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The Era of Edgeless Computing - Part 7

Welcome to the seventh of a series of articles to introduce some of the most cutting edge thinking about new computing and network architectures, bringing new forms of machine intelligence to where both digital and biological events occur.

Need to know

By Peter van Manen, EVP Research & Development of Living PlanIT

“I don’t need to know everything, I just need to know where to find it, when I need it” – Albert Einstein

Data is the air that smart cities breathe in order to live and thrive. Not enough causes suffocation. Too much can be toxic. And it can quickly escape away when not properly contained. The data in a city is plentiful, yet remains a precious commodity, important to both share and protect.

We talk a lot about how data can be captured, tamed and put to work, but it is all for nothing if it is not trusted by the people that it touches. Keeping buildings and infrastructure safe, protecting the confidentiality of sensitive data and respecting the privacy of individuals are the essential ingredients of a trusted platform. What and how data is used, consumed and shared is critical. But security and privacy across a city present several big challenges:

Smart systems exploit sensors, communications, software and actuators to help match supply and demand and to anticipate and mitigate problems. The data is changing all the time, so detecting corruption, disruption and deception in this dynamic environment is hard. The software has many “moving parts”, so finding faults, or discovering that the software has been replaced or bypassed, can be difficult. Communications can be interrupted or broken, either naturally or maliciously. And inappropriate interventions can lead to unexpected outcomes and danger.

“Need to know” is a fundamental principle of data security. When fewer people see the data, fewer can either inadvertently or maliciously share sensitive information with others. The problem, in the context of a city neighborhood, is that it is not always clear what data might be usefully employed by different applications and at different times. After all, it is the combination and re-purposing of data that makes the city “smart”. Nonetheless, consuming the data close to where it and associated information is first available, and resisting the temptation of making it accessible right across the city, has real benefits. It reduces the amount of information exposed to potential harm. Time-critical interventions can be made sooner, through reduced latencies between sensing and actuation. Communications bandwidth demands are reduced, which can be critically important when wireless connectivity in areas of poor coverage is needed. And some of the important local knowledge needed for understanding context can be maintained and updated more readily in the local setting.

To make the biggest difference, data still needs to be shared between buildings, neighborhoods, districts, the city and surrounding areas. After all, the movement of people, energy, water and waste is not contained within closed boundaries. Providing general access to public data, and secure access to private and personal data, is essential. We exploit a policy-based system for securing data in the PlanIT Urban Operating System™ (UOS), our real-time data platform. This allows permissions to be given to individuals or groups, taking into account the wider contexts and relationships. The policy is based upon people and locations, rather than the network infrastructure upon which the software runs, and hence is more readily managed and scaled.

Privacy is hard. It is tempting to collect and store more personal data than is strictly needed, justified on the basis of the personalized services or experiences such data might enable. This cat is well and truly out of the bag already on the Internet with search engines, online sales channels and social media, but it is nonetheless critically important in the context of smart cities. We will know a lot about how people move around the city, an important part of making things run more smoothly and safely with fewer wasted resources. However, in most cases we do not need to know about individuals, except in circumstances of clear and present danger or when they choose to sacrifice elements of personal privacy for the sake of convenience. And if they do, the right to be truly forgotten must be respected. The UOS has these rights enshrined in its core.

Finally, and most importantly, we should do no harm. Turning data into interventions is the key to making cities more efficient, resources more available and people, buildings and infrastructure more safe and secure. The UOS supports operational decision-making and real-time influence of some of the control systems in buildings and utilities. Limiting authority over actuation, and setting safe limits on possible interventions, are vitally important for a high performing, safe and resilient system.

Edgeless Computing has a number of important attributes, which together provide a smart, safe and secure environment in which data can make a real difference to our lives. These include:

“The trust of a city street is formed over time from many, many little public sidewalk contacts... Most of it is ostensibly trivial but the sum is not trivial at all” – Jane Jacobs

See more of this series of articles here...
Part 1 – Turtles all the way down
Part 2 – Living in real-time
Part 3 – Back to the future
Part 4 – Elephant in the room
Part 5 – Needle in a haystack
Part 6 – Tale of two cities
Part 7 – Need to know
Part 8 – Gut feeling
Part 9 – Welcoming strangers

About Living PlanIT

Living PlanIT is a technology company that created the world’s first Urban Operating System (UOS) which, in combination with the products it supports, unlocks the full potential of data to make cities better, safer and more vibrant places to live.

Living PlanIT has built an extensive partner network around the concept of a shared, unified approach to smart urban technology architecture in which machine intelligence moves ever closer to originating sources of data and control. We call this architecture PlanIT Edgeless Computing™ and it is implemented throughout the PlanIT Urban Operating System™, providing a framework for resilient and secure computer and systems architecture for digital and biological sensing, control, analytics, machine learning, applications and visualization techniques.

Living PlanIT asserts its rights to the following Trademarks: Living PlanIT™, PlanIT Edgeless Computing™, Edgeless Computing™, PlanIT Urban Operating System™, PlanIT UOS™, PlanIT OS™, PlanIT Crumbs™, PlanIT PlaceApps™, PlanIT Valley™, PlanIT Assurance™, PlanIT Labs™, PlanIT Retail™, PlanIT Life™. Any reference to these names in this content shall be considered as an assertion of these Trademarks. or follow us on Twitter @Living_PlanIT