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For 23 weeks I have published weekly episodes of the series Better Cities. The role of digital technology on this site. I have edited and compiled these episodes in an e-book (88 pages). You can download this for free via the link below. The book has 17 chapters that are grouped into six parts:
1. Hardcore: Technology-centered approaches
2. Towards a humancentric approach
3. Misunderstanding the use of data
4. Ethical considerations
5. Embedding digitization in urban policy
6. Applications (government, mobility, energy and healthcare)
7. Wrapping up: Better cities and technology
In the last episode of the Better cities: The contribution of digital technology-series, I will answer the question that is implied in the title of the series, namely how do we ensure that technology contributes to socially and environmentally sustainable cities. But first a quick update.
Smart city, what was it like again?
In 2009, IMB launched a global marketing campaign around the previously little-known concept of 'smart city' with the aim of making city governments receptive to ICT applications in the public sector. The initial emphasis was on process control (see episode 3). Especially emerging countries were interested. Many made plans to build smart cities 'from scratch', also meant to attract foreign investors. The Korean city of Songdo, developed by Cisco and Gale International, is a well-known example. The construction of smart cities has also started in Africa, such as Eko-Atlantic City (Nigeria), Konzo Technology City and Appolonia City (Ghana). So far, these cities have not been a great success.
The emphasis soon shifted from process control to using data from the residents themselves. Google wanted to supplement its already rich collection of data with data that city dwellers provided with their mobile phones to create a range of new commercial applications. Its sister company Sidewalk Labs, which was set up for that purpose, started developing a pilot project in Toronto. That failed, partly due to the growing resistance to the violation of privacy. This opposition has had global repercussions and led in many countries to legislation to better protect privacy. China and cities in Southeast Asia - where Singapore is leading the way - ignored this criticism.
The rapid development of digital technologies, such as artificial intelligence, gave further impetus to discussion about the ethical implications of technology (episodes 9-13). Especially in the US, applications in facial recognition and predictive police were heavily criticized (episode 16). Artificial intelligence had meanwhile become widespread, for example to automate decision-making (think of the infamous Dutch allowance affair) or to simulate urban processes with, for example, digital twins (episode 5).
This current situation - particularly in the Netherlands - can be characterized on the one hand by the development of regulations to safeguard ethical principles (episode 14) and on the other by the search for responsible applications of digital technology (episode 15). The use of the term 'smart city' seems to be subject to some erosion. Here we are picking up the thread.
The dozens of descriptions of the term 'smart city' not only vary widely but they also evoke conflicting feelings. Some see (digital) technology as an effective means of urban growth; others see it as a threat. The question is therefore how useful the term 'smart city' is still. Touria Meliani, alderman of Amsterdam, prefers to speak of 'wise city' than of 'smart city' to emphasize that she is serious about putting people first. According to her, the term 'smart city' mainly emphasizes the technical approach to things. She is not the first. Previously, Daniel Latorre, place making specialist in New York and Francesco Schianchi, professor of urban design in Milan also argued for replacing 'smart' with 'wise'. Both use this term to express that urban policy should be based profoundly on the wishes and needs of citizens.
Whatever term you use, it is primarily about answering the question of how you ensure that people - residents and other stakeholders of a city - are put in the center. You can think of three criteria here:
1. An eye for the impact on the poorest part of the population
There is a striking shift in the literature on smart cities. Until recently, most articles focused on the significance of 'urban tech' for mobility, reduction of energy use and public safety. In a short time, much more attention has been paid to subjects such as the accessibility of the Internet, the (digital) accessibility of urban services and health care, energy and transport poverty and the consequences of gentrification. In other words, a shift took place from efficiency to equality and from physical interventions to social change. The reason is that many measures that are intended to improve the living environment led to an increase in the (rental) price and thus reduce the availability of homes.
2. Substantial share of co-creation
Boyd Cohen distinguishes three types of smart city projects. The first type (smart city 1.0) is technology- or corporate-driven. In this case, companies deliver instruments or software 'off the shelf'. For example, the provision of a residential area with adaptive street lighting. The second type (smart city 2.0) is technology enabled, also known as government-driven. In this case, a municipality develops a plan and then issues a tender. For example, connecting and programming traffic light installations, so that emergency services and public transport always receive the green light. The third type (smart city 3.0) is community-driven and based on citizen co-creation, for example an energy cooperative. In the latter case, there is the greatest chance that the wishes of the citizens concerned will come first.
A good example of co-creation between different stakeholders is the development of the Brain port Smart District in Helmond, a mixed neighborhood where living, working, generating energy, producing food, and regulating a circular neighborhood will go hand in hand. The future residents and entrepreneurs, together with experts, are investigating which state-of-the-art technology can help them with this.
Bias among developers plays a major role in the use of artificial intelligence. The best way to combat bias (and for a variety of other reasons, too) is to use diversity as a criterion when building development teams. But also (ethical) committees that monitor the responsible purchasing and use of (digital) technologies are better equipped for their task the more diverse they are.
Respecting urban complexity
In his essay The porous city, Gavin Starks describes how smart cities, with their technical utopianism and marketing jargon, ignore the plurality of the drivers of human behavior and instead see people primarily as homo economicus, driven by material gain and self-interest.
The best example is Singapore – the number 1 on the Smart City list, where techno-utopianism reigns supreme. This one-party state provides prosperity, convenience, and luxury using the most diverse digital aids to everyone who exhibits desirable behavior. There is little room for a differing opinion. A rapidly growing number of CCTV cameras – soon to be 200,000 – ensures that everyone literally stays within the lines. If not, the culprit can be quickly located with automatic facial recognition and crowd analytics.
Anyone who wants to understand human life in the city and does not want to start from simplistic assumptions such as homo economicus must respect the complexity of the city, try to understand it, and know that careless intervention might have huge unintended consequences.
The complexity of the city is the main argument against the use of reductionist adjectives such as 'smart', but also 'sharing', circular, climate-neutral', ‘resilient' and more. In addition, the term smart refers to a means that is rarely seen as an aim as such. If an adjective were desirable, I prefer the term 'humane city'.
But whatever you name a city, it is necessary to emphasize that it is a complex organism with many facets, the coherence of which must be well understood by all stakeholders for the city to prosper and its inhabitants to be happy.
Digitization. Two tracks
City authorities that are aware of the complexity of their city can best approach digitization along two tracks. The first aims to translate the city's problems and ambitions into policy and consider digital instruments a part of the whole array of other instruments. The second track is the application of ethical principles in the search for and development of digital tools. Both tracks influence each other.
Track 1: The contribution of digital technology
Digital technology is no more or less than one of the instruments with which a city works towards an ecologically and socially sustainable future. To articulate what such a future is meaning, I introduced Kate Raworth's ideas about the donut economy (episode 9). Designing a vision for the future must be a broadly supported democratic process. In this process, citizens also check the solution of their own problems against the prosperity of future generations and of people elsewhere in the world. Furthermore, policy makers must seamlessly integrate digital and other policy instruments, such as legislation, funding, and information provision (episode 8).
The most important question when it comes to (digital) technology is therefore which (digital) technological tools contribute to the realization of a socially and ecologically sustainable city.
Track 2: The ethical use of technology
In the world in which we realize the sustainable city of the future, digital technology is developing rapidly. Cities are confronted with these technologies through powerful smart city technology marketing. The most important question that cities should ask themselves in this regard is How do we evaluate the technology offered and that we want to develop from an ethical perspective. The first to be confronted with this question—besides hopefully the industry itself—is the department of the Chief Information or Technology officer. He or she naturally participates in the first track-process and can advise policymakers at an early stage. I previously inventoried (ethical) criteria that play a role in the assessment of technological instrument.
In the management of cities, both tracks come together, resulting in one central question: Which (digital) technologies are eligible to support us towards a sustainable future in a responsible way. This series has not provided a ready-made answer; this depends on the policy content and context. However, the successive editions of this series will have provided necessary constituents of the answer.
In my e-book Cities of the Future. Always humane, smart if helpful, I have carried out the policy process as described above, based on current knowledge about urban policy and urban developments. This has led to the identification of 13 themes and 75 actions, with references to potentially useful technology. You can download the e-book here:
I updated and put together 75 posts and articles about the energy transition in a new e-book (in Dutch) 'Kennisdossier Zonne-energie' (120 pages). If you interested, download it for free with the link below.
The 22nd and penultimate episode in the *Better cities: The contribution of digital technology-*series will discuss two ambitious ‘smart city’plans of two governments and the associated risks.
Recently, the European Commission launched a 100-city plan, the EU Mission on Climate-Neutral and Smart Cities. One hundred European cities that aspire to be climate neutral by 2030 (you read that correctly) can register and count on supplemental funding. I immediately thought of another 100-city plan, India's Smart City Mission. In 2015, Prime Minister Modi announced that in six years 100 Indian cities would become 'smart'. The official term of the project has now ended, and I will examine below whether this goal has been achieved, I discuss the two plans and then explain why I call both of them a leap forward. At the end I will make a few suggestions for how the European mission can still learn from the Indian one.
India's Smart City Mission
In India, 377 million people live in cities. In 15 years, 200 million will have been added. Already, traffic in Indian cities has come to a complete standstill, each year more than 600,000 people die from air pollution, half of the urban areas have no drinking water connection, waste collection is poor and only 3% of sewage is treated. The rest is discharged into surface water, which is also the main source of drinking water.
The Smart City Mission was intended to implement substantial improvements on all these problems in 100 cities, which together comprise 30% of the population. In the improvements digital technology had to play an important role.
The 100 cities were selected because of favorable prospects and the quality of the plans, which usually consisted of a long series of projects.
The regular city governing bodies were deemed incompetent to lead the projects. That is why management boards (‘special purpose vehicles’) have been appointed, operating under company law and led by a CEO, supported by international consultancy firms. All rights and duties of the City Council regarding the execution of the mission were delegated to the appointed boards, including the power to collect taxes! Not surprisingly, this decision has been challenged in many places. Several cities have withdrawn from 'the mission' for this reason.
To implement their projects, each city would receive $150 million over five consecutive years. This money should be seen as seed capital to be supplemented from additional sources such as public-private partnerships, commercial bank lending, external financing, loans, and foreign investment.
Area-oriented and pan-urban approach
The plans contain two components: an area-oriented and a pan-urban approach. The first aims at adapting, retrofitting or new construction and should relate to a wide range of 'smart services'. For example high-speed internet, waste facilities, parking facilities, energy-efficient buildings, but also replacement of slums by high-rise buildings. The slick 'architectural impressions' that circulated at the beginning of the planning period (see above) mainly concern the area-oriented approach.
The pan-urban approach includes at least one 'smart' facility for a larger part of the city. The choice is often made to improve the transport infrastructure, for example the construction of new roads and highways and the purchase of electric buses. No fewer than 70 cities have built a 'smart' control center based on the example of Rio de Janeiro, which I believe was rather premature.
Now that the official term of 'the mission' has ended, a first inventory can be made, although observers complain about a lack of transparency about the results. About half of all the 5000 projects that have been started have not (yet) been completed and a significant part of the government funds have not yet been disbursed. This could still happen in the coming years. This is also because attracting external resources has lagged behind expectations. These funds came mainly from governments, and large technology companies. This has had an impact on the implementation of the plans.
The slow progress of most projects is partly because most of the population was barely aware of the mission and that city councils were not always cooperative either.
It was foreseen that half of the available resources would go to area-oriented projects; this eventually became 75-80%. As a result, on average only 4% of the inhabitants of the cities involved have benefited from 'the mission' and even then it is not clear what the benefits exactly entail. The city of New Delhi covers an area of almost 1500 km2, while the area concerned is only 2.2 km2: So you're not even going to have 100 smart cities. You're going to have 100 smart enclaves within cities around the country, said Shivani Chaudhry, director of the Housing and Land Rights Network.
It soon became clear that the mission would be no more than a drop in the ocean. Instead of $150 million, it would take $10 billion per city, $1000 billion in total, to address all ambitions, according to an official calculation. Deloitte was a little more modest, calculating the need for $150 billion in public money and $120 billion from private sources.
Type of projects
The many topics eligible for funding have resulted in a wide variety of projects. Only one city has put the quality of the environment first. Most cities have initiated projects in the areas of clean energy, improving electricity supply, reducing air pollution, construction of new roads, purchasing electric buses, waste disposal and sanitation. What is also lacking, is a focus on human rights, gender, and the interests of the poorest population groups.
In some places, it has been decided to clear slums and relocate residents to high-rise buildings on the outskirts of the city. Indian master architect Doshi warns that the urban vision behind the smart city plans will destroy the informality and diversity that is the cornerstone of the country's rural and urban society. He challenges planners to shift the emphasis to rural areas and to create sufficient choices and opportunities there.
The European Mission on Climate-neutral and Smart Cities
Cities produce more than 70% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions and use more than 65% of total energy. In addition, cities in Europe only cover 4% of the total surface area and accommodate 75% of the population. The ecological footprint of the urban population is more than twice what it is entitled to, assuming a proportional distribution of the earth's resources.
On November 25, 2021, the European Commission called on European cities to express their interest in a new European mission on Climate-neutral and smart cities. The mission aims to have 100 climate-neutral and smart cities by 2030, which will act as a model for all other European cities.
The sectors involved in this transformation process are the built environment, energy production and distribution, transport, waste management, industrial processes and product use, agriculture, forestry, and other land uses and large-scale deployment of digital technology. That is why the European Commission talks of a green and digital twin, or a simultaneous green and digital transformation.
Reaching the stated goal requires a new way of working and the participation of the urban population, hence the motto 100 climate neutral cities by 2030 - by and for the citizens.
According to the plan's authors, the main obstacle to climate transition is not a lack of climate-friendly and smart technology, but the inability to implement it. The current fragmented form of governance cannot bring about an ambitious climate transition. Crucial to the success of the mission is the involvement of citizens in their various roles as political actors, users, producers, consumers, or owners of buildings and means of transport.
The additional investment to achieve the mission is estimated at €96 billion for 100 European cities by 2030, with a net positive economic benefit to society of €25 billion that will increase further in the period thereafter. The European Commission will provide €360 million in seed funding.
The overwhelming amount of funding will have to come from banks, private equity, institutional investors, and from the public sector at the local, regional and national level.
