Can simplicity be damaging? This is a question I have been chewing over for most of the week. Many careers, journalism included, reward keeping it simple. It doesn’t mean limited or unambitious - it means engaging and inclusive.
But this week Duncan Botting, Smart Communities CEO at the Institution of Engineering and Technology, posited otherwise, saying "reductionist mind-sets" were costing us the ability to understand the complex interactions that cause a particular problem. He gives the example of congestion - rather than solely looking at the cars queued at traffic lights, we need to be aware of other factors; nearby roadworks and so on.
He says technology is vital if we are to truly get to grips with the complexities of cities. "Artificial intelligence systems can spot interactions in minutes that would take many weeks for a human to diagnoses," he writes.
Specialist knowledge is still needed though. He says experts in his own organisation are trained to deeply understand specific areas without the full understanding of the wider system. For example, construction engineers may not have to know about the effects of building materials on wireless communications within a building.
Botting is very much arguing the macro case - that a smart community of people who can think through complex systems is required. Personally, I think this a bit wood for the trees. It is easy to get bogged down in a morass of data - which is where AI comes in - but being able to look at a complex array of information and single out problems is a vital skill.
It’s one of those articles I love - I don’t necessarily agree with it but it gets me thinking. It served part of a wider supplement on smart cities, of which I was lucky enough to contribute to and which provides some fascinating views on where our industry is. You can read Botting’s contribution and others here. I take a look at how small-scale environmental projects can serve as inspiration to even the largest city. SmartCitiesWorld’s Advisory Board Chairman Paul Wilson explores 5G and how it is improving urban life. Let us know what you think.
Meanwhile, we are celebrating the news this week that we have been listed as the top performing global media business within Verdict Global’s ranking of influencers in Future Cities. You may feel it is self-indulgent to blow our own trumpet but this achievement is one that you should be proud of too - without your contributions, submitted opinion pieces, feedback and achievements in the smart city sector, we would not be in the position we’re in. So thank you and keep pushing us.