Smart cities and Tech Evolution - XXVIII Awareness Infrastructure

Our nervous system is a good model for an awareness network. It consists of sensors creating data representing a value at a point in time, of connection lines (nerves) to bring this data to a processing center (the brain but also micro processing spots situated along the way or at the sensor place), and of a processing center where data are integrated to generate information. Figure credit: A model of nervous system.

If you look at yourself as an “Information processing system” you can start by considering how data are “input”. That’s relatively easy: through our 6 senses: sigth, hear, touch, smell, taste and position in space. These are respectively feeded by our sensors: eyes, ears, skin, nose, tongue and proprioceptors (in joints and in the vestibular area in our ears). Each sensor has a certain “throughput”, i.e. quantity of data it can harvest in a given amount of time. There are different ways to measure this, and no uniform agreement on what and how to measure, but in general it is agreed the the amount of data harvested by the whole sensors system exceeds the “transportation” capacity of our neural system by at least an order of magnitude. Let’s say we are in the Gbps in terms of “detection” and in the 10-100Mbps in terms of bringing data through nerves to the brain.

This amount of data exceed the processing capability of our brain. To cope with them the brain has an awareness system that kicks in and, like your computer operating system, manage to dedicate processing resources to what it is felt to matter at any particular time.

As an example you are receiveing at this very moment as you are reading my text data from all parts of your body, but you are basically not aware of this flood of data. As soon as you read “are wyou wearing shoes?” you perceive your feet and you feel your shoes (if you have them on) or lack of them. Isn’t it? In order to perceive your shoes you need to get data from many sensors (one is not sufficient) and integrate them into a coherent model and then compare this model to a knowledge base (how does it feel to wear shoes).
 Notice that here we are mixing two aspects: perception and awareness. With perception I mean making sense of what is going on, with awareness I mean becoming aware that something is going on. You might find different, opposite definitions. I’ll be discussing perception, semantics, later on. 

The important points are:


  • you need sensors
  • you need to transport data created by sensors to a processing point
  • you need to integrate data and develop a model of what is going on

I find useful to refer to this human body awareness when discussing a city awareness because of the similarities and of the architectural and technical issues we can learn.  Nature had billion of years to develop efficient reliable systems and we can learn from it.

Author - Roberto Saracco

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