What went wrong with the Indian Mission and its follow-up
The gap between ambitions and reality
Almost all comments on 'the mission' emphasize that three necessary conditions were not met from the start, namely a widely accepted governance model, adequate funding, and involvement of the population and local government. There was an unbridgeable gap between ambitions and available resources, with the contribution of external capital being grossly overestimated.
The biggest problem, however, is the gap between the mission's ambitions and the nature of the problems that India it faces: Cities are bursting at the seams because of the millions of poor people who flock to cities every year in search of work and a place to live that find them only in the growing slums. The priorities for which the country must find a solution are therefore: improving life in rural areas, improving housing in the cities, ensuring safe drinking water, waste disposal, sanitation, and purification of wastewater, good (bus) transport and less polluting car traffic. Urgently needed is a sustainable development model that addresses ecological problems, makes urbanization manageable, controls pollution and will use resources efficiently.
The 'Mission' is a leap forward, which does not tackle these problems at the root, but instead seeks a solution in 'smartification'. Policymakers were captivated by the promises made by IBM and other technology companies that ICT is the basis for solving most urban problems. A view that I objected in the third episode of this series. IC solutions have been concentrated in enclaves where businesses and prosperous citizens are welcomed. The Government of India Special Rapporteur on Housing therefore notes that the proposals submitted had a predominant focus on technology rather than prioritizing affordable housing and doubts the correctness of this choice.
Instead of emphasizing the role of digital technology, the focus should have been on equitable, inclusive, and sustainable living areas for all. Not the area-oriented but the pan-urban approach should have prevailed.
Several authors suggest future actions consistent with the above comments:
• Setting a longer time horizon, which is much more in line with the problems as they are felt locally.
• Decentralization, coupled with strengthening local government in combination with citizen participation.
• A more limited number of large-scale pan-urban projects. These projects should have an immediate impact on all 4000 Indian cities and the surrounding countryside.
• More attention for nature and the environment instead of cutting down trees to widen motorways.
• Training programs in the field of urbanization, partly to align urban development with Indian culture.
The European mission revisited
Europe and India are incomparable in many ways, but I do see similarities between the two missions.
With the proclamation of the 'mission', the Indian government wanted to show the ultimate – perhaps desperate – act of determination to confront the country's overwhelming problems. I therefore called this mission a flight forward in which the image of the 'smart city' was used as a catalyst. However, the country’s problems are out of proportion to this, and the other means employed.
It is plausible that the European Union Commission also wanted to take an ultimate act. After the publication of the ambitious European Green Deal, each national governments seems to be drawing its own plan. The ‘100 cities mission’ is perhaps intended as a 'booster', but here too the feasibility of this strategy is doubtful.
Smart and green
The European Union cherishes the image of a 'green and digital twin', a simultaneous green and digital transformation. Both the Government of India and the European Commission consider digital technology an integral part of developing climate neutral cities. I hope to have made it clear in the previous 21 episodes of this series that digital technology will certainly contribute. However, the reduction of greenhouse gases and digitization should not be seen as an extension of each other. Making a city climate neutral requires way more than (digital) technology. Moreover, suitable technology is still partly under development. It is often forgotten that technology is one of the causes of global warming. Using the image of green and smart twins will fuel the tension between the two, just like it happened in India. In that case, it remains to be seen where the priority will lie. In India it was 'smart'.
Funding of the Indian mission fell short; much is still unclear about funding of the European mission. It is highly questionable whether European states, already faced with strong opposition to the costs of 'climate', will be willing to channel extra resources to cities.
The European mission wants to be by and for the citizens. But the goal has already been established, namely becoming climate neutral by 2030. A new 'bottom-up' governmental approach would have been to investigate whether there are cities where a sufficiently large part of the population agrees with becoming climate neutral earlier than in 2050 and how much sooner that could be and next, leave it to these cities themselves to figure-out how to do this.
Can Europe still prevent its mission from failing like India's? I propose to look for in the same direction as India seems to be doing now:
• Opt for one unambiguous goal: Reducing greenhouse gases significantly earlier than 2050.
• Challenge a limited number of cities each to form a broad coalition of local stakeholders that share this ambition.
• Make extra resources available, but also ask the cities themselves to make part of the necessary investments.
• Stimulate universities and industry to provide a European response to Big Tech and to make connections with the 'European Green Deal'.
My e-book Smart City Tales contains several descriptions of intended and alleged smart cities, including the much-discussed Saudi Arabian Neom. The Dutch version is here.
The 21st episode of the Better cities – the contribution of digital technology-series is about priorities for digital healthcare, often referred to as eHealth.
The subject is broader than what will be discussed here. I won't talk about the degree of automation in surgery, the impressive equipment available to doctors, ranging from the high-tech chair at the dentist to the MRI scanner in hospitals, nor about researching microbes in air, water and sewerage that has exploded due to the covid pandemic. Even the relationship with the urban environment remains somewhat in the background. This simply does not play a prominent role when it comes to digitization in healthcare. The subject, on the other hand, lends itself well to illustrate ethical and social problems associated with digitization. As well as the solutions available in the meantime.
The challenge: saving costs and improving the quality of care
The Netherlands can be fortunate to be one of the countries with the best care in the world. However, there are still plenty of challenges, such as a greater focus on health instead of on disease, placing more responsibility for their own health on citizens, increasing the resilience of hospitals, paying attention to health for the poorer part of the population, whose number of healthy life years is significantly lower and, above all, limiting the increase of cost. Over the past 20 years, healthcare in the Netherlands has become 150% more expensive, not counting the costs of the pandemic. Annual healthcare costs now amount to € 100 billion, about 10% of GDP. Without intervention, this will rise to approximately €170 billion in 2040, mainly due to an aging population. In the meantime, healthcare costs are very unevenly distributed: 80% of healthcare costs go to 10% of the population.
The most important task facing the Netherlands and other rich countries is to use digitization primarily to reduce healthcare costs, while not forgetting the other challenges mentioned. This concerns a series of - often small - forms of digital care. According to McKinsey, savings of €18 billion by 2030 are within reach, if only with forms of digitization with proven effect. Most gains can be made by reducing the administrative burden and shifting costs to less specialized centers, to home treatment and to prevention.
There are more than 300,000 health sites and apps on the Internet, which provide comprehensive information about diseases, options for diagnosis and self-treatment. More and more medical data can also be viewed online. Often the information on apps is incomplete resulting in misdiagnosis. Doctors in the Netherlands especially recommend the website Thuisarts.nl, which they developed themselves.
Many apps use gamification, such as exercises to improve memory. A good example of digital social innovation is Mirrorable, a program to treat children with motor disorders because of brain injury. This program also enables contact between parents whose inputs continuously help to improve exercises.
Process automation in healthcare resembles in many respects automation elsewhere, such as personnel, logistics and financial management. More specific is the integrated electronic patient file. The Framework Act on Electronic Data Exchange in Healthcare, adopted in 2021, obliges healthcare providers to exchange data electronically and prescribes standards. However, data exchange will be minimal and will only take place at a decentralized level to address privacy concerns. The complexity of the organization of health care and the constant discussions about the content of such a system were also immense obstacles. That's a pity because a central system lowers costs and increases quality. Meanwhile, new technological developments guarantee privacy with great certainty. For example, the use of federated (decentralized) forms of data storage combined with blockchain. TNO conducts groundbreaking research in this area. The institution applies the principles of federated learning along with the application of multi-party computation technology. These innovative technologies enable learning from sensitive data from multiple sources without sharing this data.
The recent eHealth monitor of the RIVM shows that by 2021 almost half of all doctors and nurses had had contact with patients with video calling, while this hardly happened in 2019. Incidentally, this concerns a relatively small group of patients. In the US there was an even larger increase, which has now been converted into a sharp decline. It seems that in the US primary health care is reinventing itself. Walgreens, the largest US drugstore chain, will begin offering primary care in 1000 of its stores. Apparently, in many cases, physical contact with a doctor is irreplaceable, even if (or perhaps because) the doctor is relatively anonymous.
Video calling is not only important for care provider, but also for informal caregivers, family and friends and help to combat loneliness. Virtual reality (metaverse!) will further expand the possibilities for this. TNO is also active here: The TNO media lab is developing a scalable communication platform in which the person involved (patient or client), using only an upright iPad, has the impression that the doctor, district nurse or visitor is sitting at the table or on the couch right in front.
The effectiveness of a remote consultation is of course served if the patient has already made a few observations him- or herself. 8% of patients with chronic conditions already do this. There is a growing range of self-tests available for, for example, fertility, urinary tract infections, kidney disorders and of course Covid-19. There are also home devices such as smart thermometers, mats that detect diabetic foot complications, and blood pressure meters; basically, everything that doctors often routinely do during a visit. The GGD AppStore provides an overview of relevant and reliable apps in the field of health.
Wearables, for example built into an i-watch, can collect part of the desired data, store it for a longer period and, if necessary, exchange it with the care provider.
More advanced are the mobile diagnosis boxes for emergency care by nurses on location, such as ambulances. With a fast Internet connection (5G), specialist care providers can watch if necessary.
A small but growing group of patients, doctors, and researchers with substantial financial support from Egon Musk sees the future mainly in chip implants. This would allow not only more complete diagnoses to be made, but also treatments to be carried out. Neuralink has developed a brain implant that improves communication with speech and hearing-impaired people. The Synchron brain implant helps people with brain disorders perform simple movements. For the time being, the resistance to brain implants is high.
Meanwhile, all these low-threshold amenities can lead us to become fixated on disease rather than on health. But what if we never had to worry about our health again? Instead, the local health center watches over our health thanks to wearables: Our data is continuously monitored and analyzed using artificial intelligence. They are compared with millions of diagnostic data from other patients. By comparing patterns, diseases can be predicted in good time, followed by automated suggestions for self-treatment or advice to consult a doctor. Until then, we have probably experienced nothing but vague complaints ourselves. Wouldn't that be an attractive prospect?
Helsinki is experimenting with a Health Benefit Analysis tool that anonymously examines patients' medical records to evaluate the care they have received so far. The central question here is can the municipality proactively approach people based on the health risk that has come to light because of this type of analysis?
Medics participating in a large-scale study by the University of Chicago and the company Verify were amazed at the accuracy with which algorithms were able to diagnose patients and predict diseases ranging from cardiovascular disease to cancer. In a recent article, oncologist Samuel Volchenboom described that it is painful to note that the calculations came from Verify, a subsidiary of Alphabet, which not only used medical data (with patients’ consent), but also all other data that sister company Google already had stored about them. He adds that it is unacceptable that owning and using such valuable data becomes the province of only a few companies.
Perhaps even more problematic is that these predictions are based in part on patterns in the data that the researchers can't fully explain. It is therefore argued that the use of these types of algorithms should be banned. But how would a patient feel if such an algorithmic recommendation is the last straw? It is better to invest in more transparent artificial intelligence.
Implementing digital technology
Both many patients and healthcare professionals still have doubts about the added value of digital technology. The media reports new cases of data breaches and theft every day. Most people are not very confident that blockchain technology, among other things, can prevent this. Most medical specialists doubt whether ICT will reduce their workload. It is often thought of as some additional thing. Numerous small-scale pilot projects are taking place, which consume a lot of energy, but which are rarely scaled up. The supply of digital healthcare technologies exceeds their use.
Digital medicine will have to connect more than at present with the needs of health professionals and patients. In addition to concerns about privacy, the latter are especially afraid of further reductions in personal attention. The idea of a care robot is terrifying them. As should be the case with all forms of digitization, there is a need for a broadly supported vision and setting priorities based on that.
Against this background, a plea for even more medical technology in our part of the world, including e-health, is somewhat embarrassing. Growth in healthy years due to investment in health care in developing countries will far exceed the impact of the same investment in wealthy countries.
Nevertheless, it is desirable to continue deliberately on the chosen path, whereby expensive experiments for the benefit of a small group of patients have less priority in my opinion than investments in a healthy lifestyle, prevention, and self-reliance. Healthcare cannot and should not be taken over by robots; digitization and automation are mainly there to support and improve the work of the care provider and make it more satisficing and efficient.
One of the chapters in my e-book Future cities, always humane, smart if helpful, also deals with health care and offers examples of digital tools. In addition, it pays much more contextual information about the global health situation, particularly in cities. You can download by following the link below. The Dutch edition is here.
Drie jaar lang werkten 9 partners aan het RESILIO project. Amsterdam is nu ruim 10.000m2 aan innovatieve, groene, waterbergende daken rijker!
Op 21 maart tijdens een WeMakeTheCityGreen event van Pakhuis de Zwijger presenteert RESILIO de onderzoeksresultaten. Daarna volgt een workshop waarin alle stappen van ambitie tot aanleg van blauw-groen in kaart worden gebracht. Welke hobbels en kansen kwamen we tegen tijdens de aanleg en realisatie? Reserveer hier voor de presentatie en hier voor de workshop.
In the 18th episode of the Better Cities - The contribution of technology-series, I answer the question how digital technology in the form of MaaS (Mobility as a Service) will help reduce car use, which is the most important intervention of improving the livability of cities, in addition to providing citizens with a decent income.
Any human activity that causes 1.35 million deaths worldwide, more than 20 million injuries, total damage of $1,600 billion, consumes 50% of urban space and contributes substantially to global warming would be banned immediately. This does not apply to traffic, because it is closely linked to our way of life and to the interests of motordom. For example, in his books Fighting traffic and Autonorame: The illusory promise of high-tech driving, Peter Horton refers to the coteri of the automotive industry, the oil companies and befriended politicians who have been stimulating car use for a century. Without interventions, global car ownership and use will grow exponentially over the next 30 years.
Reduction of car use
In parallel with the growth of car use, trillions have been invested worldwide in ever new and wider roads and in the management of traffic flows with technological means.
It has repeatedly been confirmed that the construction of more roads and traffic-regulating technology have a temporary effect and then further increase car use. Economists call this induced demand. The only effective counter-measures are impeding car use and to discourage the perceived need to use the car, preferably in a non-discriminatory way.
Bringing housing, shopping, and employment closer together (15-minute city) reduces the need to travel by car, but this is a long-term perspective. The most effective policy in the short term is to reduce parking options at home, at work and near shopping facilities and always prioritizing alternative modes of transport (walking, micro-mobility, and public transport). Copenhagen and Amsterdam have been investing in bicycle infrastructure for years and are giving cyclists a green track in many places at the expense of car traffic.
