The Future of the City

By Palmisano, Samuel | Newsweek, January 25, 2010 | Go to article overview

The Future of the City


Palmisano, Samuel, Newsweek


Byline: Samuel Palmisano

The chairman and chief executive of IBM on the change agents of the 21st century.

A few years ago, the world crossed a threshold. For the first time, more than half the human race is living in cities. By 2050 the figure will rise to 70 percent. We are adding the equivalent of seven New Yorks to the planet every year.

This means the most important locus for 21st-century innovation--technological, economic, and societal--will be our cities. They present the most promising opportunity to make our planet smarter.

Cities bring together the systems by which our world works: education, transportation, public safety, and health care, among others.

We have the capacity to inject new intelligence into those systems. Enormous computational power can be delivered in forms so small and inexpensive that it is being put into phones, cars, and appliances, as well as things we wouldn't recognize as computers, such as roadways (to monitor traffic) or rivers (to monitor pollution and better allocate water use). The data captured by these digital devices--soon to number in the trillions--will be turned to intelligence, because we now have the processing power and advanced analytics to make sense of it all.

Our challenge is to apply this technology to improving the places we live. Consider the applications:

Transportation Car ownership in emerging markets is growing from less than one in 10 people to one in three. Integrated technology can allow cities to alleviate traffic. IBM helped Stockholm implement a congestion-management system that reduced traffic by 18 percent.

Energy and Water Cities generate the bulk of CO2 emissions and account for 60 percent of all human water use. As urbanization levels increase, city leaders must satisfy demands for water and energy while promoting the sustainable use of resources. Malta, for example, is building a fully integrated national electricity and water system that will monitor usage, set variable rates, and reward those who use less energy and water.

Health Care As populations grow, cities' health-care systems will be pushed to the limit. In a smart health-care system, patients, doctors, and insurers can all share information seamlessly. Sainte-Justine, a research hospital in Montreal, is automating the gathering of critical research data and applying analytics to speed childhood cancer research.

Education There are more than 15,000 local school districts in the United States delivering K-12 programs, with separate operating systems, measurements, and management processes. …

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