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Utrecht Universities of Applied Sciences have received a SPRONG grant from Regieorgaan-SIA, with which they - together with 24 partners from the field - can build an infrastructure for a powerful research group. A group that is regionally and nationally recognised as the centre for practice-based research in the field of Responsible Applied AI.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is developing rapidly with far-reaching consequences for the whole of society (all sectors, professions and citizens). Although AI offers new opportunities for institutions and (SME) companies, there are also many questions.
For example, there is a demand for research methods to meaningfully implement AI technology in a specific context (e.g. retail and care), taking into account the user and other stakeholders. There are also questions about the design process of AI solutions: how can you take ethical and social issues into account?
METHODOLOGY FOR RESPONSIBLE APPLIED AI
Current AI research is mostly fundamental and focused on technology. As such, it hardly provides answers to the questions mentioned above. The three universities of applied sciences in the SPRONG group conduct practice-oriented research into responsible AI solutions for companies and institutions. With these research experiences and results, the SPRONG group aims to develop a Responsible Applied AI methodology that helps to design, develop and implement responsible AI solutions.
CO-CREATION IN HYBRID LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS
To develop this methodology, knowledge building and sharing is needed, which the universities of applied sciences develop together with companies and organisations. The starting point of the project is the development of three hybrid learning environments around the application areas of retail, business services and media. AI developers, problem owners, end users, researchers and students work together in these environments.
The goal is to develop practical tools, instruments, education and training from the learning environment that can be widely used for the application of AI in the relevant sector. Each learning environment is linked to specific courses of the participating universities and practical partners who contribute to the programme. During the SPRONG programme, the number of application areas will be expanded and, where possible, scaled up nationally.
A central supporting infrastructure will be developed, including processes and facilities for data management and strategic human resource management, an IT infrastructure, training courses and an impact model.
On the 28th of October 2021 Amsterdam Smart City and Datalab hosted an international event on the costs and benefits of accommodating data centres. Together with partners we discussed the complexity of the weighing of these aspects and the management by future policies.
The digitization of our society produces an exponentially increasing amount of data, which causes an increased need for data centres and connectivity. In 2030, there is expected to see a twenty-fold increase in data traffic, consuming 5% of worldwide electricity at that point. A recent report in the Netherlands has shown quite some hesitance on whether or not the foreseen rise in data centres in The Netherlands is the right way to go.
Lots of reasons to shed some international perspectives on these issues. What are current datacentre strategies? How are datacenters driving economic value? And how can the digital economy become more sustainable? Check out the presentations and discussions in the video!
• Wout Rensink (Policy advisor Economic Affairs at Province of Noord-Holland)
• Thomas Moran (Technology and Sustainability Strategist at Lumen & techUK)
• Daan Terpstra (Director of Policy & Regulatory Affairs · Sustainable Digital Infrastructure Alliance (SDIA))
- Jeroen Sipman, liaison at Amsterdam Smart City
Het is nu officieel! Marineterrein Amsterdam en Amsterdam Smart City worden partners en gaan de samenwerking verder intensiveren. Het doel: kennis delen en samen aan de slag om tot oplossingen voor stedelijke vraagstukken te komen.
Amsterdam Smart City (ASC) zet zich vanaf het Marineterrein al jaren in voor open innovatie door als platform partijen en organisaties aan elkaar te verbinden. Kennis delen en samen aan de slag staan hierbij centraal.
Een voorbeeld van zo’n samenwerking op het Marineterrein is het Responsible Sensing Lab, waarbij een aantal ASC-partners in de openbare ruimte experimenteren met verantwoorde detectiesystemen om bijvoorbeeld geluidsoverlast of drukte in kaart te brengen. Verschillende partijen brengen bij deze experimenten hun expertise bij elkaar om samen tot oplossingen te komen. De lessen die we daaruit leren zijn waardevol voor heel veel Smart City projecten.
‘Het Marineterrein bestaat uit een levendige community die zich bezighoudt met het oplossen van allerlei stedelijke vraagstukken’, zegt directeur van Bureau Marineterrein Liesbeth Jansen. ‘Er is op het terrein veel kennis aanwezig over nieuwe manieren van leren, wonen en werken, en door ons aan te sluiten bij het ASC-netwerk kan die kennis nu breder gedeeld worden. En andersom kijken we uit naar interessante samenwerkingen tussen het ASC-netwerk en Marineterrein Amsterdam Living Lab die onze community verder kunnen helpen.’
