|Wednesday, December 21, 2011|
|The New ICF Institutes (Part One)|
“The End of the Beginning”
In early 1942, young Peter Joseph Zacharilla found himself sailing into Hawaii’s pristine Pearl Harbor on a ship filled with young Americans whose destinies would be, from that day on, far from certain. Most did not know one another nor had most ever left their native communities or traveled to another state, much less country. However before the Summer of August 1945 would bring a heat to Asia, the likes of which no human society had ever witnessed, one out of every 32 of them would be dead; their names today found engraved on memorial stones in their hometowns or cities of origin.
Hawaii was not a state of the American republic in 1942, nor was there much commercialization on the island of Oahu. The University of Hawai’i at Moana was there, a land grant college focused on mechanical arts and agriculture. It was located about 1.6 km from Waikiki, not far from where we name the world’s seven most Intelligent Communities each January.
Peter would later tell me that he carried with him three distinct memories of that time. The first was the sight of local Hawaiians casting their nets onto the calm waters of the Pacific and pulling them back in with bright and jumping fish. The second was the stunning site of Diamond Head, the volcanic puff cone known as Leahi, possibly because it resembles the shape of a tuna’s dorsel fin. The final memory was not of the peace and beauty of the Pacific islands, but rather dark, spectacular and haunting. Peter, who had dropped out of high school a few years earlier, was also witness to a spectacle of great destruction in a place so beautiful many say it is where God found religion. It was the sight of the United States’ Navy’s spectacular battleship, the USS Arizona, smoking, blackened, stinking and worthless as it sank into the mud of the harbor. He and his comrades in arms then set-up gun batteries in the hills to prevent what the military thought might be a second Japanese attack.
From that experience, my father, many years later, would offer me this thought. “That may not have happened if people were more educated and the world was closer together.” He added, “Make sure that you always find smart people to be around, Lou, because you cannot learn much from dumb ones.”
He would also tell his fellow veterans years later, “I never want to see a beautiful ship, the work of so many human hands, have that happen to it again.”
There are many reasons why we have decided to launch Institutes for the Study of the Intelligent Community, beginning with the first international Institute in the Intelligent Community of Stratford. This will be an institute designed to study and observe a small community continue its remarkable transformation into a digital media powerhouse. We will share that knowledge and effort, whether it succeeds or fails, with communities worldwide. Any communities that want to learn can learn there. However, chief among the reasons for starting this Institute, for me, are the words of my father and the elders of another era who were simply right.
The more we can identify collective, tribal and economically useful intelligence in the re-energized communities of the second decade of this new century, the less likely we are to see ignorance spread. Our Institutes will advance in a way far different than traditional institutes what it means to study and to live in a community. I am proud that we have arrived at this juncture in our movement.
To quote yet another old warrior of young Peter’s era, “This is the end of the beginning” of the Intelligent Community movement.” From here, the true victory of community over conflict may begin to emerge.
|Tuesday, December 20, 2011|
|What Will It Take for Technology to Truly Transform Teaching?|
|Visiting schools in the Top Seven Intelligent Communities, I have seen how smartboards, laptops and tablets energize classrooms, trigger interest in learning and let students practice skills until they achieve mastery. Primary school students may zone out while leaning over a math book, but get them to use hands and feet to manipulate numbers on a giant screen, and it’s a completely different experience. I have also seen how distance education programs can bring high-quality instruction to children and adults who would otherwise have to make do with much less. |
But can I believe the evidence of my own eyes? Does ICT, properly applied, enhance education, or is it just cool? So far, the debates is mostly between enthusiasts and those who would really prefer that it not work. But we are also starting to see studies launched by those who actually want answers.
Here are my predictions for what we will learn, based not on my credentials as an educator (non-existent) but on my experience of how people adopt ICT.
A lot of studies will show no measurable impact, or even worse outcomes than traditional teaching. That was what economists found for decades when they studied businesses that were pouring hundreds of millions into computerizing their operations. There was no measurable impact, and it didn't seem to make sense. It turned out that computerization only began to deliver a return on investment after we reorganized the workplace to take advantage of it. The big mainframe in the computer center had minimal impact, but a PC on every desktop, with a data network connecting them – that proved transformative.
We are just beginning to think through how to change teaching through ICT: how to stop doing things manually that ICT does better, and how to use the precious human resource of the teachers more effectively. For an example of how one instructor is reorganizing teaching to take advantage of ICT, check out "Death Knell for the Lecture: Technology as a Passport to Personalized Education" in the December 6 New York Times.
