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Data : towards a new resource to look after our buildings and cities


Here is the platform in its entirety whose summary was published on May 11th, 2017 in Le Monde. (more information)

Data with increasing value

If services from giants of the Internet (Google, Facebook …) are free, it is because we are not a customer but a product. The data we produce through our researches, exchanges, purchases have a value that these companies know how to benefit from. They resell them. We live in a world which records our individual behaviors. Algorithms learn to know about us personally according to the targets that an advertiser wishes to reach. This personalization is intensified thanks to the temporal data accumulation related to us. This makes possible to refine our profile, what we like and to predict what we want.
Initially, the value was poor and hard to manage because there were few data. But the more time goes, the more this value increases. The accumulation of an increasing number of data collected all over the web allows to get or deduce key information about us. It is then possible to foresee and answer better to our needs. Wisely or unwisely.
It should be noted that the using and valuation of these data has increased and is increasing over time. These data, first expensive, (for their classification and storage) became very rewarding in view of the results accomplished today by these private companies.

Reorganizing the Web

The arrival of Internet is connected to the arrival of new dimensions. Age 1 accelerated our exchanges with emails. It gave us access to a growing number of information and services (Google). Age 2 facilitated connections of individuals with other individuals. It is social networks. These new dimensions were until then separated from traditional spatial dimensions. Age 3 is the continuous relationship with space. It starts with the smartphone that locates us and allows us to find our way. But we are at the beginning of this new era. It will be expressed through the introduction of digital technology in our private, shared and public spaces. This is what we are talking about when we talk about smart-building or smart-city: a physical space in close connection with digital space through fixed or moving connected objects (car, bike, etc.), our smartphones and the generalization of sensors and actuators in our buildings and cities. This invites us to wonder in what kind of environment we would like to live.
Our data, localized in physical space, will reorganize and recreate neguentropy within the web. This reorganization will produce a new, more structured mapping of the web. There will be new consequences on our relations with services and information (age 1) but also with other individuals (age 2) mainly through the setting up of proximity connections. The smart-city could multiply local intelligences.

New data sets to be organized

Our buildings and cities will process a countless amount of new data that will produce key information about the functioning of human settlements at different scales: the building, the block, the neighborhood, the city, the territory. Data related to environments (energy consumption, affluence, access) but also attached to new local social networks. The good use of this large quantity of information or big-data will allow to improve the working and efficiency of these groups (buildings, towns, etc.). It will be done by correlating supply and demand, by sharing needs and resources (energy with smart grids, space, transport, etc.) and then by anticipating. It will able to suggest, initiate or promote proximity social links. In fact, those are less numerous in our cities because our schedules are difficult to synchronize – at the time of acceleration. It will multiply the local synergies and may also create new aesthetics, develop some chance by the production of serendipity or surprise.

But the treatment of these data must respect some fundamentals. Particularly the preservation of privacy to ensure the free will of everyone by protecting personal data. They must be properly anonymised and aggregated by new rules to be determined by the CNIL (the main defender of individual freedoms and guarantor of any attempts of surveillance). Once these guarantees are integrated, data can be stored and used. They will become a resource of increasing value over time, a raw material of great value for all future companies wishing to offer new services and create new businesses. But then, how the retrieval and storage of these data should be regulated? What will be the conditions to their access? Who can benefit from it ?

These questions include the privatization of neighborhoods and cities: the incursion of the private sector into the management of public or shared spaces or environments whose powers should be defined. This could involve the implementation of several vigilance actions:
- Interoperability of instruments and systems divided into three layers: sensors, infrastructure, cloud. This model is defended by a group of actors in the building and IT industry grouped together within the SBA (Smart Building Alliance).
- The requirement for access to classified, organized or tagged data, and smart-data. In the same way that it is necessary to know its language to read a text, a message must also contain within it a decoder and the knowledge of the environment where it was got. A data has no value in its current form. To exploit it, it is necessary to know its unity, where it was collected, by which sensor, etc., to be able to detect the source of errors or dysfunctions.
- Securing access and circulation of information.
- Disconnection as a right for every inhabitant or citizen.
- The setting up of human mediators between citizens and digital. New professions with « added human value » will emerge: a concierge will also be a community manager etc.
- The constitution and regulation of independent trusted third parties who will be in charge of the storage of these data and their scheduling. The trusted third party retains and protects all data without owning them. He is the guarantor of their integrity.

