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IBM AI Government The Internet Technology

Will IBM Watson Be Your Next Mayor? 148

MrSeb writes "When we think of computer networks, we think of routers and servers and fiber optic cables and laptops and smartphones — we think of the internet. In actuality, though, the visible internet is just the tip of the iceberg. There are secret military networks, and ad hoc wireless networks, and utility companies have sprawling, cellular networks that track everything from the health of oil pipelines and uranium enrichment machines through to the remaining capacity of septic tanks — and much, much more. What if we connected all of these networks to the internet, to form an internet of things? What if we then put a massive computer at the middle of this internet of things and used this wealth of data to power smart cars, smart homes, smart supermarkets, and smart cities? Unsurprisingly, IBM and Cisco are already working on such smart cities. For nearly two years, Rio de Janeiro's utilities, traffic systems, and emergency services has been managed by a single 'Ops Center,' a huge hub of technologies provided by both IBM and Cisco. With 300 LCD screens spread across 100 rooms, connected via 30,000 meters of fiber optic cable, Ops Center staff monitor live video from 450 cameras and three helicopters, and track the location of 10,000 buses and ambulances via GPS. Other screens output the current weather, and simulations of tomorrow's weather up to 150 miles from the city — and yet more screens display heatmaps of disease outbreaks, and the probability of natural disasters like landslides. There's even a Crisis Room, which links the Ops Center to Rio's mayor and Civil Defense departments via a Cisco telepresence suite. This sounds awesome — but is it really a good idea to give a computer company (IBM is not an urban planner!) so much control over one of the world's biggest cities?"
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Will IBM Watson Be Your Next Mayor?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 26, 2012 @10:19PM (#39816091)

    I just hope that the user interface doesn't include the disaster bar. I know that setting off a volcano in your city center can add excitement and all, but that would be going too far.

    • by Auroch ( 1403671 )

      I just hope that the user interface doesn't include the disaster bar. I know that setting off a volcano in your city center can add excitement and all, but that would be going too far.

      I believe you could retain a functional disaster bar by simply installing Windows ME. I think they called it the "start menu", though. You could sandbox your SimCity instances too, and make it (slightly) recursive.

      • I just hope that the user interface doesn't include the disaster bar. I know that setting off a volcano in your city center can add excitement and all, but that would be going too far.

        I believe you could retain a functional disaster bar by simply installing Windows ME. I think they called it the "start menu", though. You could sandbox your SimCity instances too, and make it (slightly) recursive.

        Please forward these worthy suggestions to Watson [wikimedia.org], the present mayor of Ottawa. I'm sure the mayor can rustle up some Canadian federal support for these fine initiatives.

      • by jtara ( 133429 )

        Keep in mind, this is Brazil.

        There will be a person behind the disaster bar to give you a number. Another person will hand you a form to fill out. A disaster specialist will help you make your selection, but won't be able to retrive the disaster from stock. The stock-person will do that. Yet another will accept your fee payment, and another person will hand you your receipt. Then, somebody else will wrap your disaster up real nice for you.

        If your an English-speaker, you will be referred to the Manager, who

  • I cannot wait for the first sex scandal.
    • Re:Quimby (Score:5, Funny)

      by Auroch ( 1403671 ) on Thursday April 26, 2012 @10:54PM (#39816457)

      I cannot wait for the first sex scandal.

      "Duuude, did you see the pictures of the mayor getting defragged last night?"
      "Sure, his hard disk is really fast, and yeah, he goes into standby pretty quick ... but there's virtually no time delay when waking him back up!"
      "What do you mean, more ram?"
      "Small town mayor caught letting strange women use his touchpad"
      "What do you mean, Sharon? You know you can't really catch a virus from him"
      "Fsck! Fsck Fsck Fsck! That's all I ever hear from you!"
      "For the last time, can someone explain to IT that it's called sandboxing, not 'putting on protection'".
      "When's the last time you were blown out, Mr. Mayor?"
      "DVDA? How about DVD-R?"
      "Hey! Watch where you put that stick!"
      "Wrong port! Wrong port!"
      "It doesn't work if you put it in upside down. I don't feel anything!"
      "What do you mean, you want me to switch? I was born THIS way!"
      "Yeah, who's your mac daddy?"

