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Thursday, March 24, 2016

Smart Cities or Smart Citizens: Which is the Future?

Watch the video to listen to the talk

Note: you can see the slides on slideshare
I will briefly talk about Smart Cities or Smart Citizens: Which is the Future? 
We couldn’t have chosen a better venue than Barcelona to talk about smart cities -- this beautiful city is internationally recognized as one of the shining examples of smart cities in the world -- you can see for yourself at the “Smart City BCN” website:
My presentation is from the perspective of over 30 years of experience I have had in the information and communications technology (ICT) sector and my U.S. government policy experience — having worked the past 18 years as a Technologist at the U.S. Government Accountability Office or GAO, where we review performance of U.S. government agencies and conduct technology assessments that look at the interactions of technological innovations with society, the environment, and economy; and the present and foreseen, but unintended consequences of those interactions. GAO’s portfolio of technology assessments have covered subjects such as biometrics, cybersecurity, wildfire protection, cargo security, climate change adaptation, water conservation, and additive manufacturing.
Internet of Things (IoT) happens to be underlying technological innovation that makes the current concept of “smart cities” possible.
The “Internet of Things” refers to the concept of connecting everyday objects -- whether inanimate or animate -- to the Internet by adding or embedding computing and communication capabilities into the objects so that they can send and receive information. Usually, these objects -- or “things” -- are connected to the Internet to gather data, which are then analyzed and used for some purpose that depends on the things.
An example can help make the concept clearer. Many homes nowadays have things such as thermostats and alarm systems that are connected to the Internet. In this case, the goal is to enable the homeowner to remotely control these Internet-connected home systems -- set the thermostat or arm and disarm the alarm system. A futuristic vision is to create “smart homes” with lots of Internet of Things that interact with one another to make life easier for the homeowner and provide benefits such as reduced energy use.  
The technological view of a “smart city” is similar -- connect various “things” -- from buses, trains, traffic lights to garbage bins -- to the Internet and gather data that can be used by the city to improve services it offers to its citizens.
You may have noticed that I have been talking about the technologies behind the concept of smart cities, but haven’t mentioned citizens much except as the beneficiaries of the “better” and “improved” services of smart cities. That’s because this is how  the initial idea of first-generation “smart cities” began -- a technology-driven vision of a city outfitted with “Internet of Things” sensors that gather data from the city infrastructure: buildings, buses, trains, rental bikes, parking, traffic lights, video surveillance cameras, garbage trucks, even recycling bins, etc. and bring them into a control center for centralized monitoring and management of the city. Typically such ideas of smart cities have been promoted by technology providers encouraging cities to adopt their products and solutions. Some planned smart cities such as PlanIT Valley near Porto, Portugal, Masdar in Abu Dhabi, and Songdo in South Korea are examples of such purely technology-driven smart cities. For example, PlanIT Valley, which, incidentally has not yet been funded, will reportedly include 100 million sensors that will send data to an Urban Operating System that would manage the city. (see, for example, ) It is worth noting that these grand plans for creating smart cities from scratch have not turned out as planned.
You can find a clue to the failure of these first-generation smart cities in their descriptions, which focus mostly on the latest technologies -- the sensors, the “operating system”, the control center -- and less on the citizens. A common characteristic of these smart cities is that they started with technology rather than urban challenges and they did not engage citizens in the design and deployment of new technologies.
There has been some criticism of such smart cities that focus on technology at the expense of first finding out what citizens need. In his 2013 book, “Smart Cities: Big Data, Civic Hackers, and the Quest for a New Utopia” Anthony Townsend critiques these solely technology-driven futuristic visions of smart cities for missing out on how cities interact with citizens.
A June 2015 study by NESTA, a UK-based charity, also notes that many “top down” smart cities have failed to deliver on their promises because of high up-front costs of technology and low returns. (see )
This brings us to the second generation of smart cities where city administrators are using technology as an enabler and creating projects that focus on improving the quality of life of the citizens. These projects use the connected “Internet of Things” technologies to bring information to their citizens and make them more informed, turning them into “smart citizens.” The changing behavior of these smart citizens then enables efficient practices and smarter social norms to develop in the cities. For example, with digital tools providing the latest information, smart cities can make it easy for their citizens to use car- or bike-sharing programs. By providing information about average energy use among similar neighbors, cities can influence the way the citizens use energy.
