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Link to blog adarshk.com/itp/tags/#CloudCommuting

In ME++ Mitchell talks about “electronic nervous systems” of intelligent urban environments. Discuss an example of an intelligent urban system you are familiar with and discuss the elements of the feedback loop, how its form of governance works, and who are its stakeholders (goals, decision makers, evaluators, etc.).

In the book ME++, Mitchell discusses about how we as humans have gone from being self reliant in a way on our own selves with our bodies adapting to the environments around us to increasingly augmenting and relying on tools and systems that can be thought as extending ourselves. These tools have increasingly extended very different things (for example he describes them as extedning our limbs, eyes, sensors, spaces etc) but are interconnected in ways that can only be described as complex. He draws parallels between this network and our bodies. There are a few examples I can think of in terms of intelligent urban systems.

One of them is the power grids that exist in every country. These central grids are interconnected with wires that span across states and every central grid is connected to individual homes in communities. These are essential for survival of businesses and livelihood as we become increasingly become dependent on it. However I wouldnt call these intelligent. These grids maybe intelligent within the same operator generating and distributing to homes depending on the consumption per day but they are reliant on price negotiations and contracts when the supply is insufficient and the anticipated demands exceed unusally. This was evident especially in the recent power outage in India where more than half(!) the country was left without power for many days. Even in major cities in India with big businesses operating, I see a power outages almost every day. The stakeholders here were the central and state governments with people having little say in the overall decision process. This was a failure on the doing the estimation of the demand that was clearly increasing with people in underdeveloped areas now having access to electronics & lights dependent on the grid. One way to solve this would have been to decentralize the feedback loop so that if a large number of decentralized nodes show an increase in consumption, the trend can easily be understood.

Similar to power distribution networks, there are also water systems that exist. Water sharing is a heavy political topic especially in India where states individually form agreements between each other and elections are won/lost based on these promises made by governments. The rivers in India only flow through certain states giving them power in negotiations. A lot times these systems break down because governments artificially block the flow of water. Here the feedback may not necessarily be the demand but rather the political will that is present. The decisions are made by the state government and can often be sentimental rather than logical. So in a way, the government is the nervous system with the minister(evaluators) acting as its brain but heavily reliant on public polls and votes. Unfortunately the effects of this are felt by people and businesses who may not have any say.

Read MIT’s report on driverless automobiles (ignore all technical stuff and focus on results). Suppose that in few years we have driverless automobiles that can be used in shared schemes without the need for redistribution. Is this a plausible solution/future for you?

It could definitely be a possible solution to have shared schemes based on driverless vehicles. However this would also be dependent on the players that are controlling these systems. If there are few players, then the system can suffer from the centralised problem that is present where the players can demand higher prices however it will be interesting to have decentralised network that works in favour of the user rather than for the players.

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