Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

But I’m Not a Data Scientist! Part 3: Smarter cities are evolving thanks to location data – without being creepy

By Dave Katz of Intuizi

Fritz Lang’s movie Metropolis was released an astonishing 95 years ago and showed a horrifying vision of a future society. The root of this horror was that technology had turned human beings into cogs in a city-sized machine, our individualities crushed. That, of course, was a generation that had witnessed wondrous new tech like the airplane, as well as the horror of the tank. 

But of course, the movies aren’t real life. They exist to entertain of course, but also as art that provides a commentary on society: our fears, our hopes, our desires. All of which is clear in the meaning of Metropolis and other dystopian movies that followed it, from A Clockwork Orange to Blade Runner. The movie-goers of 1927 have more in common us as human beings than differences, despite the relative lack of sophistication of their technology. 

But if to a casual observer from 1927 we now actually live in the massive cities of Metropolis, the reality is different. At least, this is the case if you don’t believe that our society is literally as dystopian as these movies make out. But it is true that we have merged with our technology and exist not just as flesh and blood but as digital entities that leave a trail of metadata.

When considering ‘metadata’, you may immediately think of datasets such as purchase histories, browsing histories and search histories; but what about the series of breadcrumbs is visible only to those who know how and where to look: our location history. Even if a device’s GPS is turned off, it is possible to detect, anonymise, aggregate and observe the passage of cohorts of people through the digital – and the real, physical – world. This is not some far away or imagined future – it is now.  

Still here? Good! It may make us recoil in horror when we see society in a movie mirror, but the reality is that society now functions along digital lines and the better we engage with that, the more we can make that work well for us.  If the data exists to make better decisions about our cities, then we should use it. There is no moral quandary involved in planning the efficient and fair distribution of societal resources like hospitals, public transport lines and nodes, shopping and leisure locations, and so on. In fact, in a world within which our ‘scarcity’ issues are not actually issues of scarcity at all, but issues of distribution, we have a moral imperative to use data to ensure that when big plans are made, they are made for the benefit of all citizens, and can be proven to have been made with inclusion and fairness baked in.

Intuizi exists to bridge the gaps between data, technology and those who would use them for the common good. Planning developments, building a new shopping centre or creating a new green space are all projects that take years and have an even longer-lasting impact. Intuizi’s platform allows people who are not data scientists to leverage incredibly useful information in pursuit of their goals. We do not allow the privacy of any person whose data exists to be compromised, through one key failsafe – we don’t have it in the first place, we only work with data that’s been anonymised before we even process it – after all, it is mass trends over time that are of value rather than any particular individual’s data. 

We have already worked with numerous organizations on projects that use location data or combine location data with other data sets to generate added value to society, as well as tangible benefit to the individual. We do so by closely collaborating with our customers to help them to achieve their objectives, even if they are relative newcomers to the world of data.