I think that ICT will have an enormous impact on education, as on so much else, but only after we have reorganized ourselves to take advantage of its core value – the same value that made email the killer app of the Internet and is driving the social media revolution. It is interactivity. It is the feedback loop. In the educational context, that means the ability of an interactive educational platform to provide a window into whether a student actually understands what is being taught. In traditional education, a teacher teaches and the students take tests every few weeks to see if they learned anything. In the Internet age, a few weeks can be a lifetime.
I saw an example of such interactivity in a classroom in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada. A teacher sat at the front of the room with a laptop. The students in the room were working at their own laptops. I thought I had stumbled into study hall but it was actually a literature class. The teacher had assigned reading and the students were now answering questions he had set up as an online forum. I asked him what he thought of the system. He loved it. “I can see if the class as a whole is getting it,” he said. “I can zoom in on each student and see what they are doing, and I can see each student’s progress over time. I can interact with each of them. Instead of hearing just from the five kids who raise their hands, I get a window into how every student is doing.”
Will it be worth it? As Daphne Koller of the Stanford Intelligence Lab put it in that New York Times article, reorganizing education around interactivity "allows students to move ahead when they master a concept, rather than when they have spent a stipulated amount of time staring at the teacher who is explaining it." That sounds like good value to me.
|Intelligent Communities Build Gardens Too|
In November I was in Asia attending the Intelligent City Conference in New Taipei City (2012), one of ICF’s newest Smart21 Intelligent Communities. While in this part of the world I participated in the opening event of a Garden Expo in Chongqing, China on November 20, 2011. Chongqing is an ICF-recognized “Smart21” Intelligent Community (2011). I first wrote about Chongqing in an ICF Blog in 2009 when I came away amazed that I never knew that it existed, not in the way that I discovered it in 2009. It is a city-region of 33 million inhabitants and visually has a similar look to Manhattan with its towers coming to a point on a peninsula where the Jialing River and the upper reaches of the Yangtze merge.
Recently I bumped into Mel Horwich in the Chongqing Airport. The readers may recall that Mel is a very close friend, advisor and supporter of ICF and its brand and message the world over. For years Mel has supported ICF`s Summit at Polytech. Mel is now doing work in Hungary. He was in Chongqing on an educational assignment. Neither of us knew we would wind up in Chongqing. It was a great surprise. His first impression of Chongqing: “It is big and it`s going to be an important place”. I agree. So that is the reason I happen to be in Chongqing at the moment and of all things attending the opening ceremony of a Garden EXPO. Now, I have never been a fancier of garden and flower events and couldn’t see anything remotely important about a Garden EXPO, and certainly not as a major international economic development driver; but I must admit that I have been wrong.
The Chongqing Garden EXPO is more than a garden expo site; it is a major regional investment covering 2.2 square kilometres that provides a permanent regional park in the community; it is a domestic and international tourist attraction and adds to the economy of the region through jobs and innovation in landscape and environmental design. It also helps significantly in building and maintaining international relationships. In short, its "wow factor" is as significant as any of the mega events on a regional and global stage. Its goals include developing innovation in mountain and river garden designs and landscape development, as well as developing expertise in ecological, scientific and conservation design and development. Furthermore, the Chongqing Garden EXPO covers garden floral, natural ecology, leisure and cultural tourism, interactive amusement, art and design as well as business and trade exchanges. It also seeks to develop a platform for collaboration among its international partners, especially sister cities and friendship cities. Learning to share resources, participating in exchanges and developing partnerships and other cooperation seem to loom large in their programs. In previous years the China International Garden EXPO took place in Dalian (1997), Nanjing (1998), Shanghai (2000), Guangzhou (2001), Shenzhen (2004), Xiamen (2007) and, Jinan (2009).
