Cities should do what Google does

Simply given the properties of inertia, we are entering another technological revolution. Artificial intelligence, virtual reality, autonomous vehicles, smart homes and intelligent cities. Everything is becoming connected to the internet all of the time, by default, and anyone who tells you that you can opt out of this trend is lying unless they are on their own island. We’ve already accepted the terms & conditions to trade personal data for greater convenience; and if you’re still having this argument you are living in the past.

The more important conversations are about how we can use all of this data to improve the world around us.

Cities need data to solve real, urban problems

We all know Google, for example, is doing everything it can to get its hands on all of our personal data, and it makes a lot of people very uncomfortable. Many of us don’t necessarily want a “personal Google for everyone everywhere” as CEO Sundar Pichai recently tweeted.

Yet Google is able to provide incredible services like Google Search, YouTube, and Gmail for free, in exchange for your information. Imagine if city government started thinking and operating in a similar way? In other words, they began thinking of their cities as a service and the constituents as their users. Today, there is an incredible amount of inefficiency and waste, because city data is not properly collected or analyzed for actionable insight.

If cities begin treating their data like capital, which it is, then taxes could be lowered in exchange for data contributions already generated by citizens; our entire public transportation system could be revolutionized; the possibilities are limitless in a better-connected city. But they can’t do this until there is a practical, modern communications platform to collect this data and provide these actionable insights. This isn’t “Open Data”, “Static Data”, or the antiquated “data portal” hosting static CSV files. It’s Civic Cloud, it’s Modern Data, and it’s the lifeblood of our future and increasingly complex system. Even the Pentagon is saying that cities are simply too complex to manage, however we disagree.

At stae we are working diligently to build this future, and have already launched in cities like Jersey City, New Jersey and Atlanta, Georgia. We believe that the main advantage of ride-share, for example, over city-run transportation is efficiency. But let’s be clear: ride share is also a luxury, not a city transportation company or a basic government service. They don’t have to care about every urban citizen (try to get a late night Uber ride in the deep Bronx). The MTA is inefficient and cumbersome, yes; but they implement programs like discounts for the elderly or students and get you anywhere you need to go for a flat rate of a couple of dollars. It’s not unfathomable that cities will use technology to become just as efficient (if not more so) than the ride-share alternatives, while providing the ecosystem that benefits actual urban citizens.

From urban planners to CIOs to each of us who live in an organized municipality, we can and should benefit from organized, accessible and flowing data. We simply need better ways to collect it to make better decisions.