Reinvent Payphones: The Open Source City – NYC as API

I recently had the honor of being able to work with a team at Control Group to help put together our entry for the Reinvent NYC Payphones Competition.  Our concept is NYC I/O, and I’d like to share a few thoughts as to why our entry is different from the other excellent entries.

Many entries brought in sensors and digital signage, but in our design meetings what was always at the forefront for us was access. Anytime you’re implementing a city-scale program to put sensors, cameras, and smart-phone mac address detectors in, there are clearly going to be questions about big brother and surveillance, and I think these questions are valid. I don’t want to live in a city where this data is collected but only available to certain parties.

To that end, Control Group is proposing an Open API for the city itself. Not just a marketplace for apps to access this ubiquitous computing platform, but the ability for anyone to mine the data for patterns, to see what the police are seeing, to see how companies are making use of the data. This data comes from us, and we should own it. What Control Group wants to do is help build a system of hardware and software that will make the city like the Web itself: open and evolving, with its ultimate form unknown and unknowable.

My entire life I have been haunted by the question “who guards the guards?”  I think the ultimate answer is pretty simple – the people do.  And the only way to let people monitor the use of city-scale data is to let them have full access to that data, and the code underlying it.

What about security?  What about people taking over the signs with their own messages? The surest way to protect against that is to make the entire project open-source, so the amazing community of NY technologists can guide the development of the code for maximum security and optimized workflow. We want entirely new businesses to flourish in this ecosystem, and we’ll need the help of everyone to make it possible. The coders at Control Group are actively involved in dozens of open-source software projects, and we are passionate believers in social coding.  By voting for NYC I/O on Facebook, you’ll be voting to share an open source vision for NYC and the world.