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Singapore’s ‘city brain’ project is groundbreaking -- but what about privacy?

Matt Hamblen | Dec. 13, 2016
Aggregating data on traffic, weather, government and elder services aims to make citizens' lives better -- but potentially less private

The newer system will be more granular than today's gantry system, going beyond major arteries to include secondary roads. In theory, the system could also be used to guide driverless vehicles down the least-crowded roads. The underlying purpose of these changes is clear: The city wants to discourage driving and promote the use of mass transit.

"Being able to optimize the traffic flow holistically, combined with smart parking across a larger metropolitan cluster, will achieve environmental savings and reduce commute times," notes Carl Piva, vice president of strategic programs at the TM Forum, a nonprofit that works with smart city initiatives globally. One of the Forum's missions is to help cities create a tech environment where companies can innovate smart technology and where residents can become smart users and collaborators.

With a sophisticated traffic-management system, some big-time computer processing power will be involved. The system would potentially compare weather conditions with traffic, urging cars to divert travel away from an impending thunderstorm, for example. (Pop-up thunderstorms are commonplace in Singapore, and the impact of larger storms can also be devastating and deadly to both Singapore and other Asia-Pacific countries.)


IBM has worked in the past with Singapore's environmental agency to compare weather and moisture data with intelligence about its omnipresent high-rise housing to help predict outbreaks of Dengue fever, a mosquito-borne virus that causes severe illness and death in tropical countries.

Now, IBM expects its purchase of and other digital assets from The Weather Co., finalized earlier this year, to prove valuable to many cities, including Singapore.

Computerworld's Smart Cities video tour - Singapore [December 2016] 

Singapore's "city brain" project aims to connect weather data with traffic information, diverting cars away from an impending thunderstorm, for example.

"IBM bought [] on the premise that everything is affected by the weather, but almost nobody has integrated that data into their business and government systems," says IBM's Tim Greisinger, vice president of cognitive solutions for 10 Southeast Asian countries, including Singapore. "Weather data can give you advance notice for emergency management, like safety from mud slides, or to alert charitable crisis support."

Government info

IBM also is currently using its Watson cognitive technology with two government agencies -- the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore and the Ministry of Manpower -- to let residents search those agencies' websites via text online. They can ask questions about anything from pensions to permits without the need to know where to go on the government's various websites to start asking questions.

This approach, called a "no wrong door policy," aims to make it easier to navigate the government bureaucracy. IBM's goal is to help Singpore expand this cognitive approach across all 60 of its agencies.


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