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The Future of The ‘Smart City’

Over 85 percent of the world’s population will live in a city by the end of the century. In a special broadcast, we’re exploring what the urban centers of the future will look like.

What are people working on in the Brooklyn tech world?

Last night in Bushwick some of the most interesting people in the Brooklyn tech world got together for a happy hour at CartoDB’s American headquarters. There were data scientist, social entrepreneurs, regular capitalist entrepreneurs and urban planners.

Assessment: Academic return

When Julia Lane began working in scientific-funding policy she was quickly taken aback by how unscientific the discipline was compared with the rigorous processes she was used to in the labour-economics sector, “It was a relatively weak and marginalized field,” says Lane, an economist at New York University.

In 2005, John Marburger, science adviser to then-President George W. Bush, felt much the same. He called on researchers and policymakers to focus on the “science of science policy”, an empirical assessment of outcomes and returns from funding agencies such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and National Science Foundation (NSF). “When the Congressional Budget Office does simulations of the effects of investment in areas like tax or education policy, they have models and processes,” says Lane. “But he said that when it comes to science, essentially all we say is ‘send more money’.”

Around the same time, the UK government also began to explore how to significantly increase the economic impact of the country’s research and development (R&D) investments. According to Lane, such efforts have historically been a low priority, because R&D accounts for only a small percentage of the economy — typically less than 3% of the gross domestic product (GDP), mostly from the private sector. However, public funding of basic research still represents a considerable sum.

Can Big Data Resolve The Human Condition?

Back in the day, astronomers studied galaxies one at a time.

Data about each metropolis of stars had to be pieced together slowly. These individual studies were then combined so that a broader understanding of galaxies and their histories as a whole could slowly emerge.

Then, along came the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and everything changed. Using a special purpose telescope and computer-driven data collection, the Sloan Survey fire-hosed millions of objects onto the laps of astronomers. That was the beginning of “Big Data” in astronomy, and it changed the way we understood our place in the universe.

Now, a visionary group of scientists believes it can do for society what Sloan did for galaxies. Using the ever-increasing capacities of Big Data, the goal is to change the way we understand the human universe.

The Kavli HUMAN Project is a collaboration between the Kavli Foundation, the Institute for the Interdisciplinary Study of Decision Making at NYU, and the Center for Urban Science and Progress at NYU. It’s based on one simple goal — and an array of stunningly complex technologies required to get there. Here “HUMAN” stands for “Human Understanding Through Measurement and Analytics.” The project’s vision is to “generat[e] a truly comprehensive longitudinal dataset that capture[s] nearly all aspects of a representative human population’s biology, behavior, and environment.”

The signal and the noise

DONALD TRUMP, THE Republican front-runner for the American presidency, is clearly riding a wave of anger—but he is also wielding a huge virtual megaphone to spread his populist messages. “@realDonaldTrump”, the Twitter account of the property magnate turned politician, has more than 7m followers and the number is rising by about 50,000 every day. Moreover, since each of his tweets is re-tweeted thousands of times and often quoted in mainstream media, his real audience is much bigger. And if he does win the Republican nomination, it will be hard to tune him out. “How do you fight millions of dollars of fraudulent commercials pushing for crooked politicians?” he tweeted in early March. “I will be using Facebook & Twitter. Watch!”

If Ted Cruz, his fellow Republican, were to clinch the nomination, the campaign for America’s presidency would be quieter—but no less digital. Mr Cruz’s victory in the Iowa primaries was based on effective number-crunching. He bombarded potential supporters with highly targeted ads on Facebook, and used algorithms to label voters as “stoic traditionalists”, “temperamental conservatives” or “true believers” to give campaign volunteers something to go on. He also sent official-looking “shaming” letters to potential supporters who had previously abstained from voting. Under the headline “Voting Violation”, the letters reminded recipients of their failure to do their civic duty at the polls and compared their voting records with those of their neighbours.

