Friday, 7 May 2010

Living on a smart planet – is it the technology that counts?

For many years now we have been developing technologies that can help us to detect events (and their pre-cursors). These technologies, put to good use, can help us to provide faster, better, more effective protection and response, whether it is on a global scale (tsunami warning systems), or personal (body state monitors), and whether it is significant (using GPS to help rescue work in Haiti) or trivial (having your fridge send you a text to say that you need more milk). But are they smart? Does this mean we live on a technologically smart planet?
According to the WordNet lexical database of English, the word smart has several possible meanings:

Noun: a kind of pain such as that caused by a wound or a burn or a sore.
Verb: be the source of pain.
(i) showing mental alertness and calculation and resourcefulness;
(ii) elegant and stylish;
(iii) characterized by quickness and ease in learning;
(iv) fresh, impertinent, impudent, overbold, saucy;
(v) painfully severe ("he gave the dog a smart blow");
(vi) quick and brisk ("we walked at a smart pace");
(v) capable of independent and apparently intelligent action ("smart weapons").

That’s a lot of meanings for one word, but basically they boil down to three sets of meaning – one around painfulness, one around elegance, and one around intelligence – and it’s the last of those that is applicable here: when we talk about “smart technology” or creating a “smart planet”, we mean something that is intelligent and resourceful.