All tech shifts have a killer app to lead them forward. For example, back in the age of steam, it was the spreadsheet that got the PC started. It was something called Lotus 123. There may be copies of the original in a museum somewhere.
It was SMS that sprung the mobile phone from being just very convenient for businessmen, to cool and must-have.
The smartphone came on the heels of the iPod: I cannot only make phone calls but I can also, on the same device, listen to my music. Functional AND cool! Well, that justifies paying three to five times the price of my old cellphone!
Here’s another thing. The tech shifts that get overhyped in the early stages (All of them, right?) go through a phase where they say, ‘no killer app necessary’. “This will change the world without you really noticing it”.
So, what will be the killer app in our new paradigm-shifted smart cities? Well, there are several well-muscled contenders. In this corner, there’s Peter Parking-App. In another: Samir Smart-Bin. And a lot more ferocious contenders are climbing into the ring.
What do you think? Personally I love the idea of litter-free streets – and roads where I don’t have to get stuck unnecessarily, in my open-top car, behind a fragrant garbage van.
And the thought of being able to drive to the shops at the weekend and park my non-autonomous vehicle (NAV, formerly known as ‘car’) straight away – well, I hope they both win. Life will be easier, more fun – and less smelly.
However, maybe the real driver to making cities truly smarter will be something more sobering. The thought of aging is pretty sobering, but population aging will bring about some very consequential transformations in the coming years. And this isn’t a phenomenon confined to Japan where it’s been well documented over the past decade.
The Taipei Times reported In June 2016 that “The number of senior citizens could surpass that of children younger than 14 by the end of next year.” The country’s aging index — which compares of the number of people aged 65 or older with that of children younger than 14 — had already reached 92 percent, nearly double the index recorded in 2014.
Am I picking out the most extreme examples? No. It goes on. In Malaysia, “Kuala Lumpur is an aging city as birth rates have fallen” according to the World Population Review, whose figures put the over-60s in the population as having risen 50 percent from 1980 to 2000. In Bangkok, the Thai Ministry of Social Development said that in ten years people over 60 years old would make up 20 percent of the population and those aged 65 and above would account for 14 percent.
In the lifetimes of most people alive today, almost half the population will either be seniors, children of these seniors – and so, directly concerned for them – or carers for these seniors.
One area that smart cities and intelligent buildings should be able to help with by then – if it can’t already – is this: a lot of those senior citizens will live alone, and will either wish to, or be obliged to, continue living in their own homes rather than going to a retirement village or such-like.
Leveraging the increasing capability and reach of sensor technology, how can we enable them to do so? The conversation goes like this (Son in one house or apartment, ageing Dad in another):
“How long can Ba continue to live in his home?”
“I’ll bet young Yeow-lim is wondering how long I can live here. Well, I’m not moving out!”
“What if he has a fall? I can’t go around there every evening”.
“I’ll be damned if that rascal is going to push me into one of those retirement villages. Why, I’m barely 70 years old!”
I don’t know the solution: but I’m sure it’s out there, will be soon. And I’m equally sure that it should be a part of the smart city of the future – maybe even the near future. How smart would a city be if it made life better for most of us, but worse for our parents?
The answer to the guy in the Beatles’ song is: yes, Dad – of course I want to look after you when you’re 64 – and older. But since I don’t live under your roof any more, I’m hoping to get a little help from technology to do so.