The way these candidates are fighting their campaigns, each in his own way, is proof that politics as usual is no longer an option. The internet and the availability of huge piles of data on everyone and everything are transforming the democratic process, just as they are upending many industries. They are becoming a force in all kinds of things, from running election campaigns and organising protest movements to improving public policy and the delivery of services. This special report will argue that, as a result, the relationship between citizens and those who govern them is changing fundamentally.

Beware of “Big Data Hubris” When It Comes to Police Reform

For the past several years police departments around the United States have been betting on “big data” to revolutionize the way they predict, measure and, ideally, prevent crime. Some data scientists are now turning the lens on law enforcement itself in an effort to increase public insight into how well police officers are doing their jobs.

Last year, the city of Indianapolis and Code for America teamed up to launch Project Comport — an open-data platform for sharing information on complaints and use of force incidents. (Nick Selby, a police officer and software developer who consults on policing technology, recently took the system for a ride and wrote about its potential.) And two media projects recently funded by the Knight Foundation focus exclusively on American law enforcement.

The Chicago-based “Citizens Police Data Project” — an initiative of the Invisible Institute — launched a database in November containing more than 56,000 Chicago police misconduct complaints involving thousands of officers. It plans to use its Knight grant to develop a web application to simplify the filing and tracking of complaints. Meanwhile, a project called “Law Order and Algorithms” based at Stanford University plans to collect, analyze and release data on more than 100 million highway patrol stops over the next two years, creating a massive storehouse of police-citizen interactions for journalists and policymakers.

Energy Transitions – Understanding the Challenge

What will it really take to make a transition to a sustainable energy society? Visions of a clean, affordable, reliable, and durable energy future are something that most everyone can support in general. But how we get there, andwhen, are different matters altogether. What fundamental issues do we need to understand, and what forces will drive or hinder that transition?

In a finite world, sustainability is ultimately not a choice but a mandate. The question is: how fast or slow, smooth or turbulent, the transition will be. Some say we need to move as quickly as possible—whether for environmental, economic, or national security reasons, or all the above—implying that all we lack is the political will. Others downplay the urgency and focus on the monumental difficulties of making a transition. The truth, it seems, lies somewhere in between.

To move forward, we need to resolve, or at least manage, the tension between these opposing views. On today’s show, we’ll explore that tension and take a “big-picture” look at the risks, challenges, and opportunities that humanity faces in making an energy transition.

Guests:

RELATED COS, NYU WILL STUDY ‘FIREHOSE OF DATA’ FROM NYC’S FIRST QUANTIFIED COMMUNITY

With the gargantuan 28-acre Hudson Yards project just two short years away from completion, the impact and importance of its “smart city” initiatives is beginning to come into focus.

At the project’s outset, developers Related Cos and Oxford Properties took the opportunity they gave themselves—basically creating an entire neighborhood from scratch—to bake in several high-tech features that will put the finished project in a league of its own.

These include a CoGen plant in one of the development’s six buildings that will be able to provide roughly 70% or more of the project’s energy needs, depending on the time of year, as well as elaborate sustainability measures like a composting program and rainwater recycling.

Michael Samuelian, a VP at Related (snapped above, left, with Empire State Realty Trust’s Tom Durels and H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture’s Hugh Hardy), says those programs will significantly cut down on the development’s carbon footprint when everything is said and done.

They’ll also make it more resilient—in the event of another Sandy-type storm, Hudson Yards won’t be dependent on ConEd’s aging grid for power.

Urban Informatics: Putting Big Data to Work in Our Cities

For the first time in history, more than half of the people in the world live in urban areas. Now more than ever, cities are supporting rapidly increasing populations while struggling to maintain services, operations, and quality of life for their inhabitants.

As cities grow, the task of understanding how they work is becoming a pressing global issue. Currently, about 80 percent of the U.S. and about 50 percent of the world’s population resides in urban areas, growing at over 1 million people per week. In the face of unprecedented growth, cities are faced with a unique challenge: refurbishing and maintaining existing infrastructures to support their current inhabitants while also planning sufficiently to accommodate future populations. If growth patterns continue at this speed, by 2050, 64 percent of people in the developing world, and 85 percent of people in the developed world, will call an urban area their home.