The second-generation smart cities acknowledge the importance of listening to the needs of their citizens in creating smart cities. A November 2014 Ericsson Consumerlab survey provides a glimpse of what citizens want from a smart city.  According to that survey, 76% of citizens want sensors in public places that let them know which areas are crowded; 70% want to compare their energy use with that of their neighbors’ so that they can optimize their behavior; and 74% want both interactive street signs and bike and car sharing.
Many current smart cities are adopting smaller, well-defined projects that address these types of specific needs of their citizens. For example, Barcelona has 33 smart city projects that use a mix of technology and citizen education and communication to address a diversity of citizen needs and improve quality of life for citizens and visitors alike.
Getting back to the rhetorical question of whether Smart Cities or Smart Citizens is the future -- the answer is “both,” because they have a symbiotic relationship and work hand-in-hand in a virtuous cycle. Smart cities provide information via sensors and technologies to its citizens, making them smart, and smart citizens, in turn, help define how the smart city needs to evolve. Experience from new smart city projects help citizens learn newer ways cities can improve their services and this cycle continues on. In this vision of a shared future, smart citizens and smart cities evolve together.
The longer-term future vision for smart cities and smart citizens is one where smart citizens, along with the city leaders, become co-creators of smart cities that provide improved quality of life in an equitable and socially inclusive manner.
Using smart citizens as co-creators can help smart cities accomplish more with less. For example, in addition to using the Internet of Things to collect data, a city could also accept data from citizens, typically through smartphone apps that connect to low-cost sensors that citizens deploy themselves and then share the data with the city. Such “crowdsourced” data are already being gathered and used -- for example, flood mapping in Jakarta, Indonesia and air pollution data in Beijing, China.
Smart cities also can make the raw data from many of its sensors available to the public as “open data” -- in standardized digital format -- that can then be used by anyone to develop new applications, converting the data into useful information. For example, Barcelona’s open data project provides data that’s used in apps such as App&Town that helps you plan trips with Barcelona’s public transportation and CityBikes, which provides information about the city’s Bicing bike rental system.
So far in my talk, I have been mostly focused on the utopian view of smart cities and smart citizens where each leverages the other’s strengths for their mutual benefit. However, I’d be remiss if I were to ignore the dystopian view of smart cities -- even with smart citizens. Some recent articles lay out this type of  dystopian vision of a smart city. (see, for example, and
Some point to how a smart city that thinks it knows everything about its citizens’ needs through its sensors may assume that it does not have to ask the citizens what they want and, thereby, destroy democracy. Others worry about too much surveillance by a city that gathers data from so many sensors. Still others raise the issue of privacy of citizens and possibility of cyber attacks on city’s infrastructures.
In spite of these predictions of dystopian outcomes, participation of smart citizens still remains the most promising prospect that the dangerous scenarios can be avoided through the actions of citizens.
In the end, the smartest of the smart city projects do not have to depend on technology alone. Some cite the example of the Medellín Ciudad Inteligente (Medellín Smart City) initiative. The city was able to reintegrate its problem neighborhoods not through Internet of Things technology, but with publicly funded sports facilities and a cable car connecting them to the city. Earlier residents of the barrio of Santo Domingo used to take 2 hours to reach the city center by bus, but the cable car system shortened the ride to just seven minutes. This gave poor slum dwellers better access to jobs and has reduced the murder rate to 26.8 per 100,000 from a high of 381 per 100,000 some twenty years ago. So it was physical connection that turned out to be more important than digital connection in this case. (see
To sum up, smart citizens are key to smart cities and technology alone is not the answer. Involvement of informed citizens is the key to the success of smart cities. What we need is the virtuous cycle of smart citizens co-creating smart cities that further inform the citizens on ways to avoid the dystopian vision of robotic smart cities from coming true.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Naba Barkakati - interview at 2013 EPTA Conference in Finland

