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Sunday, September 23, 2012
Cities are Old News – Rural Areas Are Where It’s At

https://www.intelligentcommunity.org/clientuploads/Images/Bell-NameCaptionFL-4.gifRolling eastward by train, then flying westward across northern France in early September, I was blown away by a simple fact.  It is overwhelming agricultural. 

I didn’t know.  Though I am often in Europe, I tend to see it through the lens of the cities I visit.  But in truth, those cities – even ones as vast as London, Paris or Frankfurt – are small islands in a sea of farmland and forest.

https://www.intelligentcommunity.org/clientuploads/Images/Farm-Sunset-2.gifAs the sun dipped low in the golden afternoon, the shadows stood tall behind the long windbreaks of trees planted at the edge of fields green and brown, stretching away into the distance beyond sight.  It was extraordinarily beautiful.  People have been cultivating this land for more than a thousand years, and it shows in the ever-running pattern of village, field and carefully groomed woodland receding to a misted horizon. 

Cities are all the rage right now, since we discovered that more than half of the world’s people live in them.  Cities are where commerce and culture thrive, where the Creative Class sips its skinny lattes, where efficiencies of housing and transport reduce our impact on the climate.  If you live in a small city, town or village out in the boondocks, it’s time to roll up your sidewalks, hitch up the mule and get yourself to an urban core. 

But that’s not what I saw in my journey across and above the land.  For the first time, I saw that the farms and forests represent more than an inconvenient distance between the places where the action is.  They are the ecosystem that gives the cities life.  They are the source of the air that cities breathe, the food they consume, the water they drink.  In their quiet vastness, they are the balance that keeps the cities from imploding on their own spiraling energy. 

That is why we must figure out how to give the rural areas of our nations a sustainable future.  We must use the tools of information and communications technology (ICT) to give the kids a reason to stay on the farm.  We need to plug them into the world, to bring them learning and culture, to make rural areas a vital, connected and exciting place to live and work.  They already have the beauty, the peace and the sense of place that their residents treasure – they just need to have what the cities have.  And for the first time in human history, ICT makes that possible. 

We don’t yet know how to do it.   But we can recognize that technology has given us the tools to make the attempt.   

So let’s stop congratulating ourselves on how successful cities are.  Cities are old news.  We have been congregating in them since before Babylon.  We know how they work and why they are important.  Let’s focus on the real work to be done: to figure out how to export from the cities to the country the inspiration, energy and sense of limitless possibility that cities generate without even trying.  Not just for the sake of those backward souls too uncool to abandon their fields and forests.  For the sake of us all. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012
Guest Blog: Can Broadband Revitalize the UK Economy?

https://www.intelligentcommunity.org/clientuploads/David-Brunnen-80-FLgif.gifDavid Brunnen, Editor, Groupe Intellex

Less than 30 days away from NextGen12 the recent reshuffle in the UK government has raised the stakes in the debate about the perceived role of broadband in trying to revitalize the economy.  But, at the time of writing, opinion is divided.  Do government priorities reflect their understanding of the digital economy or do they still imagine that ‘ignorance is bliss’?

The conference is being held in London – right in the heart of the ‘Westminster village’ close to the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and the Whitehall offices of all the major government ministries.

Where better to kick off the conference with a sobering assessment of the likely sources of future prosperity.  According to international technology thought leader Dr. Peter Cochrane it will not be found where most people might be looking.  This will be no call for a revival of old industries but a shockingly honest (some might say scary) look at the future hurtling towards us – digitally-enabled for sure but also “at the cusp of ‘Nano’ and ‘Bio’ technologies”.

Delegates may think the science of this tech-sensitive introduction pulls NextGen12 away from today’s economic realities but the speakers that follow will have to answer the questions ‘Does the UK have a digital deficit?’ and ‘Will the plans and targets for connectivity infrastructure match the needs of businesses, households and communities?’