For several years now, Paris has also been introducing measures to discourage car traffic by 1,400 kilometers of cycle paths, ban on petrol and diesel cars in 2030, redesign of intersections with priority for pedestrians, 200 kilometers of extension of the metro system and closure of roads and streets. Meanwhile, car use has fallen from 61% in 2001 to 35% now. Milan has similar plans and in Berlin a group is preparing a referendum in 2023 with the aim of making an area car-free larger than Manhattan. Even in Manhattan and Brooklyn, there is a strong movement to reduce car use through a substantial shift of road capacity from cars to bicycles, pedestrians, and buses.
Because of the pandemic, the use of public transport has decreased significantly worldwide as many users worked from home, could not go to school, took the bicycle or a car. Nevertheless, cities continue to promote public transport as a major strategy to reduce car use. In many places in the world, including in Europe, urban development has resulted in a high degree of dispersion of and between places to live, shop, and work. The ease of bridging the 'last mile' will contribute significantly to the increase in the use of public transport. While bicycles play an important role in this in the Netherlands, the ideas elsewhere are based on all forms of 'dockless micromobility’.
From a technological point of view, autonomous passenger transport involves type four or five at a taxonomy of automated cars. This includes the Waymo brand developed by Google. In some places in the US, these cars are allowed to drive with a supervisor ('safety driver') on board. Type 5 (fully autonomous driving under all circumstances) does not yet exist at all, and it is highly questionable whether this will ever happen. Besides, it is questionable too whether the automotive industry aspires building such a car at a substantial scale. Given their availability, it is expected that many people will forgo purchasing them and instead use them as a shared car or as a (shared or not) taxi. This will significantly reduce car ownership. To sell as many cars as possible, it is expected that the automotive industry will aim for level three automation, which means that the car can take over the actions of the driver, who must stay vigilant.
The impact on cities of autonomous shared cars and (shared) taxis is highly uncertain. Based on traffic data in the Boston area and surveys of residents, a study by the Boston Consultancy Group shows that approximately 30% of all transport movements (excluding walking) will take place in an autonomous car. But it also appears that users of public transport are a significant part of this group. Most people interviewed were scared using an unmanned shared taxi. Without sharing, there will be more cars on the road and more traffic jams in large parts of the city than now. A scenario study in the city of Porto (Portugal) that assumes that autonomous cars are mainly used as shared taxis and public transport is not cannibalized shows a significant decrease in car traffic.
Considering refraining from car use
Designing an efficient transport system is not that difficult; its acceptance by people is. Many see the car as an extension of the home, in which - even more than at home - they can listen to their favorite music, smoke, make phone calls or meet other persons unnoticed. Considering this, the step to alternative transport such as walking, cycling, or using public transport is a big one.
Most people will only decide to do so if external circumstances give sufficient reason. Hybrid working can lead to people wondering whether keeping an expensive (second) car is still responsible and cycling – in good weather – is also an option. Or they notice that because of restrictions driving a car loses part of its attractiveness and that public transport is not that bad after all. Some employers (Arcadis, for example) also encourage other forms of mobility than the (electric) lease car. <i>This lays the foundation for a 'mind set' in which people begin to break down their mobility needs into different components, each of which is best served by another mode of transport.</i> As soon as they realize that the car is an optimal solution only for part of the journeys, they realize that the price is shockingly high and a shared car is cheaper. For other journeys, a (shared) bicycle or public transport may be considered. Against this background, the concept of Mobility as a Service (MaaS) must be placed.
Mobility as a Service: MaaS
MaaS is an app that offers comprehensive door-to-door proposals for upcoming journeys, ranging from the nearest shared bicycle or scooter for the first mile or alternatively a (shared) taxi, the best available connection to public transport, the best transfer option, to the best option for the last mile. For daily users of the same route, the app provides information about alternatives in the event of disruptions. In the event of a delay in the journey, for example on the way to the airport, an alternative will be arranged if necessary. No worries about departure times, mode of transport, tickets, reservations, and payment. At least, ideally.
These kinds of apps are being developed in many places in the world and by various companies and organizations. First, Big Tech is active, especially Google. Intel also seems to have all the components for a complete MaaS solution, after taking over Moovit, Mobileye and Cubic. In Europe, it is mainly local and regional authorities, transport companies (Transdec, RATP, NS) and the automotive industry (Daimler-Benz and in the Netherlands PON).
The Netherlands follows its own course. The national MaaS program is based on public-private partnership. Seven pilots are ready to take-off. Each of these pilots places a different emphasis: Sustainability, accessibility of rural areas, congestion reduction and public transport promotion, integration of target group transport, public transport for the elderly and cross-border transport.
The pandemic has delayed its start significantly. The Gaiyo pilot in Utrecht (Leidsche Rijn) is the only one that is active for some time, and the results are encouraging. Apart from the national MaS pilots, the RiVier initiative was launched in January 2019; a joint venture of NS, RET and HTM in collaboration with Siemens.
Worth mentioning is an initiative from the European Union (European Institute for Innovation and technology - Urban Mobility), Eindhoven University of Technology, Achmea and Capgemini. 21 partners have now joined, including the municipality of Amsterdam. The aim is a pan-European open mobility service platform, called Urban Mobility Operating System (UMOS). The project aims to provide MaaS for the whole of Europe in the long term. UMOS expects local providers to join this initiative. Unlike most other initiatives, this is a non-profit platform. For the other providers, profitability will mainly be a long-term perspective.
The development of the MaaS app is complex from a technological and organizational point of view. It is therefore not surprising that five years after the first landing there are only partial solutions. <b>The basis for a successful app is the presence of a varied and high-quality range of transport facilities, a centralized information and sales system and standardization of various data and interfaces of all transport companies involved.</b> So far, they have not always been willing to share data. A company like London Transport wants to maintain direct contact with customers, and Uber and Lyft don't want to hand over the algorithms they use to calculate their variable fare. This type of data is indispensable for realizing a real-time offer of several door-to-door transport alternatives for every conceivable route, including pricing, and purchasing tickets. It is hoped that licensing authorities will mandate the provision of all data required for a fully functioning MaaS platform.
One of the most balanced MaaS applications is MaaX developed by Capgemini, the Paris Transport Authority and the RATP. This is comparable to the NS and OV9292 app, supplemented by options for carpooling, taxi transport, shared cars, shared bicycles, scooters, electric scooters, and parking.
Does MaaS is viable?
I believe that MaaS as such will encourage very few motorists to refrain from owning a car. This will mainly have to be done through measures that impede car use or reduce the need for it. Nevertheless, MaaS is useful for those who have just decided to look for alternatives. The app also has added-value for users of public transport, for instance if information in the event of disruptions is made available timely.
It is therefore clear to me that this app should be made available as a form of service, funded by the transport providers and the government and can make significant savings in infrastructure costs if car use decreases.
The above deepens two essays included in my e-book Cities of the Future: Always humane, smart if helpful. The first essay Livability and traffic – The walkable city connects insights about livability with different forms of passenger transport and policy. The second essay Towards zero road casualties: The traffic-safe city discusses policies to make traffic safer and the effect of 'self-driving' cars on road safety. The e-book can be downloaded here by following the link below.
The 17th edition of the Better cities - the role of digital technology series deals with strengthening local democracy through digitization.
In 1339, Ambrogio Lorenzetti completed his famous series of six paintings in the Town Hall of the Italian city of Siena, entitled The Allegory of Good and Bad Government. The above excerpt refers to the characteristics of good government: putting the interests of citizens first, renouncing self-interest, and integrity. But also developing a vision together with all those involved, transparency, justice and efficiently carrying out its many tasks.
In this article, I will discuss citizens’ involvement in government. The complaint is widely heard that democracy is reduced to voting once every few years and even then, it is not clear in advance what the policy of a new (city) government will be, due to the need to form coalitions. Digitization can substantially strengthen the citizen's input.
Being well-informed: the foundation of democracy
Digital channels are an excellent way to inform citizens, but digital disinformation and deepfakes are also on the rise. In this regard, YouTube has become notorious. Political microtargeting via Facebook has an uncontrollable impact and ruins the political debate. On the other hand, the 'Stemwijzer' app is a well-respected tool of informing citizens. Meanwhile, this tool has been adopted by a number of countries.
There are many other valuable digital sources of information, which increase the transparency of politics, for example by disclosing petty bribery, 'creative' accounting and preferential treatment. Prozorro (Ukraine) is a website that takes tenders away from the private sphere, My Society (UK) is an extensive collection of open source tools to hold those in power to account, Zašto (Serbia) is a website that compares statements of politicians with their actions and Funky Citizens (Romania) exposes irresponsible government spending, miscarriages of justice and forms of indecent political conduct.
Every time I am amazed at the fumbling with huge ballot-papers that then must be counted by hand. Estonia is leading the way here; people vote digitally from home without security risks. If this is not possible in other countries, then I have my doubts about the security of other digital applications
Estonia is the best example of far-reaching digitization of public and private services. Not only the usual municipal services, but also applying for building permits, registering for schools, health affairs, banking, taxes, police, and voting. All these things happen via one digital platform - X-road – that meets the highest security requirements. Data is stored in a decentral way via end-to-end encryption using blockchain technology. Citizens manage their own data.
More than voting
There is a widespread desire among citizens for greater involvement in political decision-making. This includes referenda and popular assemblies, which still take place in Swiss municipalities. But there is little room here for the exchange of views, let alone discussion. Moreover, several authors try to improve direct democracy by bypassing the role of political parties. In his book Against elections (2013), the Flemish political scientist David van Reybrouck proposes appointing representatives based on weighted lottery. A lottery alone does not yet provide a representative group, because never more than 10% of the chosen people respond to the invitation. What remains is a predominantly indigenous group, over 50 years of age with higher education, interested in politics.
The strength of citizens' forums is that they enable deliberation between independent citizens rather than representatives of political parties, who are bound in every way by coalition agreements.
Van Reybrouck’s ideas have been adopted in different ways and in different places, but always as a complement to representative democracy. Citizens' forums have achieved good results in Ireland. There are also several examples in the Netherlands. The biggest bottleneck has been the acceptance of the results by established political bodies. In April 2021, a committee led by Alex Brenninkmeijer advised positive about the value of citizens' forums in climate policy in an advisory report to the House of Representatives.
Another interesting option is liquid democracy. Here, like direct democracy, citizens can vote on all issues. However, they can also transfer their vote to someone else, who they believe is more involved. This person can also transfer the received mandates. With secure IT, this is easy to organize. Examples of useful apps include Adhocracy (Germany), a platform for participation, collaboration and idea generation, Licracy, a virtual people's parliament, Sovrin, an open source decentralized protocol for any kind of organization. Insights Management Tool is an application for converting opinions of a large amounts of citizens into 'insights' that can benefit politicians. I will add a few more applications, which are mainly intended for cities: EngageCitizens (many South European cities including Braga, Portugal), an application that enables citizens to submit ideas and discuss them in virtual discussion groups, Active Citizens (Moscow), an application where residents can participate in referendums, CitizenLab, a medium for citizens to discuss ideas about local issues. Finally, I refer to the comprehensive applications Decide Madrid and Decidem (Barcelona), which I have discussed elsewhere.
All these apps increase the involvement of part of the citizens in government. These are usually highly educated. Meetings are held in Madrid and Barcelona to let underprivileged residents also make their voices heard.
Due to the many and complicated tasks that city authorities must deal with and the often equally complicated decision making in the city council, it is not easy create room for decentralized citizen participation. Several cities try to improve citizen participation in political decentralization. The establishment of city districts with their own administrative bodies often leads to power struggles between central and decentralized politicians, without residents gaining more influence.
According to Jan Schrijver, the centralized administrative culture of Amsterdam the city’s ideals of citizen participation often clashes even though the impressive amount of policy instruments to promote participation: Initiating a referendum has been made more accessible, social initiatives can be subsidized, and confirmed in neighborhood rights, including the 'right to challenge' and neighborhoods have a budget of their own.
Very recently, a 'mini-citizen deliberation' was held under the leadership of Alex Brenninkmeijer on the concrete question of how Amsterdam can accelerate the energy transition. This meeting was very productive, and the participants were satisfied with the progress. It will become clear soon whether the city council will adopt the proposals.
A city of commons
Democratization is mostly conceived of as a decision-making process, the result of which the municipal organization carries out. The ultimate step of democratization, after decentralization, is autonomy: Residents not only decide on, for example, playgrounds in their neighborhood, they also ensure that these are provided. Increasingly, the latter is formally established in the right to challenge. For example, a group of residents demonstrates that they can perform a previously municipal task better and often cheaper themselves. This is a significant step on the participation ladderfrom participating in decision-making autonomy.
In Italy this process has boomed, and the city of Bologna has become a stronghold of urban commons. Citizens become designers, managers, and users of some municipal tasks. Creating green areas, converting an empty house into affordable units for students, the elderly, or migrants, operating a minibus service, cleaning, and maintaining the city walls, refurbishing parts of the public space and much more.
From 2011, commons have been given a formal status. The most important instruments in this regard are cooperation-pacts. In each pact, city authorities and the parties involved (informal groups, NGOs, schools, entrepreneurs) lay down agreements about their activities, responsibilities, and power. Hundreds of pacts have been signed since the regulation was adopted. The city provides what the citizens need - money, material, housing, advice - and the citizens make their time, skills, and organizational capacity available. In some cases, commons also have a commercial purpose, for example the revitalization of a shopping street by the entrepreneurs established there. In that case, they often unite in a cooperative.
Only a limited number of people feel attracted to talk along the lines of politics, but many more people want to do something. This is at the roots of the success of the commons-movement. This explains the success of the commons-movement in Italy and elsewhere.
Democracy after the commons
The commons-movement might influence urban governance in the longer term. The Italian political scientist Christian Iaione predicts the emergence of a city of commons. Here, all most urban tasks are performed by commons and cooperatives. The city is a network of both, decision-making is decentralized and deconcentrated.