Now why was I there at this event? Well, the Chairman of the Intelligent Community Forum Foundation (ICFF) is the Mayor of the City of Waterloo. The city signed a friendship agreement with Chongqing a few years back and along with fellow sister cities such as Houston, Seattle, Quebec City, Brisbane, Cordova, San Francisco and others from around the world, they unveiled their designs in a major fanfare and celebration.
|The day was a celebration of sights, sounds, good food and goodwill. It was an opportunity to share stories and business cards among the international participants as well. Building deep and lasting relations with Chongqing are important, especially as we look to China as one of the economic drivers in the 21st Century. Having a China strategy is important and picking your spots is even more important. You can get lost in the Chinese forest if you don't recognize the trees. As Mel offered, this is one city that will be very important in the future. In fact, Chongqing is the only municipality directly under the jurisdiction of the central government in the central and western part of China and acts as an extremely important modern manufacturing base in China, a transportation hub, and a mega-city focused on integrated urban-rural reform. It is one of the five national central cities of China and administratively is one of its four direct-controlled municipalities. The other three are Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin.
Developing relations in China happens in many different ways. They can’t only be accomplished by sharing a boiling hotpot and toasting each other with Moutai, a distilled wine often used in toasts in China. It also can’t happen simply by coming once a year and disseminating business cards, even if they are in Mandarin. If we are to do business with the Chinese in China, we have to look for many different ways to do this. The Garden Expo experience proved to me that a long-lasting point of connection in the form of a park in Chongqing with a city's name on it and the pride and linkages that are able to be formed around this union are much deeper than one suspects on the surface. I recommend that Intelligent Communities everywhere should take a page out of Waterloo's strategy and build a park in each other's cities. We have over 100 Intelligent Communities around the world. If you are an Intelligent Community and wish to be linked to other like-mined Intelligent Communities in order to build bridges, build parks or simply to connect, share information and possibly begin to do trade and economic development with each other, let me help you by getting you linked through the ICFF.
|Monday, December 12, 2011|
|New Taipei City, one of ICF’s newest Intelligent Communities (Part 2)|
Creating a Culture of Innovation in Taiwan.
Taiwan loves technology. And why not? It is the home to the most laptop makers in the world, the largest wireless coverage and the Taipei smartcard.
This is a region that is on the move. Everywhere you look, people use smart phones to communicate, but also to undertake transactions; and they have been doing it for years. It also seems like everyone is on a motorcycle or motor scooter. The whine of the cycles are omni-present in the urban environment. Even in its night-markets these riders are everywhere and even shop and communicate on their bikes along with pedestrians in a dance that seems to work, at least no one complains as they slide past you, weaving between couples and families eating their dinners among the stalls of clothes and blinking puppy toys and ringing gadgets. So interesting are their adventures that a movie has been recently produced about this phenomenon.
Taiwan is also known as the laptop capital of the world. Companies like Quanta, Wistron and Foxcon are global producers of laptops and related technology. Taiwan has numerous Intelligent Communities and science and technology centers strung along its west coast of the island, all linked by high-speed rail.
But it is also a country that has fallen in love with innovations. Its local innovations can be seen everywhere from its innovative and humorous traffic lights which count down the time with a walking pixie to products at the night market that you will never see anywhere else, to the world’s largest WIFI coverage, hosted throughout most of Taipei.
But this is only natural to everyone on this island nation. In Taiwan innovation has been playing an increasingly important role in enhancing economic growth and advancing industrial technology. For many years now, the government, universities and the scientific community have been working in collaboration to develop and adopt specific strategies aimed at stimulating innovation, especially within Taiwanese SMEs, which are the predominant industrial structure of Taiwan. The government’s policy measures have been strategically aimed at enhancing and accelerating private sector investment in innovations, especially in the SME high-tech sector.
Witness the establishment of the government–sponsored research institutes across Taiwan over the past couple of decades such as the Hsinchu Science-based Industrial Park near Hsinchu, south of the Taoyuan International Airport area, which provides an enlightened ecosystem conducive to organising innovation alliances, spreading out the private sector’s R&D risks and helping to establish first mover advantages. These act as platforms for innovation and serve as technology transfer channels for the private sector, providing R&D tax incentives and access to VCs, vital to expanding start-ups and SMEs.
But since they are SMEs, their willingness to engage in innovation is limited. Multinational Taiwanese companies such as Wistron, Acer and Quanta may have the resources to be able to undertake substantial innovative research and commercialization, whereas these smaller firms are usually deterred from innovating because of barriers related to scale and risk. These innovation and R&D centers attempt to overcome these barriers for them. As a result, there are many unique and new innovations constantly being developed and commercialized for domestic and global consumption in Taiwan. Today, Taiwan ranks within the Top 25 generally and often even within the Top 10 for specific categories of innovation.