These questions and the responses will be tackled from all angles:

  • From the viewpoints of the European Commission (and the FTTH Council) to those of rural communities,
  • Would-be-smarter cities in contrast to the needs of small businesses,
  • From perspectives of national incumbent operators and those of new and local independent networks,
  • And, from the House of Lords’ recent report, to the perception of a new MP from the recession-ravaged North East of England who just happens to be a former broadband specialist for the regulator - Ofcom.

Even the prestigious conference dinner, inside the Palace of Westminster, will be enlivened by the presentation of the NextGen Challenge awards – celebrating success and sharing more than a few battle scars

But more than all that, NextGen12 will focus on the essential requirements for making society work in a digital economy – familiar ground perhaps for ICF members.

This intensive conference (with a strong exhibition for experienced network specialists) will put the pressure for investment in connectivity infrastructure alongside demands for knowledge worker expertise, greater capacity for innovation and community support for public services. 

All this and revitalizing the UK economy across all sectors?  Policy developers should bring sharp pencils.  It will be a very busy two days.  Click here for more on NextGen12.

Monday, September 10, 2012
Community as Canvas: Symphonies, Soloists & Silos

https://www.intelligentcommunity.org/clientuploads/Images/Zach-NameCaptionFL.gifAgain and again I am asked the question.  It arises more than any other.  It is asked by politicans and business leaders; academics and their students.  It is asked, in a million different ways and in many languages, by folks working on their nominations for Intelligent Community of the Year.  It is usually the first question a member of the audience asks, and it is always on a journalist’s list.  It appeared as a question in the new e-book by Smart+Connected Communities.  The question was asked during the webinars we held to brief communities on the 2013 Intelligent Community of the Year Awards submission process.  It was just asked by the proprietor of Café Doppio in The Hague, where I sit writing this blog.  He is passionate about the topic of building communities for the 21st Century, as is my doctor in NY, who extended my annual physical by 30 minutes to tell me which places are his favorite “walking” cities.   He’s also passionate about it.  In between my blood and blood pressure tests, we get into the importance of sidewalks in Berlin!

It is asked nearly every day and there is a reason.  It remains the essential question at the heart of the renaissance of a place.  It is a deceptively simple question: “What do all Intelligent Communities have in common?”

The answer is not deceptively simple however.  It is real simple.  It is as direct as the high-speed train from Rotterdam to Paris.  What every Intelligent Community has in common is its ability to collaborate.  You have heard it said and written about often of course.  But it bears repeating because it is the answer.  Intelligent Communities play well together at home, at work and at play.  They stick together when they go out and advocate for themselves around the world.  Flash back to that photograph of Eindhoven representatives standing on the stage in New York to accept their 2011 award.  These people represent every corner of life there. 

https://www.intelligentcommunity.org/clientuploads/5051conductor.jpgOne person who never had to ask the question was Joep Brouwers.  Joep is the Vice Director of Brainport in Eindhoven.  Robert and I had dinner with him and Margot Nijkamp, the former director of the famous Holst Centre, where collaboration among SMEs was enshrined during her tenure.  The dinner was arranged to discuss an ICF Institute in Europe.  Inevitably it brought back recent memories, and led to further discussion around the topic of, you guessed it, collaboration.  Eindhoven is, after all, the community that gave us the celebrated “Triple Helix.”  Joep is chief conductor of the “Triple Helix” symphony.  Today, one year after being named IC of the Year, Eindhoven continues to perfect the “Helix.”  We were told that companies collaborate with other companies in the community, including competitors, to advance innovation.  It is as natural as rain.  Margot said that the complexity comes in the arrangement of intellectual property rights, but the system is built on success and deep social contracts, which are two necessary levers that enable trust and an “open hub for innovation,” as Joep calls it.

Being in European cities, where “classical” music is inherent, this makes me think of communities as symphony orchestras.  The question of what they each have in common is that, like orchestras, their collective talents – each individually honed – contributes to a sound that fulfills everyone who plays and anyone who cares to listen.  While a soloist is a rare talent, they need the orchestra to shine. 

