We have all been in one of those towns that awaken our survival instinct as we stop at a robot and look around for danger. But, have you ever been in a city so safe that it saved your life?
It said it on the insurance policy, but actually hearing the doorbell buzz because of it, was something entirely different. It was pitch black, I couldn’t move, and I used what little energy I had to push the air out of my lungs and shout “break it down”, referring to my locked front door. My Tag had called for an ambulance.
I had woken up with a sharp chest pain and breathing was an effort. My bed felt frozen and my pillow damp with sweat. I was having a heart attack. I thought a stroke would get me in the end, and I was prepared for the symptoms, having seen how the attack looked on a close family member of mine in my twenties. I was a lot older now and refused to acknowledge that I was in my seventies.
The night before, I had fallen asleep peacefully with the sound of soft rain against my bedroom window. It was odd for it to rain in summer but it was a pleasant way to doze off.
I waited for the sound of the door frame splintering as it was kicked in, of course, that didn’t happen, as my home recognized the Tags on the ambulance staff and the door unlocked for them. I could hear the paramedics shuffle through my front door with their equipment. I passed out as the first paramedic reached my bed.
I woke up in the hospital ward alone, to a glaring clinical bright light. The first thing I could focus my eyes on were colourful flowers in the far right-hand corner of the room. I could also see a get well card. Had someone visited already?
A doctor walked past the open door of my bedroom ward. I called out but he was moving too fast. His tail of his white coat disappeared out of sight. My throat was very dry. Perhaps he didn’t hear me.
Seconds later a nurse came through the door and walked directly to my bed wearing a professional smile. I hated professional smiles, it was a pet peeve of mine I developed during my career.
“Mr Murray-Kline, I am glad to see you are awake. You are in hospital and you suffered a heart attack…” I zoned out while the nurse rattled off her scripted welcome, and interrupted her to ask who the flowers were from.
“Mr Murray-Kline, those are from Discovery Medical Aid”
“How long have I been in the hospital?” I replied.
The nurse moved to the foot of my bed, and picked up the Pad, used her fingers to swipe through the displayed information and responded: “You got here 3 hours ago, and the doctor is going to come back and check on you in just a moment.”
Three hours and flowers already delivered? Then the penny dropped, Discovery knew I was in the hospital because they were alerted to my attack via my Tag. The Tag would have communicated my full medical history to the doctor because I had enabled that specific privacy setting for information to be shared in emergency situations.
Discovery had flowers delivered by drone, and I didn’t need to check my account balance to know that the deposit for my hospital stay would have already been reserved on my e-Wallet and medical savings.
As I lay in bed waiting for my doctor, I reflected on how much things had changed over the course of my life. The fact is, I could not recognise much of the old Cape Town I grew up in, and if it didn’t have the sea and the mountain it might be indistinguishable from London or New York. They all look the same with buildings of glass, roads with blue LED lights, and scattered patches of green all over the landscape from our abundance of eco parks.
Life was better now.
I was proud to be a first generation Smart Person, a phrase that evolved into an entirely new meaning back in the twenty-thirties. I came from the first generation to have Tags installed into our bodies, and we were given a choice. Nowadays it was compulsory to have a Tag if you wanted to live in a Smart City. Those who rejected the Tag, and everything it linked too, had the option to live off the grid and in a location where technology was almost entirely abandoned. Those places over the years became smaller as people grew to trust technology and use it as a new physical human sense, like hearing or eyesight.
The surgery took less than a minute, with the rice-sized implant being placed under the loose skin between my thumb and index finger. It was easy to forget it was there. The Tag uses body heat to power itself and it was the brainchild of a start-up medical company in India with only seven staff.
There was a similar device invented in China but due to the trade wars between them and the USA their technology had too much political red tape and India swooped in. Those seven people are now wealthier than just about every person on earth. After all, there are about 9.5 billion people with the devices installed.
It did take almost a decade for resistance to being Tagged to dwindle, but the trade-offs people received from a Smart City quickly encouraged the change. In addition to the inherent benefits and functions of the Tag, people enjoyed reduced taxes and many free services. It made good sense to have a Tag and 95% of people lived in Cities. There are so few rural communities found anywhere around the world today, oh, best I not forget to mention the two colonies we set up on Mars in the mid twenty forties.
