Interview conducted within the framework of the Conference Inclusive Smart Cities with the international guest Juan Pavón Mestras.
By: Mg. Luis Fernando Gutiérrez Cano
Mg. Luis Jorge Orcasitas Pacheco
The evolution of urban intelligence has to do with a complex and long journey of development that began, as Mitchell (2007) points out "from the physical structures of the oldest cities, long before the industrial revolution", and whose main function was to forge a kind of framework, made up of a succession of columns, beams, walls, floors and roofs. These structures were based on a primary function: "to provide shelter and protection, and to intensify land use".
Later, in the industrial era, cities reached even more complex artificial corporalities, which included extensive aqueduct and sewer networks, large networks of electricity supply, sophisticated transport networks, among others. The immediate consequences of this urban sophistication led to an expansion of the main channels of human food, expanding par excellence, the waste channels.
Of the structural transformations that human societies have experienced in contemporaneity, human beings are immersed, not only in the real world, we also have perceptions of the world from virtuality, so the relationships between people change and evolve day by day. Today, for example, more and more use is made of social networks, where human relationships are not as close and direct as they were before. In the same way, the conception of the use of time has also changed, and even new political and sociological dynamics have been generated, very different from those considered in the twentieth century. It should be emphasized, as Mitchell (2007) points out, that:
The elements of artificial urban intelligence did not appear all at once. Rather, there has been a complex and messy process of emergence and technological integration into larger systems – just as, in biological evolution, existing structures and unexpected mutations are used for new purposes within emerging functional organizations. (This type of process is sometimes called technological convergence, but this terminology suggests something much messier and ad-hoc than what actually happens.) First came the development of Claude Shannon's digital information theory, followed, in the 1960s, by the invention of packet switching, the arpanet, the athernet, the internet, and the World Wide Web.
Nowadays networks are expanding very quickly, new dynamics of social participation are being staged and the relations between governments and their citizens are being transformed, in search of new models of participation and inclusion.
As a result of the phenomena described above, we raised with Dr. Juan Pavón Mestras, from the Complutense University of Madrid, some concerns in relation to the integration of different social and governmental agents, the technology of ubiquitously integrated intelligence and the management of resources in the new models of the use of space in cities.
Why do you think it is important to consider ways of approaching social, political and urban phenomena in digital scenarios, in order to optimize the quality of life of citizens and achieve the strengthening of sustainable territories?
Juan Pavón Mestras: Smart cities are motivated by a series of technological changes that are important, that are manifested in the optimal computational capacity that we did not have before and that is very concentrated in the cloud, but that is ubiquitous, which means that, right now, we have connectivity anywhere; for example, nowadays the use of the mobile phone is customary and there, in addition to being permanently communicated and informed, we are also continuously controlled and, at the same time, we are producing information at all times.
This means that we are immersed in an era where we have a great capacity in the experimentation and development of computational technology, in addition to an enormous capacity to use data and its processing; Now, the problem is what we do with all that. So far few are clear about how to manage all this in an integrated way and endorse it; but, on the other hand, this scenario opens up many possibilities, thanks to technological advances that have produced a series of social movements, making it easier for citizens to study and become much more involved in all these phenomena.
What results are evident today with the use of mobile technologies, sensors, social networks, georeferencing applications, among others, and that, apparently, contribute to the improvement of the quality of life and the transformation of cities?
Juan Pavón Mestras: At this point it should be noted that one of the most visible phenomena is that those who own the data of everything we do, thanks to technological resources, are a few large multinational corporations, and that the data they have, are not open; however, it is also being observed, by many institutions, that there is a tendency towards transparency and to provide that data in open (open data), from which new applications can be made.
In this sense, it is necessary to emphasize that there are also technical limitations that are preventing this base from being greater, essentially because the data are in formats that are often not compatible, despite the efforts to try to find their compatibility, not only from the syntactic point of view but also semantically, trying to configure common reference frameworks to facilitate interoperability between systems and make them more accessible, in the context of true open data. The idea is that, if that is achieved, anyone could generate new applications in a simple way and then that would maybe encourage public data to be developed more and we would not have so much dependence on those large corporations that are in the end the ones that have much more data.
From your knowledge, what are the concepts, methodologies, models and experiences of cities that make an intelligent management of their resources, based on the determined contribution of citizens, in order to achieve strategies, plans and actions, transformations, which facilitate monitoring and collaboration in the formulation of policies for the rulers, in processes such as sustainability, quality of life, or competitiveness?
Juan Pavón Mestras: Each city has focused on particular aspects. Today all cities want to develop a smart city plan and that each puts the focus on specific objectives. But we must take into account the impact and relationship between the different dimensions, as has been seen with the studies of the Cities In Motion Index (ICIM, of the IESE of the Univ. of Navarra). For example, a great economic development usually enhances the attraction of talent, but at the same time it usually causes problems of social cohesion. Another example is the effect of the transport model on the environment.
