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Making the city smarter

January 10, 2017

 

There was an unseemly outburst of laughter in the Whiterock office the other day when I made an informed reference to the ‘internet of things’. 

 

"Internet thing is something my gran would say", snorted a young associate. That particular comment stung because I happen to know that her gran was only a year above me in primary school.

 

Armed with a suitable scowl I explained I was talking about the internet working of smart devices which collect and exchange data, or something like that anyway.

 

According to the item I was reading, the idea is that IoT creates opportunities for more direct integration of the physical world into computer-based systems. This in turns enables stuff like interconnected homes, intelligent transportation and smart cities.

 

Experts estimate that the IoT will consist of almost 50 billion objects by 2020.

 

Of course, there is always a downside. Software engineer Mark Rittman found brief social media notoriety with his tweet: “Still haven't had a first cup of tea this morning, debugging the kettle and now Wifi base-station has reset. Boiling water in saucepan now.”

 

For some onlookers, his recorded 11-hour online struggle to make a beverage marked a low point in civilized society. For others it highlighted the challenges ahead.

 

 

 This same drive towards connectivity is evident in the auto industry. Spurred on by a need for redemption after the exhaust emissions scandal, manufacturers are desperate to shift consumer thinking towards electric and hybrid self-driving cars.

 

The onboard technology has been around for some time. The problem is that patchy network coverage inhibits constant connectivity – often with dangerous consequences.

 

This particular shortcoming in one highlighted by the team behind the £1.3bn City Deal bid for the Swansea Bay Region and who have smart technology as an underpinning part of their bid.

 

It has to be said however that not everyone thinks that inter-connection is the right answer.

 

The time may well come when we are issued with free computer tablets in the same way that households are issued with recycling bags. With doctor, dentist appointments and whatnot only obtainable via the official portal, the kit soon becomes essential – and who needs ID cards when that happens?

 

Meanwhile I suppose the more immediate issue is a method of getting a 4G signal in some parts of the city region that doesn’t involve standing on furniture.

 

At least the conversation prompted the young associate to find a Financial Times article which quoted one of the nation’s top police officers as saying that keeping on good terms with fridges, washing machines and other “smart” devices could one day keep you out of jail.

 

According to the head of Scotland Yard’s digital forensics unit, your recorded use of a smart appliance at home, or even remotely, could soon provide the alibi you need to prove your innocence.

 

Laughing, I commented how this reminded me of a Woody Allen comedy routine where he had a falling out with his toaster. Her response was that she hated “Toy Story”.

 

Youth is wasted on the young.

 

 

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The scammers are still out there

 

A friend of mine was being highly critical in the pub about people who fall for internet scams. Halfway through his rant about gullibility, somebody pointed out to him how he was forever on social media sharing his “elf name” or some such twaddle.

 

If you’ve ever clicked on one of these so-called Facebook quiz posts – and just clicking the link could put you on a junk mailing list - you find that the information you’re asked to provide is similar to the pre-arranged security questions used when you forget a password.

 

They don’t ask you outright for the name of your primary school, mother’s maiden name or first pet. But there is enough in the way of initials and numbers for an algorithm to fill in the probable gaps. 

 

Next thing you know, a cloned Facebook account bearing your name is up and selling non-existent goods to your friends. So all you elves be careful out there.

 

 

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Not dealing with debt

 

Everyone feels the pinch after Christmas, one way or another anyway, but it’s a sobering thought that the average UK household now owes a record amount of £12,887 – and that is before mortgages are taken into account.

 

According to the ONS, total unsecured debt hit an all-time high of £349bn and is increasing.

 

The government response has been to allow people facing unmanageable debts to apply for bankruptcy online, rather than in court. This is supposed to relieve a perceived stigma of court proceedings, or so the Insolvency Service says.

 

Individuals declaring themselves bankrupt rose 7% in the third quarter of 2016 compared with a year earlier.

Bankruptcy is not always the answer. You can still end up losing all your assets, including your house. There are alternatives such as Individual Voluntary Arrangement (IVA) or Debt Relief Orders.

 

The charity National Debtline exists to advise people with problems. You can contact them on https://www.nationaldebtline.org/ or phone 0808 808 4000.

 

 

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