While there are several technologies that make up a Smart City, the Tag was one of the most important ones as it linked humans to their environment and solved the communication divide between humans and devices. It allowed us to have the capability to make a phone call without a phone. It worked as a wallet, bank card, health monitor, ID, passport, key, entertainment device, device controller (no one had TV remotes anymore) and so much more. If I had a garden, I could control my irrigation system with the Tag from anywhere I liked.
A Tag could not be hacked and used DNA coding when being implanted to marry itself to a person’s body. Unlike humans, this marriage only ended with death.
While the device was secure, it used open source coding network so anyone on the planet could work with its technology to develop new apps or functions.
The City of Cape Town, as with many Smart Cities, implanted the Tag for free to any of its residents, normally at birth. Access to digital services had become a human right in the twenty-thirties.
The City had to overcome several challenges before it reached the standard of today. To think how it all started with small projects like the WhereIsMyTransport App (www.whereismytransport.com) and their smart parking meters. The truth was, the City was still knee deep in learning through mistakes back then with its government aware that if it did not embrace change they would not survive the next fifty years. I remember the debacle around the use of solar panels and all the red tape they created for residents wanting to adopt this technology. It almost cost them an election.
Any city that didn’t participate with Industry 4.0 soon struggled to compete commercially. Those towns became too costly to live in and people packed up and moved their homes and business to a nearby Smart City. Many once thriving towns around the world disappeared.
After some lessons were learnt, government changed its approach by putting the people’s needs first by using technology as a catalyst for service delivery, solving real challenges and not getting carried away with the excitement of new gadgets.
In Cape Town, transport, crime, drugs, and education where all areas experiencing major issues and where they used smart technology to create solutions.
No Smart City could ignore national, continental and global influences, so provisions had to be made for factors outside of City borders. The country had a major challenge with unemployment and corruption. There was also a serious shortage of just about every resource, like electricity, water and even fresh foods.
The biggest challenge by far was a lack of skills and the need to retrain the current workforce to ensure they remained valuable in the new digital world.
Cities needed to become more important. They had to be seen as a living, breathing and working organism. It was evident back then that ‘centrality of the cities’ was not a priority in our policy documents, there were only a few pages addressing this area in the South African National Development Plan.
In Africa, attention was split, with a lot of focus on basic human needs rather than digital trends. It became a compounded problem because it was the fastest urbanising continent on the planet. It was going to be Africa’s time to shine or sink.
We all know what happened in the end.
The year 2055. Our geo-footprint on the planet’s surface had shrunk because of smart farming. We no longer needed huge fields for crops or animals.
Nature quickly reclaimed unused land and we again have the same natural landscape we did in the 1920s.
Deforestation has stopped completely.
A similar phenomenon happened in the ocean. After certain materials like plastics became illegal, and with the invention of several new biodegradable materials, our oceans healed themselves.
Humans, once defined as a parasite, were now living in symbiosis with the earth. The change started slowly, and then all of a sudden.
I can remember some highlights and at the time Cape Town was ranked 117th in the world for smart cities, and South Africa had about seven Cities generating the majority of the country’s GDP back then.
An important day in parliament was when the country decided to change the Constitution to give the largest metros the same political and fiscal standing as provinces. I wish I could say South Africa was the first country to do this, but it was actually Australia.
After this change, each city was able to tackle challenges in the order of priority for its own people. Policing, education and healthcare were some of the first sectors to improve.
Several other amendments to the constitution took place over time. The right to be Tagged or remain off the grid was a significant human rights matter, with the right to privacy being challenged like never before. The way and how information was shared, processed, and saved, were both moral, ethical and also functional hurdles to overcome.
In the end, the right to choose was protected, and it became law that all devices seek permission before they make use of any information. Block chain technology was adapted to mature the security of this solution. No human and no machine could override another person’s right to choose, and several other human rights became part of the original source code in many systems.
Through the process of developing new legislation, Government evolved into a new creature entirely. Using technology it opened its doors to its constituents and using real-time participation apps residents were involved with more decisions. Simultaneously people could track the government’s progress. Government confidence increased almost instantaneously. Today, we vote using our Tags and don’t have to stand outside a voting station.
When we allowed them, our Tags could link to other devices, like VR glasses or VR contact lenses. You could also get earphones. Most people wear VR contact lenses all hours of the day, and because of this the phenomenon of people walking around while staring at their phones became a thing of the past.
Smart Cities led to the death of the Smart Phone, which became an almost futile technology with the invention of the Tag. No one saw that coming!
Technology was used to tackle our problem of corruption. For Government jobs, the Tag tracked wasted time of officials, irregular spending through e-Wallets, or even alerted authorities when an official was in the proximity of a place or person they should perhaps not be near.