For instance, two eco-friendly innovations by Taiwan's Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITSI), won the top inventions in 4 categories in the 2011 US R&D 100 Awards in Orlando, Florida. These innovations from Taiwan included a foldable fabric ultra-capacitor from the Taiwan Textile Research Institute; a rewritable i2R e-paper; a new version of polarized protective film; and a process called In-Snergy, an Internet-based Smart Energy initiative developed by the Institute for Information Industry that uses cloud technology software to monitor and manage energy usage.
But not everything is focused on technology. A local heroes program brings the human back into human relations in the New Taipei City Technology Park community, which includes a residential environment as part of the new tech park. This people-centric innovation, based on providing local services and support for everyone in the immediate district, is being well received by the local residential and work community. These are the local “mayors” who run the district and are on call 24-7. Connected by smart phones and monitoring equipment for seniors and the disabled, these local heroes ensure the community is a real community within a technology park environment.
Taiwan loves its technology and has developed a culture of innovation to prove it.
|Monday, December 5, 2011|
|What Will Users Do with Gigabit Broadband?|
|I have been to broadband conferences on three continents in the past year, and all the talk is about fiber-to-the-home (FTTH). The message, reduced to its essentials, is this: if broadband is to be deployed, then optical fiber is the only answer. Deploying anything else is a waste of time and resource, because only fiber has a hope of supporting the limitless demand that will arise as broadband becomes the pipe through which all communications flow. |
This is a very interesting point of view, because nobody has the faintest idea what users will do to generate that limitless demand for bandwidth. In the American city of Chattanooga, Tennessee, the municipal utility has run FTTH delivering 1 gigabit per second (Gbps) to 170,000 homes and businesses. That is 1 billion bits per second or nearly 170 times faster than the US average of about 6 megabits per second (Mbps). Chattanooga is now branding itself as “Gig City,” and has tried for the past year to organize a conference on Gig applications. But my friends there report that they ran into a bit of a roadblock. They could not find a single soul to come and speak on the topic, because such applications don’t exist.
One of the conferences I attended featured a segment in which university students presented their blue-sky ideas on what could be done with really fast Internet. Being students, a lot of the ideas centered around waiting until the last minute and still getting their homework assignments in on time. So it was about online document sharing and multi-party videoconferencing. But fantasy football, online medical records and distance education all came in for discussion. The trouble is that you can do all of these on a reliable 5-10 Mbps connection. Their blue sky just wasn’t very blue, and the ceiling was lower than on a foggy day at the shore.
Not having any idea what users will do with the bandwidth is not a problem – unless it is your money being invested in the network. Then it can be a very big problem indeed. We are in a new fiber construction boom right now because the private sector has found one high-speed application that they know makes money: television. By bundling TV, Internet at 20 Mbps and voice, they can deliver good service, fill a 50 Mbps pipe reasonably well and make money doing it. That’s good news for fiber advocates and communities – from Stockholm to Stratford, Ontario, Canada and Bristol, Virginia, USA – that decide to build their own networks. But it should not be confused with innovation in broadband applications. IPTV works because the business model is well established: an IPTV provider is trying to take market share from cable and satellite TV companies.
IPTV may turn out to be part of the Chattanooga story, but it is not what justified the network build-out. The utility constructed the fiber network to turn its electric system into an advanced smart grid, with a goal of trimming 40% from their generating capacity while significantly boosting reliability. Achieving that goal alone pays for the network – the communications revenue is just icing on the cake.
Having tried and failed to host a conference, Gig City has now picked what seems like a sure winner. They have launched a competition called Gig Tank to answer a crucial question: “What could you do with the world’s fastest Internet?”
Gig Tank is for both entrepreneurs and students. For the business-minded, Gig Tank will select ten teams and offer each $15,000 in investment capital to come to Chattanooga from May through August of this year. During that period, each will develop a gigabit business idea and test it on FTTP network under the guidance of local entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and angel investors. The best business plan will capture a cash prize of $100,000.
Students selected for the Gig Tank will spend the same summer in Chattanooga taking a gigabit application and building it into a working prototype. The best student-born idea hatched in the Gig Tank will take home a cash prize of $50,000 and a chance to pitch the business proposition to VCs and angel investors.
With Gig Tank, Chattanooga is trying to do something that nobody else is doing: imagine a future in which bandwidth is no longer a barrier. Their investment of a few hundred thousand dollars pales beside the cost of deploying FTTH, yet it may deliver a greater return than all the network builds in the world.