Making Smart Cities Smarter with CyberVein
The way in which cities operate is being challenged and drastically changed throughout the 21st century. Cities are in dire need to work smarter and faster to meet the demands of an ever-increasing city population. As cities need to become more sophisticated, reliance on big-data driven planning and administration are increasingly becoming the norm. This massive aggregation of data, required to effectively manage “smart cities”, naturally raises many privacy and security issues.
We sat down with Arthur Yu, founder of CyberVein, to explore how blockchain technology could mitigate the security challenges associated with big-data driven urban planning, and how distributed ledgers could make smart cities even smarter.
Q: You’ve said previously that there’s a serious problem with smart cities, can you explain?
A: In smart cities, as they are envisioned today, vast amounts of data concerning public life are accumulated via sensors and cameras in centralized databases. This data is then processed to derive planning and administration decisions. This obviously holds great potential to make urban planning better and more effective, but it also gives planners a lot of power and influence which is not subjected to public scrutiny.
Q: Are there any risks associated with this system?
A: It all comes down to how, by whom, and to what ends data is collected and processed in a smart city. With Big Data, comes great power, power that should be scrutinized by the public subjected to it. We all know how easy it is to manipulate human behavior, especially if you can control and tweak data flows.
Back in 2014, Facebook demonstrated just how something like this could be done on a wide scale, all without the end-user ever knowing about it. Their study on mood manipulation was in a truly moral and legal grey area, and it seriously damaged user trust and threw into question the level of accountability that companies have to their consumers. Now imagine something like this occurring on the level of a city with millions of residents. It’s a truly eerie thought.
This kind of power should be held accountable and be fully transparent and protected from manipulation, especially for sensitive areas of development like urban planning and administration.
Q: And do you see blockchain solving this problem?
A: At the moment they can’t, but they hold a lot of potential to solve this in the future. Qualities that are normally attributed to blockchain such as immutability, security, and transparency are exactly what the data infrastructures underlying smart cities need to deliver on their promise safely. This is exactly what we at CyberVein are trying to achieve.
Q: How do you plan on doing that?
A: We aim to achieve this transition to a fully decentralized smart city through the use of our immutable and decentralized databases. These databases will serve as the backbone of any data collection and processing in future smart cities. The decentralized infrastructure acts as a tool to process and analyze data in real-time, which due to its transparent and immutable nature will prevent attacks and malevolent usage
Handling this amount of data and processing in real time is obviously a challenging task for existing blockchain technology. Which is why we invest so much of our efforts in developing DAG ledgers to a point where they can fulfill it.
Q: DAG Ledgers? What is that and how does that work?
A: DAG, or Directed Acyclic Graph Ledgers, differ from traditional blockchains in several ways. Most importantly, DAG ledger transactions are not grouped and verified in blocks that have to be mined. On a DAG network, nodes verify each other’s transaction on a P2P basis – every node wishing to perform a transaction is required to verify the transactions of two other nodes, creating an ordered sequence of linked events (hence a “Directed Graph”).
This has two important consequences: firstly, the network tends to become more efficient as it grows (in contrast to traditional chains that slow down with growth), but more importantly this allows the ledger to be broken up in pieces – or sharded – which does away with the necessity to store the entire ledger on each and every node.
Q: How do you turn this into a network of databases?
A: CyberVein databases exist within a network that works a bit like the internet. Each database is essentially a smart contract on the CyberVein ledger. This way, data can be easily referenced and interlinked, while preserving a continuous chain of trust and immutability.
This is significant since the value of data increases with context. Knowing, for example, how many cars are being imported to a country, has some value attached to it. If you cross this information with data on how many new roads are being paved in the same country, you can derive all kinds of insights and projections on the subject matter that couldn’t have been derived from any of these sets separately. CyberVein is designed to allow users to monetize datasets of this kind, which other parties can then access and incorporate in their work while preserving an immutable linkage to how this data was created and processed. This network of information is what we call “The Internet of Data”.
Q: Who would populate this Internet of Data in a smart city with information?
A: Most of it would probably be collected by the city administration itself, using sensors, cameras and what have you. But a large chunk, and that is our vision, would be provided by private entities and citizens that could sell data they own to the network. This wouldn’t only decentralize the data accumulation, but also the access to it. Anyone could work with smart city data and become more efficient this way.
Q: So you’re basically talking about smart cities as public\private partnerships?
A: Yes, to some degree. There is also the possibility of smart cities “emerging” without this being a top-down planning decision. Relying on big data to rationalize all kinds of processes is a no-brainer. People and businesses will be naturally interested in it. Our “Internet of Data” provides the means to trade and exchange the necessary data, which will result in cities becoming smarter from the bottom up. The make this really “tick” the way smart cities are envisioned, the participation of public partners will remain necessary, but they can join in as a part of the process instead of completely controlling it.
Q: Do we have live examples of such a process?
A: Actually, yes. We already have signed partnerships with some jurisdictions in China where this kind of work is being done in the field of environmental and logistic planning. You will probably hear more about this in the near future.
Q: We hope so. Thank you for your time, it has been a pleasure.
A: Thank you. Same here.
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