At a more primal level collaboration is a medicine that heals a place.  When we decide collectively to say “go,” we enable sustainability.  You can witness it in subtle ways.  Amidst thick, self-centered traffic on a busy highway, you will see car after car pull over to allow an ambulance to pass.  This is the symphony at work too; playing to the tune of collective preservation.  John Donne was right.  “No man is an island.”   

Thanks in part to Eindhoven, and Mitaka before it, the wave of collaboration has reached the shores of the Intelligent Community movement.  The need to transfer this knowledge through persistent civil engagement now must overcome the notion that we are lone wolves, or best when in a basement tooling on the test tubes.  There are moments for this lonely work (like this one, where I must be alone to type.)  But the mechanism for success is decidedly and increasingly non-linear and collective.  It is about playing together in the sandbox and chatting around the coffee shop or digital campfires.  I am not talking about blindly conforming, but rather collaborating when the common good is visualized.

The week that I return to North America I head to Top Seven Saint John, Canada, where an imaginative two-day event has been organized to introduce citizens to a new method and a new tone for civic engagement.  Picking up on the “Triple Helix” concept,  the University of New Brunswick will play host to “an all-ages public forum to identify the priorities for the Saint John region and,” according to the release, “build upon our shared pride of place and our desire to build a strong community around the Intelligent Community model of collaboration.”  The music, forum on September 22 and use of social technology will be in pursuit of ways to identify the “secret strengths” of the region – the first of which, they will soon find out, being collaboration.  But then again, like Eindhoven, they probably already know that.  They’ve heard the symphony playing.

Friday, September 7, 2012
Innovation = Jobs

https://www.intelligentcommunity.org/clientuploads/Images/Jung-NameCaptionFL.gifIn 2013, ICF will examine the relationship between innovation – one of the Intelligent Community Indicators – and employment in communities around the world.  A massive body of evidence points to the fact that innovation creates prosperity.

Two interesting documents reinforce this notion. The first is a document that the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), a specialized agency of the United Nations and INSEAD have co-published, called the 2012 “Global Innovation Index”. This document recognizes the role of innovation as a key driver of economic growth and prosperity. The Index is a valuable tool to help policymakers, business leaders and other stakeholders facilitate public-private discussion as well as benchmark and evaluate progress on their achievements. The Index further acknowledges the need for a broader vision of innovation as may be applicable to developed and emerging economies. One of these indicators that go beyond the traditional measures of innovation is the level of research and development in any given country. You can download this Index at http://www.globalinnovationindex.org/gii.

Another interesting study is by Booz and Company called “Maximizing the Impact of Digitization.” It found that the economic growth of nations is linked to one key factor: adoption of information and communications technology. But not simply by having access to it, but by using it and innovating with it; that creates jobs and prosperity. For instance, by looking more closely at the ways people use digital technologies and applications, the Booz and Company study found that the greatest social and economic benefits depended on factors related to adoption and usage: such as pricing, reliability, speed, and ease of use.  The Booz and Company study looked at the significant impact that applications of digitization had on job creation: 

“A 10 percent increase in digitization reduces a nation’s unemployment rate by 0.84 percent. From 2009 to 2010, digitization added an estimated 19 million jobs to the global economy, up 5 percent from the estimated 18 million jobs added from 2007 to 2008… Finally, a 10-point increase in digitization had, on average, led to a six-point increase in the country’s score on the INSEAD Global Innovation Index, which ranks countries according to innovation potential.” (Source: “The Innovativeness of Nations,” by Rob Norton, Spring 2012: http://www.johnson.cornell.edu/Portals/0/Soumitra%20Dutta%20and%20The-Innovativeness-of-Nations.pdf )

In other words, as a country progresses in its digitization development, it appears to become more innovative, which creates more prosperity and jobs.

The Booz and Company study further explains that digitization can catalyze dramatic economic, social, and political improvements. For instance, jobs were created when water utilities installed sensors to reduce leakage, thus saving water and money; healthcare organizations have developed whole new areas of work by sending e-messages to patients; analyzing patients files from afar and monitoring infants and the elderly on a 24/7 basis; fleets of delivery trucks installed GPS devices to find shorter routes, cutting down on their greenhouse gas emissions. And the list goes on.

