Have you ever thought about not having to wait in line at a government office? Or to take a complete university course, right from your desk chair? How about knowing that an Paramedic will have your full medical records, including medical allergies, at the scene of an accident? What if a doctor was able to supervise your roadside treatment from a hospital miles away?
These are just a few of the possibilities that Intel Corporation is currently researching, and they recently held a teleconference to discuss what they call Digital Communities
. They have co-sponsored, along with other leading industry companies such as Dell, Cisco, and IBM, the outfitting of thirteen test cities in an effort to illustrate the benefits of wireless technology in daily living for government, businesses, and citizens.
The teleconference was led by Intel's Vice President and Director of their Sales and Marketing Group, Anand Chandrasekher. Also in attendance were the mayors of three of the test cities: Mayor Ma Ying-jeou of Taipei (Taiwan), Mayor Jane Campbell of Cleveland (Ohio, USA), and City Manager Skip Noe of Corpus Christi (Texas, USA). The conference lasted slightly over an hour and involved an overview of the technologies, a short discussion by each city leader, and finally a Q&A session.
The most stunning use of the technology would probably go to Taipei, who are just finishing providing their citizens some amazing benefits. These include a free e-mail address for all residents, free broadband Wi-Fi access that will cover 90% of the 272 square kilometer city by the end of 2005, 63 Wi-Fi enabled subway systems, and free computer and internet training courses for residents...an impressive achievement.
They have also managed to tie together over 30 government agencies, giving them all an online presence so that citizens no longer need to go to their offices (including their driving bureau), and brought every primary and secondary classroom in the city online. Mayor Ma discussed the hope that businesses will become a greater part of the network so that Taipei's citizens no longer need to drive as much, stating that "Free internet means free roads."
Londoners, who are already heavily taxed through expensive fuel and Congestion Charges, will be interested to hear that Westminster is one of the thirteen trial areas. There are already many people, including several bit-tech staff, who tele-commute via broadband rather than sit in peak hour traffic each day. It clearly isn't an option for some workers, but if Intel's Digital Community initiative takes off in Britain like in Taipei, many car journeys could be reduced or eliminated.
A Tale of Two Cities
The two American cities are considerably less densely populated than Taipei, and as a result they used their WiFi a little bit differently. Cleveland has used theirs to link up their entire water division - the 10th largest in the US - with PDAs that provide road maps, utility maps, and automatically update and alert nearby workers of a problem. They also linked their building inspectors to streamline inspections and provide up-to-date information on the field.
Cleveland Police are also on their own system, which links officers in vehicles immediately to the Division of Motor Vehicles, FBI, and active arrest warrant databases. This technology has already led to an arrest in a murder case, after a routine traffic stop notified the officers that the driver was a suspect. They searched the car and found a dead body in the trunk.
Probably most impressive is how they linked their Emergency Medical Technicians to hospital databases, so that they can quickly pull up a patient's chart to view important info right from the scene of the accident. Mayor Campbell also talked about the desire to bring a free Wi-Fi network to the downtown area of Cleveland.
Corpus Christi, Texas, used their technology grants to create a video security system, as well as link together several different government offices. They also outfitted all city vehicles with a location system that allows them to best choose a first responder to any situation. City Manager Noe was asked in the Q&A about providing public internet, but said that he felt it was best for the private sector to provide that.
There was one question that grew in importance as each mayor talked. With each of these wonderful benefits, privacy is becoming more and more of a concern. When asked by an LA Times reporter, Mayor Campbell replied that a wireless network is no longer any less secure than a wired network, but is that really true when anyone can intercept the signal? Health information for hundreds of people and police reports for hundreds others are passing over my head as I write this. There is also the ability to locate a person based on what Wi-Fi terminal their device of choice is currently accessing. Granted, this could have great benefits in finding an accident victim or a missing person, but what about the potential for misuse?
What do YOU think of being part of a Digital Community? Is it a boon, or is it a Brave New World? Discuss the potential privacy issues in our News Discussion forum