Each week we will bring you a summary of what happened this week on our site, on Twitter, and in the wider world of civic data. Suggest stories on Twitter with #ThisWeekInData
AR Is Transforming Tech. What Can It Do for Cities? — Data-Smart City Solutions
Augmented reality (AR), a technology that superimposes digital objects on a user’s view of their real-world environment, provides an exciting new opportunity for data visualization, and universities around the world have begun working with governments to explore the possibilities. For instance, the MIT Media Lab collaborated with the city of Hamburg to model the locations of potential refugee accommodations for a group of participants, who could interact with the digital model by moving LEGO bricks.
“We want people to be able to physically visualize congestion,” said Ariel Noyman, a researcher with the MIT Media Lab.
“Collaboration” is a key term in discussions about the future of AR tech, which may soon make possible community-wide participatory planning processes through the digital medium. Already, another MIT collaboration has begun to do exactly this with an AR phone app developed for the city-state of Andorra. Data-Smart’s Stephen Goldsmith and Chris Bousquet stress, however, that if AR is to truly improve users’ lives, communities need also be to involved in the design process for the deployment of the technology itself.
“NERD Boston” Database Provides Insight into Inequity — The Heller School
A new, open-source database launched by the Institute for Child, Youth and Family Policy at Brandeis University’s Heller School reveals large differences in poverty rates for specific ethnicities across different neighborhoods, as well as inequities within specific neighborhoods.
The Boston edition of the National Equity Research Database (NERD) incorporates data from the U.S. Census Bureau, and is designed to facilitate easy comparisons between Boston’s neighborhoods.
“NERD Boston brings a new level of detail to conversations around racial and ethnic equity in our city. That’s information that anyone should be able to access—and use,” says Dolores Acevedo-Garcia, the director of the Institute.
Startup ‘Bullish’ on Startups Solving City Challenges — Smart Cities Dive
URBAN-X, a startup accelerator based in Brooklyn, NY, has announced its fourth cohort of startups aimed at solving civic challenges. In this interview with Smart Cities Dive, managing director Micah Kotch talks about bridging the gap between the startup world and city government and new roles for startups in real estate, planning, and mobility.
Seattle Forms Innovation Council to Boost Citywide Tech Solutions — Smart Cities Dive
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan recently announced the formation of the city’s Innovation Advisory Council (IAC), which aims to develop tech solutions to urgent problems like homelessness through public-private partnerships. Representatives for companies like Amazon and Microsoft will sit on the council, but currently, it is unclear what role they will play, and whether their main contribution will be funds or employee hours.
Mayor Durkan, though, is confident. “Working together, we have to seize the opportunity to address our shared challenges in new and innovative ways,” she said.
The Democratization of Data Science — Harvard Business Review
Jonathon Cornelissen, co-founder and CEO of an online learning platform for data science, believes that the practice of relegating data-science knowledge to a small number of employees is a mistake. According to Cornelissen, as data analysis becomes more ubiquitous, organizations put themselves at a disadvantage by expecting only their data scientists to be able to understand and analyze data. Under such circumstances, data-literate staff are potentially overburdened not only by the work of data analysis itself, but also by the work of translating their findings in a manner that their coworkers understand. Instead, Cornelissen recommends that organizations work to encourage broad data-literacy through educational programs.
Tampa, Florida has begun a pilot project using AI technology from Palo Alto-based Waycare to analyze traffic-related data produced by sensors and cameras around the city. Potential benefits of the application include faster response times for emergency services and improved traffic engineering.
“These are things that are going to have huge impacts on primary crash reduction,” said Waycare CEO Noam Maital.
The office of U.S. Representative Eric Swalwell is working with a group of students from Stanford University to develop Pulse, a civic engagement platform that pairs an interface for citizen input with an internal dashboard that elected officials can use to organize and decipher constituent feedback.
“We’ve seen a positive response so far,” said Drake Hougo, the CEO of the project. “We’re looking forward to building on it as the elections get closer in November.”
Georgia’s paperless voting system is the subject of a new federal lawsuit filed by election security experts, who are concerned by a number of bizarre problems Georgia voters reportedly experienced during the state’s primary elections in May, including a glitch that caused cohabitating spouses to be assigned to different city council districts and another that caused a voter to receive the wrong ballet on his machine.
The office of Georgia’s Secretary of State Brian Kemp defended the security of state elections, but has set up a bipartisan commission to look into changing the state’s voting machines for 2020.
Smart city spending is estimated to reach about $81 billion this year, but researchers from IBM X-Force Red and Threatcare have raised security concerns about the sensor systems from top suppliers. Specifically, the researchers found 17 new vulnerabilities in the products, including guessable default passwords and a bug that would allow an attacker to sidestep authentication checks.
Running smart cities systems on the open internet also presents risks. Using IoT crawlers, the researchers were able to find thousands of vulnerable systems, including a European country’s radiation detectors.
The researchers stress the importance of cities preemptively applying patches to their sensor systems, especially as the role of smart technologies in municipal operations continues to grow.
As it turns out, machine-learning algorithms make for poor sports. The available anecdotes are mostly humorous: One tic-tac-toe bot learned how to win by causing its bot opponent to crash, and another bot running a physical gripper learned to exploit camera angles to make it look like it was successfully gripping a ball when it wasn’t even touching it.
“Today’s algorithms do what you say, not what you meant,” says Catherine Olsson, a researcher at Google.
The principle is important to keep in mind as AI systems become more powerful. Cheating AI may be cute now, but it’s not hard to imagine similar behavior wreaking havoc on an electrical grid, for instance. And for now, the advice is a bit counterintuitive: Researchers from Uber’s AI lab recommend developers to collaborate with their AI and embrace the possibility of the unintended, rather than believe they have perfect control.
Last week, Kansas City, Missouri announced the names of startups participating in its fourth annual Innovation Partnership Program, through which companies will partner with city agencies for 20 hours each week to test products and services. Participants include Geospiza, a public safety company that compiles data streams to prioritize potential rescue operations, and Dynamhex, a company that uses data analytics to reduce energy waste.
Responder Ventures, a venture capital firm that invests in startups creating technology specifically for emergency responders, partnered with one of the biggest names in cloud technology, Amazon Web Services, in a project called ResponderXLabs. ResponderXLabs provided 13 startups with the vast computational resources of AWS, increasing their efficiency by providing convenient analytical solutions to simplify processes that would ordinarily take up a large amount of time.
How ‘Form-a-Palooza’ is Helping D.C. Simplify City Government Forms — Bloomberg Cities
City employees and several dozen residents of Washington, D.C. worked together at a recent Saturday workshop to simplify five government forms, including the 14-page application required to operate food trucks. “Form-a-Palooza” provided the opportunity for residents to interact with department directors and learn about the application design process, provide critiques, as well as their own suggestions. The results of last’s year’s Palooza can be found here.
David Yokum, Form-a-Palooza’s founder, believes that the importance of attempts to redesign government forms extends beyond what’s on the page.
“It’s true that a form might be convoluted because the process it maps onto is convoluted,” Yokum said. “…Form-a-Palooza is a good pressure point to spark that larger conversation.”