You can watch the interview on this Youtube video

Q: What are the effects of the Northern Sea Route on global economy?

(NB) The Northern Sea Route refers to the sea route from the Far East to Bering Sea over the North Sea and the Arctic. It’s a shorter route between the Far East countries and Europe than going through the Suez Canal. Recently the Chinese container ship “Yong Sheng”  made a trip from Dalian to Rotterdam over the Northern Sea Route and it took 15 days less than what it’d have taken to go through the Suez Canal. That can have a big impact on maritime trade because it takes so much less time to take the Northern Sea Route than to use the usual sea route through the Suez Canal. This can have a positive impact on trade between far eastern countries such as China, Japan, and Korea, and the European countries. For example, exporting goods such as liquefied natural gas (LNG)  from Russia to China or Japan would become easier. At the same time, there could be adverse impact on middle eastern countries if there is a significant drop in shipping traffic through the Suez Canal.

Another impact of the Northern Sea Route would be the need for more ports, repair facilities, rescue services, etc in countries such as Finland that are along the Northern Sea Route. There are national security considerations as well for the countries such as Russia that want to control the sea route as evidenced by Russian naval patrols in the Northern Sea Route.

Q: What could be the next black swan, a surprise that changes everything?

(NB) This is an interesting question because Black Swan, of course, refers to things that are low probability but could have a big impact -- positive or negative.  So climate change is considered to be such an event, but when something is low probability, it’s difficult to see it coming. You might ignore it even if it’s there. So it’s hard to predict the next Black Swan, but what you can do, from a technology perspective, is to look at disruptive technologies that are changing the way business is done. For instance, consider 3D printing technology that enables us to create objects from digital representation -- a technology that could change manufacturing. As far as Black Swans go, I do think that the use of Big Data Analytics -- processing large volumes of information with all the computing power we now have -- could provide a way for smart people to identify Black Swans events somewhat earlier than we could have done otherwise.

Q: What a good futures policies like?

(NB) First of all, I think it's great that a country such as Finland, for instance, has a Committee for the Future (as do many other countries in Europe) that is looking to the future. I think the Futures Committees of this sort should definitely be pragmatic, meaning that they should be grounded in reality. When they're looking at scenarios for the future, each scenario should be something that's plausible and people can relate to it -- something that's happening already. That’s an important aspect of futures studies.

The other part is to ensure that the futures policies are not trying to promote one technology over another or promote one approach over another. What they should do is look at “nudging” -- to move the progress towards the direction that’s helpful to the citizens.

Q: How do you see the future of technology?

(NB) Of course looking at the future of technology is similar to the Black Swans -- it’s very hard to predict because you can only predict based on what you see today.  I am primarily a technology person, so I feel that the trend towards what I’d call “digital convergence” -- all the things are becoming digital and coming together, for example, voice, data, image all coming together in a smartphone -- is going to dominate the future. Digital convergence is continuing to the point where even physical objects are in digital representation from which we can create them using 3D printing and with the sequencing of the Human Genome even biological things are in the digital world and synthetic biology enables us to create living organisms from digital representations. So, without trying to answer where technology is going directly, I think the technology trends can be derived from our desire to put everything into digital format, processing them in computers. In the ICT (information and communication technology) world, cloud computing, for instance, and Big Data are coming together because we have the convergence of computing and networking power so that now if you store all the information in one central place, you can make it available to people over these devices over the network and suddenly you got competing as if it’s a utility, like electricity, gas, or water. All I can say is that you should think of using the digital convergence as the primary means of change and try to see the future of technology through that lens of everything becoming digital.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Ivy Barkakati DJ-ing in H&M Lounge at Primavera Sound festival in Barcelona

Ivy Barkakati is DJ-ing in H&M Lounge at Primavera Sound festival in Barcelona

Today (May 29, 2015) -- at the H&M Lounge in PrimaveraSound in Barcelona
-17 a 17:45h -18:30 a 19:30h -20:25 a 21:30h  -22:30 a 23h

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

A Strategic Technology Adoption Framework

Click below to watch the video

Strategic adoption of technologies, especially bringing in new ones as they become viable, is key to the success of every organization whether it’s delivering pizzas or launching a spaceship. It’s important to have a framework that enables the CTO or chief technologist to monitor and guide, what I call, the “technology intake” -- how new technology is identified, piloted, and brought into operational use in a slow, but steady manner. I call it a strategic framework for technology adoption.

To give you a concrete example of such a framework, let’s go with the pizza delivery business.  I am not an expert on pizza delivery, but I’d start by laying out a high-level view of the pizza ordering --> cooking --> delivery --> driver management processes, as you can see in the figure -- (if you stop and think about it, you can draw such a high-level process diagram for whatever happens to be the core business of your organization and it’s scalable from mom-and-pop operations to huge, multinational chains (just that the number of process areas may be more in a bigger organization).