A similar idea The city as a platform has emerged in the US coming from a completely different direction. Instead of simply voting every few years and leaving city administration to elected officials and expert bureaucrats, the networked city sees citizens as co designers, co-producers, and co-learners, according to Stefaan Verhulst, co-founder of GovLab. In the city as a platform residents look individually and collectively for new and better ways to meet their needs and enliven public life. These may be neighborhood-based initiatives, for example the redevelopment of a neighborhood or city-wide initiatives, for example cooperative of taxi drivers, competing with Uber.
Without saying it in so many words, everyone involved sees both the city of commons and the city as a platform as an opportunity to make citizens the engine of urban development again instead of multinational companies. But in view of the (financial) power of these companies, it could also turn out that they appropriate the city. We have already experienced this once when a sympathetic and democratic sharing platform such as Airbnb grew into a multinational enterprise with a far-reaching impact on urban life. For the time being, therefore, city administrators can best focus on enabling and supporting citizens' joint action to make cities more beautiful, liveable, and sustainable.
The above builds on two essays included in my e-book Cities of the Future: Always humane, smart if helpful. The first essay Strengthening Urban Democracy – The Well-Governed City elaborates on the concepts of direct democracy, decentralization and autonomy and describes digital applications for both improving services and urban democracy. The second essay Citizens' Initiatives – City of the Commons extensively examines activities in various places in the world to increase the involvement of residents in their place of residence, and in that context discusses in detail the idea behind 'commons'. The e-book can be downloaded by following the link below.
The 16th episode of the series Building sustainable cities - The contribution of digital technology reveals what can happen if the power of artificial intelligence is not used in a responsible manner.
The fight against crime in the United States, has been the scene of artificial intelligence’s abuse for years. As will become apparent, this is not only the result of bias. In episode 11, I discussed why artificial intelligence is a fundamentally new way of using computers. Until then, computers were programmed to perform operations such as structuring data and making decisions. In the case of artificial intelligence, they are trained to do so. However, it is still people who design the instructions (algorithms) and are responsible for the outcomes, although the way in which the computer performs its calculations is increasingly becoming a 'black box'.
Applications of artificial intelligence in the police
Experienced detectives are traditionally trained to compare the 'modus operandi' of crimes to track down perpetrators. Due to the labor-intensive nature of the manual implementation, the question soon arose as to whether computers could be of assistance. A first attempt to do so in 2012 in collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology resulted in grouping past crimes into clusters that were likely to have been committed by the same perpetrator(s). When creating the algorithm, the intuition of experienced police officers was the starting point. Sometimes it was possible to predict where and when a burglar might strike, leading to additional surveillance and an arrest.
These first attempts were soon refined and taken up by commercial companies. The two most used techniques that resulted are predictive policing (PredPol) and facial recognition.
In the case of predictive policing, patrols are given directions in which neighborhood or even street they should patrol at a given moment because it has been calculated that the risk of crimes (vandalism, burglary, violence) is then greatest. Anyone who behaves 'suspiciously' risks to be arrested. Facial recognition plays also an important role in this.
Both predictive policing and facial recognition are based on a "learning set" of tens of thousands of "suspicious" individuals. At one point, New York police had a database of 48,000 individuals. 66% of those were black, 31.7% were Latino and only 1% were white. This composition has everything to do with the working method of the police. Although drug use in cities in the US is common in all neighborhoods, policing based on PredPol and similar systems is focused on a few neighborhoods (of color). Then, it is not surprising that most drug-related crimes are retrieved there and, as a result, the composition of the database became even more skewed.
In these cases, 'bias' is the cause of the unethical effect of the application of artificial intelligence. Algorithms always reflect the assumptions, views, and values of their creators. They do not predict the future, but make sure that the past is reproduced. This also applies to applications outside the police force. The St. George Hospital Medical School in London has employed disproportionately many white males for at least a decade because the leather set reflected the incumbent staff. The criticized Dutch System Risk Indication System also uses historical data about fines, debts, benefits, education, and integration to search more effectively for people who abuse benefits or allowances. This is not objectionable but should never lead to 'automatic' incrimination without further investigation and the exclusion of less obvious persons.
The simple fact that the police have a disproportionate presence in alleged hotspots and are very keen on any form of suspicious behavior means that the number of confrontations with violent results has increased rapidly. In 2017 alone, police crackdowns in the US resulted in an unprecedented 1,100 casualties, of which only a limited number of whites. In addition, the police have been engaged in racial profiling for decades. Between 2004-2012, the New York Police Department checked more than 4.4 million residents. Most of these checks resulted in no further action. In about 83% of the cases, the person was black or Latino, although the two groups together make up just over half of the population. For many citizens of colour in the US, the police do not represent 'the good', but have become part of a hostile state power.
In New York, in 2017, a municipal provision to regulate the use of artificial intelligence was proposed, the Public Oversight of Surveillance Technology Act (POST). The Legal Defense and Educational Fund, a prominent US civil rights organization, urged the New York City Council to ban the use of data made available because of discriminatory or biased enforcement policies. This wish was granted in June 2019, and this resulted in the number of persons included in the database being reduced from 42,000 to 18,000. It concerned all persons who had been included in the system without concrete suspicion.
San Francisco, Portland, and a range of other cities have gone a few steps further and banned the use of facial recognition technology by police and other public authorities. Experts recognize that the artificial intelligence underlying facial recognition systems is still imprecise, especially when it comes to identifying the non-white population.
The societal roots of crime
Knowledge of how to reduce bias in algorithms has grown, but instead of solving the problem, awareness has grown into a much deeper problem. It is about the causes of crime itself and the realization that the police can never remove them.
Crime and recidivism are associated with inequality, poverty, poor housing, unemployment, use of alcohol and drugs, and untreated mental illness. These are also dominant characteristics of neighborhoods with a lot of crime. As a result, residents of these neighborhoods are unable to lead a decent life. These conditions are stressors that influence the quality of the parent-child relationship too: attachment problems, insufficient parental supervision, including tolerance of alcohol and drugs, lack of discipline or an excess of authoritarian behavior. All in all, these conditions increase the likelihood that young people will be involved in crime, and they diminish the prospect of a successful career in school and elsewhere.
The ultimate measures to reduce crime in the longer term and to improve security are: sufficient income, adequate housing, affordable childcare, especially for 'broken families' and unwed mothers and ample opportunities for girls' education. But also, care for young people who have encountered crime for the first time, to prevent them from making the mistake again.
This will not solve the problems in the short term. A large proportion of those arrested by the police in the US are addicted to drugs or alcohol, are severely mentally disturbed, have serious problems in their home environment - if any - and have given up hope for a better future. Based on this understanding, the police in Johnson County, Kansas, have been calling for help from mental health professionals for years, rather than handcuffing those arrested right away. This approach has proved successful and caught the attention of the White House during the Obama administration. Lynn Overmann, who works as a senior advisor in the president’s technology office, has therefore started the Data-Driven Justice Initiative. The immediate reason was that the prisons appeared to be crowded by seriously disturbed psychiatric patients. Coincidentally, Johnson County had an integrated data system that stores both crime and health data. In other cities, these are kept in incomparable data silos. Together with the University of Chicago Data Science for Social Good Program, artificial intelligence was used to analyze a database of 127,000 people. The aim was to find out, based on historical data, which of those involved was most likely to be arrested within a month. This is not with the intention of hastening an arrest with predictive techniques, but instead to offer them targeted medical assistance. This program was picked up in several cities and in Miami it resulted in a 40% reduction in arrests and the closing of an entire prison.
What does this example teach? The rise of artificial intelligence caused Wire editor Chris Anderson to call it the end of the theory. He couldn't be more wrong! Theory has never disappeared; at most it has disappeared from the consciousness of those who work with artificial intelligence. In his book The end of policing, Alex Vitale concludes: Unless cities alter the police's core functions and values, use by police of even the most fair and accurate algorithms is likely to enhance discriminatory and unjust outcomes (p. 28). Ben Green adds: The assumption is: we predicted crime here and you send in police. But what if you used data and sent in resources? (The smart enough city, p. 78).
The point is to replace the dominant paradigm of identifying, prosecuting and incarcerating criminals with the paradigm of finding potential offenders in a timely manner and giving them the help, they need. It turns out that it's even cheaper. The need for the use of artificial intelligence is not diminishing, but the training of the computers, including the composition of the training sets, must change significantly. It is therefore recommended that diverse and independent teams design such a training program based on a scientifically based view of the underlying problem and not leaving it to the police itself.
This article is a condensed version of an earlier article The Safe City (September 2019), which you can read by following the link below, supplemented with data from Chapter 4 Machine learning's social and political foundationsfrom Ben Green's book The smart enough city (2020).
In the first part of the series, I explained why digital technology 'for the good' is a challenge. The second part dealt with ethical criteria behind its responsible use. In the third part I have selected important field that will benefit from the responsible application of digital technology:
16 Abuse of artificial intelligence by the police in the US. More than bias
17 How can digital tools help residents to regain ownership of the city?
18 Will MaaS reduce the use of cars?
19 Digital tools as enablers towards a circular economy
20 Smart grids: where social and digital innovation meet
21 Risks and opportunities of digitization in healthcare
22 Two 100-city missions: Ill-considered leaps forward
23 Epilogue: Beyond the smart city
The link below enables you to open all previous episodes, also in Dutch language.
Drinkwater is wereldwijd een schaars goed. In Nederland is onze drinkwatervoorziening gelukkig goed geregeld. En toch. Als gevolg van
onze veranderende wereld stapelen de transities op. Zekerheden die we lang voor lief namen worden omgegooid. Onze steden groeien, wat nieuwe kansen brengt, maar ook nieuwe uitdagingen. Dat betekent ook iets voor onze
drinkwatervoorziening. Ons gebruik neemt toe en het aanbod staat onder druk.
Binnen de Provincie Flevoland is men aan het onderzoeken wat er nu al voor nodig is om dit probleem een halt toe te roepen. Momenteel zien we de vraag naar drinkwater stijgen, de drukte in de ondergrond toenemen en door klimaatverandering (denk aan droogte en hete zomers) het watergebruik stijgen. Om voldoende drinkwater van een goede kwaliteit te garanderen moeten we werken aan een systeemverandering. Waterbesparing moet worden gestimuleerd en laagwaardig gebruik van hoogwaardige kwaliteit water moet worden voorkomen.
Het huidige drinkwatergebruik bestaat voor ca. 70% huishoudelijke- en 30% zakelijke gebruikers (regio afhankelijk). Hoe maken we bij deze doelgroepen waterbesparing de norm? En hoe zorgen we ervoor dat de kwaliteit van het water bepalend is voor het gebruik? Dit zijn vraagstukken die in de toekomst steeds relevanter worden, maar ook nú al onze aandacht vragen.
Halverwege maart zal er binnen de Provincie Flevoland een Adviseur Drinkwatertransitie aan de slag gaan die zich met deze vragen bezighoudt.
We vragen jou om hulp!
Samen met de Provincie Flevoland zoeken we daarom alvast de ideeën, ervaringen en het draagvlak van het netwerk op. We zijn op zoek naar actuele kennis over dit onderwerp en mogelijke oplossingen. Daarnaast zijn we ook specifiek geïnteresseerd in ideeën om nu al urgentie te creëren voor dit onderwerp, ondanks dat het mogelijk pas in de toekomst gaat spelen.
Ben jij een expert op het thema, of heb jij relevante ideeën en ervaringen uit andere onderwerpen? Laat je reactie achter in de comments!
The 15th episode of the Better cities - The contribution of digital technology- series is about collaboration between Dutch cities within the City Deals in the Agenda stad en regio project.
Over the past years, the interest Dutch municipalities in digitization at urban level has increased, partly because of the initiating role of the VNG, G40, the Future City Foundation and forerunners such as Apeldoorn, Helmond, and Zwolle as well. Initially, these were small-scale and isolated projects. In this post, I'll discuss two projects that aim at scaling through collaboration.
A mission-driven approach to public sector projects
In her new book, Mission Economy, Mariana Mazzucato advocates a mission-driven approach to public sector projects at the local level in the way that a man was put on the moon. She refers at large-scale projects with a high degree of complexity, such as the energy transition, the construction of affordable housing, the well-being of the poor part of the population and the conservation of nature.
What is a mission-driven approach? At first, it includes an ambitious vision, followed by breaking down silos within the governmental organization, collaboration within the quadruple helix, and cooperation between higher and lower governments.
A mission-driven approach is appropriate for the major transitions facing the world and digitization as a part of these. The following pertains to a couple of projects that aim at such an approach. The first, Agenda city and region has been running for some time and will be dealt with extensively. The other is initiated by G40 will be discussed briefly.
Agenda stad and City deals
In Agenda city and region, cities, governments at different levels, companies, and organizations, including the VNG, G4, G40 and Platform31, work together to drive innovation in cities. The mission is summarized in SDG 11: Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable. The most important instrument are City Deals: collaborative ventures around a themes.
The first City Deals started in 2016, there are now 27, about half of which have been completed, but six new ones are about to start. 125 municipalities, 8 provinces, 9 ministries, 10 other government agencies, 5 water boards, more than 100 companies, 30 knowledge institutions and more than 20 other partnerships are involved. There are now 14 partnerships with municipalities outside the Netherlands.
Examples of City Deals are: Working and doing business across borders, cleantech, food on the urban agenda, local resilience against cybercrime, inner city building, the inclusive city, and smart city, that's how you do it. The latter will be discussed below.
Within a City Deal, the parties involved work together in their own way on concrete products, ranging from legislation to policy instruments. The main principles are:
- Formulating an ambition and a strategy.
- Enabling scaling through cooperation between and/or within (urban) regions.
- Realizing collaboration between public and private parties, including the central government
- Innovating by realizing new forms of problem-solving.
- Scaling up, also across national borders.
City Deals also work together and new deals are created from among them, such as ‘Smart customization', a new City Deal that arises from the existing City Deals 'Simple customization' and 'Smart city, that is how you do it'. If I had to imagine how a moonshot works, which I referred to in the introduction of this article, then Agenda city and region could be a good example.
City deal 'A smart city, this is how you do it'
The goal of this City Deal, as we read in the annual report, is to use digitization to tackle the major challenges facing Europe and the Netherlands, such as poverty, social cohesion, and insecurity, and to achieve a society in which everyone can live in freedom. 60 parties are now involved in this City Deal.
