- The world’s fastest supercomputer can help city planners and engineers predict how a city’s economy will evolve.
- The collection of real-time data for virtually every amenity and service will allow apps to be created that improve the productivity of a city – from traffic flows, to parking and water usage.
- A technological revolution is being driven by the demand of citizens for a better life.
“It’s an entirely new concept where a country is an OS (operating system), and people build apps on top of that.” – Gabriel Leydon
A favourite computer game in the past decade was SimCity: users toggled policies and strategies in an attempt to build the best city possible; years were simulated within days, and the economy reacted to the decisions you, the player, made.
Professor Yuan Xue-Feng and his team at the Guangzhou National Supercomputer Centre have been playing a simulation of their own – except they are playing on the world’s fastest supercomputer, with variables and data on an unimaginable scale, and with decisions that have profound consequences.
Called the Systems Model for Simulation of Social Economy Dynamics, it is just one of many applications of Tianhe-2, the world’s fastest supercomputer, which is housed Guangzhou, one of the members of the Tripartite Economic Alliance.
“We collect all the economic data throughout the city, then we are able to play the city’s policy – or central government’s fiscal policy – to predict how the economy will evolve.” -Professor Yuan
Professor Yuan’s one-sentence summary is this: “We collect all the economic data throughout the city, then we are able to play the city’s policy – or central government’s fiscal policy – to predict how the economy will evolve.”
The applications of the supercomputer represented part of a broader discussion permeating throughout the Summit that focused on the way digitisation is transforming cities.
The scale of that transformation is so large that MZ (Machine Zone), a company known throughout Silicon Valley for its blockbuster smartphone games, is jumping in head first, right here in Auckland. They’re developing a command centre and consumer application for the city’s transport network, but have plans to digitise much more.
MZ CEO Gabriel Leydon’s vision is for real-time data to be collected for essentially every amenity and service in the country. The data would be standardised and accessible through consumer-facing applications. “It’s an entirely new concept where a country is an OS (operating system), and people build apps on top of that,” he explains.
Along the way, digitisation will have tangible benefits in a variety of areas. Smart-parking is one example, where Aucklanders will be able to be notified of the nearest available car park at any given time.
Like with transport systems, the digitisation of car parking is expected to offer benefits for government agencies as well as individual citizens. City authorities will be able to make car parks in different areas available with the click of a button. For instance, when public events are taking place and congestion is increasing due to a shortage of parks, the decision could instantaneously be made to make street parks available to drivers where normally they might be restricted parks.
“We’ve got this fundamental belief that as you approach real-time you see significant value increase.” -Ed Hyde
Access to real-time data to both make decisions and change conditions is expected to drastically improve productivity. Ed Hyde, CEO of Qrious, a smart data business within Spark Ventures, says real-time is when data becomes particularly useful.
“We’ve got this fundamental belief that as you approach real-time you see significant value increase,” says Hyde. “If you couple that with themes around big data, and bringing together data from different ecosystems – be they healthcare or transport, for example – you start to see that growing further.”
Metering is another area where data is expected to improve decision making for government and companies. Lim Chee Siong, Huawei’s South Pacific CMO, highlights the way water-metering has increased the efficiency of water companies in Australia.
Lim Chee Siong / Photo: twitter
But, he points out, “the key point of having these technologies for water utilities is not just to reduce the number of meter-checkers; it’s about preventing water leakage.” This is helping to address a significant conservation issue: in Australia, water leakage rates are around 12%; in Malaysia, they are 36%.
Laura Poloni, Chief Executive of AECOM in Australia and New Zealand, has seen road metering technology, which helps control traffic flows, proliferate throughout the world. “That’s been around for a while – we expect that it will become even more sophisticated,” says Poloni.
However, Matthew Ensor of BECA sounds a warning: “My view of smart cities is that they’re going to look really messy.” Rather than a single app to access everything you need, Ensor predicts that the ‘Internet of Things’ will create a crowded set of data flows reaching us from numerous sources.
As such, Ensor believes that true monetization of data will require “making use of the IP and the judgment that comes from engineering to be able to make really good decisions in real-time.”
“The next big frontier in law is around data collection.” -Gabriel Leydon
The other perennial debate surrounding digitalisation pertains to privacy. “The next big frontier in law is around data collection,” acknowledges Leydon.
The Guangzhou National Supercomputer Centre, for their part, plan to make the majority of government data available to the public – with screening of only the “sensitive data”.
One novel solution suggested by Professor Yuan is the creation of third-party data centres that hold health data belonging to individuals. “We would like our data centres (for health data) in the future to be like banks; like a third party,” he explained. “Then, to access that data, parties would need to be authorised by the individual it belongs to.”
That proposal spoke to a broader underlying attitude towards digitisation at the Summit; summed up by Mr Lim when he said, “Technology at the end of the day is there to empower humans… It’s the demand of having a better life that will drive the technological revolution.”