There was a notable court case which used GPS information from a Tag to prove a Minister was meeting with a known criminal. The evidence helped stop a child trafficking ring in Durban and remove a corrupt official.
I was so proud that our courts evolved fast, and many civil matters could be dealt with via a virtual reality courtroom. The percentage of parents not paying child maintenance dropped dramatically, after all, a court could issue a summons to a person's Tag (Digital domicilium citandi et executandi was wherever your Tag was anywhere in the world and assigned by GPS location), or a salary garnishing order direct to a person’s e-Wallet.
Credit systems were improved. Debt dropped. Tedious home loan applications were abolished. Our financial rating and employment history were kept on our Tag, and we could give banks access on demand. Loan approval processes took seconds and risk for banks was reduced.
It no longer took weeks for a home transfer to take place with an average waiting period from the date of the home loan application to complete transfer taking less than seven days.
Access to financial services and literacy were fully achieved with technology. People saved money, used it more wisely, and made it go further for them.
With accountability, accuracy and transparency in trade vastly improved within a Smart City, businesses boomed, international investment flowed in and our entire country’s national debt was reduced by 90% in less than two decades. Mike Schussler, Dawie Roodt and Pravin Gordhan all retired with huge smiles.
I can recall many positive examples of change.
The education system transformed. Schools started getting smaller and micro-schools popped up in each town. Today, a school had only around one hundred students who attended school for a few hours each week at alternating hours, some of which were for lessons like music and sports, and the balance of lessons was done via virtual reality classrooms. This helped solve a problem for many who struggled with the cost of travel.
One teacher could be seen by hundreds of students. The cost of education to the state was reduced needing fewer teachers and less physical school buildings. This eventually led to education becoming free for all Smart City residents.
Peer to peer communication technology enabled students to work with one another. This freedom of information helped educate and at the same time brought about social integration. Learners got to engage with students and teachers from around the world.
Borders on a map no longer held the same meaning or importance they once did, and with the adoption of the African Digital Currency and then the rollout of the International Digital Currency policy in 2028 trade blew up. Africa now used its resources for its own benefit, no longer hindered by limitations associated with currency exchange and red tape regulations.
I think it is worth mentioning that the adoption of the Digital Currency Policy was forced onto government who in the end could not stop people from using it.
Unfortunately, many people were left unemployed in sectors of finance and government because their trade or positions were declared redundant by the masses.
Automation did the mundane tasks that people once did, faster, more accurately and for less money.
The department of home affairs closed its final office seventeen years ago, it was inevitable because with a Tag we didn’t need a piece of paper to prove our identity. This had an interesting effect on society, people felt liberated.
Huge shopping malls with Pick N Pays and Woollies disappeared, nor would you find a large clothing store anywhere. All the items from these shops were available by direct delivery to your door. A lot of people lost jobs in retail but many innovative people started new businesses enabled by technology, and the birth of fashion design for smart clothing came into existence as well as a favourite pastime of mine called Drone Wars. Smart devices overtook our homes, and no one owned a fridge or washing machine anymore. These items were delivered to your home and used a subscription service, and you never had to worry about repairs or replacements anymore. If it broke, it was replaced without you needing to worry about a thing.
Smart Buildings were another huge industry for job creation, and there were very few commercial and industrial buildings that didn’t have the capability to power their own needs with solar and wind generation solutions. Large power stations and grids were no longer needed, electricity was more stable and for some people with at home solutions, it was totally free.
A Smart City, let computers do what they did well, and left people alone to do what we did naturally and could not be replicated. No computer could match our creativity, compassion, or desire to be more. Art, theatre, music, dance, sports and entertainment grew into very large industries in this new world. This boosted our community’s morale.
Something the City of Cape Town did that was unique, which was then copied by several international cities, was implementing a compulsory internship program after matric. Each student had to do at least two years of this program with the first year working at one of the city’s organizations and in the second year working for at least two businesses based in the city itself. Students left the program more certain of which line of studies to pursue or better equipped to start their own business.
Employment opportunities were available to snatch up through a Job Market App, which every person was registered on after their internship. At any time we could see who had work or who needed a job. This was extremely helpful for employers and job opportunities could be shared and accepted as easily as confirming an Uber ride. The same App would allow for references and feedback on both employee and employer.
