11:49 in All Sorts of Technology and Democracy, civic responsibility, Felt Tip Revolution, fish (and other animals), happiness, local government, location, mobile phones, Open data, participation, text messages, Thumbprint Co-operative, Utopians for Real Change! | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
I've noticed a few references to the Internet of Things recently, a phrase I haven't heard for about two years (Nicolas Nova notes its reappearance, in concept if not in name, here) and to Smart Cities, about which the Guardian weirdly had a pull-out advertising supplement a few weeks ago. I'm glad these ideas are back, just for fun if nothing else, because I like both of them.
In between this time around and the last time around though I've done a bit of work with a neighbourhood police team, and one of the things that experience made me think was that if you wanted a working example of a real-time sensor-enabled city-wide "smart city" system then 999 calls in a city full of people with mobile phones is it.
Think about it: you've got a very widely distributed sensor network, that's us with our eyes, ears and bodily presences which might be under threat, and that sensor network is being monitored in real time - we can ring 999 from anywhere because we have mobiles - and the alert from the sensor (us and our phones) triggers a response - flashing blue lights - that aims to restore the system to its balanced state.
And it's this restoring the system to a balanced state which is by far the most important and illustrative part.
The balanced state is a state in which no laws are being broken.
And what are these laws? They are the rule sets for how we live together. And they are technologies.
I'm not saying we have the right laws, or even that we need “the law” to live together, but we do need rule sets, many of which we act on without even knowing just from the look on someone else's face. I might also be misinterpreting (wilfully or through dumbness) Paul Romer's Long Now talk by saying he says rule sets are a kind of technology, but it's a useful idea, so if he didn't he should've.
And this technology for living together doesn't just fall out of the sky, even if it might as well do, for all the say most of us have designing it. We have to choose what laws we want, what balanced state we want the system to be in (though if you read about autopoiesis that idea of choice isn't quite so clear!). And it is the rules for making and enacting those choices, the rule sets for making rule sets, for governance, the rule sets that are the constitutions by which we make decisions about how we want to live together, which are the real smart city technologies.
A city isn't smart because it produces lots of data. Or even opens up that data to lots of developers. It's smart because it continually monitors itself and uses that feedback to maintain the state it wants to be in. It's worth remembering that the word “cyber” doesn't mean having metal arms, it means to steer. Cybernetics is the study of how to steer systems.
So what state do we want the system to return to and how do we steer it? What do we want our technologies of governance to give us? Wealth? Happiness? Innovation? Fairness? Long life? Environmental sustainability?
I don't know. You decide. Pick the ones you want. Then when we have deliberated, agreed and built those technologies - the constitutions and laws - we set up our sensor networks (made up of all sorts of technology - you can have a smart city without any rifd chips or data visualisations of real-time traffic updates whatsoever, just look at ancient Athens) to monitor the system and give us feedback so that we can adjust our smart city technologies - the rule sets of governance and the laws that are enacted - to give us more of what we want and less of what we don't. Or we can decide we want something else in which case we design new governance technology and enact new laws.
And it's these technologies that are most desperately in need of innovation. Because at the moment they are awful.
At the moment, how does the system of Great Britain, for example, decide what counts as the state it wants to return to?
Every five years or so around 40% of the people in the arbitrary and outdated unit of organisation called "Britain"* who can be bothered to vote, people who are quite possibly mostly living hundreds of miles away from most of the other 60%, get a poll result that is roughly what they hoped for without really caring all that much either way, and a simple majority from a group of around 600 men and women out of a total of 60 million - whose job is now to design technology (rules sets, laws) for the whole arbitrary unit but who really all owe their allegiance to only one city (usually London regardless of whether they are meant to be designing technology to benefit the people of, say, Sedgefield) - then tell all the other cities (systems) what counts as the right state for their system and how to achieve it for the next five years or so before the next poll which might or might not lead to the reversal some of the previous rule sets.
And that is a very dumb way to run a system.
