Civic Augmentation via Networks of Community, Physical and Digital Networks
A Knight Foundation Grant Proposal
What is your idea?: a brief description of your proposed project.
The vision for this project is to create community, environmental and economic value in San Jose by connecting and leveraging three main components: 1) Community Networks, 2) Physical Networks (interactive installations) and 3) Digital Networks (IoT, phone app, distributed ledger technology and crypto-currency). Each part is organized to iteratively augment the others, creating value by and for the local community.
These three networks combined can create a virtuous cycle where pro-social and pro-environment activity is incentivized by social connection, gamification and monetary incentives, not unlike Crypto kitties, Fortnight and Pokémon Go. But, instead of a purely virtual world of value generation, this proposal will implement a mutually reinforcing dynamic between data, physical place and communities.
Community Networks are the foundation of this project as they will be involved directly in the design and build of the Physical Networks. And, through their involvement, community members become the audience and stewards for both the Physical and Digital Networks. Community Networks include at a minimum: workforce development groups; local and regional stakeholders (community members, disenfranchised populations, etc.); youth educational groups; and, San Jose municipal initiatives and agencies (Smart Cities, building and planning etc.)
Physical Networks are interactive installations co-designed, prototyped and fabricated in partnership with the Community Networks. There are three main types of installation: a) Urban Totems, b) Environmental Field Stations, and c) Community Gardens:
a) Via sensors and embedded computing, the Urban Totems will produce lights and sounds in response to the touch and motion patterns of people. Using AI, each Totem will develop a unique personality, or spirit, of place that both affects and is affected by visitors in that specific place over time. In these layered patterns, people see themselves reflected in the patterns of others.
b) The Environmental Field Stations are STEM inspired installations where people are encouraged to notice and study the natural and social environment around them.
c) Community Gardens are distributed throughout.
Digital Networks weave together the Physical Networks with open data sets. This network will have three inter-related components: a) embedded sensors, actuators and computing (IoT), b) a phone app, and c) distributed crypto-ledger technology (DLT). The intent is to create social, environmental and economic value by and for the local community.
Each resident, via the phone app and DLT, has a unique, anonymous and digitally signed avatar. As residents interact with the physical installations, they create new social and environmental data, by which they can contextualize existing data sets by associating open data points with the place-based social and environmental data of local residents.
Distributed ledger technology provides at least three main benefits: i) ownership of raw and enriched data, ii) a transparent and immutable means by which residents can participate in both existing government and emergent community organizations, and iii) the creation of the infrastructure for a self-reliant local economy – similar to Hull City’s “HullCoin” in England – that creates community and economic value that augments traditional fiat economies.
Why?: a description of how your proposed project supports greater resident engagement with and through data.
As we learned from the exotic financial tools that led to the crash of 2008, the instruments and incentives built into our economic systems are not carved in stone. This is reason to believe that our collective creative capacity can create new networks that incentivize what is of real value: resilient communities in balance with each other and their environments. To cultivate this dynamic we can do three things in a coordinated effort: 1) increase access to the IoT, manufacturing and AI technologies for all citizens, 2) establish means by which community members can understand, control and own these technologies and their data output, and 3) establish an economic system that incentivizes, not just profit for its own sake, but also values efforts that contribute to positive social and environmental outcomes. This proposal is a proof of concept that, by its IoT nature, can meaningfully be assessed for progress towards the above goals.
The first step is to provide access to the tools and technologies of the future via a complete path from concept to implementation and stewardship. Information and data are at the nexus of social and physical systems. Providing a means for communities to explore and experiment with these systems is a necessary first step in securing their place in the future.
Based on an understanding of how the social, physical and digital systems co-create each other, this proposal is also an exercise in how any community member can share in the ownership of both the digital output and the means of its creation. By owning the physical installations, intellectual property, algorithms and data created, community participants are incentivized to focus on the continued success of their shared physical and digital spaces.
It is these novel incentives that create the life blood of a nascent sustainable economy. Via IoT, generative AI, distributed ledgers, consensus algorithms and crypto-currencies, communities will prototype, cultivate and evolve pro-social, environmentally-grounded economic systems.
And, as new data sets enrich existing data sets and new social networks enrich existing social networks, successes in one community can be systematically analyzed, augmented and prototyped in new communities. Each successive iteration, like “in-game” virtual currencies will have value in traditional economies. But, unlike virtual gaming currencies, these nascent digital currencies will be intrinsically tied to real world social and environmental outcomes. This prototype will be the first iteration in a process of scaling a self-sustaining economy that values more than increased profit for its own sake. These new economies will enable a new kind of infinite growth. But, unlike traditional material growth, the infinite frontier will be into ever more complex, resilient and intertwined social and natural networks.
Distinct Local Networks
As individuals build and interact with these community-led creations, these installations create a personality of their own that is enriched by continued engagement. This engagement, via the digital tools introduced above, create an indelible and track-able history. This history, via databases and smart contracts, become the asset of individuals who contribute to the creation and maintenance of the place-based physical objects. This history and value cannot be exported or appropriated by external interests.
Inter-related Networks of Networks
Nevertheless, the very same technology that facilitates the creation of a unique place-based installation is the same technology that facilitates the inter-relation of these installations at the local, regional and global scales. This network of networks is a means of integrating diverse individual values towards the benefit of all, especially those that have been previously uninvited to the future. This, we argue, is the foundation for vitality.