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Turning Cell Phones into Urban Supercomputers

February 21st, 2011 02:30 admin Leave a comment Go to comments

Giant cell phone One of the primary ideas behind IBM’s Smarter Planet concept is a web of sensors all over the planet, leading to a data explosion. But what if that web of sensors was more directly under the public’s control? Strategic forecast consultant Chris Arkbenberg hits on an interesting idea in a recent blog post. He muses on the idea of using mobile phones for grid computing, a la SETI@home, to create massive distributed supercomputers for processing all of this data. “Consider the processing power latent across a city of 20 million mobile subscribers, such as Tokyo,” he writes.

Arkenberg takes the idea further by suggesting that sensors could be built into mobile phones that could monitor air quality or act as a sort of distributed surveillance system. The possibilities are endless. “Consider what could be done with an API for addressing clusters of mobile sensors,” he writes.

The idea reminds me of Open Sailing‘s SwarmOS, which aims to help individuals make decisions based on the collective intelligence reported by “swarms” of users with mobile phones. Adding sensors to that mix is a powerful notion.

Arkenberg warns that such a network and API could also be exploited by insurgents, criminals or regimes. Much like the massive data sets created by surveillance, there’s a lot of potential for unsavory uses of this sort of data. But the mind boggles at the possibilities.

Although there’s a clear possibility for abuse by authorities, a decentralized approach to measuring air quality could help check authorities. For example, The Economist reported last week that the mayor of Madrid has been accused of removing air pollution monitoring systems from the city’s parks.

Other, more centralized attempts at creating an urban operating system include IBM’s work in Rio and PlanIT in Portugal.

Photo by Daryl Mitchell

Source: Turning Cell Phones into Urban Supercomputers

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