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When it comes to big data and complex algorithms, state and local governments have barely touched the tip of the iceberg. Algorithms, which are complex mathematical equations designed to solve problems, are poised to automate much of the technology needed to keep cities running smoothly. Perhaps the best-known algorithm in the era of the World Wide Web is Google’s search engine ranking algorithm. It examines a number of factors to deliver relevant information in search results, and while that is extremely useful, cities are using algorithms to optimize everything from energy use to public transportation routes.
Algorithms are also a fundamental tool for transforming big data, first into useful analytics and eventually into action. Smart cities will rely heavily on data and the algorithms that turn that into actionable metrics. As Sean Jackson, marketing director for Actian Corporation, describes below, computers, not humans, need to make sense of the enormous amount of data that cities have at their disposal:
And it is staggering just how much data towns and cities generate. At a rough estimate, we will generate 4.1 terabytes per day per square kilometer of urbanized land area by 2016. In fact, you could say that cities are the true big data systems of our age. From geolocation data collected by smart phones to data generated by cars and their GPS instruments, from the contact sensor payment cards we use to ride the subway to the data we offer when we want to make use of a bike or a car in the city. From the data generated by our health ID cards to that from our loyalty and store cards, our bank cards and every time we make use of QR, bar or flash codes to access content.
Data generation does not stop there – think about the data created by traffic management systems, from traffic lights to the sensors on our roads; from the provision of utilities such as gas, electricity and drinking water; when delivering refuse collection and waste management services; from the provision of healthcare in our doctors’ surgeries and hospitals to the data generated by schools and colleges educating our children.
Faced with this deluge of data in a wide variety of forms and formats, it may be hard to know where civic authorities and town planning organization can start. But the answer is clear: every step made towards improving the quality of life begins by first analyzing it and making sense of it.
Read Big Data: The rise of the smart city on Actian’s website.
The infographic below outlines the importance of algorithms and identifies a few examples.