The article in the August 2012 edition of Strategy and Business Magazine called “Digitization and Prosperity” refers to constitutional historian Philip Bobbitt who argued that “the world was going through a fundamental shift in the prevailing view of the purpose of government, from the 20th-century nation-state, which derived its legitimacy by guaranteeing the welfare of the nation’s people, to the 21st-century ‘market state,’ which will focus on expanding opportunities for its citizens”. I recommend reading it at  http://www.strategy-business.com/media/file/00127-Digitization-and-Prosperity.pdf

Monday, September 3, 2012
When Robots are the Competition, Humans Have to Raise Their Game


You.  Yeah, you.

Are you looking for a sure thing?  A can’t-lose opportunity?  How about an opportunity to invest in an industry that is growing like wildfire? It was worth $5.7 billion worldwide in 2010, when it shipped twice as many units as it had the year before.  Bring this industry into your city or region and it could kick-start a new era of growth.

Or it just might just wipe out more jobs than you can afford to lose.     

Robotics is the industry, and it was brought to my attention by my son-in-law, who is a software engineer working for Google. I was talking to him about ICF’s annual theme, innovation and employment, and the concern that the pace of innovation today risks destroying old jobs faster than we can equip people for the new jobs it creates.  His first words were “if you think that’s bad, wait until the next generation of robots.” 

My first reaction was, “oh, please.”  Since the first industrial robots were installed on assembly lines, there has been hand-wringing about the day that robots would throw us all out of work.  They did destroy jobs for some of us.  Assembly-line workers whose employable skills were welding automobile frames or screwing one thing onto another thing have seen a sharp drop in job opportunities over the past three decades.  But that’s over, right?  The damage has been done. 

Maybe not.  According to an article by John Markoff in the August 18 New York Times, robotics is going through a revolution of increased sophistication and falling costs that presages a breakout into a whole new world.  Older robots were insensitive to their surroundings.  They could be used only in situations, such as a manufacturing line, where everything is predictable and no pesky humans were around to get injured by a swinging arm.  They also required hours upon hours of skilled programming of every step.  If you wanted them to do the same task 100 million times and never get it wrong, they were ideal.  But only a certain amount of our economy fits that description. 

But today, “rapid improvement in vision and touch technologies is putting a wide array of manual jobs within the ability of robots,” writes Markoff.  “For example, Boeing’s wide-body commercial jets are now riveted automatically by giant machines that move rapidly and precisely over the skin of the planes…At Earthbound Farms in California, four newly installed robot arms with customized suction cups swiftly place clamshell containers of organic lettuce into shipping boxes.  The robots move far faster than the people they replaced.  Each robot replaces two to five workers.” 

In a garage in Palo Alto, “a robot armed with electronic ‘eyes’ and a small scope and suction cups repeatedly picks up boxes and drops them onto a conveyor belt.  It is doing what low-wage workers do every day around the world…The robot uses a technology pioneered in Microsoft’s Kinect motion sensing system for its Xbox video game system.”  A similar system installed in a warehouse in Arizona led to the elimination of 20 percent of the workforce.

How this revolution looks to you depends entirely on whether you live in High-Skilled Land, Middle-Skilled Land or Low-Skilled Land.  (See my last post.)  There’s nothing we can do to stop it or slow it down, and that’s a good thing. We need it to continue if our quality of life is to continue improving. 

Thomas Friedman made this point in a recent editorial (“I Made the Robot Do It”).  “Forget about ‘outsourcing.’  In today’s hyperconnected world, there is no “in” and no “out.”  There’s only ‘good, better and best,’ and if you don’t assemble the best team…your competitor will…Robots will eliminate jobs, just as the PC did, but they will be lower-skilled ones.  And the robots will also create new jobs or enlarge existing ones, but they will be jobs that require more skills.” 

But it does mean that the next generation of innovation – the main driver of economic progress both for the world and your community – will bring more stresses, not less.  Business growth will continue to produce employment growth – but it is not a given.  And every single citizen will need to know more and be able to do more next year than they can this year. 

Welcome to the future.

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