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People must build smart communities

Trinh Thanh Thuy |


People are talking industry 4.0 and 5.0, but in these efforts to build a smart digital environment, there is a serious lack of attention to those on the ground, or more accurately, to measures for improving the lives of the poor and destitute.

Even with the recent adoption of the Asean Smart Cities Framework by Asean leaders in Singapore, with the promise “that no one is left behind”, the focus is mainly on the “urban centres”.

Meanwhile at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) meeting in Papua New Guinea Prime Minister of Malaysia, Mahathir Mohamad, warned that the transition from old to new technology was causing disruptions that would make skilled and unskilled workers less important and irrelevant in the work force.

The world has become more connected and convenient than ever with the internet and digital innovations will transform the world.

But half the world’s population are not connected to the internet and will not necessarily benefit from these digital innovations.

More and more we are seeing fake news, scams, hate speeches, accusations of social media being taken advantage of by foreign influencers for political purposes, and governments are attempting to “regulate” social media.

But why are governments chasing corporate service providers on the internet and social media?

Why don’t they think outside the box? Tech giants have brought so many benefits to users, mostly “free”. Naturally most people subscribe to these services because they can benefit from these applications.

Why can’t governments do the same, invest public money on innovations that bring greater benefits to citizens, create a reliable digital platform on which people can live, work, create, do business and even safely entertain, and provide services that are ideally free or at a lowest possible affordable cost?

And why should there be platforms supported by governments? Because the cost of applying state-of-the-art innovations globally will be out of reach for most small companies and individuals.

In this article I take courage to sketch a model of smart communities I wish to see for Governments and developers to consider.

What is lacking in the online environment now is trust, reliability and inclusivity. Here we have a strong tool that can address the issue: blockchain.

David Lang, chief product officer of Infinity Blockchain Labs, once said: “In the near future people will use blockchain technology like the internet and we can imagine that each company will build its own trustworthy network based on blockchain technology and then connect them together.”

Several Vietnamese tech giants including Viettel and FPT have succeeded in applying blockchain to services.

Taiwanese smartphone maker HTC has offered a blockchain phone with shipping planned from December. Several others, including Switzerland-based start-up Sirin Lab, Chinese handset makers including Lenovo Group and Sichuan Changhong Electric and Indonesia-based start-up Pundi X have announced similar plans.

This makes the application of blockchain to create “trustworthy networks” more feasible than ever, not only among companies but all types of communities.

Just one important note: everyone of us needs space for creation, for dreams, for jokes, friendly boasting, fiction, entertainment and so on, things which need not always be true, but that has always been the way of life.

The virtual world reflects real life. So to ensure creativity, freedom of thought and individual privacy there should be separate systems/networks: one type for real business/administration and the other for “fiction”.

Why don’t we make full use of the existing communal relations, groups, structures, and help them form various types of smart communities?

I would call them “cell smart communities”. Although I understand the pioneering role of smart urban centres, transformation from existing communities/ structures into smart ones will probably be less disruptive.

Currently, there is a serious lack of a strong and reliable connection between the virtual world and the physical world. There are a lot of instances where people are living a dual life – online and offline – with no connection between them.

It is not a must that the two have to be connected, but if connected, verified and acknowledged by the relevant communities then there will be much less cheating.

People will have incentives to behave better, good people or good deeds will be duly encouraged and promoted, bad people or behaviours will be traced and discredited, trust among human beings, which is being eroded day by day, will be enhanced, people will be more responsible for their own actions and their community.

If every piece of information is virtually checked this way by the smart community at the source, it is likely to be more accurate, hence less need for “management” and therefore much “freer”.

Actually, this is also the way peer reviewing is working for scientists. If success stories and failure lessons are all verified and spread freely, there are less chances for lies or fake news.

Blockchain technology should be applied in ways that should not only enable and enforce top-down regulation but also the other way round, avoiding asymmetric information. That will mean both the citizens and the authorities will have to behave responsibly as the system ensures transparency. This will help get rid of corruption.

The nature of this kind of communication will aid inclusive development, allowing anyone who is willing to contribute or work can do what he/she wish without any conditions, and being credited for that (by blockchain technology).

This model can be developed in each country and connected worldwide. The world is already connected, albeit patchily, it should remain connected, but improved by the formation of “cell smart communities”. These could be a locality (village, commune, district, provinces or even nations), professional groups (scientists, lawyers, artists) or simply groups of like-minded people (religious groups, NGOs).

In Vietnam, we still have very strong farmers’ associations, women’s association, youth associations and village chiefs. Besides there are a lot of professional associations and groups that can be strengthened again by forming “cell smart communities”, one does not exclude another.

What is really needed is the commitment from Governments, communities and (credited) volunteers who will enable and ensure the inclusion of all members of the society to make full use of it.

How? Incentives, free apps, free beneficial features and convenience will help the system thrive and even generate values.

Everyone looking for a job can easily look for an appropriate position without going through an intermediary and/or fear of being cheated by unscrupulous employees as the credit system is verified by blockchain technology.

Even those who have not found employment can do volunteer work to raise his/her credit in the meantime.

The involvement of public administrators like governments is especially important to ensure the system receive impartial, timely funding for public benefits and to ensure revenues are fairly shared.

I may sound simplistic or utopian, but I believe all the technologies are already there or certainly within reach, for the building of such smart communities.

The writer is Editor-in-Chief, Viet Nam News, Vietnam. The Asian Writers Circle is a series of columns on global affairs written by top editors and writers from members of the Asia News Network and published in newspapers, websites and social media platforms across the region.