And it is the dumbness of the technology that makes me a little bit suspicious about the re appearance of smart cities (were they called smart cities last time, when it was that place in Korea? Maybe it was Ubicities?).
Is it just a way for big, multinational technology companies to fleece the dumb city?
Is it a way that by doing a bit of wining and dining of a few of the 600 people who at the time are designing the governance technologies, they can be persuaded to enact some laws to outsource, to these same big technology companies, something or other that we didn't even know we needed, in the same way in every city/system no matter how different, for dozens of years, because it's more "efficient". And call it "smart cities"?
I don't know, but it's worth looking at the names of the companies paying for the pull out newspaper advertising supplements.
This is a little bit like Adam Greenfield's argument in his book Everyware - this stuff is coming so we better debate it now while we've still got chance to decide what we want it to be like, because otherwise it will be decided for us.
But debating "advancing and emerging digital technologies", as they did at this seminar in Manchester organised by consultants, is debating the wrong kind of technology.
What we should be debating, and more importantly innovating with, is our governance technologies, the ways in which we decide the kinds of systems/cities we want to live in and the civic rule sets from which those systems/cities will emerge. If we do that, the rfid chips will look after themselves.
And the people who should be debating and designing the technologies for their smart cities are the people who live in them. And they should be able to to debate and design, as often as they want, everything. Every. Single. Thing. Because you don't get any meaningful innovation, enterprise, responsibility, energy, commitment, problem solving, or engagement if you don't have the power to do things and the risk of failure when you do.
And all sorts of people think it would be a good idea to innovate with governance technologies: Paul Romer, these bonkers Americans who want to live under the sea, the writer of this essay on local economics and places, and even this bonkers government minister saying we should have "home rule for cities".
Because compared to governance technology, having a wheelie bin that gives me whuffie points when I put some tin cans in the recycling, or a mobile phone that tells me where the traffic jams are, or even a smart electricity grid, couldn't be more trivial**.
* (if you don't think it is arbitrary why does the governance technology change just above Newcastle? The boundary for any system on the land mass of the UK is either the whole lot bounded by the sea or its constituent city-regions, not a line drawn two thirds of the way up.)
** As John Tolva, who is the director of “Citizenship and Technology” at well known philanthropic organisation IBM said at a city camp event the other day “burying the sensors in the pavement, that is easy”.
Part of the reason I wanted to set up that kind of organisation was that over the last few years, I've started to think that at least one way to be creative is not to have any ideas at all.
Just to listen carefully to other people and the things they need solutions for, and then have a talk with them about what might be worth trying out. After that, tell yourselves as detailed a story as you can about what is going to happen, put it into practice based on that story, then learn from your mistakes. Whether it is creative or not mostly depends on whether you listen in good faith and how much effort you put into the story.So is that a good way to run a company? When the first thing that needs a solution every day is what the company is and what it's going to do about it.
The rules of politics in the age of coalitions are about listening, negotiating, collaborating and coming up with unexpected solutions.But most of all the new rules are about shifting alliances.
11:30 in civic responsibility, culture_of_contempt, Felt Tip Revolution, fish (and other animals), fun, happiness, linux ubuntu, local government, location, ooooooh shit!, participation, Pervasive Games, Superstruct, The Future is Different When It's Evenly Distributed, Umm. Err. Umm. Err., Utopians for Real Change!, what does it all mean? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Compared to that, Clegg and Cameron don't have much of themselves at stake. Cameron will probably get the knife if he can't deliver a coalition, but wanting to be the next Tony Blair isn't a failed ambition that anyone would find it too hard to recover from.
And as for Clegg, if he makes a tactical mistake he'll suffer only according to the strength of his principles, which ought to be what guides him anyway. If he follows them, he can't blame himself too much if it doesn't work out, and he's the only one of the three who is certain to be around for the next election with chance to try again.
Take a look at our country though the lens of these eight evidence-based scientific instruments.
Draw the necessary conclusions. Don't kid yourself. Don't let yourself hide.
Act on them.
You will be happier. Because we all will.