  • I'd rather have Watson as my mayor than Kim Kardashian(yes, there are rumors she wants to run for mayor out in California)
  • The malware purveyors are peeing themselves in excitement at the very thought.

  • That sounds awesome, but they should definitely call the City Management software Wilkins instead of Watson.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    So, rather than Colossus taking over by force, we're going to hand it the world on a plate?

    Sounds good to me but we've got to get it off to a good start and then not mess with it later.

  • by scottbomb ( 1290580 ) on Thursday April 26, 2012 @10:27PM (#39816183) Journal

    You will be assimilated.

    Resistance is futile.

  • http://wiki.evageeks.org/Magi [evageeks.org] So there needs to be three Watsons per city, and giant robots piloted by teenagers to protect them.
  • by GoodNewsJimDotCom ( 2244874 ) on Thursday April 26, 2012 @10:27PM (#39816193)
    It was called Paranoia.
  • by alen ( 225700 ) on Thursday April 26, 2012 @10:31PM (#39816233)

    All the traffic lights are computer controlled
    Speed sensors and cameras on the roads
    They are installing fiber optics in the subways

    What exactly is the problem?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      What exactly is the problem?

      Because I don't want to be fucking recorded wherever I go. In regards to the cameras, at least.

    • It seems someone didn't watch Die Hard 4.0 ...

    • by wanzeo ( 1800058 ) on Friday April 27, 2012 @01:04AM (#39817165)

      But those examples are only replacing simple machines with more automated machines. What is really interesting, and what the summary hints at, is the possibility of replacing jobs that have traditionally been thought to require critical thinking.

      Imagine a day when I can take my medical concerns to a computer with access to far more expertise than any doctor, or rely on a computer as a lawyer with far more knowledge than any human lawyer. Hell, you probably recoil from the idea of electing an AI president simply because you watched 2001: A Space Odyssey or Terminator and then made up your mind. You racist.

      • I'd vote for HAL over any current candidate. Pretty sure a machine would find a way to balance the budget...

      • by bws111 ( 1216812 )

        The problem with the article is that it starts off in reality, heads into fantasy, then jumps headlong into tinfoil hat land.

        Reality - IBM and Cisco built a city management center in Rio. This system allows the department heads to know what is going on in the city and respond as appropriate. IBM and Cisco aren't running the city, they just provided some tools.

        Fantasy - The department heads will be replaced by automation. An example they give is ordering factories to slow down if there is bad air quali

  • And this is the kind of reason why IBM sold of the POS division [slashdot.org] that was doomed to irrelevancy and thin profit margins.

  • by roca ( 43122 ) on Thursday April 26, 2012 @10:39PM (#39816303) Homepage

    Is it really a good idea to give hackers so much control over one of the world's biggest cities?

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Given the average local politician possibly yes.
    • Is it really a good idea to give hackers so much control over one of the world's biggest cities?

      I doubt they'd do a worse job than the people running them now. >.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    IBM (at least Research) hires smart people : doctors, mathematicians, engineers so I think calling it 'just' a computer company is missing something

  • by Prune ( 557140 ) on Thursday April 26, 2012 @10:45PM (#39816375)
    Funny to see this posted barely a month after http://tech.slashdot.org/story/12/03/20/1410215/the-risk-of-a-meltdown-in-the-cloud [slashdot.org] given that a similar reasoning as in the former article can be applied here, and catastrophic failures in both sorts of systems are likely inevitable. The difference is that a failure in the cloud won't have the disastrous consequences of a failure of a fully automated and integrated, largely autonomous City Management System. Having humans in the mix adds human error, but it likely decreases the likelihood of some types of massive system-wide failures that common sense would otherwise avert; more importantly, the high level of integration implied by such a system is the biggest problem, just as much as it's the biggest contributor to the expected increased efficiency.

