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Smarter is not more attractive, says Tony Fish, co founder Fab Lab London

In this desire for a smart world, have we considered enough who defines the algorithms, who writes the algorithms, who checks the algorithms and who polices the algorithms that will control our data and us?

Smarter is not more attractive, says Tony Fish, co founder Fab Lab London

Information is not knowledge.

Knowledge is not wisdom.

Wisdom is not truth.

Truth is not beauty.

Beauty is not love.

Love is not music.

Music is THE BEST. (Frank Zappa)


In this desire for a smart world, have we considered enough who defines the algorithms, who writes the algorithms, who checks the algorithms and who polices the algorithms that will control our data and us? There is an underlying assumption here that is; a digital model needs an algorithm to convert data into value.


Data will not make anything smarter on its own, yet we rightly worry about the source and probably not worry enough about the processes that change data into music.


It would appear that we have, as a digital savvy society, an unhealthy obsession with being smart(er); with a belief that being smarter creates wealth, makes us happy, solves social unrest and eliminates friction. In this short viewpoint, I ponder that the smartest data cities will in fact be more stupid and dull, and that a true smart city will be the one with the most relevant rules for algorithms, not the best data.


Smarter is not an attractive quality


The title above would be provocative if said without a good reason. It is probable that an old characteristic of human nature, embedded deep in the brain structure is survival. To survive, man created ingenious ways to find water, food, and shelter. This characteristic in 21st century words is problem-solving, innovation, creativity and passion. Deep in our roots is a desire to make and solve problems to make life easier, create more me time. Today, and probably back at the camp fire, the best and most able would gather together to learn, make, share, improve and iterate; so creating smarter solutions to problems and ones that could replicate and scale. The smartest village, town and cities would be able to attract the best to solve the biggest problems.


What happens when we have a smart city that has no problems to solve? Why would the best and most passionate be attracted to somewhere where there are no problems or the problems are not big enough? Could smarter wins in themselves signal the very end of a city?


Cities with problems are far more fun, diverse, energetic and dynamic than a city with obsessed with buses on time, no crime and individualism over community and citizenship. More data could make a city more stupid, as the citizens who make the city passionate, vibrant and dynamic are not attracted to the place where their problems solving skills have no value!


The nature of work and jobs is changing


There are seismic changes happening as the tectonic plates of work, value, purpose, income and time collide creating new lows and new highs. Most economic commentators would concur that the old normal of jobs for life has gone, the new normal of a series of corporate roles is fading with the death of the big employer model and the emergence of the next normal as a portfolio based income is becoming a reality. The next normal has major implications and drivers in the form of government, tax, lifestyle, wealth and health.


A scenario of the next normal is that the majority of individuals will share their skills across many places of work to earn income and balance earning and cost pressure to provide time to do something that has purpose to them. They will be the first generation that doesn’t have a full-time employment based job.


They will not work from an office, or home, serviced offices, coffee shops or incubators but do what they need, where they need when they need to. Their model is to have income to thrive and enable them to follow a passion. Where passion could be helping the less fortunate, working with the older generations, helping kids, art, sport or solving really big problems for free, doing a start-up, creating something new or travel.


The need to be in a smart city is not a key requirement for them, to be amongst like-minded people is, and they are able to base themselves anywhere.


Algorithms, rules, determination and singularity


There is sound and firm assumption that data needs an algorithm to create sense and value. Data itself does not create moral dilemma, as it is only a representation of what happened. However, your sensor will have an algorithm that means not all data is collected which in turn will introduce a bias. Any computing of the data will be completed by an algorithm that can have a bias in the code, the process, the method or determined to create certain outcomes.


The crunch happens when you apply known moral thinking dilemmas to new AI possibilities. Should the driverless car behave differently depending on who is in the car or who is outside? When AI means your vacuum cleaner can clean your home effectively – should it clean up a crime scene? These are the new digital rules, the new algorithms but who and how should they be written and confirmed?


Other questions to ponder:

  • All algorithms should be open source, but does that kill the opportunity to create value?
  • There is an algorithm police force?
  • Individuals own data and algorithms?
  • There is an algorithm test?
  • There is a regulator - but who would be trust to have unbiased rules!
  • You need a smart city?


My opinion is that smart city thinking is only for the most creative and progressive. Any city which wants to be smart needs to attract the citizens who will define, implement, test and iterate the new algorithms and algorithm governance/rules and in doing so create a new genre of disruption, chaos and music.


Tony Fish is an investor, author and entrepreneur and co-founder Fab Lab London. He is a board director with innovation and high growth experience cutting across many technology sectors including the emerging field of digital fabrication. Having founded, co-founded and sold a number of businesses over the past 25 years, Tony remains passionate about highly disruptive tech that is fast scaling and at an early stage. His style is based on fast iteration, trust, deep involvement, clear decision-making, robust financials, transparency and strong open governance controls.

Email: [email protected]


Twitter: @TonyFish

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