Next I jot down the key technologies currently in operational use -- there is usually the information technology (IT) back-end systems and databases that span all process areas and then there are other technologies that are specific to the tasks being performed in each area. Most of these technologies also integrate with the back-end IT.

Finally, I lay out a technology timeline that goes through the sequence from (1) identifying new technologies, (2) exploring their use, (3) piloting the promising ones, and (4) putting into operation the ones that work.

As you may have guessed by now, the idea is to keep an eye on the technology landscape, relevant to your business, pick promising ones for piloting and implement those that are successfully piloted.

You can use the framework for allocating and managing the technology budget as well. You can look at budget allocated to each of the process areas.

On the “technology intake” side, you’d expect bulk of the overall budget to be dedicated to running current operations. Identifying and exploring relevant technologies should be a continuous, low-cost effort. Piloting will need some funds, and putting a new technology into operational use would cost even more.

Although it’s a simple framework, it can help you with the never-ending process of refreshing the technologies, including IT, that help run your business and keep it competitive.

Friday, May 16, 2014

How Bitcoin works?

No need to read, just watch this video :-)

Bitcoin is virtual money, but without any central bank or authority to maintain or vouch for your account. Instead it’s all done in a decentralized manner using cryptography.

It’s traditional to explain anything involving cryptography using Bob and Alice, so I’ll do the same. To send or receive bitcoins, both Bob and Alice will run a bitcoin client software on their computer and they will create bitcoin wallets -- each wallet is a collection of bitcoin addresses and each bitcoin address can hold some bitcoins.

Each bitcoin address is a unique public key that’s paired with its private key and you can create a bitcoin address for each transaction or use an existing address.

For Alice to pay Bob some bitcoin, Bob will send Alice a bitcoin address and Alice will use her bitcoin client to initiate a transfer from one of her bitcoin addresses to Bob’s. The client uses the private key associated with Alice’s bitcoin address to sign the transaction and sends it out to all the bitcoin miners on the network.

The bitcoin miners uses Alice’s public key to verify that the transaction is coming from a legitimate owner. They bundle this transaction with many others occurring within a 10-minute timeframe and try to add this new block of transactions to a public ledger, called “block chain”

.This step requires the software running on the miner’s computers to compute what is called a “hash” of the transaction block along with a number (called a “nonce”) so that the hash starts with a certain number of zeros. The more the number of zeros, the tougher the problem because the miners have to keep trying many, many “nonces” until they get a hash with the required number of zeros up front, that then has to be accepted by majority of the miners. As a reward for successfully adding a block of transactions to the blockchain, the block includes a transaction giving the winning miner a number of bitcoins (currently 25, but this will reduce over time).

Once a block of transactions is added to the block chain it’s computationally too time-consuming to alter it, which ensures that no one can double-spend bitcoins.

So, that in a nutshell, is how bitcoin works.

Here's some more information to help you...

The original paper by Satoshi Nakamoto: Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System

Dec 2013 Chicago Fed letter on Bitcoin: Bitcoin: A primer

To get started with using Bitcoin:Getting started with Bitcoin

To get started with Bitcoin mining: Getting Started from

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Wedding toast in English and Spanish (Un brindis de boda)

Note: This is a toast -- in Enlglish and then in Spanish -- to my daughter Ivy and son-in-law Arnau at their wedding reception in Barcelona at meeatings23   It was a great reception with friends and family and excellent food cooked by a chef in the kitchen next door to the room where we celebrated. By the way, my prepared text, shown below, does not fully match the video because I improvised :-)

English version

Good evening everyone. We are very happy to gather here today with our families and friends to celebrate the marriage of Ivy and Arnau.

I feel proud as the father of the bride to admire our beautiful daughter with her handsome husband.  

I remember as if it were only yesterday... when Ivy was 4 years old, one day she started reading a storybook to us and we were shocked because we didn't know how and when Ivy learned to read.  Ivy always loved reading and writing. When she was in elementary school, she liked to write stories and poems that I sent to the local newspaper where they would publish them. She is also very good with languages, which is coming in handy, now that she is learning Catalan and she already speaks Spanish quite well.