People were working smarter and saving time on travel. The City declared a six-hour working day, with two shift schedules per day: 6am-12noon, and then 1pm-7pm. This smart scheduling meant that only half the working population was travelling at any one time, which eased transport demands. A few other wonderful effects from this initiative were that a company only needed an office big enough to accommodate 50% of its staff. This reduced operational costs and the carbon footprint for many businesses.
The City used smart technologies to speed up environmental assessments and in turn increase the rate that land was re-assigned within the city. More space became available for housing, and many people who were living on the outskirts of towns could move closer.
A new App was launched, which helped homeless people, the very few there were, to find accommodation for the night and get a meal. Yes, even homeless people had Tags. The accommodation was provided by the government, which used many of its buildings now for shelters. We cared for people a lot better.
Some buildings and land were rezoned for agriculture, and the City started creating spaces for new businesses to launch city farms which used technology to grow a variety of vegetables and fruit that needed less water. These farms also meant that we could save on transport costs getting goods from farms outside the city.
It was not uncommon to have a farm or park in a building through the use of special technology for lighting and temperature control. With all our eco parks, our city achieved a negative carbon CO2 rating.
Smart Architects became a really important job and so did Recyclers - the name given to a person who made a career of recycling waste or repurposing old equipment.
Smart Cities awarded citizens with Tag Credits when they did something that contributed towards their well-being or the betterment of the general society. These Tag Credits could be used for a variety of things like holidays or even tax rebates.
I think Cape Town took some of its inspiration from many other cities back then, like Vision City in Rwanda, Ghana's Hope City and Lagos Eko Atlantic.
The roads today are a lot quieter, with electric bikes and cars being used. Many roads were closed and eventually the land was used for housing or other buildings such as sports centres.
Families became stronger, people happier and there were greater job varieties.
Of course, what you have just read is part fiction. I say part fiction because a lot of the technologies needed to create the Smart City I described exists today. What is missing is our fundamental desire to change.
I have described the inevitable and in the next ten years the leaders of this change will become very apparent to us all.
We have a chance now to become one of these Future Thinkers. The playing fields have been levelled and any city and any person can lead this movement.
The very DNA of a Smart City is here today. We have low-latency communications like 5G, big data analytics and real-time services. We have suppliers like DFA (www.dfafrica.co.za) who are a premier open access fibre optic company in South Africa, installing and maintaining a network of 10 000km of Dark Fibre. Dark Fibre is the name for unused fibre optic cable, a backbone required in a Smart Cities foundation.
Another example is a corporate like AxxonSoft (www.axxonsoft.com) that offers facial recognition solutions which can be used in places like shopping malls or then airports.
We already have the technology to alert a homeowner to a leaking pipe via their cell phone. A report I read said cities can save 25 to 80 litres of water per person each day. Technology linked to municipal services which use sensors to calculate your use, such as waste, and instead of paying flat rates, only pay-as-you-throw would be a wonderful help. We can save nearly 130 kilograms of waste per person annually.
There are air quality sensors, that can detect and monitor for pollutants, and help offer useful data or geo-location of the source of pollutants. A Smart City could have 10-15% fewer GHG emissions, and when similar technology is used to monitor water, we can save 25-80 litres of water per person per day.
Smart Cities run on Smart Data, and that is the right information at the right time. You can have millions of Smart Meters installed into homes, but if the information being provided is not useful, it may as well be a dumb meter or gadget. It becomes a lot of data noise.
Part of the solution to solving the data noise challenge is new technologies like Fog Computing (low latency and location awareness) which brings intelligence (big data processing and AI) closer to the creation of data.
We have many of the gadgets you will find in a Smart City, but do any Smart Cities already exist?
The answer would depend on your definition on what you believe a Smart City actually is. I define it as an environment where humans finally catch up with the rate of change technology is advancing at, and through technology we achieve social cohesion and cultural integration with each other and our environment.
By my definition, no city has achieved Smart Status.
The actual definition of a Smart City has not been decided on, but most will agree that it is a city with technology being used in such a way that it helps its citizens live, work and play, while using fewer resources.
I feel that definition lacks the same depth of mine.
I can give some examples of cities, but unfortunately, none exist in Africa yet. Don’t despair. Africa is going to explode with Smart solutions because we don’t have to overcome the hurdle of repurposing as much old tech and infrastructure compared to places like those in Europe.
We also have less red tape and regulations which will play in our favour. That is why I probably would believe the report I read that said six of the world’s forty smart mega cities will be in Africa. They will probably be Cairo, Lagos, Kinshasa Johannesburg, Luanda and Dar es Salaam.