The aim is to change at least 12 processes by which regions, cities and towns are designed, organized, managed, and governed, and to make the most of the opportunities offered by digitization. The starting point is the existing practice and aimed at matching city’s demands.
The City Deal 'Smart city, this is how you do it', has 14 working groups. Each of those have chosen which a process to tackle, on the understanding that three municipalities must be prepared to test the results and can be scaled eventually. The City Deal 'A smart city, this is how you do it' has been underway for almost two years now, and the processes to be tackled have crystallized. In a few cases prototypes are ready, most are under development. Below is a brief description of the situation on November 15th, 2021. A lively description of some participants’ experience can be read in ROMmagazine, volume 39, no. 11.
1. Open urban data platform
This project is developing a procedure for tendering an open data platform, which is shareable and scalable, in which privacy and data autonomy are guaranteed and that offers sufficient precautions for cybersecurity. The result will be a step-by-step plan, in which technical questions (what it will looks like), legal questions (who is the owner) and financial questions (funding) are discussed.
2. Cookbook for effective data strategy
This project develops a procedure for the acquisition and storage of data. A 'data cookbook' has been developed that supports the collection, storage, and application of data. It offers an 11-step plan from the formulation of a measurable questions to the interpretation of the measurement results. It accentuates the importance to make explicit the assumptions behind the selection of data. The usability of the steps is tested in practice. A first concept can be found here.
3. Smart initiatives test
The aim of this project is to allow initiators (citizens, companies) to make optimal use of available public data, including those that will be provided by the DSO (digitaal stelsel omgevingswet). The DSO will provide information about which rules apply at a specific location and ultimately also about the quality of the physical living environment itself. Ideally, the ‘smart initiatives test’ will collect and optimize all data needed for a plan. The project group is currently investigating which types of (geo) data users need most ('usercases').
4. Sensor data and privacy
The aim of the project is to develop a tool that allows a municipality to tender for the installation of sensors that exactly match the type of data that will be collected and that consider ethical questions and GDPR rules.
5. Design of the new city
The growing availability of various types of (real-time) data, for example about air quality and noise pollution) has implications for the way in which cities and neighborhoods are developed. The working group is developing a canvas that functions as a ‘translator' of available data. The starting point for its development was a matrix with as inputs the phases of the design process (initiative, design and realization phase) and the area type (urban, Randstad and suburban area). This matrix must indicate which data is needed at what time. The usability will be tested through pilots.
6. Everyone (and everything) a sensor
Citizen measurement initiatives (via telephones and with sensors attached to bicycles, cars, and homes) have a double goal: to increase citizen’s involvement and to improve the insight into living environment of those who execute the measurement. It can also contribute to behavioral change, especially if the measurements match the needs of residents and they are also involved in the interpretation of the results. The working group is striving for a roadmap based on several user cases.
7. Local measurement: comparing projects
Measuring data locally – as was done in the previous project – may be redundant if data from elsewhere is available. In that case, comparability is required with data being searched for and standardization is needed to enable such a comparison. However, standardization can lead to mistrust and remove the incentive for resident groups to get started themselves. Ultimately, the working group opts for the development of a self-service portal, which will be developed together with the Healthy Urban Living Data and Knowledge Hub. Resident groups can then choose for themselves to participate in a standardized project that reads their measurement results directly or for a 'do-it-yourself' solution. A manual will be written for this last option.
Both projects are being further developed in collaboration with Eurocities, a network of 190 cities in 38 countries, under the name CitiMeasure - using citizen measurement to create smart, sustainable and inclusive cities.
8. Smart mobility: Towards a safe and sustainable city
Digitization in traffic has already taken off, for example by intelligent traffic systems (IVRIs), but usually the existing situation, for example private use of cars, is the starting point. The question is how to connect to the pursuit of a better quality of life. To this end, the working group has chosen three themes: better accessibility for emergency services, shared mobility, and city logistics.
A step-by-step plan is being developed for emergency services, with which municipalities can realize the necessary facilities to always priorize emergency vehicles – and possibly other target groups as well.
If everyone were to travel with the most suitable means of transport at that time (varying from walking, (shared) bicycle or scooter, public transport to (shared) car, private car use would decrease considerably and thus improve the quality of city live. Additionally, the working group is developing a 'map' to encourage shared mobility, which provides answers to all related questions.
Developments in city logistics are already taking place via other routes. Therefore, the contribution of the working group in this regard will be limited.
9. A business model for the smart city
New forms of collaboration between governments, the business community, knowledge institutions and citizens can result in new 'values' for areas, but also to the need to allocate costs and benefits in a different way. A new 'business model' may then be necessary. To this end, the working group is investigating the consequences for companies and organizations of entering partnerships for the successful development of products and services. This compared to more traditional client/contractor relationships.
10 Ethical Boards
Within the City Deal 'A smart city, this is how you do it', a rule is that digital instruments to be developed always comply with ethical principles. The implications of such principles are often situational. That is why municipalities are setting up an 'ethical board', which includes experts and residents. To support its work, the committee wants to create a knowledge platform that informs which ethical principles or tools suit best for different digitization projects.
11 Model Acquisition
Local authorities want to regulate the use of digital tools such as sensors in public spaces. Anita Nijboer, who works as a lawyer at Kennedy Van der Laan, who is also a partner of the City Deal 'Smart city, this is how you do it', has drawn up a model regulation for this purpose, which has already been tested in Rotterdam and Helmond. The most important learning effect is that departments within a municipality have fundamentally different view of the way in which these types of questions should be legally framed. In response to this, the working group is examining the question of whether a model regulation is an appropriate answer to obtaining consent for the use of digital tools.
12 Dealing with crowds in the city
Measuring (too large) crowds in parts of the city was a problem long before corona times. The aim is to develop a digital model ('digital twin') of the city - a so-called crowd safety manager - that provides real-time insight into pedestrian flows and concentrations. Such a model must also be able to communicate with people in the city. A prototype of a dashboard, developed by partner company Argaleo, is now being used in 's-Hertogenbosch, Breda and The Hague. This instrument does not use any personal data. It is being further developed at European level with external subsidies.
The instruments to be developed and existing instruments have been brought together via a website, the Toolbox. Other City Deals also develop knowledge, which is far from being systematically documented. That is why the best way to distribute this knowledge is investigated together with the Knowledge Lab for Urbanism.
G40: Smart sustainable urbanization
In March 2021, G40, the umbrella organization of 40 medium-sized municipalities, submitted a project proposal to promote digitalization and thus also create opportunities to the business community.
The project plan rejects the current approach of 'smart urbanization' and the realization of 'main social tasks'. Decentralization, broadening of tasks, narrowing of implementation funds and a fragmented central government policy have led to an impeding control gap and financing deficit in municipalities. Instead, a bundled approach is wanted, led by representatives of municipalities and central government, and the latter is being asked to invest € 1 billion.
When studying this plan, I was surprised by the absence of any reference to the activities of Agenda city and regioand the City Deals. Instead, one wonders whether Agenda city and region is the subject of criticism of the fragmented approach and G40 wants to get rid of it.
The strength of Agenda city and region is the cross connections between urban projects of all kinds, the involvement of citizens and intermunicipal cooperation. This is something to cherish.
In my opinion, G40 would be better off by ushering in a new phase of Agenda city and region, characterized by economies of scale and acceleration of the findings so far. The aims of this new phase could be consolidation of the cohesion between the themes of the individual City Deals within the framework of the major transitions facing the Netherlands. The theme of digitization thrives best in this context. After all, the ultimate value of digitization lies in the contribution to the energy transition, the reduction of traffic nuisance and the growth of a circular economy, to name a few examples. However, that requires a different plan.
In the meantime, I hope that in the foreseeable future we will be able to see the results of the working groups of the City Deal 'Smart city, this is how you do it', together with those of the other 'Deals'.
Follow the link below to find one of the previous episodes or see which episodes are next, and this one for the Dutch version.
A link to a larger reproduction is here.
In the 14th episode of the Better cities - The contribution of digital technology-series, I investigate the digitization policy of the municipality of Amsterdam based on the guidelines and ethical principles formulated earlier.
25 years ago, Amsterdam Digital City was a frontrunner in access to public internet. Now the city wants to lead the way as a free, inclusive, and creative digital city. How the municipality wants to do this is described for the first time in the memorandum A digital city for and by everyone (2019). A year later in the Digital City Agenda (2020), the goals have been reformulated into three spearheads: (1) responsible use of data and technology (2) combating digital inequality and (3) the accessibility of services. These three spearheads resulted in a series of concrete activities, of which a first evaluation was submitted to the municipal council in 2021. 'Protecting digital rights' has been added to the three spearheads. The illustration above is mentioning the four spearheads and the 22 activities.
This article is looking closer at Amsterdam’s digitalization policy by examining how it relates to the guidelines and ethical principles for digitization, which I compiled in the 9th edition. Because of the overlap, I have merged these into one list (see HERE), named Principles for socially responsible digitization policy. This list contains eight principles, each accompanied by a non-exhaustive set of guidelines. For each of these principles, I examine what Amsterdam has achieved until now. The numbers after the principles below refer to one or more of the 22 activities mentioned above. I add an example from outside Amsterdam to each principle.
1. Embedding (1, 4)
The digital agenda is part of a democratically established and coherent urban agenda.
• The Municipality of Amsterdam is building a broad knowledge network in the field of responsible use of data and digital technology together with AMS Institute, Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, Waag Society, and others. This network will conduct research into the impact of technology on the city.
In 2017, the Foresight Lublin 2050 project was launched in the Polish city of Lublin to define opportunities and threats related to socio-economic, environmental, and technological development. Its mission is that decisions about technology should be made based on the real needs of residents and should be involved in the design and implementation of policies. As part of the democratic nature of decision-making in Lublin, residents determine the allocation of budget resources.
2. Equality, inclusiveness, and social impact (16, 17, 19, 20)
Making information and communication technology accessible to everyone
• The Municipality of Amsterdam is making public services accessible, understandable, and usable for everyone, online and offline. Research among low-literate target groups has provided clues to reach these goals.
• The Online Implementation Agenda provides information about current policy (volg.amsterdam.nl). Mijn Amsterdamprovides information about neighborhood-level projects and opportunities to participate in them.
• Vulnerable citizens will find hardware to use the Internet in several places and free Wi-Fi is also available. Several thousand laptops have been distributed.
• The development of digital skills is supported together with social partners. For example, a 'train-the-trainer' program has been carried out with Cybersoek and the Public Library will introduce all visitors in the coming years to the themes of data literacy and digital freedom.
• Through the partnership with TechConnect 50,000 extra people from underrepresented groups are made aware of the technology labor market.
• The municipality considers the roll-out of the 5G network desirable but is following critical research into the health risks of this network. The 5G Field lab is used to study the applications of 5G and their importance for residents.
Barcelona and Madrid are forerunners regarding of digital participation, thanks to their resp. networks Decide and Decide Madrid. Residents use these networks on a large scale as a source of information and to participate in discussions and (advisory) voting. Much of what the city council discusses came up through these forums.
3. Justice (2, 15, 20)
Prevent that the application of digital systems results in concentration and abuse of power.
• The Amsterdam Intelligence Agenda sets conditions for algorithms to prevent discrimination. Partly in this context, several algorithms will be audited annually, and algorithms will be placed in a register.
• The Civic AI Lab will explore the (unintended) implications of algorithms related to unequal treatment and discrimination.
• An exploration of the best way to provide low-threshold access has been launched for the domains of care and education.
With its 116-page Strategy for the ethical use of artificial intelligence (AI), New York focuses on using AI to better serve residents, building AI know-how within government, modernizing data infrastructure, city policy on AI, developing partnerships with external organizations and promoting equal opportunities.
4. Human Dignity (20)
Prevent technology from alienating people from their unique qualities and instead ensure that it stimulates their fulfillment.
• The 'Modere overheid’ program investigates how digitization can support different domains of the municipal organization. Examples are better matching of job seekers and work, helping 18-year-olds manage their finances, (early) identification of people with debts, providing information about cleaning and management of the city.
The Database of ‘Affordable Housing Listings, Information, and Applications’ allows San Francisco residents to search the entire range of affordable housing and express their interest through a simple, multi-lingual form. A candidate resident is selected from the submitted applications by drawing lots, who then submits a more detailed application. The procedure has been developed entirely in open-source software and other cities are joining this initiative.
5. Autonomy and privacy (3, 5, 6, 14, 15)
Recognition of human autonomy and the right to reside and move in public space without being observed digitally
• The municipality has established a data strategy that gives residents more control over their own data.
• The municipality works with other municipalities on data minimization via the IRMA app. Via this app residents can pass on damage reports. In the future, this app can form the basis for making available a digital identity to all citizens.
• The Responsible Sensing Lab investigates privacy-friendly methods to collect data in a responsible way using sensing. The mmWave sensor, for example, measures crowds without collecting personal data.
• A register maps installed sensors. A sensor regulation will make it mandatory to register sensors in the public space.
To protect residents' privacy, Seattle's government has taken a series of steps that make the city an undisputed frontrunner in this regard. The city has appointed a chief privacy officer, established a set of guiding privacy principles, and established a privacy advisory committee composed of both citizens and government officials. An important part is the implementation of a privacy impact assessment every time the municipality develops a new project in which personal data is collected.
6. Open data, open software, and interoperability (9, 13, 18)
Data architecture, including standards, agreements and norms aimed at reusing data, programs and technology and preventing lock-in.
• The municipal policy regarding open data is 'open, unless. The urban platform data.amsterdam.nl attracts 2500 unique visitors per day.
• The municipality's sourcing and open-source strategy establishes the reuse of existing resources, the use of standards and the availability of software developed by the municipality.
• Together with knowledge institutions and companies, the municipality is developing the Amsterdam Data Exchange, in which the parties involved regulate which data they exchange. Agreements have been made with the Central Dutch Statistics Office (CBS) about making data available.
• The Tada principles are the starting points for responsible data use. They regulate the authority of the users and determine the use of data and that it is open and transparent. It is envisaged that other Amsterdam institutions and companies will also adopt these principles.
• Residents can view their personal data via My Amsterdam. This also applies to entrepreneurs.