Leren in real life
Directeur van ASC Leonie van den Beuken ziet met de samenwerking veel kansen om nieuwe, innovatieve oplossingen in real life te testen. ‘Een van onze kernwaarden is leren door te doen. Het Marineterrein biedt een prachtig testgebied voor oplossingen die we in de praktijk willen uitproberen. We zijn daarom één van de partners in het Marineterrein Living Lab. Daarnaast staan wij beiden voor open innovatie ten behoeve van een leefbare stad. Aangezien het Marineterrein onze thuisbasis is, is het logisch om onze netwerken en ambities nog meer aan elkaar te verbinden.’
Metabolic is looking for a Marketing Manager!
They will help in increasing the reach and impact of Metabolic's work by putting the right content in front of the right people in collaboration with the digital communications manager.
If you are keen to contribute to a sustainable economy, check out this opportunity. Or if you know someone who fits the bill, kindly share with them.
On the 28th of October, Amsterdam Smart City, together with the Province of North Holland and Datalab, will discuss the costs and benefits of accommodating data centres, the complexity of the weighing of these aspects, and how future policies could manage these. We will put the complexity in an international perspective.
Why would you need data centers in your region? What are reasons to refuse them on territories? What are the dilemmas and how do cities in Europe deal with this? We can now confirm the speakers for the event!
Wout Rensink – Province of North Holland
The Province of North Holland is developing a policy on data centres, with which they try to take a first step in minimizing the impact of data centres. The Province ensures that data centres generate their own sustainable energy, the residual heat (in the environment) is used, circular design is applied in the development of buildings which blend into the landscape and that the data centres are leaders in terms of energy and innovation. The man for the job? Wout Rensink! He is the Province’s policy advisor who will try and achieve these goals with other governmental institutions and the industry itself.
Thomas Moran – techUK
Beside his job as the Senior Lead Technology Strategist for Lumen, Thomas is the vice chair of the Climate Strategy and Resilience Council for techUK, which is the largest European trade group representing the technology industry. They support the UK national, regional and local governments in formulating policy around all things technology related, including data centres and infrastructure. He will provide us with the point of view and insights from another part of the FLAP-region: London.
Daan Terpstra – SDI Alliance
After years of working on sustainable energy projects at Vattenfall, Daan Terpstra has joined SDI Alliance last year to try and move the digital infrastructure sector to sustainability by 2030. As the new Director of Policy and Regulatory Affairs, Daan can provide a view on future international digital infrastructure policies in Europe. SDI Alliance has derived a number of fundamental positions, beliefs and principles with which they hope to ensure the development of a vibrant European digital economy, without consuming unsustainable levels of resources.
The session will be moderated by Jeroen Sipman from Amsterdam Smart City.
Rewatch! Find the video of the event here:
We helpen NSI met verduurzaming én beter comfort. Na een succesvolle pilot met ons Smart Building Platform (we bespaarden 19,2% aan warmte en het comfort verbeterde!) rollen we de software nu verder uit naar 26 gebouwen. Daar zal de slimme sturing ruim 20% op warmte en 3% op elektriciteit besparen. Lees op onze website hoe we dat doen.
The City of Amsterdam launched a platform for entrepreneurs who want to collaborate on innovation with the public sector.
If you want to work with government and other large organisations, you need to apply for tenders and grants. These application procedures are often complex. Using clear information and useful checklists, Innovatie Partners makes tenders and grants accessible for small entrepreneurs, such as startups, scale-ups and MKB.
On the platform
- Projects from organisations such as Gemeente Amsterdam, the Metropole Region Amsterdam (MRA) and Startup in Residence. Take a look at past and current projects (in Dutch).
- Road maps of how to apply for your tender or grant of choice.
- Explainers on what tenders and grants are and how they work, such as a glossary of unavoidable jargon (in Dutch).
- Detailed instructions and screencasts of how to fill out complicated forms (in Dutch).
Wat als iedereen in de stad op <b>elke</b>straathoek hun afval volledig gescheiden aan zou kunnen bieden – van luiers en lokaal composteerbaar groen, tot plastic en drinkpakken? Niet met de logistieke nachtmerrie van een overdaad aan aparte inzamelbakken, maar met robots die het aangeboden afval naar een centraler punt rijden. Of wat als robots kunnen helpen om het opruimen van vermoedelijk drugsafval efficiënter en veiliger te maken? Of wat als ze de schoonmakers van de stad ondersteunen in het schoon houden van lastige plekken als oevers en kades?
