Smart City 2020

Emerging technologies are poised to reshape our urban environments by creating new and non-traditional relationships

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It's obvious that embedding intelligence in objects creates new functionality (that's the usual motivation for doing it), but less immediately evident is that it also alters the shapes and sizes of parts and the spatial relationships among them. Eventually this enables surprising new forms to develop. Look at digital cameras, for example. The early models replaced film with a sensor array and memory chip but remained otherwise unchanged. Camera designers soon realized, however, that sensor arrays are naturally smaller than 35mm film frames, which allows lenses and light paths to be miniaturized. And thin flat display screens present exactly what the sensors see, so there's an opportunity to get rid of traditional viewfinders. As a result the digital camera has evolved an entirely new physiognomy -- that of a slightly overweight credit card, with a minuscule lens on the front and a display screen occupying most of the back. This restructuring has also allowed digital "cameras" (if it still makes sense to call them that) to form unexpected alliances. On a desktop the encounter of a rotary-dial phone and a Leica would have seemed like that of a sewing machine and an umbrella. But the combination of a wireless telephone and digital-imaging device that fits in your pocket has been a big hit.

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