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Contributed by Brian Gilmore, director of IoT Product Management at InfluxData
The first two years of this decade have been challenging, to say the least. While certainly not without its flaws, technology came through for us when it counted. IoT and analytics-driven workforce transformation, biomedical innovation, and supply chain optimization, each contributed to the decades-worth of digital transformation we’ve packed into the past 20 months.
We can undoubtedly attribute part of this acceleration to the rather-sudden emergence of use cases. For readers outside the tech and software industries, use cases are the purpose that technologists dream will intercept their inventions. We build with use cases in mind, but it is often only later that our work’s true impact hits home with customers. Silly Putty is one good example of this. Listerine was supposed to be a floor cleaner.
Consider Zoom, now a household name brand. In early 2012, Zoom’s webpage promised “Group HD Video Calls on Facebook.” Fast-forward to a year before the first COVID-19 coverage, and Zoom sat squarely in the business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) web conferencing solution, with less than 100 million daily meeting participants. By April 2020, this grew to over 300 million daily users. While many of these new users were business users working from home, many others were seeking that 2012 use case – a better digital connection with friends and family.
Looking to the future of smart cities, we should keep this phenomenon in mind. 3D-printed buildings and traffic control for flying cars are still (and will likely remain) science fiction. There are, however, technologies available today that will enable the future of smart cities; we just haven’t recognized it yet.
Whether over-hyped or undermarketed, here are three “dark horse” technology trends that are likely to power the smart cities of 2030.
Often labeled with dastardly sounding names like “the dark web,” peer-to-peer (often abbreviated as p2p) networks have been part of the technology landscape for more than 30 years. Today’s innovations in p2p, such as Protocol Labs’ libp2p, power chat, web pages, apps, and databases — usually and ideally without a central authority or your standard web servers and ISPs. In communities, this capability could upend the top-down intranet-style government portals and enable citizens to self-organize in a bottom-up manner. Communities will create and deliver peer-to-peer services, and the government will contribute as a participant and equal peer.
In 2030, p2p-based distributed apps could transform public transportation, access to fresh food, healthcare, energy, elder-care, journalism, policing, and beyond. Wise leaders will recognize the value of smart communities and build into the trend. Otherwise, they may find themselves outsiders on the wrong internet.
Recommendation engines and the filters and algorithms that power them drive our social media feeds, music and film consumption, and online purchases. In 2030, they will likely power many of our interactions with local and municipal government resources and services.
In a p2p-powered smart community where we fully control access to our data and its usage, we’ll opt in to services that use our digital fingerprints to engage us with services specific to our needs. Social, health, financial, and beyond, all government services could be proactive and turn today’s painful DMV experience into tomorrow’s simple text message exchange.
Smart technology through distributed ledgers and blockchains
Suppose your main exposure to blockchains and Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) is through the lens of cryptocurrency. In that case, the fit here may not be so obvious. It has nothing to do with finance at all – and everything to do with trust.
Blockchains and DLT are well known for what is debatably the first use case, acting as the underlying record of transactions in a decentralized financial model such as Bitcoin, Etherium, and even meme-coins like doge. However, if we truly consider the underlying traits of the technology, its potential use cases go far beyond crypto.
Regarding a traditional database, all parties must trust the database owner to keep it secure, anonymous and guarantee integrity. Third-party trust is especially critical today in the context of smart cities, recommendation engines, and peer-to-peer networks. DLTs in 2030 will lack a central authority – all participants in the content will be equal contributors, auditors, and inspectors. You’ll have read, write and delete access to your personal records and the keys to share with whom you would like within the smart city ecosystem. Ultimately, a smart city based on DLT is a democracy of technology, where we all fully share ownership of our communities with the leaders and services on which we rely.
So, what’s stopping us?
Like any other Twenty First Century project, the successful implementation of “smart cities” balances people, processes, and technology. We are generally good at that last one. Still, we are a long way from fully integrating the technologies described above with everyone in our communities. We need to consider accessibility as important as utility and accept that these smart city investments may be just as critical to an equal and just society as education and access to fresh water and sanitation. To this point, we must also consider the maintenance of this digital infrastructure like we do our roads and bridges. As recent history shows us, construction is one thing, but upkeep is another.
Brian Gilmore is the director of IoT product management at InfluxData, the creators of InfluxDB. He has focused the last decade of his career on working with organizations around the world to drive the unification of industrial and enterprise IoT with machine learning, cloud, and other truly transformational technology trends.
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