Written by Vitor Pereira
Even in the conferences and events that want to give philosophical notes and more human perspectives, it is inevitable not to talk about technology. Live in a Living City, a recent meeting, which took place in Paris not fled to the standard. The host, Carlos Moreno (Senior University Professor specialized in the intelligent control of complex systems) set the theme of the necessity to start to look at the cities, in a more human and philosophical way, and more related to essential aspects of our race like sustainability, education, the preservation of natural resources and the strengthening of the social component of the cities.
What are the cities of the future?
What are the cities of the present?
These are two questions that we try, simultaneously, to response and, most likely, we will be making, in duplicate, the same mistake. One of the speakers, the president of the city of Santander, in Spain, has now realized, for example that the city of technology already belongs to the past. After all, there is technology for everything and something else. Iñigo de la Serna, together with a large number of cities that form the Spanish Network of Smart Cities (RECI), is now seeking to solidify the cities of the present and ensure that the future is a harmonious and a natural evolution.
It is a reductive way to explain but, effectively, the cities are discussing many issues that already have an answer. The paraphernalia of technological innovations, whose number increases every day, are already uncountable tools that many cities use, in daily life, and not even realize it. It is not this technological component that will ensure the perfect city. Before that we must start to make the right questions. Questions related to solidarity in the cities for example. With the economy and sustainability, social innovation and integration, administrative modernization and also a change in mentalities in politicians and public-decision makers. These questions are not very debated. Most of the time, it seems that is simpler to move to the usual clichés of Smart Cities that has dominated the discussing area, like the Big Data and the Internet of Things that open endless and round table discussions about cloud storage, privacy, security, etc. Sure, these are important points in the discussion but they seem to often monopolize the debate.
Smart city? What about the Planet!
We cannot lose the sight of the goal of the cities: to allow the development, the dignity and the happiness of the citizens and, as the ultimate goal, the dilapidation of the utopia that these concepts contains and, with the help of technology, make the planet the “perfect home” (as it always was). And, here lies the great philosophical confrontation and the main question that haunts us for centuries… After all, it is not our planet more habitable, balanced and perfect that we have? It is not the only certainty we have in our existence? We have destroyed and created the chaos, we have disordered and extinguished a lot of things and we have polluted and exploited the natural resources of our planet. So, who are we as humans?
Therefore, of which intelligence we need? Human intelligence? Ironically, this seems to be the worst that this world has. Artificial intelligence? Perhaps, but this ends up making the citizens cold, distant, selfish and incarcerated in technology. And sincerely, we do not need more anguish in this world, neither coldness nor automatisms. We need intelligent humans, happy, but not destructive, as Carlos Moreno said in his initial intervention.
The future generations need to upgrade their cultural and educational “chip”
The major question is whether the two parts of the equation are to be taken into account. Alfonso Govela, archistest, Urbanist and professor – Co-founder of UN-HABITAT City Changer Labs & Connected Cities Platform programs gave examples of actions that have been developed with children, in Mexico. They were true geniuses of programming, digital natives, with technology in the genes. But this in not new. All over the world, in the younger age groups, puts up the innovation and creativity as if we are formatting to an eternal technological status quo, which few or none will already release and, inclusive, transmitting this condition to the future generations.
Manel Sanromà, CIO of the city of Barcelona, put his finger on the problem, in a brilliant way. He does not need to be aggressive or inconvenient in their sentences to shake the lethargic state of soul of many of our fellow citizens with huge responsibilities in the future of humanity. A future that, inevitably, involve the cities and, according to Manel Sanromà, we are wasting time with backstage games, listening to many violins and the siren songs of technology. Thinking that sensors, clouds and mobile phones are enough to the happiness of the citizens it is not realize that we reached a crossroads, in this moment, as also pointed out, Boyd Cohed, in Chile: “We already have technology, we already have, in a general way, a “green conscience”, we already have innovation, we need more social awareness, more education, more collaboration and sharing and, specially, we need that the intelligence of things also reaches the local and national rulers.
It is an irresponsible to leave the future of humanity to the free will. It is easy to promote, in the earliest years of our heirs, the technology and inventive creativity and automatism of code programming.
As I wrote before, for a future balance there must exist a present balance. One dose of technology for one dose of humanistic culture. Cultivate personality, produce men with high cultural standing, moral and political, it is not like to program an application for iPhone. It is much more complicated and difficult. It takes time and requires an ecosystem more complex than Fiware or Hackatons. It requires a prepared education system with strategy. A system that does not stop “feeding” our children with the great classics of literature, for example.
A system that does not put an end on the critical thinking. A system that cultivate the debate, the artistic expression and freedom of choice.
In fact, many people wonder: what does this have to do with the Smart Cities? At first sight nothing but, in the end, it has everything.
The city, the Polis, was always at the heart of the great developments of humanity. It was an integral part of the most important philosophical thoughts and scientific conquests. And so it goes. And I believe these themes are the ones that put the citizen’s intelligence to the test and the ones who challenge and seduce them.
The great test of the humanity of these days is to think about how to ensure that the humanity does not turn into one more element of exchange of signals and Machine2Machine impulses and to ensure that our children think, criticize, react and, above all, think and live happily in freedom and in peace.
The technology, this one, is a toy, a roller car, and one rag doll. It stimulates creativeness, yes. But, in the end, it is a Children’s thing.