    I'd rather live in a poorly run city than in one where large-scale non-natural disaster strikes and potentially causes significant death and destruction, or worse (imagination is the limit).
    • by bws111 ( 1216812 )

      How, exactly, is a failure in a city management system going to cause significant death and destruction? What failure mode could possibly lead to that (that doesn't already exist without such a system)? Failure of the system may mean it does not prevent death and destruction, but cause them?

      There are loads of places where automation has been used to supplement or replace human decision making where death and destruction is a possibility. Everything from simple traffic lights to the avionics in commerci

    • by TheLink ( 130905 )
      And humans are not complex systems?
      • by Prune ( 557140 )
        In case you're not trolling: humans are very complex systems but most possibilities of catastrophic failures have been weeded out by the trial and error process of natural selection though many many generations with many many individuals. In the case of a system as is discussed above, it must be gotten right the first time since there's no way you can make a detailed enough simulation that will fully match real world situations, unless you can afford the simulation to run as slow as only a few times faster
  • by retchdog ( 1319261 ) on Thursday April 26, 2012 @10:48PM (#39816393) Journal

    looks like capitalism is finally catching up [wikipedia.org]. i doubt it'll go well.

  • ....by James Blish (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cities_in_Flight).

    This is where the city has supercomputers regulate the day to day life of a city. How long until we reach that point in time?

  • What could possibly go wrong?

  • Short Answer: No (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Galestar ( 1473827 ) on Thursday April 26, 2012 @10:52PM (#39816437) Homepage
    As someone linked yesterday http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Betteridge's_Law_of_Headlines [wikipedia.org]

    Betteridge's Law of Headlines is an adage that states, "Any headline which ends in a question mark can be answered by the word 'no'".
  • by ivi ( 126837 ) on Thursday April 26, 2012 @10:54PM (#39816447)

    As soon as a terrorist group (or even some group wanting to only "fiddle" with the controls) finds it or learns how to hack into it's controller's seat, it's value sinks or clears to Zero.

    Why this need - on small, not-so-smart minds for ONE of anything? Yes, you've gotta have a "whole" city's paying-power to make such systems affordable is one possible defense. But why not a more hierarchical arrangement, with fail-over backup capabilities to handle other sectors' work, if that sector gets hacked or knocked out? ...a bit like the Internet.

  • What if we connected all of these networks to the internet, to form an internet of things?

    I think if we do all that, then fears of "cyber terror" become legit rather than farcical.

  • by nimbius ( 983462 )
    does this mean cisco gets its own icon as well? I mean, thinking back to the last slashvertisement I saw im pretty sure Plantronics is probably feeling a bit burned, what with only getting a 15 minutes of video commercial time on slashdot.
  • I enjoy Asimov's stories but I had no idea that IBM was using them as a business plan.
  • Screw parks and rec.
  • is it really a good idea to give a computer company (IBM is not an urban planner!) so much control over one of the world's biggest cities?

    When the alternative is for it to be completely out of control, then yes, that's probably the better option.

    I mean, sure, when they're disconnected and disjointed systems, one going down every couple days for extended periods, it won't gain the kind of press a single, major, centralized outage for a few hours would, but you're really far better off. Think of it as cars v

    • Re:Out of control (Score:4, Interesting)

      by gl4ss ( 559668 ) on Friday April 27, 2012 @02:58AM (#39817653) Homepage Journal

      somehow the headline and summary imply that it's ibm employees working at the ops centre making decisions about where to send ambulances and where to (try to) route traffic, while actually ibm is just the contractor who built the thing.

      the fact that there's a telepresence connection to the mayor kinda suggests otherwise, that the control is with the mayor and whoever he put to work in the central ops. the summary is essentially claiming that the us military is controlled by whoever built the presidents phone too.

    • Think of it as cars versus jets... People are far more afraid of the one that they're considerably safer in.

      People can deal with the possibility of becoming a crispy critter. It's the possibility of becoming a crispy critter John Doe that they have trouble with.

  • Automated systems can make very complex decisions based on lots of data, but they are not "smart" in quite the same way people are. In particular while computers can to a fantastic job of finding an optimal solution, the difficulty is in deciding on the merit function you are trying to optimize. It is not an easy question - what is the optimization function for a city?

