13 Sept 2018
Smart City Summit Paves Way for Taiwan's Future Digital Island Dream
Looking to make something of a virtual landgrab in the smart city space, Taiwan's hosting of the recent Smart City Summit & Expo has been seen as something of a cyber-stopping-off point en route to the territory's urban transformation.
Taipei's hosting of the 2018 Smart City Summit & Expo (SCSE) proved something of a coup, giving it a degree of ownership of one of the most widely discussed urban redevelopment issues of the day, while also leveraging a number of associated commercial opportunities. Underlining the significance of the summit, the proceedings were opened by Tsai Ing-wen, the territory's President, who outlined the role the smart city concept is set to play in Taiwan's own future development.
She was joined at the Taipei Nangang Exhibition Centre, the setting for the four-day event, by a number of government officials and business leaders, most notably Stan Shih, the founder of Acer, one of Taiwan's foremost computer hardware and electronics companies. With such an informed and appreciative audience in place, it was then left to Tsai to outline the broad remit of the 2018 event, which, she said, would extend across the latest industrial advances and the convergence of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and next generation IoT innovations to create the Artificial Intelligence of Things (AIoT).
Such a convergence, she said, would then be harnessed to devise smart renewable energy solutions, improved transport flows, better healthcare for the elderly and enhanced disaster relief / forecasting. Across all of these areas, she maintained Asia – and Taiwan in particular – was ideally placed to take the lead, given the expertise in software and hardware integration, the concentration of tech manufacturers and the level of government support that were already in place.
While, for some, Tsai's words were just the expected political hyperbole, for others the stature of the SCSE gave them at least a degree of resonance. Launched in 2014, the event is now seen as far more than just another high-tech expo, a development that is largely down to its role as Mission Control for Taiwan's bid to transform itself into a "Digital Island" for the IoT sector and a global hub for smart urban regeneration. In order to help deliver on this, it has been a prime mover in the Global Organisation of Smart Cities (GOSC), an international body scheduled to hold its inaugural meeting in March 2019.
Within the GOSC framework, it is envisaged that signatories will share data, actively participate in an annual symposium and publicly recognise and honour ideas with the potential to transform municipal development. In line with this, the soft launch of the Go Smart initiative – GOSC's primary development programme – took place on the second day of the expo, with representatives from 27 of the world's smartest cities in attendance.
Adding his heft to the proceedings was Walter Yeh, President and Chief Executive of the Taiwan External Trade Development Council (TAITRA). Long an advocate of the transformational potential of technology within the urban environment, he said: "Smart solutions provide established cities with innovative ways to use data and technology, allowing them to refine their systems. In the case of new-build cities, they ensure smart infrastructure is integrated from day one, ultimately optimising the daily lives of all residents.
"The smart city is a multi-faceted concept, embracing smart mobility, smart economy, smart government, smart environment and smart living. All of these elements, though, are interdependent. They connect with each other and affect each other in various ways and at various levels."
Yeh was also keen to emphasise that smart city development was a priority for the current government, while also acknowledging the ground work that was put in by previous administrations. Indeed, back in 2014, the central government threw its weight behind the wider implementation of 4G technology, while also earmarking US$29.7 billion worth of investment in ensuring the provision of 5G services by 2020. Alongside such activities, there had also been continuing state support for green-energy demonstration parks, i-voting and cloud technology care services.
As with Tsai, Yeh was somewhat evangelical as to the role that AIoT is likely to play in reinventing Taiwan's urban spaces as it ushered in the so-called Intelligent Era. Emphasising the human impact of the technology, he said: "AIoT will deliver an undreamt-of level of convenience for the city-dwellers of the future. What's more, it will create huge opportunities for our high-tech industrial base, particularly in such areas as semiconductors, communications, smart vehicles and smart machinery."
House of the Future
Over at the expo proper – which featured more than 250 exhibitors, a similar number of global smart city experts and 50 bespoke conference sessions – the over-arching theme was the likely form of the house of the future. One enterprising New Taipei City-based company, Full Enterprise Corp, took a braver punt than most as to the likely shape of the residences of tomorrow by installing its own smart home demonstration centre at the event. Given that Full has more than 100 IoT-related patents, it was no surprise that that technology played a commanding role in its mocked-up digital dwelling.
Explaining the philosophy behind the demonstration centre, a company spokesperson said: "At heart, it's all about the interconnection of people and things, things and things, and things and spaces. The effective use of AI will allow us to harness technology instead of manpower in order to complete a task. When that is allied with IoT, you then have AIoT – a powerful combination of hardware, software and network capabilities.
"In terms of practical applications, you could have a gas-detecting sensor that, when registering a dangerous build-up, sends a message to the overall gateway. The AI then turns off the faulty valve, opens the windows, warns the occupants and calls the emergency services."
As a supplement to the House of the Future, another of the event's key themes was the way transportation is likely to be transformed, particularly how emerging technology will impact the automotive sector. It was an issue that was directly addressed by the Global Trends in Connected Cars Forum, which considered the pollution-reduction benefits of car-free cities.
A possible alternative to the currently ubiquitous automobile was pitched by a joint MIT Media Lab City Science Group and National Taipei University of Technology research team that had been evaluating the potential of autonomous technologies and bike-sharing schemes. In line with this, it had been field-testing one alternative in Taipei's Da'an Park – a large, AI-operated, self-driving, shielded tricycle that can be hailed via an app.
Staying with more familiar technology, but digitally optimising its use, Taipei-based PaKing Technology, meanwhile, had on offer its proprietary Location-Based Services (LBS) technology, which provides real-time parking information, manages parking reservations and offers various mobile-payment solutions. This is said to provide convenient parking options for drivers, while allowing car parks to make more efficient use of their available space.
Given the vested interest many attendees and businesses have in ensuring that smart cities become a reality, the tone of the event was somewhat relentlessly upbeat – except over on the stand of Darktrace, a UK-based company dedicated to countering the downside of digital urbanisation. With that downside likely to manifest itself in terms of privacy infringements, illicit data harvesting and hacked systems, the company has developed what it describes as "the world's leading machine-learning cybersecurity software" – the Enterprise Immune System.
Developed by a team of mathematicians at Cambridge University, the software is said to be able to autonomously tackle any illicit incursions in the style of a digital antibody. On top of its security-minded, threat-addressing, machine-learning software, the company also provides an easy-to-use interface, a recommended security plan and all the required operational training.
While clearly an advocate of the benefits of a digitally enhanced lifestyle, Yeh, too, was aware of the potential downside of making such a leap without putting all the required safeguards in place. Sounding a warning during his own presentation at the expo, he said: "Self-driving cars, advanced surveillance, digital finance, smart cities and robotics all have the potential to revolutionise the way we live. No doubt, these technologies could improve the quality of life for residents, but there are still a number of issues that require resolution. These, though, I see more as challenges than negatives.
"Technology should never be a threat to human society. It should only serve to make our lives easier. If information security is strengthened, data can be protected. I believe we can then overcome any challenges, ensuring that our cities are both smarter and better places to live."
The 2018 Smart City Summit & Expo took place from 27-30 March at the Nangang Exhibition Hall in Taipei.
Jules Quartly, Special Correspondent, Taipei