Dat zijn een paar van de ideeën die zijn geoogst tijdens de workshop ‘Robots & een leefbare stad’, op de demodag van Amsterdam Smart City, 16 september 2021. Ik deelde resultaten van ons onderzoek met het AMS Instituut en de TU Delft naar de interacties die ontstaan tussen robots en mensen op straat. Daarna hebben we gebrainstormd over hoe ‘straatrobots’ van nut kunnen zijn voor een schonere stad. Het werd een inspirerend gesprek, door een rijke mix mensen van gemeentes, provincies en onderzoeksinstituten.
Naast de vele ideeën, kwamen ook de meer kritische vragen aan bod. Kan een robot bijvoorbeeld wel omgaan met de onvoorspelbaarheid van de stad? Zouden gebieden buiten de stad dan niet beter werken? Kunnen robots bewustwording verhogen, ‘nudgen’, zonder manipulatief te zijn? Hoe kunnen we dit juist een kans maken voor kwetsbare groepen, zoals mensen met een beperking? Kunnen we niet beter eerst de behoeftes in kaart brengen, in plaats van meteen na te denken over robots?
Kortom, vele inzichten die samen een eerste aanknopingspunt kunnen vormen voor een schonere stad. De diversiteit van de groep gaf hele verschillende perspectieven op het wel of niet inzetten van robots. Een waardevolle aanvulling op waar we zelf al aan dachten. En de nadrukkelijke uitnodiging om de toegevoegde waarde voor mensen voorop te zetten.
When the market couldn’t offer what Amsterdam needed, the city created its own technology solution in-house. This approach gives cities more control and can also help vendors build better products.
Barcelona is one of the oldest examples of a city that deploys technology as part of its government. Sensor networks have been producing an array of data on transport, energy usage, noise levels, irrigation, and many other topics without having much impact on the life of citizens or solving the underlying problems.
In 2015, Francesca Bria, chief technology, together with mayor Ada Colau started to reverse the smart city paradigm: Instead of starting from technology and extracting all the data we started aligning the tech agenda with the agenda of the city, she said.
One of the first challenges was using technology to increase ordinary citizen’s impact on policy. A group of civic-minded coders and cryptographers created a brand-new participatory platform, Decidem (which means We Decide in Catalan). For more information watch the video below.
Spain offers more inspiring examples. The city of Madrid has also created a participatory citizen platform, not for chance called Decide Madrid, which is in many respects comparable with Decidem, as this short video demonstrates.
The most important features of both platforms are:
Active participation in policy making
Citizens are stimulated to suggest ideas, debating them, and vote. In Barcelona, more than 40.000 citizens have suggested proposals, which form 70% of the agenda of the city administration. The most frequently mentioned concerns are affordable housing, clean energy, air quality and the public space.
The Municipal Action Plan of Barcelona includes almost 7,000 proposals from citizens. Decidem enables citizens to monitor the state of implementation of each of them to increase citizen’s engagement.
Decide Madrid and Decidem emphasize the value of being informed as starting point for deliberation. Citizens can start discussions on their own and participate in threaded discussions started by others.
As soon as citizens feel informed and have exchanged opinions voting can start. Both Decide Madrid as Decidemhave a space where citizens can make proposals and seeks support. Proposals that reach enough support are prepared for voting. These votes generally are advising the city council.
Decide Madrid enables citizens amendment legislative texts. The public is allowed to commend any part of it and to suggest alternatives. This also might result in discussions and the suggestions are used to improve the formulations.
Decidem and Decide Madrid are also data portals that show data that have been collected in the city, partly on citizens themselves. Decidem has the intention, because of its participation in the European project Decode to enable citizens to control the use of data of their own for specific purposes.
As not every citizen has a computer or is skilled to use the Internet platforms, both cities combine virtual discussions and discussion in a physical space.
It is not only the traditional rivalry between Barcelona and Madrid that has inspired the development of two comparable systems, independently from each other. It is also the fact that the Spanish people had to fight for democracy until rather recently. Democratic institutions that have long existed in many other countries had to be reinvented, but with a 20th-century twist.
The community of Madrid has developed Decide Madrid together with CONSUL, a Madrid-based company. CONSUL enables cities to develop citizen participation on the Internet quickly and save. The package is very comprehensive. The software and its use are free. CONSUL can be adjusted by each organization to meet its own needs. As a result, Consul is in use in 130 cities and organizations in 33 countries (see the map above) and reaches out around 90 million citizens worldwide.
In contrast with e-Estonia, the topic of a former post, the footing of Decidem and Decide Madrid is enabling citizens to make their voice heard and to participate in decision-making. Both cities offer excellent examples of e-governance. e-Governance reflects the mutual communication between municipal authorities and citizens using digital tools to align decision making with the needs and wants of citizens. Instead, the intention of e-Estonia is to improve the efficiency of the operation of the state. Both aims are complementary.