  • I'm asking before I decide how I feel about the idea of Watson as my mayor. I live in Washington, DC, so I need to make an informed decision considering the context of what the word 'mayor' means around here.

    • by chill ( 34294 )

      It means something related to crack cocaine, prostitutes, cronyism, overpaid political "advisers", kickbacks, election fraud and eventual retirement to a seat on the city council.

      Probably should be coded in Perl, just to cover all the bases.

  • by msobkow ( 48369 ) on Thursday April 26, 2012 @11:25PM (#39816661) Homepage Journal

    If you don't want a computer company tying together and coordinating such data center systems, who would you like to have do so?

    The media companies? Health care providers, perhaps? How about game companies like Nintendo?

    Uncoordinated and unmanaged data is all but useless. The fact that all this data feeds into reporting by a central system does not mean the system is in control. I have no doubt there are still a few hundred actual operations staff involved.

    Or did you think the monitors were for the benefit of an AI like Watson?

  • This is exactly what the last Robot vignette is about.

    • by artor3 ( 1344997 )

      I'm pretty sure the first robot mayor in Asimov's universe, prior to the story you're referring to, is supposed to be elected while disguised as a human. Kinda like Mitt Romney, except the robot in the story followed the First Law.

  • How do you bribe a computer?

  • What if we then put a massive computer at the middle of this Internet of things

    You're doing it wrong.

    You don't put a massive ANYTHING in the middle of a huge flow of data. Instead, you come up with ways to route the flow around the network to where the data needs to go, and you limit risk by isolating systems from each other, and creating APIs, Protocols, and Redundancy. There's a reason we're still able to use the Internet -- It was specifically designed to avoid such single points of failures.

    Now, a distributed system? Yeah, maybe. Where you can hot swap out a chunk and the r

  • I don't know that IBM/CISCO supplied it, but even we have a scaled down version of this in Anchorage, Alaska.

    Anchorage, shortly after 9/11, desided it needed something along these lines. We are only about 300,000 people. If we have it, I would be suprised to find that anyplace larger than us does not.

    I did visit ours a few years back, shortly after it was implemented. It's not in the scale or Rio's, but we don't have 6 million-plus people either. I don't recall seeing any IBM logos, but when you're the s

    • by Osgeld ( 1900440 )

      anoyone else thats not shoving their 1970's final fight and latest publicity stunt as a sales pitch

  • I suspect that the system could easily be gamed. You notice a bunch of farmers blah blahing about a farmer's market so you ask for a building permit on the "Carrot Friendly" building. The computer puts two and two together and poof you have building approval with the computer thinking it has solved two problems. Or you pay 100 people to write in and say there aren't enough stripclubs replacing playgrounds. Bang the computer rezones a playground. I would love to see an smart system provide an independent re
  • Well (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Osgeld ( 1900440 )

    have you seen the documentary on developing watson? it seems very smart in a very specific focus, but in the end it could not tell you its ass from a hole in the ground. its a very high speed database search on common phrases, not intelligence

    and as far as the ops center? ohh increase number of LCD screen = better right? I invite you to look into LA's command center, or maybe NYC or any other grade A state of the art traffic center in the last 20 years, fuck my city of just over a million has more than thre

  • ... and I'm glad it's happening in another country.

  • Watson mixes up Toronto and Chicago now Toronto does have a lot stuff copied from Chicago but still it may be a big mess to let Watson run stuff.

  • I can't believe no one has mentioned "The Return of the Archons" yet...
  • In halo odst a super computer controlled the whole city in South Africa. Interesting....
  • With the information I can access, I can run things 900 to 1200 times better than any human.
    End of line.

  • by bloggerhater ( 2439270 ) on Friday April 27, 2012 @01:36AM (#39817305)

    "This sounds awesome — but is it really a good idea to give a computer company (IBM is not an urban planner!) so much control over one of the world's biggest cities?"

    I feel this question is moot considering the number of professionals likely consulting on these jobs. Just as it has been with the computer automation of any industry. You can't expect a group of computer scientists / engineers to slap this together on their own.

