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Carlo Ratti

The real-time city is now real! The increasing deployment of sensors and hand-held electronics in recent years is allowing a new approach to the study of the built environment. The way we describe and understand cities is being radically transformed - alongside the tools we use to design them and impact on their physical structure.

Scholars back in 1995 speculated about the impact of the ongoing digital revolution on the viability of cities. Only 14 years ago, the main- stream view was that, as digital media and the internet had killed distance, they would also kill cities. Technology writer George Gilder proclaimed that “cities are leftover baggage from the industrial era” and concluded that “we are headed for the death of cities”, due to the continued growth of personal computing, telecommunications and distributed production. In fact, cities have never prospered as much as they have over the past couple of decades. China is currently building more urban fabric than has ever been built by humanity. And a particularly noteworthy moment occurred last year: for the first time in history more than half the world’s population – 3.3 billion people – lived in urban areas. The digital revolution did not end up killing our cities, but neither did it leave them unaffected. A layer of networked digital elements has blanketed our environment, blending bits and atoms together in a seamless way. Sensors, cameras and microcontrollers are used ever more extensively to manage city infrastructure, optimise transportation, monitor the environment and run security applications. Advances in microelectronics now make it possible to spread “smart dust” networks of tiny, wireless, micro-electromechanical system (MEMS) sensors, robots or devices. Most noticeable is the explosion in mobile-phone use around the globe. More than four billion mobile phones were in use worldwide by early 2009. Across socioeconomic classes and five continents, mobile phones are ubiquitous: they allow us not only to communicate with each other in unprecedented ways, but to create a pervasive sensing network that covers the whole globe. One consequence of this process is particularly important: cities can start to work as real-time control systems, and this opens up a new world of opportunities...

About the Speaker(s)

An architect and engineer by training, Carlo Ratti practices in Italy and teaches at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he directs the Senseable City Lab. He graduated from the Politecnico di Torino and the École Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées in Paris, and later earned his MPhil and PhD at the University of Cambridge, UK. Ratti has coauthored over 200 publications and holds several patents. His work has been exhibited worldwide at venues such as the Venice Biennale, the Design Museum Barcelona, the Science Museum in London, GAFTA in San Francisco and The Museum of Modern Art in New York. His Digital Water Pavilion at the 2008 World Expo was hailed by Time Magazine as one of the Best Inventions of the Year. He has been included in Esquire Magazine's Best and Brightest list, in Blueprint Magazine's 25 People who will Change the World of Design and in Forbes Magazine's People you need to know in 2011. Ratti recently served as the inaugural Innovator in Residence in Queensland, Australia. He was a presenter at TED 2011 and is serving as a member of the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council for Urban Management.