Ivy is extremely smart, creative, and talented, but what she lacked was confidence in herself. All that changed when she met Arnau during his visit the United States in 2011. After they got together, Ivy has blossomed into a mature, confident artist.

Which is why, we think Arnau is great for Ivy. He’s very considerate and thoughtful-- not to mention, extremely artistic and smart. Ivy and Arnau have been together now for over two years. They have embarked on a promising musical journey* together. 

With their love and friendship Ivy and Arnau can face anything that life may throw at them. And, if there are any problems, we’ll all be right there to help them through any difficult times.
* Anòmia -- a platform created by Arnau Sala and Ivy Barkakati in 2012 in Barcelona

En español:

Buenas noches! Gracias por venir aquí para celebrar la boda de Ivy y Arnau.

Me siento muy feliz mirar a nuestra linda hija y guapo yerno. Recuerdo como si hubiera sido ayer cuando Ivy tenía cuatro años y ella empezó a leernos un libro de cuentos. Nos ha sorprendido mucho porque no sabía cómo y cuándo Ivy aprendió a leer. A Ivy siempre le gustaba leer y escribir cuando era niña. Escribía pequeñas historias y poesías y los enviaba a un periódico donde los publicaban.

Ivy tenía mucha habilidad de aprender idiomas. Es bueno porque ahora está aprendiendo catalán y tiene mucha fluidez en español.

Ivy es muy inteligente, creativa y talentosa, pero lo que le faltaba era confianza en sí misma. Todo eso cambió cuando conoció a Arnau durante su visita a los Estados Unidos en 2011. Después se llegaron juntos, Ivy se ha transformado en una artista madura y segura.  

Por eso creemos que Arnau es genial para Ivy. Arnau es muy amable y atento, no por mencionar, muy artístico y inteligente también. Ivy y Arnau han estado juntos durante más de dos años ahora. Juntos han embarcado en un viaje musical** con un futuro prometedor.

Con su amor y amistad Ivy y Arnau pueden superar cualquier problema que les depara la vida. Y, si hay algún problema, todos estaremos ahí para ayudarles a través de cualquier tiempo difícil.
** Anòmia es una plataforma creada por Arnau Sala y Ivy Barkakati en el año 2012 en Barcelona

Toast -- Brindis:

Antes de terminar, quisiera proponer un brindis por la pareja más importante esta noche... si por favor me acompañad…
Before I close, may I propose a toast to the most important couple tonight... if you’d please join me...

Ladies and Gentlemen, here’s to a long and happy marriage life for Ivy and Arnau!

Damas y caballeros, brindemos por la felicidad y una larga vida juntos de Ivy y Arnau.

¡Por Ivy y Arnau!

Note: for more information on how I am learning to speak Spanish, please see:

Friday, August 23, 2013

Why is 3D Printing important

As I explained in another video, 3D printing is essentially a way of constructing a 3-dimensional object by putting down thin layers of material. The 3D printer deposits the layers by using information from a computer file that describes the object’s 3-dimensional shape. So, in essence, you can create any object once you have a 3D printer, the material for the object, and the computer file that describes the object’s shape. This can really shake things up when it comes to manufacturing products, which is why 3D printing is so important and is getting so much attention.

For starters, you can now buy a desktop 3D printer and build complex (but small) products at home. This is like the early days of personal computing -- only, this time, it’s “personal manufacturing.” We’ll have to wait and see what the hobbyists achieve with 3D printing, but it’s exciting because “personal manufacturing” could shake things up just as personal computers did.

On the commercial side, engineers are now able to “3D print” fully functional metal parts using titanium and steel. If commercial manufacturing moves to 3D printing, you won’t need factories with assembly lines to make products, instead they can be built in one or more 3D printers. And a single 3D printing facility could print many different types of products. You would be able to “print” products on demand and at many different locations -- all you have to do is send over the data file for the product. It’d make sense to print products at locations near customers.

On the other hand, you need far fewer people to operate 3D printers than assembly lines. That could mean less jobs, but that could also be helpful for an aging society. If 3D printing is the way products are manufactured, then there won’t be any need to set up factories in countries with cheap labor. That’s something to think about.

Finally, 3D printing is not limited to just the types of products we currently know -- researchers are working on printing many different types of objects, including, for example, tissues and human organs. Who knows, someday in the future, there’d be 3D-printed artificial organs for people who need transplants!