2020 vision: how our cities will look 60 months from now

07 April 2014 | John Weigelt, National Technology Officer, Microsoft Canada

You may remember a television commercial for the Nissan Sentra a few years back. In the commercial, every stoplight turns from red to green whenever “Bob” drives up. Parking spots are reserved for Bob, express lanes are created just for Bob. Every traffic cop treats him like he’s the boss: “Oh, it’s you, Bob.” Imagine if city services were like that. What if the day-to-day municipal services we take for granted—street maintenance, traffic control, police, fire, emergency response—were customized to the needs of each citizen?

It’s already happening. There’s a data-driven transformation underway today, built on the Internet of Things (IoT) and Big Data, that promises to transform how city services will be delivered in the near future. Citizens won’t get the same treatment that Bob gets in the Nissan commercial, but by the year 2020, day-to-day services will be delivered under a CRM (customer relationship management) model that allows cities to treat citizens like known friends and valued customers.

The Internet of Things:  the Internet, everywhere

Some predict that by 2020 there will be over 26 billion devices connected to the Internet. The Internet of Things—a megatrend where computers and sensors appear in everyday objects—will empower those 26 billion devices to do amazing things. Streets will be able to report potholes, public recycling bins will report when they’re full, vehicles will avoid accidents before they happen, pets will never get lost thanks to collars that report their location. These “things” will be connected to the Internet 24x7 and will talk to one another through new networks like the WhiteSpace networks that are in pilot deployments today.

Big Data: A big-picture view of the world

Multiple ZetaBytes (one billion terrabytes) of data are now flowing through the Internet. Data-driven tools such as PowerView and PowerMap help bring the data into focus—almost like a personal Hubble telescope for visualizing the ever-expanding universe that is the Internet. And yet, as impressive as they are, today’s data-driven tools work on our request whereas tools of the near future will work on our behalf. Big Data will enable whole new forms of interaction where computers can actually “see” and interpret the world around them, understand the context of a situation, and address the semantics of a particular request. This changing form of interaction creates scenarios where computing platforms act as proactive personal assistants throughout our day.

The power of data to drive change

This world of sensors and data is changing how people, businesses, and governments interact. Helping people engage with and understand data is the key to changing behavior, as evidenced by the Prius Effect, where the car’s dashboard display actually changes driving habits. Making data fun—for example, including a gaming element in city service delivery—can help drive adoption of policy initiatives with citizens. The UK government is exploring how they can use these types of nudges to help with their own government initiatives. With smart grids (like France’s IssyGrid project) and smart buildings coming online, it’s easy to envision a world where communities compete to save energy, reducing the burden on the municipal grid and allowing more efficient use of existing power-generation capabilities.

Big Data and IoT are changing the world around us, and it’s happening fast. Within five years, I think we’ll have a broader range of personalized services that will make our cities better, more livable, and more sustainable. I’m really looking forward to the next 60 months or so. How about you?

Have a comment or opinion on this post? Let me know @Microsoft_Gov. Or e-mail us at ongovernment@microsoft.com.

John Weigelt
National Technology Officer, Microsoft Canada

Microsoft on Government Blog

About the Author

John Weigelt | National Technology Officer, Microsoft Canada

John drives Microsoft Canada’s strategic policy and technology efforts. He is the lead advocate for the use of technology by private and public sectors, economic development, innovation, environmental sustainability, accessibility, privacy, and security.