Friday, June 25, 2010

My Take on Gigabit City Ideas

The deadline for submission of ideas to the Gigabit Genius Grant is nearly here (it was extended, at some point, to June 30). I've looked through the submissions (all 158 of them, so far) and there are a few that I like.

Some are good ideas but very vague, some of the ideas are very science fiction, and some have very little to do with high-speed communications at all, but all's good in the name of generating initial ideas.

One thing I notice is that so few of the ideas link to any place where they provide more information, which is a shame; I'd like to see more depth to some of them. So, for some of the ones I liked that didn't have much further explanation, here's my take.

Cloud Computing
So, this was probably my favorite suggestion. Allow for very low-cost computer/netbook rental with "cloud"-based desktops and application access. Actually, there are three or four submissions that propose this in some form. For example:
a truly ONLINE "COMPUTER" where you can access and use all your files and software/application from any connected device. Soft/Apps would be running on the server side.
Create a redbox type rental system for netbooks ($1/day) to provide low income areas an affordable computer solution. Operating System processing and software access would happen in the cloud removing the need for the latest and greatest hardware.
Utilize thin client computing on a residential level to give low income housing an affordable solution for PC's. Operating System processing and graphics rendering would happen in the cloud, negating a need for the latest and greatest hardware.
So, have a low-cost hardware rental service (does Clear rent out hardware?) with netbooks. You can get really quality books in the $450 range. These could be paid off for the business if they rent at $1.50/day (plus a bit for insurance/security deposit) in under a year. The netbooks could come loaded with some city-branded fork of ChromiumOS or something, whose opening screen can be configured based on the renter (Resident or Visitor, for example). For visitors, it could be like a VisitPhillyOS. Nothing too complicated. For residents it could come configured to, by default, point to applications ("cloud"-based, of course) for things like managing utilities, licenses, and taxes, finding local community media, reporting non-emergency incidents (311 stuff), and other things that residents might be interested in doing with the city (however, expanded online presences for these services would have to be created first; see Philadelphia 3.0).

With high-speed communications infrastructure on the gigabit level, the experience of using cloud applications (if well-constructed) shouldn't differ too much from using native applications today, assuming a reliable connection.

The hardware rental aspect of this idea isn't technically necessary; residents would be just as able to access their personal cloud-desktop from library computers, or from any computer. However, the rental aspect is exciting because it seems a good way to expand tech access in the city. I know people who, over and over, save up, buy a cheap computer and end up pawning it at a later date (at a much lower price) because they need the money for something else.  A pay-as-you-need model might be more appropriate for many residents. And with all their data online, if they did have to get rid of their computer, it wouldn't be as big a deal.

Of couse, another dependency here is that network access itself would have to be affordable. Netbooks are much less useful without the net.

Oh man, and schools could strike up some sort of subscription deal, so that students would all have a PhillySchoolOS cloud desktop account, and a netbook. Look for ones that are good for reading and eliminate the need for physical text books. No more beat-up, out-dated texts (even if the computers get a little banged, the information content could be kept up-to-date). I suppose they could even rent out iPads, though without handwriting recognition, or the ability to wrest control from Apple, I'm far less excited about that idea. Go with some other tablet netbook.

And this wouldn't only be valuable for the technology challenged either. I've actually considered doing something like this myself—keeping a machine up at my house, and just VNCing in from a nice light, portable, netbook with an SSD. The primary thing that stops me is that latency is just too high—I like (and for some development tasks, need) a snappy interface. Gigabit to the rescue!

One more reason I like the idea of netbook rental is that it could work even without gigabit! It would just work so much better with it.

So that was my favorite idea. Here are a few others I like for one reason or another:

City Online
I would create a "city online" that means: online where and how much is the article you wanna buy + see traffic online + school clases online + trafic cameras online + etc etc : that means from home you can see ALL that happens in the city services
Also related:
Make every city device a data gathering node. Traffic lights, garbage cans, surveillance cameras, public spaces, metro stations, buses, etc. Then, use statistical analysis on the data to create a better city according to people behavior and needs
More data (yesss!). While we're at it, start applying IPV6 addresses to city locations like mad. Houses, street lamps, trash cans, mail boxes—all of it. Then, give them all little transmitters and let them send status updates over fiber. "I'm a trashcan, and I'm full. Empty me!" Maybe a little far off, but not nearly as sci-fi as it once was.

Remote Music Collaboration
Real Time Music Collaboration with Remote Viewing Parties... Artists throughout the city can participate in a real-time concert from the comfort of their own homes, while listening parties allow friends to listen, cheer and sing along. From home.
I actually know a friend of mine who tried something similar out (a remote DJ tag-team session). It can be done, using current infrastructure, but it's far from ideal. Because the software has to play tricks to synchronize the timing between the two musicians, it's clunky to use for things involving coordinated improvisation.

Redesign all of the existing libraries into a multi-sensory experience on all possible topics.
I don't really know what that means, but I think something with the libraries would be great. In order for libraries to stay relevant they've got to do a bit of reimagining of what they are. Libraries aren't just books. Libraries were centers of historical memory. They were places where the encoded information in society went to be maintained and cataloged, so that it could not be forgotten. These days "the internet" is taking on that role. I guess. I'm not really convinced. I mean, sure, the internet doesn't forget, except it does. Things get deleted all the time. Without a concerted effort to maintain information, it's too easy to throw it away. Of course, some organizations have made it their business to cache and catalogue the internet (e.g. Google). But what's the library's role today. Thankfully, I believe there are some smart folks in Philly thinking about this very question on a regular basis.

1 comment:

  1. Great stuff Kwa. I really enjoyed reading your analysis. As passionate as you are about these ideas, and especially the first one, feel free to post an idea in the contest that synthesizes it and links to the detail here.

    The way the final prize is given out will be based on a more expanded treatment of the ideas, which you've already started to do.