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Smart City 2.0 – Mission-Oriented Convergence of Digital Technologies

April 15, 2019

Kieran Brown was proud to address the EU Blockchain Observatory‘s workshop on the ‘Convergence of Blockchain, AI and IoT’ on 28 March 2019. Together with Tom Grogan of Mishcon de Reya and Nabil Manzoor, he discussed the emergence and convergence of emerging technologies.

While acknowledging the importance of technical working groups to align computational frameworks and ensure long-term scalability and interoperability, Mr. Manzoor, Mr. Brown and Mr. Grogan stressed the need to rally the public-facing emerging technology conversation around the burning questions which keep citizens, regulators and policymakers awake at night (e.g. job creation, economic growth, security, quality of life). They provided a simplistic example: end users will use and embrace 5G technology not because it utilises a broader spectrum range, but because it makes their mobile internet slightly faster.

The presenters suggested that a natural home for the emerging technology mission may reside in the ‘Smart City.’ The concept is not new, though the existing implementations primarily exist in siloes: e.g. AI-optimised traffic lights or an IoT (Internet of Things)-integrated waste management programme. They argued that these implementations, although interesting, only get exciting when they begin to talk to each other and aggregate datasets, thereby producing more meaningful outcomes. This is where the primary blockchain use-case comes in: enabling interaction and data sharing between previously siloed datasets.

This interoperability has the potential to unlock the ‘Smart City 2.0’ which, in reality, is what the Smart City vision has always been: a living, breathing, evolving giant enterprise which grows and works with its residents. The mission may differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, city to city, even neighbourhood to neighbourhood, but the key to monitoring and pursuing them meaningfully resides in that central Smart City 2.0 component, underpinned by advanced technology.

Mr. Manzoor, Mr. Brown and Mr. Grogan shared experiences and knowledge from the front lines, advising forward-thinking and innovative governments on their emerging technology policies and regulatory frameworks. They noted that governments should engage in a comprehensive strategic self-evaluation exercise to determine what ‘success’ looks like to them and what their own missions should be. The presenters also identified three general, high-level guiding principles to apply when considering the adoption of emerging technologies:

  • Dedicated public oversight is required. Stakeholders require direction and leadership from regulators and policymakers. Contrary to popular opinion, public-sector engagement does not have to stifle innovation. A permissive, directive and enabling framework can actually supercharge it.
  • Avoid vendor/technology lock-in. The public sector must remain solutions focussed and vendor/technology agnostic. Public-sector frameworks should promote open standards and development to encourage interoperability.
  • Education is key to winning the hearts and minds of stakeholders. Public understanding of emerging technology is extremely low, and a lack of education breeds mistrust. Public-sector-led forums are essential, with dedicated education and research programmes to deepen stakeholder understanding.

The presenters are grateful to the EU Commission and the EU Blockchain Observatory for the invitation to speak to their thought leaders and industry experts and look forward to strengthening ties with them in the months to come.

About EU Blockchain Observatory and Forum

The forum is an EU-wide initiative led by the European Commission to monitor blockchain initiatives in Europe, produce a comprehensive source of blockchain knowledge, create an attractive and transparent forum for sharing information and opinion, and make recommendations on the role the EU could play in blockchain.