1. Self-defeating work should be discouraged by suitable taxation.
2. Producers matter as much as consumers. They should be incentivated by professional norms and not by ever more financial incentives.
3. We should not promote the search for status, and we should limit dysfunctional advertising.
4. Income should be redistributed towards where it makes most difference.
5. Secure work should be promoted by welfare-to-work and reasonable employment protection. Secure pensions may require a state earnings-related scheme.
6. Security at home and in the community will be reduced if there is too much geographical mobility.
7. Mental health should receive much higher priority.
8. We should actively promote participatory democracy.
from Richard Layard "What would make a happier society?"
A book that reads "Once upon a time we all knew it was going to be all right in the end." isn't going to be much of a page turner. To feel eudaimonic well-being we need a sense of narrative structure, not just a personal history. And narratives need an uncertain future that the reader thinks forward into - "The hero is hanging from a cliff edge on Mars by her fingertips! When I tune in next week will she be rescued by the space-eagles or fall to her death on the rocks below?!"
This is why even though religious conviction is strongly predictive of happiness, I don't think religious life stories are well written: "Once upon a time God said it was going to be all right in the end. The End. For ever and ever amen."Eudaimonic well-being can and does survive bad, unfair and meaningless things happening, and in a way, without the possibility of these events it can't exist - life is just blissed out hedonic happiness. What we do at these moments is rewrite our life story to accommodate the bad thing in the narrative, often as the value of understanding about ourselves and the world that we wouldn't have had otherwise.
This emotion of wanting to punish rule breakers connects with game theory as it's understood in biology, economics and politics - that we've evolved to cooperate, and are very good at it, and don't need anyone except ourselves to police cooperation, but one of the conditions of cooperation is to punish "defectors", people who try to get the benefit of cooperation without paying the costs (for example if you want to conserve and share irrigation water amongst small farmers, what you need is either lots of policemen with guns and a legal and prison system, or a long standing traditional rule set for making clear, agreed quotas and for publicly shaming people who break them - this year's nobel prize for economics was for the study of rule sets for collective action).
One of the things that I like about Charter Cities is that it brings an awareness of the power of rule sets, and the way they operate - that the outcomes are always emergent, and you can never write enough rules to proscribe all the possible outcomes - into politics, saying (this is my sneaky paraphrase) that you can't dictate good ends, just put good rule sets (good means) in place and wait to see what happens.And if you looked at contemporary Britain, what you'd probably say, if you were honest, was "it's not fair." The rule set has got messed up somehow. Or ignored. Or it's too easy to defect and get away with it.
If you want to drive down it at 30 miles per hour you are perfectly, legally, welcome.
There are no signs telling you you can, and no signs telling you you can't.
It's been designed to allow people to be civil to each other:
"if you move to an environment based on what we think of as, ‘allowing regulations’ designed to support normal, good, civil behaviour you get a very different picture. You still have to learn these normal rules (like giving way to those more vulnerable than you, avoiding collisions with each other etc) but these are life rules that you need for all of your daily activities and are worth learning. They do not require enforcement because negotiation is carried out on the spot and resolved. There is a reward for compliance because your actions contribute to supporting the wider community (and you will usually receive a smile at least for your trouble). It fully employs our abilities to move amongst each other (look at how people negotiate space in a busy station concourse or busy shopping street). Most importantly it supports good community interaction."
- Martin Stockley, who designed this road, amongst many other things.
Telling people what to do doesn't work. But leaving them to work it out for themselves does.
Church halls are good reference points for participatoriums.
They can be home to lots of rule sets - for table tennis clubs and band nights, campaign meetings and Cubs.
Governed by overall rules of civility - stack the chairs and do the washing up when you are finished.
They are one big room.
But it can be reconfigured - for band night put the amps at one end, for a jumble sale put the trestle tables round the edges, for a film screening put the chairs in rows.
There is common investment and ownership, with negotiation and compromise over use.
They are landmarks, and membership is open to everyone who lives round here.