In this episode of ‘In Conversation With,’ Nina Simosko (CEO at NTT i3) joins Sweden-based futurist Aric Dromi. The topic: The evolution of smart cities and implications for urban infrastructure and security.
(“In Conversation With” is a video series where NTT i3 executives engage in conversation with some of our most visionary partners at NTT’s Operating Companies and global enterprise customers, futurists, and leading Silicon Valley technologists, entrepreneurs, and researchers. The explorations may be around current and near future developments in IoT, big data analytics, machine learning, AI, network virtualization, and security. At times, we also investigate the human impact of technology and the role our values and culture have on how we decide to use what we are inventing.)
Recently I was watching a video with urban futurist and urban Anthony Townsend, and it made me think of reaching out to you and getting your insights as a cultural and technology futurist. I’d love to talk with you a bit about the next generation of smart cities and some of the key trends we should pay attention to as both citizens and technologists. To start, you’ve done a lot of thinking around the issue of mobility and cities. What’s so interesting to me is the impact we might be seeing from self-driving cars and related technologies.
There are two important issues to consider in this area of mobility and cities. The first is autonomous driving and the second one is electric vehicles. While right now they are very separate from each other, I see them as one singular and unique platform that has the potential of redefining mobility.
The question that I ask myself and city executives is: How ready is their infrastructure to accommodate the next level of mobility? Currently we tend to think of mobility as coming from manually-driven vehicles – or trains or trucks or buses. When autonomous driving cars are introduced beyond the experimental stage, they are fundamentally going to change and place a different set of needs on infrastructure and urban technology. You don’t see many cities with a plan to make the near future technology changes required for their infrastructure. Now, on top of the autonomous vehicle change, add millions of electric vehicles to the road. You have to ask yourself, how are the various city that infrastructures (including roads and energy) ready to keep up with these changes.
So right now the focus of some of the more progressive mayors might be more on: How do we find a logical way to retrofit our infrastructure one step at a time so we can progress and be part of the change that is happening? Really for the future, you are talking about a dialogue and action that needs to be changed to: How do civic leaders need to look in at the world in a new way if they are going to be able to set up the right experiments and make the necessary infrastructure changes in cities to deal with these trends in mobility and other related issues?
It’s about time that cities go back to that and understand that what makes cities are mobility, communications, and energy. They are not anchored in physical building blocks anymore. They are anchored in data and code.
That concept of ‘written in code’ vs. physical building blocks is a very important reframing – not only for now, but even more so in the near future. Today, there are hundreds of cities that have 1 million in population. And in just a few years there are going to be 500 cities with over 1 million. This is going to put increasing pressure on cities if they continue to look at services and infrastructure thru a pre-technology lens.
They need to understand what ‘life written in code’ means. Only by doing that can they start building an infrastructure that can accommodate both the needs and wants that we have as human beings.
If cities are going to be more about a ‘life written in code’ and we move from the importance of physical building blocks to a technology driven city, it seems to me that a lot of issues are going to come up around security. That’s an area in which we have a lot of experience from NTT Group. Are the new smart cities going to become the next security nightmare – experiencing the kinds of attacks and cybercrime that we have been seeing in the enterprise space over the past years?
Yes. I think there are a lot of interesting questions when it comes to privacy and security when you are stepping into the Internet of Things, and that is essentially what we are talking about with smart cities. I think of it not so much as IoT (a technology), but as an ecology of interactions (a bigger system). A thing is just a thing unless it has an ID. Once it has an ID, it is part of an ecology. The interactions that it then has are within that ecology. I think we need a new way of questioning privacy and security within this kind of ecology were every single thing is connected.
Within this topic of security are the implications of breeches and security attacks for cities, and in some cases this is already happening. Is it a cyber attack when the electricity grid goes down? As cities get ‘smarter’ with more technological advances managing their infrastructure, the possibility of these kinds of attacks become more prevalent and present a bigger risk for our water supplies, the electrical grid, the traffic lights. It’s a big deal looking at and understanding all of these things from a security standpoint. I agree with you wholeheartedly that the mayors, the governments, the states are going to have to think differently.
I think this is where a true partnership structure will really help to resolve a lot of the headaches. Mayors and cities need to think about values, and how partnerships with technology companies like NTT should provide ways to protect those values. In the connected world we will be more vulnerable than ever, yet no one is stepping back and asking the questions about the implications of connecting everything. How does it impact individuals, infrastructure, and society? There is not a single standard for how we look at these things. Let’s be honest, once you plug into a network and give something a digital identity – it’s vulnerable.
The question then becomes: how much value do we place on that vulnerability? If you model what it means to hack an individual vs. hacking an electricity grid , you then need to create a priority as to how you can actually defend this infrastructure and the people who depend on it. You need to create layers of layers of priorities.
As we need to create these multiple layers for security (and I know we are thinking about it at NTT i3), we need to look at what portions of that should be automated vs. what portions should remain with humans interacting and controlling. You can automate a lot with big data and machine learning. But should those things be automated or will we still require some human interaction to control some of those security layers?
Here are a couple of key ways we at NTT i3 have been looking at this over the past few years for the enterprise, and I think there will be great relevance for cities.
- As it relates to machine learning and automated aspects of security – the real value today is in earlier detection of attacks and more importantly prediction and prevention by detecting anomalies from multiple data sources.
- With the current state of machine learning and cybersecurity – human domain experts are very important in building, supervising and training the models to learn form the data – to understand what is normal and what is not normal for the system – In this case, this is different aspects of the city infrastructure and networks.
To deal with the changing the way cities look at their infrastructure, the potential for security nightmares, and the needs and want of their citizens – it’s going to mean that they adopt a new relationship with technology and with technology providers. The need is going to move from a vendor relationship to one of a more intimate partner and advisor.
Let’s explore some of that in our next segment.