Finally, there is the question of membership and accessibility of data. This began with the recent law on Open data (dealing with the issue of access). But to prepare the future we must go further and wonder the question of property. Will they be owned by private companies? Promoters? Managers? State ?

New legal entities to create

From my point of view, in this Age 3, the data produced in a place and linked to this environment must be attached to this place. They are a common good, but the common good of a localized system. They must belong neither to everyone, nor to those who measured or collected them, but to the whole of the place where they are produced (these sets can then be described in relation to each other). The data collected inside a smart-building (via sensors, objects or exchanged through the application dedicated to this set) belong – after being anonymised and aggregated – to the building. By extension, the data produced in the city by the city belong to the city as a continuous representative in time of past, present and future citizens.

It would be necessary to create new legal forms for places or geographical groups to be defined : building, block, district, city, territory. These legal entities would be inseparable from « physical architectures ». The data created will enrich by aggregation the virtual avatar of the building (ditto for the city): its digital model or BIM (Building information modeling). Consequently, the model used for the design of new buildings will be enriched throughout its lifetime. It will become an effective tool for the use of the building or the city: its management, organization and operation. The creation of algorithms and the addition of artificial intelligence will allow the processing of the data associated with the digital model. It will allow to better use the space over time (creation of value), to better manage governance, maintenance and consumption (energy, water, waste, etc.), to offer services and to better connect individuals (collaborative economy).
These data aggregated on the model that is constantly enriched, constitute a sort of temporal or numerical cadastre of the building and / or the city. They help in its continuous improvement and its functioning. But that’s not all.
Because as seen at the beginning with the emergence of the Internet, these data have a value that will grow over time.

The access to these data, linked to the physical architecture of buildings and towns (roads, squares, crossroads etc.), may be first free in order to facilitate the emergence of new services for the inhabitants and citizens of the city. But there will be a fee (within a few years or decades) for any provider wishing to access it.
It will work in the same way as Apple, which debits a fee for downloading a new application from its platform. The monetization of access to this data will make it possible to finance maintenance, storage, scheduling and management of these data (physical and intangible infrastructure), but also more generally the maintenance and management of buildings and cities.

From passive to active building

Buildings and cities will mutate from passive entities that cost to active entities that make money. A good management of data from their collection to their use will significantly reduce the cost of operation and thus the overall cost of a building over time (overall cost = cost over the lifetime of the building = cost of design + construction cost + operating cost). The building becomes active for the benefit of its inhabitants (reduction of expenses). It cares for himself. The circle is virtuous. But moving from a construction cost reasoning to a global cost reasoning will require to rethink the role of each of the players in the building industry.

The same is true on another scale for the smart-city. The setting up of these measures will allow continuous improvement for the benefit of its users (reduced consumption and expenditure, various optimizations, better organization of space-time according to needs, better anticipation). The arrival of new resources will enable collected profits to lead to a reduction of the costs necessary for the functioning of the city (lower taxes) in return for the authorized access to the data.
The cost of this access to the data can easily be determined democratically on a scale of the concerned group : building, block, city. The implementation of such instruments will also facilitate consultations with all concerned citizens, including the silent majorities that are currently absent from public meetings or debates. Consequently, the arrival of digital space in smart-buildings and smart-cities will be an opportunity and a benefit for everyone.

These new paradigms will also require to rethink our methods of design and performance evaluation and to define new appropriate measurement tools (ratio, coefficients, etc.). They will lead to the creation of new professions to keep human being at the heart of the device because the smart-city must be managed by the human for the living.

The opportunities and benefits that these issues represent require that all actors study them together and quickly. They must keep in mind that the cities we build produce citizens who live there. Consequently, they will have to introduce and / or liberate social, sensitive and imaginative human intelligences alongside rational intelligences.


Eric Cassar 2017


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