In mid-February of this year, IBM’s Watson supercomputer — named after company founder Thomas Watson — all but dismantled Jeopardy “super champions” champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. Throughout the tournament, there were interstitial elements of commentary about the potential for a Watson-like supercomputer to eventually help medical personnel triage patients’ various levels of needed care as well as other decision-based intelligence collection. More than once during these little commercial interludes I wondered to myself how this technology could also be applied to the massive difficulty facing cities and towns with regard to threat analysis and police response. Four months hence, I received an email from an IBM representative inviting me to speak with IBM Director of Public Safety Mark Cleverley on the topic of how “IBM is taking a leadership position in helping municipalities around the world keep their citizens safe.”
Now, bear in mind that Watson is a prototype — purpose built for the three-night trivia throw-down with Jennings (who won a record 74 consecutive ‘Jeopardy!’ games) and Rutter (who holds has won more money on ‘Jeopardy!’ than any other competitor in the show’s history) — but IBM has a history of using prototypes to demonstrate the real-world capabilities the company is capable of creating. Some of us are old enough to remember the two-part chess tournament between Garry Kasparov and a supercomputer named Deep Blue (Kasparov took round one in 1996, Deep Blue won the rematch in 1997).
The technology Cleverley and I discussed is called the IBM Intelligent Operations Center for Smarter Cities, touted by the company as “a new solution designed to help cities of all sizes gain a holistic view of information across city departments and agencies.” Cleverly said that this entire endeavor falls under the company’s “Smarter Cities” initiative, which seeks to address the technology needs of entire municipalities. Although the solution is capable of gathering and analyzing on information about a wide variety of city systems and services such as municipal transportation, water and other utilities, building inspection, social services and whatnot, we largely limited the scope of our discussion to public safety.