To support startups, the Seoul City Council has developed My Neighborhood Analysis, a tool that contains an unprecedented amount of commercial information. This includes datasets from Seoul's entire business ecosystem, such as business licenses, ownership information, rental rates, and transportation ticket data. When users enter information about the proposed business type, they get an overview of business performance in the neighborhood to be explored and an indication of the expected level of risk for a new business. Users can select peer companies to understand their historical performance.
7. Safety (7, 9)
Preventing and combating internet crime and limiting its consequences.
• The municipality has drawn up a Digital Safety Agenda, partly aimed at keeping vital infrastructure in operation.
The municipality of The Hague has developed an IoT security monitor together with Cybersprint. It provides a real-time overview of all connected IoT devices within the city limits with detailed information such as their whereabouts and level of risk. The monitor has so far identified 3100 unsafe devices in The Hague. Usually, insecure devices don't use password or default passwords or outdated software.
8. Operational and Financial Sustainability (12, 20, 21)
Guaranteeing a reliable, robust Internet
• The municipality is in permanent consultation with the Internet and telephone providers to guarantee the stability of the networks.
Rolling out the fiber digital infrastructure accounts for 90% of the total cost. A "Dig Once" policy aims to reduce these costs through collaboration with stakeholders. In the case of new construction, the aim is to carry out all cable and pipeline work in one go, preferably by constructing a small, easily accessible tunnel under the sidewalk or street. This considerably increases the operational reliability of all (digital) facilities. With existing buildings, all maintenance and replacement work should be carried out in one go too.
As can be expected, various bottlenecks arise in the implementation of the digital policy in Amsterdam. After all, this is a fast process involving many parties and interests, while technological developments are rapid. A lot of work still must be done in several areas gain support, both within the municipal apparatus, and with companies, organizations and inhabitants. This includes the Tada principles, compliance with the municipal sourcing strategy, the 'open unless' policy and the data minimization policy. There is also work to be done to develop a reliable digital infrastructure and to counteract (unintended) effects when using artificial intelligence. Increasing digital self-reliance and creating the preconditions for all residents to participate digitally requires structural embedding and financing.
In my opinion, the municipality of Amsterdam has made great strides in the field of privacy (5) and open data (6). The biggest challenges are in the following areas (the numbers refer to the principles formulated by me):
• Embedding of the digitization policy in the other policy areas (1).
• Availability of Internet, computers, and digital skills for vulnerable groups (2).
• Use of digital means to increase the participation of the population in policy development and formulation (2).
• Conditions of workers in the gig economy (3).
• Oversight of the AI systems that make autonomous judgments about people (4).
• Fight against cybercrime (7).
• Future-proof infrastructure (8).
In the next episode I will shift the focus to digitizing activities of other Dutch municipalities.
The link below opens a preliminary overview of the already published and upcoming articles in the series Better cities: the contribution of digital technology. Click HERE for the Dutch version.
In the 13th episode of the Better cities -The contribution of digital technology-series I will continue the description of applications of digital technology and their evaluation based on relevant ethical principles treated in episode 9. Episode 12 discussed: (1) Internet of Things, (2) robotics, and (3) biometrics. Below, I will cover (4) Immersive technology (augmented and virtual reality), (5) blockchain and (6) platforms. By way of conclusion, I return to the implications of all these applications for governance.
The ethical principles mentioned in chapter 9 are: privacy, autonomy, security, control, human dignity, justice, and power relations.
4. Immersive technology (augmented and virtual reality)
Augmented reality adds information to our perception. The oldest examples are messages that pilots of super-fast fighter planes could read on their glasses, so that they eyes without interruption could follow their "target". Its most popular application is the game Pokémon Go. Additional information via the smartphone screen is also often available when visiting 'places of interest'. The infamous Google Glasses were an excellent tool for this purpose but due to the obvious risk of privacy violations their application soon came to an end. This is unfortunate for certain groups, for example the hearing impaired.
Virtual reality goes much further by replacing our sensory perception by images of an artificial world. This requires a special helmet, such as the oculus rift. Applications mainly find their way through gaming. But it is also possible to show the interior of a house in three dimensions or to take a virtual walk through a neighborhood that is yet to be built.
A primitive form of virtual reality was Second live, in which the screen gave access to an alternative reality, in which your avatar communicates with others’. That could go a long way, like someone who reported being raped by a fellow avatar. Nowadays, the capabilities of augmented reality are expanding rapidly. Think of a virtual space where the user meets others to converse, listen, or to do whatever.
Augmented reality takes you to the metaverse, which was first described by Neil Stephenson in his dystopian book Snow Crash in 1992. As the power of computers grew, the idea of the metaverse gained new impetus and recently Marc Zuckerberg announced that his new company Meta Platforms will gradually turn Facebook into a fully digital world. This immerses the users in the most diverse experiences, which they partly evoke themselves, such as communicating with other avatars, attending a concert, going to the disco, and getting acquainted with strangers and of course going to shops, because it remains a medium to make money.
Only recently, Microsoft has also announced that it would bring its operating system (Windows), web servers (Azure), communication networks (Teams and Linkedin) hardware (HoloLens), entertainment (Xbox) and IP (Minecraft) together in a virtual reality. The recent €60 billion-acquisition of game producer Activision Blizzard, producer of the Call of Duty video games, fits in with this policy and indicates that the company expects to make a lot of money with its version of the metaverse.
In the expected struggle between the titans, Amazon will probably join in and build the virtual mall of and for everyone's dreams.
It remains to be seen whether a younger generation, less consumer-addicted and more concerned about nature, is waiting for a completely artificial world. I hope not.
The risks of augmented reality have been widely mentioned from the start. For example, for research purposes, Google had been given the right to remotely track the movements of the eyes of people wearing Google glasses. For the rest, it is not only governments and companies that will spy on people, but above all people will spy on each other.
After a short time, those who move through the metaverse develop balance problems. Worse is that the risk of addiction is high.
There is a danger that people who frequently dwell in imaginary worlds can no longer distinguish fake and real and alienate from themselves in the 'real' world and lose the social skills that are necessary in it.
Big Tech is getting even more tools to analyze our preferences and influence us, including through deep fakes, which can imitate existing people in real life. This raises questions about the risks that citizens run, and about the even greater role of companies that offer immersive technology.
Blockchain makes it possible to record transactions (of money, securities, contracts, and objects) without the mediation of an authorized body (government, employer, bank, notary). The first version of blockchain was bitcoin, initially only intended for financial transactions. Today, there are hundreds of variants, of which Ethereum is the most widely used.
The essence of blockchain is that the database of all transactions, the ledger, is stored on everyone's computer and is therefore accessible to every user. Miners ensure that a cryptocurrency is only used for one transaction or that a contract is not changed afterwards by one of the parties involved. Once most miners have approved a series of transactions, these transactions together form an unchangeable block.
Miners are eager to approve blocks, because whoever turns out to have done so first will receive a significant fee in cryptocurrency. Mining takes time and, above all, requires a huge amount of computing power and therefore energy. Alternative methods are diligently sought, such as a method that mainly concerns the reputation of the miner.
Blockchain stems from a drive for radical decentralization and reduction of the power of states, banks, and companies. That has worked out differently in practice. It is mainly governments and large companies in the US, Russia, China, South Korea, and the Netherlands, for example Albert Heijn, that are ensuring a steady increase.
As a means of securely storing transactions and recording mutual obligations, as in the case of digital autonomous organizations and smart contacts, blockchain has more potential than as a cryptocurrency. An absolute precondition is finding an alternative for the high consumption of energy.
Blockchain grew out of the pursuit of escaping the ubiquitous eavesdropping enterprises and state. That is why dubious transactions are preferably handled with cryptocurrency. There is no complete anonymity, because cryptocurrency must be regularly exchanged for official money,
Perhaps more human autonomy comes into its own in blockchain than in any other system. For this it is necessary to know how it works well. This is all the truer in the case of non-financial transactions.
There are certain risks: The moment a miner has more than 50% of the computer capacity, it can completely corrupt the system. This situation is not imaginary. In 2019, there were two Chinese miners who together owned more than the half of computer capacity.
Not much is known about the position of miners. There is a tendency towards ever-increasing concentration, which carries dangers about the sustainability of the system. As concentration increases, cryptocurrency holdings will also become increasingly skewed. After all, it is the miners who ensure the expansion of the available amount of money.
6. Digital platforms
Companies such as Amazon, Uber and Airbnb represent a new form of economic activity that has far-reaching consequences for other companies and urban life. They essentially consist of digital platforms that bring providers and consumers together.
Imagine you are in Amazon's virtual fitting room. You sit on a chair and a series of models pass by all of which exactly have your figure and size and maybe also your appearance. You can vary endlessly what they are wearing, until you have found or put together the outfit of your dreams. This can apply to all conceivable purchases, up to cars, including a driving simulator. With the push of a button, it is ordered and a few hours later the drone drops your order at your doorstep.
Digital platforms bring together a range of digital technology applications, such as Internet of Things, robotics, immersive technology, artificial intelligence and blockchain, to monitor the immense flows of goods and services.
In the world of platforms, privacy is of little or no importance. Companies want to earn as much as possible from you and therefore collect masses of information about your behavior, preferences, and expenses. This in exchange for convenience and free gadgets such as navigation, search engines and email.
Some platforms are part of the sharing economy. They enable direct transactions between people and, as in the case of Airbnb, provide an unprecedented range of accommodations from which to choose.
Employees in platform companies often have poor labor conditions. For example, Uber drivers are followed, checked, and assessed all day long. In distribution centers, all remaining human actions are prescribed down to the minute.
In these companies, a large gap arises between the small inner circle of managers and technicians and the large outer circle of "contractors" that the company has nothing to do with and who have nothing to do with the company.
These companies also contribute to widening the gap between rich and poor; the unprecedentedly large earnings go to top management and shareholders and, where possible, tax is avoided.
Platforms like Airbnb make it possible to distort competition on a large scale; the accommodations they rent out do not comply with the safety and tax rules that apply to regular companies.
The growth of platforms that have taken on monopolistic forms is the major cause of urban disruption without contributing to the costs it entails for the community.
Back to governance
In the previous articles, I have elaborated a framework for dealing with digitization in a socially responsible manner. Two lines of thought developed in this, that of the value of digital technology and that of its ethical use.
The value of digital technology
Digital technology must be given shape and content as one of the tools with which a city works towards an ecologically and socially sustainable future. To help articulate what such a future means, I introduced Kate Raworth's ideas about the donut economy. The design of a vision of the future must be a broadly supported democratic process, in which citizens also test the solution of their inclining problems against the sustainable prosperity of future generations and that of people elsewhere in the world.
The most important question when it comes to (digital) technology is therefore which (digital) technological tools contribute to the realization of a socially and ecologically sustainable city?
The ethical use of technology
In the world in which we try to realize the sustainable city of the future, digital technology is developing rapidly, in the fort place under the influence of commercial and political interests. Cities are confronted with these technologies through powerful smart city technology marketing.
The most important question for cities to ask is How do we assess available technologies from an ethical perspective.
In the government of cities, both trains of thought come together: Together, the answers to these questions can lead to the choice, design, and application of digital techniques as part of the realization of a vision for an ecologically and socially sustainable future of the city.
In the next two articles I examine how ethical principles are dealt with in practice. In the first article I will put Amsterdam in the spotlight and next, I look at how several municipalities are digitizing responsibly in the context of the Agenda stad.
The link below opens an overview of all published and future articles in this series.
In the 12th and 13th episode of the series Better cities: The contribution of digital technology, I will use the ethical principles from the 9th episode to assess several applications of digital technology. This episode discusses: (1) Internet of Things, (2) robotics and (3) biometrics. Next week I will continue with (4) Immersive technology (augmented and virtual reality), (5) blockchain and (6) platforms.
These techniques establish reciprocal connections (cybernetic loops) between the physical and the digital world. I will describe each of them briefly, followed by comments on their ethical aspects: privacy, autonomy, security, control, human dignity, justice, and power relations, insofar relevant. The book Opwaarderen: Borgen van publieke waarden in de digitale samenleving. Rathenau Instituut 2017 proved to be valuable for this purpose. Rathenau Institute 2017.
The Internet-of-Things connects objects via sensors with devices that process this data (remotely). The pedometer on the smartphone is an example of data collection on people. In time, data about everyone's health might be collected and evaluated at distance. For the time being, this mainly concerns data of objects. A well-known example is the 'smart meter'. More and more household equipment is connected to the Internet and transmits data about their use. For a long time, Samsung smart televisions had a built-in television camera and microphone with which the behavior of the viewers could be observed. Digital roommates such as Alexa and Siri are also technically able to pass on everything that is said in their environment to their bosses.
Machines, but also trains and trucks are full of sensors to monitor their functioning. Traffic is tracked with sensors of all kinds which measure among many others the quantity of exhaust gases and particulate matter. In many places in the world, people are be monitored with hundreds of thousands CCTV’s. A simple signature from American owners of a Ring doorbell is enough to pass on to the police the countenance of those who come to the front door. Orwell couldn't have imagined.
Internet of Things makes it possible to always track every person, inside and outside the home. When it comes to collecting data in-house, the biggest problem is obscurity and lack of transparency. Digital home-law can be a solution, meaning that no device collects data unless explicit permission is given. A better solution is for manufacturers to think about why they want to collect all this data at all.
Once someone leaves the house, things get trickier. In many Dutch cities 'tracking' of mobile phones has been banned, but elsewhere a range of means is available to register everyone's (purchasing) behavior. Fortunately, legislation on this point in Europe is becoming increasingly strict.
The goal of constant addition of more 'gadges' to devices and selling them as 'smart' is to entice people to buy them, even if previous versions are far from worn out. Sailing is surrounded by all of persuasive techniques that affect people's free will. Facebook very deftly influences our moods through the selection of its newsfeeds. Media, advertisers, and companies should consider the desirability of taking a few steps back in this regard. For the sake of people and the environment.
Sensors in home appliances use to be poorly secured and give cybercriminals easy access to other devices. For those who want to control their devices centrally and want them to communicate with each other’s too, a closed network - a form of 'edge computing' - is a solution. Owners can then decide for themselves which data may be 'exposed', for example for alarms or for balancing the electricity network. I will come back to that in a later episode.