I will regularly share ‘snapshots’ of the challenge of bringing socially and ecologically sustainable cities closer using technology if useful. These posts represent findings, updates, and additions to my e-book Humane cities. Always humane. Smart if helpful. The English version of this book can be downloaded for free below.
Distributed Ledger Technologies have a lot of potential "as a visible tool that improves the lives of citizens and their communities" and the focus should be on the concrete problems that the public sector faces in delivering services to citizens
“You’re going to have to say, it improves mobility, it improves the fight against climate change, affordable housing, a better city, better participation. It’s not going to be about DLTs.” - Francesca Bria, president of the Italian National Innovation Fund
Metabolic concluded the DLT4EU program in May with the goal to drive innovation in the public sector by connecting the expertise of top-notch entrepreneurs with real-world problems, to create new solutions.
Learn more from the link below.
Serious gaming is een mooi hulpmiddel voor samenwerking en
besluitvorming in de energietransitie. In de afgelopen jaren hebben we
voorbeelden gezien van spellen die complexe vragen begrijpelijk kunnen maken. Neem bijvoorbeeld de HEAT tool van Alliander, het WE-Energy spel van de Hanzehogeschool Groningen, de sustainability DNA game van de Ceuvel, het Klimaatspel Plan Zuid van de Gemeente Amsterdam en het participatiespel van de Hogeschool van Amsterdam. Stuk voor stuk interessante serious games die ingewikkelde processen van verduurzamingsopgaven eenvoudiger maken.
De Hogeschool van Amsterdam en Amsterdam Smart City zoeken samen hoe we de meerwaarde van serious gaming voor energieprojecten kunnen verhogen. Enerzijds omdat we ons afvragen of de potentie wel volledig wordt benut. Anderzijds omdat opvalt dat structurele toepassing, of op grotere schaal, uitblijft. De zoektocht staat nog ver aan het begin, maar we gaan graag met anderen hierover in gesprek. En daarom vragen we jou om met ons mee te denken.
Voor wie zijn serious games?
Serious games zijn er genoeg, maar ze verschillen in de inhoudelijke focus, schaalniveau en doelgroep. Sommigen gaan uitsluitend over energie, anderen ook om andere aspecten van gebiedsontwikkeling. Daarbinnen kan het gaan over een hele regio of een bepaalde buurt. Omdat de energietransitie gaat om multistakeholder samenwerking, hebben meerdere doelgroepen baat bij het spelen van een serious game over dit onderwerp. Denk aan beleidsmakers en (nuts)bedrijven, die bijvoorbeeld moeten samenwerken om een warmtenet te realiseren.
Een doelgroep die hier niet kan ontbreken is natuurlijk de bewoner. Voor hen lijkt de toegevoegde waarde van serious games nog wel het grootst. Juist vanwege de laagdrempeligheid van een serious game is het bij uitstek een middel om mensen te helpen complexe informatie te begrijpen. Hoe meer je speelt, hoe beter je het begrijpt. En het begrijpen van een onderwerp is een belangrijke voorwaarde om mee te kunnen denken, praten en besluiten over een onderwerp. Een belangrijke reden om dit soort spellen extra serieus te nemen. Bovendien biedt een spel de mogelijkheid om gelijkwaardig met elkaar in gesprek te gaan. Verschillen in sociaaleconomische status zijn eigenlijk niet van belang. Sterker nog, spellen bieden juist gelegenheid om in elkaars schoenen te staan. Het helpt om elkaars perspectieven te begrijpen, of je nu bij de gemeente werkt, bij een netbeheerder, een woningcorporatie, of je huurder bent of woningeigenaar. Zo zijn er nog wel meer voordelen te benoemen. Voordelen die ook kunnen gelden voor andere transities dan de energietransitie.
In de praktijk lijken we deze voordelen niet voldoende te benutten. Serious gaming voor de energietransitie is weliswaar op verschillende plekken ontwikkeld, maar in beperkte mate, en niet structureel toegepast. Daar komt bij dat we er ook weinig van weten. Welke spelmechanismes werken en welke niet? Wanneer zet je zo’n spel het beste in? Bij het ophalen van ideeën, de daadwerkelijke besluitvorming, of ook in de evaluatie? Zijn er eigenlijk ook risico’s? Zijn er redenen om serious gaming absoluut niet te willen gebruiken in het energieneutraal maken van wijken?