I also believe Kenya's Nairobi and South Africa’s Cape Town will probably be the first African cities to achieve full Smart City status.
Elsewhere in the world we have Paris, (capital of France), one of the most expensive destinations I ever travelled to, (because I spent so much on pastries) has a clever bike and car sharing program enabled through technology. Their public transportation uses a lot of clean fuel. All very smart!
Seoul (capital of South Korea) was named the world’s first Smart City back in 2014 and an example of their innovation was residents being provided with PC tablets and smartphones to receive medical attention. The city also has a reputation for care of their disabled and elderly using smart technology.
There is Tokyo (capital of Japan) who collaborated with several tech corporates and created a suburban smart town that has zero carbon emissions. They have a smart rail system which transports 14 billion passengers a year. The city is a leader in smart parking and they officially have created a green island having planted 1 million trees!
We have Vienna (capital of Austria) as a leader for solar panel implementation as well as smart traffic and smart buildings. The city is home to the world’s largest biomass plant. What I found most impressive is the country’s largest state is running on 100% renewable energy and has been since 2015.
Let me not forget London (Capital of the United Kindom) has Europe’s largest free WiFi network. It also has a focus on technology to make use of smartphones to help residents with matters of health and even positive environmental services.
Stockholm (capital of Sweden) was named Europe’s Green Capital in 2010. The city leads on projects around recycling and on average saves 100kg of waste per person. I also like that they have a lot of government services that have been digitalized and most of their public transportation gets energy from two wastewater treatment plants producing biodiesel.
I love Amsterdam (capital of Netherlands) and it was awarded Europe’s Capital of Innovation Award in 2016. They have done very well with urban planning, and this is evident in the fact that every resident has access to a toilet (which is not something most cities can testify too. How shocking is that in reality?). Their city uses electric trucks to pick up rubbish and you will find solar power on their bus stops.
My favourite San Francisco, (USA) runs on 41% renewable energy, and has one hundred public charging stations for electric cars.
New York, (USA) uses technology to focus on local businesses, with projects like the IBM Business Analytics Solution Center which helps develop solutions to the complex problems required for building a smart city. I like that they have an eye on marketing, an industry that is going to evolve so much within the Smart City, and you can see the first attempts to evolve in this city where they have screens placed all over offering news and even coupons as a service to residents.
How does a city become a Smart City?:
Phase one is for a city to fully develop and then also maintain its network of connected devices and sensors. In my story this included humans. This phase needs hi-speed communications networks, both wireless and physical connections like fibre.
At the same time, the city must improve on the systems already in place. For example, tackling the silos of technology in the city of Johannesburg where there are hundreds of cameras for city surveillance, a few hundred more for traffic, and then some for retailers and public transport, all operating independently. Every device in a smart city must work for the community and collaboration is imperative to achieving these digital goals.
Phase two comes into play once all the devices are working and doing what they were made to do. The objective now is to get the device’s raw data processed and delivering only helpful information.
This is achieved through another layer of infrastructure (physical and virtual) like Edge, Cloud, Fog, Data Analysis, and AI solutions. All data has to be reviewed in one way or another, processed, and then shared to the right people at the right times.
The final phase is adoption. This is a word I have referenced in some of my earlier articles and a common motif when it comes to technology.
The concept of a Smart City, or a Smart Person, has to be embraced by leaders in government, corporate and the general public.
I know our President announced during our recent State of the Nation Address he had a Dream of building a new African City. A Vision can be shared because the goals are easier to define. A dream, on the other hand, sounds more whimsical.
Symbiosis between man, technology and the environment is a vision I can work toward. If we don’t share a vision our attempt at being smart is going to be met with many disappointments, like the project of Zendai Developments, the $8 billion City in Modderfontein in the east of Johannesburg which was meant to deliver homes for 30 000 families and create 200 000 jobs for the local community. This was never achieved because of a difference of vision between City, Corporate and Investors.
Africa must decide on our funding model for the rollout of our Smart Cities. Are we using an operator owned model or a city-funded model or should we use a hybrid plan? Whatever we decide, we must be careful not to get swept away with the access to the huge amounts of upfront capital from international corporates like Huawei’s R20.3 billion fund to fuel the building of Smart City infrastructure in Africa. Whoever pays the bill, also gets to place the order.
We must abandon the methodologies of today to ensure we can reach our goals of tomorrow.
I look forward to meeting you in the Future.
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Published July 2019Read more articles