part iii: let’s democratize the data

1953- underwater atomic city 2, Syd-Mead

In part ii we talked about how the boom of IoT means our entire lives are machine generative data, which is to say that our entire lives are generating value (meta…). So now the questions become: where does all of this data live, who owns it, and who has the right to profit from it? These are serious questions that will take time to work through.

But know this: the current answer is absolutely not you nor I.

One of the reasons we founded stae is to ensure the insight born from generative data, produced by urban citizens, boomerangs back to local communities.

Fred Freeman — Life in 1999. - 1966.

Who owns the data?

Barb Darrow of Fortune Magazine recently wrote, “Business owners and executives need to pay close attention to what data their companies are sharing, with whom, and whether their technology providers will claim ownership of that information” — and she’s absolutely right. But it’s not only businesses and executives that need to be concerned about this — it’s every. single. urban. citizen. The whole enterprise of big data involves collecting and aggregating massive amounts of data, visualizing it, making sense of it, then slicing it in different ways and selling it. What we absolutely cannot allow is fatcats to receive the majority of the profit, leaving the rest of us to fall by the wayside and leading to over $340 billion in waste over the next decade.

My argument is simple: we’re all generating data into the ecosystem, so we should all benefit from the insight garnered from that data. How do we accomplish this? We democratize the data. We ensure that local municipalities can access it in order to provide better living conditions for urban dwellers, as migration to cities explodes over the next ten years.

How things currently work

Cookies on your internet browser track everything from shopping patterns to what music you like to whose instagram you look at to what times of the day you are awake. This information is collected, analyzed, and often sold to other companies, who in turn make a greater profit from understanding you better. In other words, the current system guarantees fat cats get fatter by exploiting your data; but nothing is in place to guarantee that you, the citizen who is generating the data, receives any real benefit.

How is this happening? Well, to be frank many folks over 50 don’t know it’s happening, and most millennials don’t care. Realize: even the latest PokemonGO craze is being used as a sort of real-world Google Ad Words, where businesses can become a hot spot and increase their foot traffic. This is the present, whether you like it or not. And the future means even more devices being connected to the internet. Not just your computers and your phones; but also your watch and your car and your thermostat and your shoes and soon your entire home. In the future, we may even connect directly into Google, rendering your home internet connection pointless.

I am not arguing against this trend. Companies are smart for studying their (potential) customers and better targeting them. And as consumers, it’s fair to say that we’ve accepted the trade-off of less privacy for greater convenience (you can read my gmail, but I get gmail for free). However let’s not forget that, very much like taxes, we are exchanging value and deserve some say in how all of this data is being utilized. To do this, we need to advocate for better-connected cities where local governments have access and can distribute the insight back into local communities. The federal government has a great overview of an API, and even goes so far as to define some specifications. You can learn more about what an API is here.

Kempster and Evans — 1953

How things should work

Here’s a fun real world example. Let’s say sensors on a bus route in Brooklyn feed information back to the government that highlights the fact that from 3–5 AM only seven people are riding the forty-seat bus on average. Now the city can take action based on this new insight: it can, for example, send smaller and more efficient buses at that time. Or, a step further — it can subsidize RideShare App rides for urban citizens traveling at that time. This benefits everyone. The local municipality saves money by not having to pay a driver and maintain a large bus that isn’t being used to anywhere near its capacity. RideShare companies get business driven to them (no pun intended) that they wouldn’t otherwise have. And most importantly, you as an urban citizen are getting a better experience.

And that’s how it should be: the data your community generates every day should be used to benefit the local ecosystem. The only way this is possible is if local governments and modern companies have a healthy way to communicate in real time — which is why we created stae.

Up until this point, I haven’t talked much about the platform we’ve built. That’s because in part i and part ii we needed to establish a few key points, before discussing stae and its role in creating better-connected cities.

  1. You are generating data
  2. That data has value
  3. The Internet-of-Things will boom beyond your wildest imagination

We are a team of technologists, ecologists, and urbanists working side-by-side with city planners and local municipalities to solve complex city problems. Our platform makes communication between the outside world and government frictionless, providing actionable insight, compliance, payments, etc, designed to maximize efficiencies. From Jane Jacobs to Edward Glaeser we already know cities are smart; let’s work together to insist they’re intelligent and insightful. Subscribe to this blog, follow us on Twitter, and keep your eye out for more updates coming soon.

With love,

– John