En dan nu de vraag aan jou!
Om de zoektocht kracht bij te zetten vraag ik namens Amsterdam Smart City onze community om hulp. Hoe kijk jij aan tegen serious gaming als middel om te werken aan transitieopgaven? Zie je de toegevoegde waarde van zo’n game voor buurtparticipatie? En van welke voorbeelden zouden we moeten leren – of wellicht als netwerk moeten door ontwikkelen?
We zijn benieuwd naar je ervaringen! Laat je reactie achter in de comments!
e-Estonia is currently the most ambitious project in technology-assisted policymaking in the world. It includes anybody involved with government and it has changed the daily life of citizens. Almost all public services are involved: Legislation, voting, education, justice, health care, banking, taxes, and police. These are digitally linked to each other via one platform. Only for marriages, divorces and real-estate transactions, a visit to the town hall is mandatory.
The country’s ICT-infrastructure has been developed by government, along with a few Estonian companies. The state has been the driving force behind this project and has attracted the best specialists of the country. Below, I mention some of the features of the project.
Estonia has developed an ICT-infrastructure – the Government Cloud - that all government agencies and most companies use. This makes possible almost perfect interoperability in accordance with the highest level of IT Security Standards (ISKE).
To be protected against external cyberattacks, such as in 2007, there is a full back-up. This is in a datacenter in Luxemburg, which has an internationally accepted status as ‘embassy’. It works under Estonian state control and can take over the most critical services seamlessly.
Data is not stored centrally. Instead, the government data platform, X-Road, connects individual servers via end-to-end encrypted pathways. In the Estonian system any individual owns all information that is recorded about him or herand any use that is made of it is recorded.
This video explains how X-road works.
The backbone of Estonia’s digital security is a blockchain technology called KSI. It is designed in Estonia and applied worldwide today. It guarantees complete privacy and excludes anyone from manipulating the data. KSI blockchain technology documents all actions in the system and protects information without access to the information itself.
The technology has been developed together with Guardtime, a company founded in 2007 in Estonia, that has exporting the system globally and therefore has offices around the world.
The Dutch Judicial Information Service (Justitiële Informatiedienst) has chosen Guardtime’s KSI Blockchain technology for integrity assurance of new e-services. The blockchain integration ensures transparency, verifiability and security of the information that is processed in government systems.
Whereas most technology advanced countries still let people vote with pen and paper or use primitive voting machines, from 2007 Estonia applies e-voting for parliament election and elections at municipal level.
With e-Voting, voters can cast their vote from any computer with an internet connection anywhere in the world: During a designated period, voters log in to the system with an ID-card or Mobile-ID, and cast a ballot. To ensure anonymity, the voter’s identity is removed from the ballot before it reaches the National Electoral Commission, which counts the votes. Every system of remote voting, including traditional ballot papers sent by post, risks buying or enforcing someone’s vote. Estonia’s solution is the possibility to change his or her vote later with only the last vote counting.
Governmental bodies at all levels use a paperless information system – e-cabinet – that has streamlined decision making and reduced the time spent on meetings with 80%. Well before the start of a meeting, participants view the agenda items and determine their opinion. If they have objections or want to discuss the subject, they click on a box. The opinions of all participants are therefore known in advance. If there are no objections, decisions are taken without debate.
This video below demonstrates the operation of e-cabinet.
Like many other European states, the population of Estonia is shrinking. Increasing the number of babies is complicated, so a digital residency program was launched in 2014, in style with the Estonian e-government project. Any foreigner can become Estonian resident without ever visiting the country and can participate in Estonian services, such as banking. Estonia has liberal rules for technological research and the lowest corporate tax rates in the European Union.
About 28.000 people have applied for an e-residency, including many owners of small businesses from the United Kingdom who want to be based in the EU.
The footing of e-Estonia is – according to the government – to facilitate and improve the life of citizens and to make the government more efficient. This goal certainly has been achieved. The total amount of savings is calculated at 2% of GNP.
Technology can play a role in improving the quality of the formal organization, decision making, the provision of services and the relationship with all stakeholders. In this context, concepts such as e-government (digital government) and e-governance are often used. Estonia offers a great example of e-government. For e-governance - the mutual communication between municipal authorities and citizens using digital tools - we better take Spain as an example, as I will explain in a next post.
I will regularly share with you ‘snapshots’ of the challenge to bring social and ecological sustainable cities closer using technology - if helpful. These posts represent findings, updates, and supplements of my e-book Humane cities. Always humane. Smart if helpful. The English version of this book can be downloaded for free below.