But while global urbanization seemingly presents myriad challenges, it also offers a potential solution – in the form of data. Thanks to the digital revolution, we now have more information at our disposal than ever before, and the amount of data that urban areas are generating is truly staggering. In New York City alone, the local government creates a terabyte of raw data every day, with information on everything from parking tickets to electricity.

 

NYU CENTER FOR URBAN SCIENCE & PROGRESS RESEARCHER AMONG 21ST CENTURY SCIENCE INITIATIVE AWARD WINNERS

 

New York, NY – New York University’s Center for Urban Science & Progress (CUSP) researcher Gregory Dobler is one of the recipients of the 21st Century Science Initiative Awards. Funded by the James S. McDonnell Foundation, the award will provide funding for Dobler’s project, entitled ‘Understanding the Complex Urban System through Remote Imaging’.

The James S. McDonnell Foundation recently announced more than $14 million in grants for the 21st Century Science Initiative Awards, funding research in three program areas: Understanding Human Cognition, Mathematical & Complex Systems Approaches to Brain Cancer, and Studying Complex Systems. Dobler’s study, which was the recipient of a Scholar Award for the Study of Complex Systems, will receive $450,000 over the course of three years.

“My background in astrophysics led me to ponder whether the same techniques from fields like Astronomy and Computer Vision could be used to study the city as a complex system,” said Dobler. “Much like astrophysicists try to understand the Universe by taking pictures of it from a distance, the idea of understanding the urban environment by taking pictures of it from a distance has opened up a host of possibilities for the science of cities: from unique air quality monitoring to the quantification of energy efficiency to the interaction of people with the technology used in the built infrastructure.”

“My background in astrophysics led me to ponder whether the same techniques from fields like Astronomy and Computer Vision could be used to study the city as a complex system,” said Dobler. “Much like astrophysicists try to understand the Universe by taking pictures of it from a distance, the idea of understanding the urban environment by taking pictures of it from a distance has opened up a host of possibilities for the science of cities: from unique air quality monitoring to the quantification of energy efficiency to the interaction of people with the technology used in the built infrastructure.”

Dobler is an Associate Director for Physical Sciences at CUSP and a Research Assistant Professor of Physics at NYU. He specializes in image analysis, computer vision, time series, statistical analysis, and mathematical modeling of large data sets. Prior to joining CUSP, Greg was an astrophysicist specializing in multi-wavelength, full sky data sets from radio to gamma-ray energies, and led the discovery of one of the largest structures in the Milky Way.

“I am extremely honored to receive this award from the James S. McDonnell Foundation and excited about the avenues of research that it makes possible. With this award, we will be able to acquire state-of-the-art instrumentation for imaging New York from a distance and use the resultant data sets to generate unprecedented views of the city skyline. This data will be crucial to studying the interactions between the human, built, and natural environments of the city, resulting in a unique approach to the study of the city as a complex system,” said Dobler.

Founded in 1950 by the late aerospace pioneer and founder of what would become the McDonnell Douglas Corporation, James S. McDonnell believed that science and technology gives mankind the power to shape knowledge for the future while improving our lives. “Mr. Mac’s” vision continues to be realized through the research these grants are supporting. Since the inception of the program in 2000, more than $264 million in funding has been awarded.

About New York University’s Center for Urban Science & Progress
CUSP is an applied science research institute created by New York University with a consortium of world-class universities and the foremost international technology companies to address the needs of cities. At the heart of its academic program, CUSP will investigate and develop solutions to the challenges that face cities around the world. This research will make CUSP the world’s leading authority in the emerging field of “urban informatics”. For more news and information on CUSP, please visit http://cusp.nyu.edu/.

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Contact:

Kim Alfred, CUSP

917.392.0859

kim.alfred@nyu.edu

 

Elizabeth Latino, The Marino Organization

212.402.3488

elizabeth@themarino.org