    I also highly doubt that this is a centralized system with single attack vectors as some have speculated. This system is the culmination of multiple points of reference collected from multiple sub systems and quite intelligently parsed. It isn't as if the network that controls the traffic lights is wired directly into the water and electrical grids.

  • IBM Mayor:
      -I for one welcome all my new loyal subjects.
      My first mandate will be;
      no one leaves!
      Now BOW!

  • Who cares how much shit there is a septic tank? The company that needs to empty it, that's who - and as TFA states, they're already connected to it. Utopian singularity retardedness.

    P.S. the answer, as always, is "no".

  • Did you ever see what IBM did with his system management software suite, namely Tivoli? I am absolutely sure I don't want them managing my city. There would never been enough taxes to pay for an upgrade and patch the software once a month. And if there is, I am about sure the upgrade will fail or the CPU will top at 100% for no reason.
  • I think some people are missing the point: This system isn't making automated decisions for the city on a scale that isn't already being done in many places (automatic adjustment of traffic lights based on traffic conditions, for instance). Most of this is the aggregation of data which is then displayed in some form of useful visualization or is synthesized into some supposedly useful metric. There are still human decision makers. If the system is taking a flood of data and is even mildly successful at a
  • A computerised system as ruler is a great idea. But to be a true democracy it has to be open source with democratically voted in patches to the source code.

    Say the Ruler starts developments in public parklands that the majority doesn't want. Just submit a patch "-if (isParkland() ) develop(); +if (isParkland() ) protect();" Have patches voted on at each election cycle. The patches that get a majority go into the codebase and the Ruler program then runs this new patched code that people have elected it to ru

  • TFS: "Other screens output the current weather ..."

    Sometimes I wonder if such progress also leads to a mental state one might suspect to be associated with troglodytes, in times when oh so many individuals and organisations have caved in regards the pressures of corporations and governments.


  • Criminals, cronies, political hacks?

  • We give a lot of power to unqualified people already through the democratic process. Given their background in managing complex systems on an enterprize/global scale, I'd trust IBM more than Arnold Schwarzenegger, or someone who majored in political science...

  • SELECT *
    FROM dbo.human_resources.employees
    INTO dbo.outsourced.fired

  • Have these people never read any science fiction? Never does putting a computer in charge of a bunch of systems go well for humans..


    Resedients can look forward to having a maniacal computer trigger some PLCs to mix waste products with their cereal...

  • A talk [ted.com] by Rio's mayor, Eduardo Paes, was posted on TED today. Fast forward to 9:00 get a look at their command center.
  • What's the difference between the mayor of your city and Watson? One's a cold-hearted machine that cares for nothing but the betterment of its corporate masters... and the other is a supercomputer designed by IBM!
  • Primm Slim [wikia.com] has been elected your local sheriff. The good news is that he'll never become violent with you, since he has no combat AI. The bad news is that he'll never become violent with criminals, since he has no combat AI.

  • ... created an optimized damage and destruction event via internet access to all this data....???
    Locks are for honest people....

  • Bob Cringely has been saying that IBM is poised to sell off or lay off the majority of its North American workforce.
    http://www.cringely.com/2012/04/by-2015-IBM-will-look-like-oracle/ [cringely.com]

    So do that mean the mayor's staff will be semi-anonymous call center employees in some other country?

  • Well, that's one idealistic utopias of mine. To have a technology driven dictatorship. We already have the tools. We just need to educate ourselves and our children that representative democracy comes with too much human power, and that brings to surface the worst side of human kind. To exerce power over other humans, to subjugate our own kind in favour of corporations and institutions full of interest for profit, and not to the evolution of mankind. I'm talking about full direct democracy, like Iceland cro
  • Watson is just a specific (but amazing) example of the use of analytics to solve our societal challenges...now and in the future (coming soon to a community near you). All analytics does is sift through the ever-increasing mountains of data our engineered and industrial society produces on a daily basis as well as data generated by instrumentation of the natural world. Humans will never be able to do that...our biology holds us back...we are not designed for such tasks (why does R. L. Gore and Associates

Things are not as simple as they seems at first. - Edward Thorp