People who, for example, control the lighting of their home via an app, are already experiencing problems when the phone battery is empty. Experience also shows that setting up a wireless system is not easy and that unwanted interferences often occur. Simply changing a lamp is no longer sufficient to solve this kinds of problems. For many people, control over their own home slips out of their hands.
The digital component of many devices and in particular the dependence on well-configured software makes people increasingly dependent on suppliers, who at the same time are less and less able to meet the associated demand for service and support.
Robotics is making its appearance at great speed. In almost every heart surgery, robotics is used to make the surgeon's movements more precise, and some operations are performed (almost) completely automatically. Robots are increasingly being used in healthcare, to support or replace healthcare providers. Also think of robots that can observe 3D and crawl through the sewage system. They help to solve or prevent leakages, or they take samples to detect sources of contamination. Leeds aims to be the first 'self-repairing city' by 2035. ‘Self-driving' cars and metro trains are other examples. Most warehouses and factories are full of robots. They are also making their appearance in households, such as vacuum cleaners or lawnmowers. Robots transmit large amounts of information and are therefore essential parts of the Internet of Things.
Robots are often at odds with privacy 'by design'. This applies definitely to robots in healthcare. Still, such devices are valuable if patients and/or their relatives are sufficiently aware of their impact. Transparency is essential as well as trust that these devices only collect and transmit data for the purpose for which they are intended.
Many people find 'reversing parking' a problem and prefer to leave that to robotics. They thereby give up part of their autonomous driver skills, as the ability to park in reverse is required in various other situations. This is even more true for skills that 'self-driving' cars take over from people. Drivers will increasingly find themselves in situations where they are powerless.
At the same time, robotics is a solution in situations in which people abuse their right to self-determination, for example by speeding, the biggest causes of (fatal) accidents. A mandatory speed limiter saves untold suffering, but the 'king of the road' will not cheer for it.
Leaving operations to robots presupposes that safety is guaranteed. This will not be a problem with robotic lawnmowers, but it is with 'self-driving cars'. Added to this is the risk of hacking into software-driven devices.
Robots can take over boring, 'mind-numbing' dangerous and dirty work, but also work that requires a high degree of precision. Think of manufacturing of computer chips. The biggest problems lie in the potential for job takeovers, which not only has implications for employment, but can also seriously affect quality. In healthcare, people can start to feel 'reified' due to the loss of human contact. For many, daily contact with a care worker is an important instrument against loneliness.
Biometrics encompasses all techniques to identify people by body characteristics: iris, fingerprint, voice, heart rhythm, writing style and emotion. Much is expected of their combination, which is already applied in the passport. There is no escaping security in this world, so biometrics can be a good means of combating identity fraud, especially if different body characteristics are used.
In the US, the application of facial recognition is growing rapidly. In airports, people can often choose to open the security gate 'automatically’ or to stand in line for security. Incode, a San Francisco startup, reports that its digital identity recognition equipment has already been used in 140 million cases by 2021, four times as many as in all previous years combined.
In the EU, the privacy of residents is well regulated by law. The use of data is also laid down in law. Nevertheless, everyone's personal data is stored in countless places.
Facial recognition is provoking a lot of resistance and is increasingly being banned in the public space in the US. This applies to the Netherlands as well.
Biometric technology can also protect privacy by minimization of the information: collected. For example, someone can gain access based on an iris scan, while the computer only checks whether the person concerned has authorization, without registering name.
Cyber criminals are becoming more and more adept at getting hold of personal information. Smaller organizations and sports clubs are especially targeted because of their poor security. If it is also possible to obtain documents such as an identity card, then identity fraud is lurking.
Combining different identification techniques as happens in passports, contributes to the rightful establishing someone's identity. This also makes counterfeiting of identity documents more difficult. Other less secured documents, for example driver's licenses and debit cards, can still be counterfeited or (temporarily) used after they have been stolen, making identity theft relatively easy.
The opposition to facial recognition isn't just about its obvious flaws; the technology will undoubtedly improve in the coming years. Much of the danger lies in the underlying software, in which bias is difficult to eliminate.
When it comes to human dignity, there is also a positive side to biometrics. Worldwide, billions of people are unable to prove who they are. India's Aadhar program is estimated to have provided an accepted form of digital identity based on biometrics to 1.1 billion people. The effect is that financial inclusion of women has increased significantly.
In many situations where biometric identification has been applied, the problem of reversed burden of proof arises. If there is a mistaken identity, the victim must prove that he is not the person the police suspect is.
To be continued next week.
The link below opens an overview of all published and future articles in this series. https://www.dropbox.com/s/vnp7b75c1segi4h/Voorlopig%20overzicht%20van%20materialen.docx?dl=0
In the 11th episode of the series Better cities: The contribution of digital technology, I will apply the ethical principles from episode 9 to the design and use of artificial intelligence.
Before, I will briefly summarize the main features of artificial intelligence, such as big data, algorithms, deep-learning, and machine learning. For those who want to know more: Radical technologies by Adam Greenfield (2017) is a very readable introduction, also regarding technologies such as blockchain, augmented and virtual reality, Internet of Things, and robotics, which will be discussed in next episodes.
Artificial intelligence has valuable applications but also gross forms of abuse. Valuable, for example, is the use of artificial intelligence in the layout of houses and neighborhoods, taking into account ease of use, views and sunlight with AI technology from Spacemaker or measuring the noise in the center of Genk using Nokia's Scene Analytics technology. It is reprehensible how the police in the US discriminate against population groups with programs such as PredPol and how the Dutch government has dealt in the so called ‘toelagenaffaire’.
Thanks to artificial intelligence, a computer can independently recognize patterns. Recognizing patterns as such is nothing new. This has long been possible with computer programs written for that purpose. For example, to distinguish images of dogs and cats, a programmer created an "if....then" description of all relevant characteristics of dogs and cats that enabled a computer to distinguish between pictures of the two animal species. The number of errors depended on the level of detail of the program. When it comes to more types of animals and animals that have been photographed from different angles, making such a program is very complicated. In that case, a computer can be trained to distinguish relevant patterns itself. In this case we speak of artificial intelligence. People still play an important role in this. This role consists in the first place in writing an instruction - an algorithm - and then in the composition of a training set, a selection of a large number of examples, for example of animals that are labeled as dog or cat and if necessary lion tiger and more . The computer then searches 'itself' for associated characteristics. If there are still too many errors, new images will be added.
The way in which the animals are depicted can vary endlessly, whereby it is no longer about their characteristics, but about shadow effect, movement, position of the camera or the nature of the movement, in the case of moving images. The biggest challenge is to teach the computer to take these contextual characteristics into account as well. This is done through the imitation of the neural networks. Image recognition takes place just like in our brains thanks to distinguishing layers, varying from distinguishing simple lines, patterns, and colors to differences in sharpness. Because of this layering, we speak of 'deep learning'. This obviously involves large data sets and a lot of computing power, but it is also a labor-intensive process.
Learning how to apply algorithms under supervision produces reliable results and the instructor can still explain the result after many iterations. As the situation becomes more complicated and different processes are proceeding at the same time, guided instruction is not feasible any longer. For example, if animals attack each other, surviving or not, and the computer must predict which kind of animals have the best chance of survival under which conditions. Also think of the patterns that the computer of a car must be able to distinguish to be able to drive safely on of the almost unlimited variation, supervised learning no longer works.
In the case of unsupervised learning, the computer is fed with data from many millions of realistic situations, in the case of cars recordings of traffic situations and the way the drivers reacted to them. Here we can rightly speak of 'big data' and 'machine learning', although these terms are often used more broadly. For example, the car's computer 'learns' how and when it must stay within the lanes, can pass, how pedestrians, bicycles or other 'objects' can be avoided, what traffic signs mean and what the corresponding action is. Tesla’s still pass all this data on to a data center, which distills patterns from it that regularly update the 'autopilots' of the whole fleet. In the long run, every Tesla, anywhere in the world, should recognize every imaginable pattern, respond correctly and thus guarantee the highest possible level of safety. This is apparently not the case yet and Tesla's 'autopilot' may therefore not be used without the presence of a driver 'in control'. Nobody knows by what criteria a Tesla's algorithms work.
Unsupervised learning is also applied when it comes to the prediction of (tax) fraud, the chance that certain people will 'make a mistake' or in which places the risk of a crime is greatest at a certain moment. But also, in the assessment of applicants and the allocation of housing. For all these purposes, the value of artificial intelligence is overestimated. Here too, the 'decisions' that a computer make are a 'black box'. Partly for this reason, it is difficult, if not impossible, to trace and correct any errors afterwards. This is one of the problems with the infamous ‘toelagenaffaire’.
The cybernetic loop
Algorithmic decision-making is part of a new digital wave, characterized by a 'cybernetic loop' of measuring (collecting data), profiling (analyzing data) and intervening (applying data). These aspects are also reflected in every decision-making process, but the parties involved, politicians and representatives of the people make conscious choices step by step, while the entire process is now partly a black box.
The role of ethical principles
Meanwhile, concerns are growing about ignoring ethical principles using artificial intelligence. This applies to near all principles that are discussed in the 9th episode: violation of privacy, discrimination, lack of transparency and abuse of power resulting in great (partly unintentional) suffering, risks to the security of critical infrastructure, the erosion of human intelligence and undermining of trust in society. It is therefore necessary to formulate guidelines that align the application of artificial intelligence again with these ethical principles.
An interesting impetus to this end is given in the publication of the Institute of Electric and Electronic Engineers: Ethically Aligned Design: A Vision for Prioritizing Human Well-being with Autonomous and Intelligent Systems. The Rathenau Institute has also published several guidelines in various publications.
The main guidelines that can be distilled from these and other publications are:
1. Placing responsibility for the impact of the use of artificial intelligence on both those who make decisions about its application (political, organizational, or corporate leadership) and the developers. This responsibility concerns the systems used as well as the quality, accuracy, completeness, and representativeness of the data.
2. Prevent designers from (unknowingly) using their own standards when instructing learning processes. Teams with a diversity of backgrounds are a good way to prevent this.
3. To be able to trace back 'decisions' by computer systems to the algorithms used, to understand their operation and to be able to explain them.
4. To be able to scientifically substantiate the model that underlies the algorithm and the choice of data.
5. Manually verifying 'decisions' that have a negative impact on the data subject.
6. Excluding all forms of bias in the content of datasets, the application of algorithms and the handling of outcomes.
7. Accountability for the legal basis of the combination of datasets.
8. Determine whether the calculation aims to minimize false positives or false negatives.
9. Personal feedback to clients in case of lack of clarity in computerized ‘decisions’.
10. Applying the principles of proportionality and subsidiarity, which means determining on a case-by-case basis whether the benefits of using artificial intelligence outweigh the risks.
11. Prohibiting applications of artificial intelligence that pose a high risk of violating ethical principles, such as facial recognition, persuasive techniques and deep-fake techniques.
12. Revocation of legal provisions if it appears that they cannot be enforced in a transparent manner due to their complexity or vagueness.
The third, fourth and fifth directives must be seen in conjunction. I explain why below.
The scientific by-pass of algorithmic decision making
When using machine learning, computers themselves adapt and extend the algorithms and combine data from different data sets. As a result, the final ‘decisions’ made by the computer cannot be explained. This is only acceptable after it has been proven that these decisions are 'flawless', for example because, in the case of 'self-driving' cars, if they turn out to be many times safer than ordinary cars, which - by the way - is not the case yet.
Unfortunately, this was not the case too in the ‘toelagenaffaire’. The fourth guideline could have provided a solution. Scientific design-oriented research can be used to reconstruct the steps of a decision-making process to determine who is entitled to receive an allowance. By applying this decision tree to a sufficiently large sample of cases, the (degree of) correctness of the computer's 'decisions' can be verified. If this is indeed the case, then the criteria used in the manual calculation may be used to explain the processes in the computer's 'black box'. If there are too many deviations, then the computer calculation must be rejected at all.
In the US, the use of algorithms in the public sector has come in a bad light, especially because of the facial recognition practices that will be discussed in the next episode. The city of New York has therefore appointed an algorithm manager, who investigates whether the algorithms used comply with ethical and legal rules. KPMG has a supervisory role in Amsterdam. In other municipalities, we see that role more and more often fulfilled by an ethics committee.
In the European public domain, steps have already been taken to combat excesses of algorithmic decision-making. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which came into effect in 2018, has significantly improved privacy protection. In April 2019, the European High Level Expert Group on AI published ethical guidelines for the application of artificial intelligence. In February 2020, the European Commission also established such guidelines, including in the White Paper on Artificial Intelligence and an AI regulation. The government also adopted the national digitization strategy, the Strategic Action Plan for AI and the policy letter on AI, human rights, and public values.
I realize that binding governments and their executive bodies to ethical principles is grist to the mill for those who flout those principles. Therefore, the search for the legitimate use of artificial intelligence to detect crime, violations or abuse of subsidies and many other applications continues to deserve broad support.
Follow the link below to find one of the previous episodes or see which episodes are next, and this one for the Dutch version.
The 10th episode in the series Better cities: The contribution of digital technology deals with the impact of ethical principles on four pillars of digitization: accessibility, software, infrastructure and data.
In the previous episode, I discussed design principles - guidelines and values - for digital technology. The report of the Rathenau Instituut Opwaarderen - Borgen van publieke waarden in de digitale samenleving concludes that government, industry, and society are still insufficiently using these principles. Below, I will consider their impact on four pillars of digitization: accessibility, software, infrastructure, and data. The next episodes will be focused on their impact on frequently used technologies.
Accessibility refers to the availability of high-speed Internet for everyone. This goes beyond just technical access. It also means that a municipality ensures that digital content is understandable and that citizens can use the options offered. Finally, everyone should have a working computer.
Free and safe Internet for all residents is a valuable amenity, including Wi-Fi in public areas. Leaving the latter to private providers such as the LinkNYC advertising kiosks in New York, which are popping up in other cities as well, is a bad thing. Companies such as Sidewalk Labs tempt municipalities by installing these kiosks for free. They are equipped with sensors that collect a huge amount of data from every device that connects to the Wi-Fi network: Not only the location and the operating system, but also the MAC address. With the help of analytical techniques, the route taken can be reconstructed. Combined with other public data from Facebook or Google, they provide insight into personal interests, sexual orientation, race, and political opinion of visitors.
