Is IBM sponsoring the Resistance to its own Intelligent Operation Centers?

IBM Intelligent Operations Center for Smarter Cities “provides a unified view of all city agencies so you can predict events and quickly respond.” The ‘you’ addressed is here is not ‘us’ as citizens, but the Mayor and the police and security operational units of a city. Recently in Shanghai, listening to Eric Mark Huitema, Smarter Transportation Leader Europe / SME IBM Global Boardmember ITS, talking about ‘Smarter Transportation as a Result of Internet of Things’, I was struck when he ended his presentation with a picture of a car parked outside a station. He explained that the IBM software was able to predict that there might be something fishy with that car as it had parked there in exactly the same way before. And yes, it turned out in the end that IBM’s Operations Center had been able to prevent a “terrorist attack”. Selling fear, I thought. And selling to governments, not citizens who want more out of cities then safety and security.

Shanghai: Conference:

This is exactly how the IBM Operations Center is marketed, providing “a unified view of all city agencies so you can predict events and quickly respond.”:

“IBM Intelligent Operations Center monitors and manages city services. It provides operational insight into daily city operations through centralized intelligence. Now cities, government agencies, and enterprises can optimize operational efficiencies and improve planning.”

Surely this is called: top down planning and control?

I was therefore very positively surprised to see the Makeshift Magazine – “documenting a movement of hackers, sharers, and entrepreneurs innovating under resource constraints” – edited by Steve Daniels (Editor in Chief), a member of the Social Computing Group at IBM Research, who tweets @steveddaniels and is the designer for the IBM Watson team. The blur is spectacular and one wonders if the Mayor of Rio is reading along:

“An electrician in Johannesburg sneaks illegal wires through a crowded slum while, halfway around the world, a journalist launches a toy drone with a camera over Zuccotti Park. These are hackers not just of technology but also of authority. Power dynamics are ever-present in relationships, forcing us often to submit. Yet in moments of desperation, inspiration, and organization, we can chose to resist. Resistance is an evolving beast that, under the constraints of a dominating authority, brings forth our most creative instincts. Whether forging tools of opposition like Misrata’s “technical” trucks, building forts of defense like Butaro’s disease-resistant clinic, or devising subversive alternatives like Mexico City’s black market, creative resistance reflects the state of the opposition, the values of the opposers, and the nature of the weapons available to fight.”

IBM is taking the expression, “let’s serve everyone, and make sure we eat of all plates”, quite serious here. If I budget tens to hundreds of millions of dollars on an Operation Center that is supposed to offer me as Mayor and City Council of cities consisting of millions of people, some form of control, would I want the same company to facilitate and champion resistance as that which brings about “our most creative instincts?” If that is so, why don’t we open up all that data generated and created by the people in these cities at once? Why do we need to pay twice as citizens? Once in taxes and then again for the data that is being mingled in mixed in IBM software never ever to leave that embrace again?

Hmm, hey is that not actually what I as a Mayor was being promised by these IBM marketing plots of ‘smart cities’: creativity?

Makeshift is “published by Analogue Digital, an organization dedicated to researching, communicating, and supporting grassroots innovation in resource-constrained areas around the world. (
Analogue Digital’s non-profit status pending.

The website lists three books, one of them Making Do by Steve Daniels, who writes: “I’m a researcher, designer, and developer in IBM Research’s Social Computing Group, where I contributed to the development of a platform for hosting and developing mobile applications for basic phones in emerging markets. I currently design and develop the user interface for doctors to use Watson to diagnose and treat patients. I recently demoed prototypes for AP and Technology Review…. He is researching mobile technology for underserved communities at IBM and strives to make Watson, the celebrity supercomputer, more human-friendly.” He also described this, apart from researching ‘underserved communities’, as “my job at IBM researching technologies for ’emerging markets’.

Interrelating between what counts as ‘underserved community’ and ’emerging market’, does not seem so difficult, indeed.

According to Steve Daniels: “IBM, (is) a business-to-business company of over 400,000, where I’ve been championing the use of our technologies to innovate in emerging markets like Africa. Plenty of people get it and want to make it happen, but institutions are hard to change. The lesson is that institutions, as stodgy and monolithic as they may seem, are made up of real people, and you need to seek out the people who want to help you. If you keep hacking at it, change will follow.”

IBM link

In “How IBM Builds Vibrant Social Communities” Jeff Schick, IBM’s vice president of social software for IBM,  interviewed by David Kiron on June 13, 2012, states: “I see IBM as a social business,”…“We’ve broken down the barriers of reaching out to the people within the organization” — not to mention partners and clients as well. And the company is making it easier for its client companies to do the same thing….I think that across IBM, we’ve created a culture of sharing.

IBM net profit for “the three months to the end of June was $3.88bn, up 6% on the $3.67bn the company made a year earlier.” In the second quarter, we delivered strong profit, earnings and free cash flow growth,” said IBM boss Ginni Rometty. “Looking ahead, we are well positioned to deliver greater value to a wider range of clients and to our shareholders.”

Well Ginni, I suggest you do more then that, start spreading that cash as you have created that culture of sharing and as your own researchers in your Social Computing Group at IBM Research will tell you:

“Resistance is an evolving beast that, under the constraints of a dominating authority, brings forth our most creative instincts.”

and oh yes, do:

•    “Allow your city to recognize events as they arise. Now you can put responses in place to manage impacts back to a steady state as quickly as possible.”