RESEARCHERS AT NUI Maynooth have been given €2.3m of funding for a major five-year project which will analyse how software and technology can influence life in a city.
Professor Rob Kitchin, director of the National Institute of Regional and Spatial Analysis at NUI, will lead the research which will focus on two cities: Dublin and Boston in the US. Boston is ranked number one on a global index of ‘smart’ cities while Dublin is a key tech hub in Europe and is home to IBM’s Smarter Cities Technology Centre.
The project, entitled The Programmable City, is to “analyse how information on citizens and places are captured and processed as data, how software is used to govern and manage modern cities, and how our everyday behaviour within a city is influenced by software”. Examples the professor gives that might illustrate some ways in which tech infiltrates the lives of city residents include:
- traffic management systems
- restaurant review apps on smartphones which influence where we dine
- logistics systems that track goods from farm to fork
- background information shared on citizens which influence security at airports
Some of the questions Kitchin will be considering include how such digital data is collected and processed, how software can influence how we live our lives in cities and how we work and behave. The research is being funded by a five-year ERC (European Reaserch Council) grant. The president of NUI Maynooth, Professor Philip Nolan, congratulated Kitchin on the award saying that the research was “significant” and would analyse a previously unchartered area which is becoming “hugely relevant as technology becomes more influential in our lives”.
Prof Kitchin said:
The project will conduct an in-depth analysis of how policy and governance is codified in algorithms, how data are about citizens and places are collected and processed, how software and digital sensors are increasingly being embedded into everyday environments, and how new digital technologies are being used to routinely tackle everyday issues.
A good example is shopping and how retail companies are using software and data about products, staff and customers to organise complex supply chains of goods, to monitor stock levels, to process payments, to manage staff, to profile shoppers, to work out what sells best where and to whom, and where to put new stores.
As well as auditing data, the study will conduct interviews with those involved in the all aspects of technology creation, implementation and operation in urban areas, analyse policy and company documents and create what Prof Kitchin calls “algorithm archaeology”, as a tool to measure the impact of such technology.