The huge internet that connects everything and everyone also raises specters, which have to do with privacy-related uncertainty and forms of abuse, which appeared to include hacking of equipment that regulates your heartbeat.
That is why there is a wide search for alternatives. Worldwide, P2P neighborhood initiatives occur for a private network. Many of these are part of The Things Network. Instead of Wi-Fi, this network uses a protocol called LoRaWAN. Robust end-to-end encryption means that users don't have to worry about secure wireless hotspots, mobile data plans, or faltering Wi-Fi connectivity. The Things Network manages thousands of gateways and provides coverage to millions of people and a suite of open tools that enable citizens and entrepreneurs to build IoT applications at a low cost, with maximum security and that are easy to scale.
Computer programs provide diverse applications, ranging from word processing to management systems. Looking for solutions that best fit the guidelines and ethical principles mentioned in the former episode, we quickly arrive at open-source software, as opposed to proprietary products from commercial providers. Not that the latter are objectionable in advance or that they are always more expensive. The most important thing to pay attention to is interchangeability (interoperability) with products from other providers to prevent you cannot get rid of them (lock in).
Open-source software offers advantages over proprietary solutions, especially if municipalities encourage city-wide use. Barcelona is leading the way in this regard. The city aims to fully self-manage its ICT services and radically improve digital public services, including privacy by design. This results in data sovereignty and in the use of free software, open data formats, open standards, interoperability and reusable applications and services.
Anyone looking for open-source software cannot ignore the Fiwarecommunity, which is similar in organization to Linux and consists of companies, start-ups and freelance developers and originated from an initiative of the EU. Fiware is providing open and sustainable software around public, royalty-free and implementation-driven standards.
Computers are no longer the largest group of components of the digital infrastructure. Their number has been surpassed by so-called ubiquitous sensor networks (USN), such as smart meters, CCTV, microphones, and sensors. Sensor networks have the most diverse tasks, they monitor the environment (air quality, traffic density, unwanted visitors) and they are in machines, trains, and cars and even in people to transmit information about the functioning of vital components. Mike Matson calculated that by 2050 a city of 2 million inhabitants will have as many as a billion sensors, all connected by millions of kilometers of fiber optic cable or via Wi-Fi with data centers, carrier hotels (nodes where private networks converge) to eventually the Internet.
This hierarchically organized cross-linking is at odds with the guidelines and ethical principles formulated in the previous post. Internet criminals are given free rein and data breaches can spread like wildfires, like denial of service (DoS). In addition, the energy consumption is enormous, apart from blockchain. Edge computing is a viable alternative. The processing of the data is done locally and only results are uploaded on demand. This applies to sensors, mobile phones and possibly automated cars as well. A good example is the Array of Things Initiative. Ultimately, this will include 500 sensors, which will be installed in consultation with the population in Chicago. Their data is stored in each sensor apart and can be consulted online, if necessary, always involving several sensors and part of the data. Federated data systems are comparable. Data is stored in a decentralized way, but authorized users can use all data thanks to user interfaces.
There is a growing realization that when it comes to data, not only quantity, but also quality counts. I will highlight some aspects.
Access to data
Personal data should only be available with permission from the owner. To protect this data, the EU project Decode proposes that owners can manage their data via blockchain technology. Many cities now have privacy guidelines, but only a few conduct privacy impact assessments as part of its data policy (p.18).
There is growing evidence that much of the data used in artificial intelligence as “learning sets” is flawed. This had already become painfully clear from facial recognition data in which minority groups are disproportionately represented. New research shows that this is also true in the field of healthcare. This involves data cascades, a sum of successive errors, the consequences of which only become clear after some time. Data turned out to be irrelevant, incomplete, incomparable, and even manipulated.
Those for whom high-quality data is of great importance will pay extra attention to its collection. In. this case, initiating a data common is a godsend. Commons are shared resources managed by empowered communities based on mutually agreed and enforced rules. An example is the Data and Knowledge Hub for Healthy Urban Living (p.152), in which governments, companies, environmental groups and residents collect data for the development of a healthy living environment, using a federated data system. These groups are not only interested in the data, but also in the impact of its application.
Many cities apply the 'open by default' principle and make most of the data public, although the user-friendliness and efficiency sometimes leave something to be desired. Various data management systems are available as an open-source portal. One of the most prominent ones is CKAN, administered by the Open Knowledge Foundation. It contains tools for managing, publishing, finding, using, and sharing data collections. It offers an extensive search function and allows the possibility to view data in the form of maps, graphs, and tables. There is an active community of users who continue to develop the system and adapt it locally.
To make the data accessible, some cities also offer training courses and workshops. Barcelona's Open Data Challenge is an initiative for secondary school students that introduces them to the city's vast dat collection.
As the size of the collected data, the amount of entry points and the connectivity on the Internet increase, the security risks also become more severe. Decentralization, through edge computing and federated storage with blockchain technology, certainly contribute to security. But there is still a long way to go. Only half of the cities has a senior policy officer in this area. Techniques for authentication, encryption and signing that together form the basis for attribute-based identity are applied only incidentally. This involves determining identity based on several characteristics of a user, such as function and location. Something completely different is Me and my shadow, a project that teaches Internet users to minimize their own trail and thus their visibility to Internet criminality.
There is still a world to win before the guidelines and ethical principles mentioned in the previous episode are sufficiently met. I emphasize again not to over-accentuate concepts such as 'big data', 'data-oriented policy' and the size of data sets. Instead, it is advisable to re-examine the foundations of scientific research. First and foremost is knowledge of the domain (1), resulting in research questions (2), followed by the choice of an appropriate research method (3), defining the type of data to be collected (4), the collection of these data (5), and finally their statistical processing to find evidence for substantiated hypothetical connections (6). The discussion of machine learning in the next episode will reveal that automatic processing of large data sets is mainly about discovering statistical connections, and that can have dire consequences.
Follow the link below to find one of the previous episodes or see which episodes are next, and this one for the Dutch version.
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The 9th episode of the series Building sustainable cities: the contribution of digital technology deals with guidelines and related ethical principles that apply to the design and application of digital technology.
One thing that keeps me awake at night is the speed at which artificial intelligence is developing and the lack of rules for its development and application said Aleksandra Mojsilović, director of IBM Science for Social Good. The European Union has a strong focus on regulations to ensure that technology is people-oriented, ensures a fair and competitive digital economy and contributes to an open, democratic and sustainable society. This relates to more than legal frameworks, also to political choices, ethical principles, and the responsibilities of the profession. This is what this post is about.
Politicians are ultimately responsible for the development, selection, application and use of (digital) technology. In this respect, a distinction must be made between:
• Coordination of digital instruments and the vision on the development of the city.
• Drawing up policy guidelines for digitization in general.
• Recognizing related ethical principles next to these policy guidelines.
• Creating the conditions for democratic oversight of the application of digital technology.
• Make an appeal to the responsibilities of the ICT professional group.
Guidelines for digitization policy
In the previous post I emphasized that the digital agenda must result from the urban policy agenda and that digital instruments and other policy instruments must be seen in mutual relation.
Below are five additional guidelines for digitization policy formulated by the G20 Global Smart Cities Alliance. 36 cities are involved in this initiative, including Apeldoorn, as the only Dutch municipality. The cities involved will elaborate these guidelines soon. In the meantime, I have listed some examples.
Equity, inclusiveness, and social impact
• Enabling every household to use the Internet.
• Making information and communication technology (ICT) and digital communication with government accessible to all, including the physically/mentally disabled, the elderly and immigrants with limited command of the local language.
• Assessing the impact of current digital technology on citizens and anticipating the future impact of this policy.
• Facilitating regular education and institutions for continuous learning to offer easily accessible programs to develop digital literacy.
• Challenging neighborhoods and community initiatives to explore the supportive role of digital devices in their communication and actions.
Security and resilience
• Developing a broadly supported vision on Internet security and its consequences.
• Mandatory compliance with rules and standards (for instance regarding IoT) to protect digital systems against cyberthreats.
• Becoming resilient regarding cybercrime by developing back-up systems that seamless take over services eventually.
• Building resilience against misuse of digital communication, especially bullying, intimidation and threats.
• Reducing the multitude of technology platforms and standards, to limit entry points for cyber attackers.
Privacy and transparency
• The right to move and stay in cities without being digitally surveilled, except in case of law enforcement with legal means.
• Establishing rules in a democratic manner for the collection of data from citizens in the public space.
• Minimalist collection of data by cities to enable services.
• Citizens' right to control their own data and to decide which ones are shared and under which circumstances.
• Using privacy impact assessment as a method for identifying, evaluating, and addressing privacy risks by companies, organizations, and the city itself.
Openness and interoperability
• Providing depersonalized data from as many as possible organizations to citizens and organizations as a reliable evidence base to support policy and to create open markets for interchangeable technology.
• Public registration of devices, their ownership, and their aim.
• Choosing adequate data architecture, including standards, agreements, and norms to enable reuse of digital technology and to avoid lock-ins.
Operational and financial sustainability
• Ensuring a safe and well-functioning Internet
• The coordinated approach ('dig once') of constructing and maintenance of digital infrastructure, including Wi-Fi, wired technologies and Internet of Things (IoT).
• Exploring first, whether the city can develop and manage required technology by itself, before turning to commercial parties.
• Cities, companies, and knowledge institutions share data and cooperate in a precompetitive way at innovations for mutual benefit.
• Digital solutions are feasible: Results are achieved within an agreed time, with an agreed budget.
The guidelines formulated above partly converge with the ethical principles that underlie digitization according to the Rathenau Institute. Below, I will summarize these principles.
• Citizens' right to dispose of their own (digital) data, collected by the government, companies and other organizations.
• Limitation of the data to be collected to those are functionally necessary (privacy by design), which also prevents improper use.
• Data collection in the domestic environment only after personal permission and in the public environment only after consent by the municipal council.
• The right to decide about information to be received.
• The right to reject or consent to independent decision making by digital devices in the home.
• No filtering of information except in case of instructions by democratically elected bodies.
• Ensuring protection of personal data and against identity theft through encryption and biometric recognition.
• Preventing unwanted manipulation of devices by unauthorized persons.
• Providing adequate warnings against risks by providers of virtual reality software.
• Securing exchange of data
• Ensuring public participation in policy development related to digitization
• Providing transparency of decision-making through algorithms and opportunity to influence these decisions by human interventions.
• Decisions taken by autonomous systems always include an explanation of the underlying considerations and provide the option to appeal against this decision.
• Using robotics technology mainly in routinely, dangerous, and dirty work, preferably under supervision of human actors.
• Informing human actors collaborating with robots of the foundations of their operation and the possibilities to influence them.
• Ensuring equal opportunities, accessibility, and benefits for all when applying digital systems
• If autonomous systems are used to assess personal situations, the result is always checked for its fairness, certainty, and comprehensibility for the receiving party.
• In the case of autonomous analysis of human behavior, the motives on which an assessment has taken place can be checked by human intervention.
• Employees in the gig economy have an employment contract or an income as self-employed in accordance with legal standards.
• The possibility of updating software if equipment still is usable, even if certain functionalities are no longer available.
• Companies may not use their monopoly position to antagonize other companies.
• Ensuring equal opportunities, accessibility, and benefits for all when applying digital systems.
The above guidelines and ethical principles partly overlap. Nevertheless, I have not combined them as they represent different frames of reference that are often referred to separately. The principles for digitization policy are particularly suitable for the assessment of digitization policy. The ethical principles are especially useful when assessing different technologies. That is why I will use the latter in the following episodes.
In discussing the digitalization strategy of Amsterdam and other municipalities in later episodes, I will use a composite list of criteria, based on both the above guidelines and ethical principles. This list, titled 'Principles for a socially responsible digitization policy' can already be viewed HERE.
Currently, many municipalities still lack sufficient competencies to supervise the implementation and application of the guidelines and principles mentioned above. Moreover, they are involved as a party themselves. Therefore, setting up an independent advisory body for this purpose is desirable. In the US, almost every city now has a committee for public oversight of digitization. These committees are strongly focused on the role of the police, in particular practices related to facial recognition and predictive policing.
Several cities in the Netherlands have installed an ethics committee. A good initiative. I would also have such a committee supervise the aforementioned policy guidelines and not just the ethical principles. According to Bart Wernaart, lecturer in Moral Design Strategy at Fontys University of applied sciences, such a committee must be involved in digitization policy at an early stage, and it should also learn from mistakes in the field of digitization in the past.
The latter is especially necessary because, as the Dutch Data Protection Authority writes, the identity of an ethically responsible city is, is not set in stone. The best way to connect ethical principles and practice is to debate and questions the implications of policy in practice.
Experts’ own responsibility
A mature professional group has its own ethical principles, is monitoring their implementation, and sanctioning discordant members. In this respect, the medical world is most advanced. As far as I know, the ICT profession has not yet formulated its own ethical principles. This has been done, for example, by the Institute of Electric and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) in the field of artificial intelligence. Sarah Hamid: Data scientists are generally concerned more with the abstract score metric of their models than the direct and indirect impact it can have on the world. However, experts often understand the unforeseen implications of government policy earlier than politicians. Hamid addresses the implications for professional action: If computer scientists really hoped to make a positive impact on the world, then they would need to start asking better questions. The road to technology implementation by governments is paved with failures. Professionals have often seen this coming, but have rarely warned, afraid of losing an assignment. Self-confident professionals must therefore say 'no' much more often to a job description. Hamid: Refusal is an essential practice for anyone who hopes to design sociotechnical systems in the service of justice and the public good. This even might result in a better relationship with the client and more successful projects.
Establishing policy guidelines and ethical principles for municipal digitization requires a critical municipal council and an ethics committee with relevant expertise. But it also needs professionals who carry out the assignment and enter the debate if necessary.
The link below opens a preliminary overview of the already published and upcoming articles in the series Building sustainable cities: the contribution of digital technology. Click HERE for the Dutch version.
It’s all about the money: A Smart RESILIO Blue-Green Roof might sound a little pricey. But is money all what counts? Are these roofs affordable? In this third part of the RESILIO blue-green roofs movie sequence we explain to you the overall value and benefits for the society and how to approach these in a financial matter. Maybe we have to broaden our view on how we assign value to an object and use these outcomes as a solution for financing. Daniel van den Buuse, PhD and Hans de Moel tell us all.