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The many faces of Digital Transformation – Societal Scenarios V

The Digital Transformation creates a digital mirror of the city –digital shadow in the image- that makes possible to monitor, understand, simulate and take decisions in the cyberspace. Image credit: BMI Lab

Smart cities

Cities are basically existing and organised through and around infrastructures. The more efficient these infrastructures the better off is the city, the business and the citizens quality of life. The digital transformation changes the way infrastructures operate and can be monitored but, most importantly the digital transformation create a “digital infrastructure” that can really change the rules of the game.

Notice that physical infrastructures operates within physical constraints, like streets and roads are constrained by the presence of buildings and geographical obstacles, and within economic constraints, like you cannot store all kinds of goods in a shop both because of space limitation and of economic impossibility to keep all those assets mostly unproductive (i.e. that shop will be selling only a fraction of them, meaning most of the assets are just cost). Because of these usually physical infrastructures are designed to be as effective as possible within the existing constraints and don’t scale gracefully (or don’t scale at all).

On the contrary, digital infrastructures do not suffer from physical constraints (or at least these constraints can be circumvented, like the capacity of a data centre, the capacity of a communication pipe…), and therefore their topology can be more effective in linking resources with users (most physical infrastructures tend to find an equilibrium in a fractal topology, this gives an advantage over a linear topology –effectiveness rises from x0.66 to x0.75-) approaching linear scalability (meaning that if you double resources you double the output).

The magic of digital transformation in cities is that it can leverage on so many data generated by

  • the increasing digitisation of objects and infrastructure, 
  • digitalisation of processes, and
  • data generated by citizens

Through data analytics and machine learning these data generate more data -metadata- and eventually meaning and intelligence.

The digital infrastructure created by a digital transformation is also an infrastructure that leverages on distributed intelligence and most interesting part of this distributed intelligence is provided by citizens. This goes both ways:

  • citizens, implicitly through their behaviour, or explicitly by creating interaction towards the smart city can share their personal awareness, intelligence and perception of value (issues, problems, appreciation);
  • the city can provide assisted AI to citizens to improve their awareness as well as to influence their behaviour resulting in a better use of resources, hence in a smarter city.

This latter aspect is very important since it connects technology (and economics) with social implication. Smart cities require smart citizens and the digital transformation is both a tool and the backstage to make citizens smarter.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the New Initiative Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He is a member of the IEEE in 2050 Ad Hoc Committee. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.