Table of Contents
Developments in micro technology, software, commun-ications and automation, mean that most devices, buildings, systems and processes have the potential to have a degree of ‘smartness’ or built-in intelligence.
We are already seeing this at the “micro-level” of smart devices and appliances, and of buildings, large and small which can be programmed in ways that meet human needs for comfort, security, help achieve wider objectives such saving energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
At a macro level, cities and wider areas are using technology to run themselves more efficiently. This includes the physical infrastructure, notably ‘smart grids’ designed to achieve a degree of resilience while saving energy and reducing costs.
Smart evolution also embraces the transport infrastructure, as well as the provision of services such as health, education, law and order, and the process of national and local government itself. Some human needs are being addressed at a wider level still, by systems and organisations with global scope and outreach, from multinational corporations to intergovernmental organisations. By linking systems together in a ‘smart’ way it is possible to exchange and analyse information and coordinate processes so that goals and problems are addressed at the most appropriate level or combination of levels.
The number or interactions creates a level of complexity and hence of unpredictability. This is heightened by the interactive nature whereby human responses to smart technology, both at individual and en masse are not always as anticipated or intended. Smart, interconnected systems can provide a degree of resilience, but can also be more vulnerable in that access to one can provide a ‘gateway’ to others. Smart technology has already provided opportunities for a wide range of suppliers. To date, only a small number have achieved a strong presence across a broad range of the relevant competencies.
While automation companies currently lead the field, some of the major IT, software and web technology companies are already influential and could become much more so.
As elsewhere, there is a tendency for technology elements to mature and become commoditised, meaning that suppliers need to move further up the ‘value chain’ in order to maintain a leadership position. As larger-scale systems (e.g. at city level or above) become more important, so the ‘human facing‘ and social skills such as consultancy become more important. It is already widely accepted that ‘smart’ technology and processes can have a major effect on the success of companies and cities. It is possible that in future, the level at which the technology most effectively interacts with individuals and organisations will itself help to determine the way that society and politics are run.
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