The reality is that almost all the initiatives that are made today, in order to improve public transport, also contribute favorably, it also seeks to structure a transport system based on electricity, instead of many fossil resources such as gasoline. We must reiterate then that everything depends on each city, in the same way, to achieve reflective and analytical processes, and from there begin to see what the strengths and weaknesses are, and then establish the priorities to define a long-term plan with a holistic vision.
What is the role of the Internet of Things (IoT) for the development of Smart Cities?
Juan Pavón Mestras: The Internet of Things (IoT) is an integrative technology, because finally what we want is to have a large number of sensors, very varied as well; when we are talking about the Internet of Things, it is not only the information we have from sensors but also that which is obtained from social networks, which is complementary. Above we have the processing of all the information and knowledge that can be derived from that experience to develop systems that can make decisions automatically. That's where artificial intelligence comes in.
What is the duty of the process of interdisciplinarity that must be carried out in the formulation of a Smart City and why professions such as the study of Ethics, Philosophy, Law, Politics, Sociology, Psychology, Social Work, Communication, Nursing should participate in its formulation, implementation and development?
Juan Pavón Mestras: Any service of these "intelligent" that can be implemented requires first a social study, to perceive what kind of impact it will have. In the case of a city like Medellín, Colombia, for example, it has been seen that bringing transport closer to certain neighborhoods favors greater social integration, which means that anything that is done can have an effect on society and an effect on the behavior of citizens, which can be positive or negative.
It must also be taken into account that any service or any initiative that is going to be promoted, will also have legal implications because, at the moment we automate certain activities (for example, with autonomous cars), someone must assume responsibility for their correct operation, in case of accidents, delays, etc. We also have the responsibility for political power and its decisions.
How to establish inclusive Smart Cities from concepts such as accessibility, quality of life, sustainability, participation and co-creation of their solutions?
Juan Pavón Mestras: Inclusivity refers to several aspects: on the one hand, the idea that all these solutions are built together and for everyone; in addition, that they are not only specific solutions for a single group. For example, the views and needs of persons with disabilities must be taken into account. All improvements that are made for PWDs will eventually be reversed for everyone. From Inclusive Smart Cities: to European Manifesto on Citizen Engagement. European Innovation Partnership on Smart Cities and Communities (2017) determines the ways to formulate smart cities:
1) Promote accessible urban services for citizens,
2) To improve the quality of life in cities
3) contribute to sustainability in a viable environment.
You define as technological challenges for the implementation of Smart Cities the following levels. Systems Systems, Internet of Things and Processing of data, information and knowledge. How to deal with them?
Juan Pavón Mestras: There are challenges that are not only technological, but also social, since in the end it is a multidisciplinary issue. In that context there is one aspect that we must address and that is that of systems systems. Therefore, when we talk about smart city solutions, we are talking many times about services for a smart city and many times we think that this service will be implemented by someone who will have the governance of that service, but many times what we have is the participation of different entities that are providing services and cooperate based on a common goal. In this scenario what happens is that each one has its own governance and then they have to agree on how they are going to share some tasks to be able to achieve that objective, with the attenuating factor that each of these systems has its own objectives and modes of operation. In addition, each system has its own information model and the interactions they have with each other are usually limited to information exchange, which is limited.
That said, each sensor of a smart city will have an owner, it will belong to one of the systems. The data of this sensor will be processed by the organization of that system, which is also responsible for its maintenance. Other institutions imbued in the process can share part or all of the data, but always from consensus and inter-institutional frameworks. That is why one of the problems facing the smart city is what information and how it will be shared between systems. The issue is more relevant if you take into account that in a city there can be millions of sensors belonging to different institutions. How they are going to agree on the whole process.
According to Fernández and Rincón (2010), "cities that aspire to be considered 'Smart' must have a vision focused on constantly renewing and improving technological solutions, in order to improve the efficiency of their processes and the quality of life in their environment", the above, according to the reflections of Dr. Pavón Mestras, carries with it enormous challenges, such as rethinking cities, in order to generate complex and complete structures that allow an effective collusion between technologies, the institutions that provide them, government entities and society, without forgetting, of course, individuals as recipient subjects so that, in an integral way, they can be participants of the first order and develop their capacities, in a self-sustaining way.
It is important to bear in mind that in smart city environments, in addition to the use of Information and Communication Technologies, the application of "modern transport technologies, logistics, as well as new 'Smart' transport systems, which improve urban traffic and the mobility of the inhabitants" should be considered, analogously( Fernández and Rincón, 2010, p. 80), this with the firm intention of improving the indicators of sustainable development, well-being, equality and inclusion of citizens.
Finally, it is necessary to bear in mind that ICTs are fundamental tools in the processes of formulation and implementation of a Smart City, since, as Fernández and Rincón (2010) point out, "they have transformed the world and the form of its organization; these must then be thought for well-being, social change in favor of all."