Technology has many roles in making better places to live. Carlo Ratti, 2017 HIVE dean and director of the MIT Senseable City Lab, explores the importance of using sensors to collect data about how we live. And, he emphasizes that the collection and the analysis are two separate processes, both that will have a critical role in how we live in the future.

“Smart” is a word people use to describe cities that are connecting people through technology. But you use a spin on the word “sensible.” Why is that?

I’m not a big fan of the expression “smart city” — to me, it puts too much emphasis on technology. Rather, I prefer to use the term “Senseable City” with its double meaning, both “able to sense” and “sensible.” The word “senseable” puts more emphasis on the human, as opposed to technological, side of things. We want to investigate and intervene at the interface between people, technologies and the city — to develop research and applications that empower citizens to make choices that result in a more livable urban condition for all.

That empowerment connects with the idea of transparency, so how transparent will the Senseable City be? Will people be aware of the technology?

If we’re talking about data collection, we should be extremely transparent. But if we talk about the layering of technology on the physical environment, we could embrace Mark Weiser’s ideas. Weiser was the visionary 20th century computer scientist who coined the term “ubiquitous computing.” In his idea, when computing becomes ubiquitous, it can be found everywhere in the space around us and ultimately “recedes into the background of our lives.”

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