Sunday, July 13, 2014

Digital Venice - Europe Starts Up - The Internet of Things

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi in Venice
(Venice, Italy) This past week, from July 7 to 12, Venice was the digital capital of Europe as Italy kicked off its turn at the Presidency of the Council of the European Union with Matteo Renzi himself, the Prime Minister of Italy, arriving here in Venice on Tuesday, July 8.

From Digital Venice 2014:

Digital Venice 2014” is a high-level meeting, hosted by the City of Venice and promoted by the Italian Presidency of the Council of the European Union with the support of European Commission – DG Connect, that will gather policy, industry and innovation leaders from all over Europe to trace the road to a growing, sustainable digital economy.

The event, intended to be held every year, takes place at the start of the Italian Presidency to mark the emphasis placed by the Italian government on digital innovation as the key to sustainable economic development and boost to new employment. A “Venice Declaration” summarizing vision and recommendations will be presented by the Italian Presidency to be tabled at the next Digital Council...

The European Union is a strange creature, and is still in the process of becoming. The United States began with 13 original states, and those states rebelled against Great Britain for taxation without representation. They declared that they were independent on "Independence Day," July 4, 1775, and then created a Constitution in 1781, which we still argue about nearly every day -- in English, the language that everyone in the United States of America is supposed to speak.

The European Union originated under very different circumstances. It was created after World War II to ensure that such killing, devastation and destruction never happens again. According to the European Union website, "Europe Day" is May 9, and celebrates the Schuman Plan presented by French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman on May 9, 1950.

Then, on April 18, 1951, six different nations, all with their own languages and cultures -- Italy, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg -- agreed to place the coal and steel industries under one common management so that no country could make its own weapons of war and turn against the others. Bitter enemies, who just a few years earlier were massacring each other, decided they were going to become friends. Italy and Germany were on one side, and France, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg were on the other.

So for Robert Schuman, who was born in Luxembourg, and was a member of the French Resistance and nearly thrown into Dachau, to decide to become friends with Germany just five years after the Nazis were defeated, shows what a civilized, forward-thinking a man he was.

EU flag
The European Union was built on a foundation of peace. There are now 28 countries that belong to the EU, many of which used to be part of the Soviet Union. Absorbing these Eastern European counties into the West has not been simple. To use Latvia as an example, in recent history, it was an independent republic, then forced into the Soviet Union in 1940, then invaded by Nazi Germany in 1941, then went back into the Soviet Union until that collapsed in 1991. It became part of the European Union on May 1, 2004, together with Poland, Hungary, Lithuania, Estonia, the Czech Republic, Cyprus and Malta. 

When I first moved to Italy in 1998, there were still border controls in Europe, which meant each time you drove into another country you had to stop and show your documents. It would be as if each of the 50 states had their own border patrols, with their own attitudes. Imagine driving from New York to Florida, and getting harassed when you reached South Carolina or Georgia because you were a Yankee. We can imagine that an army composed of Californians would be very different than an army composed of Texans. It is sometimes difficult to understand the people from Louisiana if you are from Connecticut; imagine if each state had its own language. Europe was like that once; now there are no borders, but each country still maintains its own language and culture. There is a joke:
Heaven is where the police are British, the lovers French, the mechanics German, the chefs Italian, and it is all organized by the Swiss.
Hell is where the police are German, the lovers Swiss, the mechanics French, the chefs British, and it is all organized by the Italians.

Member states of the EU
Just as Americans fiercely believe in the individual rights written in the Constitution, so do Europeans believe they have certain rights. The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union lists those rights, some of which might surprise Americans. There is no right to bear arms, for example, but there is a right to life, and no death penalty. "No one shall be condemned to the death penalty, or executed."

No one is allowed to be tortured: "No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."

As in America, everyone has the right to freedom of expression, but Europe goes even further, protecting the arts, academics and sciences in particular -- fields which oppressive governments like to restrict: "The arts and scientific research shall be free from constraint. Academic freedom shall be respected."

There is a right to education, a right to unionize, and a right to medical care. There is a right to freedom of peaceful assembly. One right that interests me personally is the right to property: "No one may be deprived of his or her possessions, except in the public interest and in the cases and under the conditions provided for by law, subject to fair compensation being paid in good time for their loss."

Importantly, there is a right to protection of personal data and "such data must be processed fairly for specified purposes and on the basis of the person concerned or some other legitimate basis laid down by law. Everyone has the right of access to data which has been collected concerning him or her, and the right to have it rectified."

In terms of history, the United States is an adolescent, only 238 years old, and often behaves like one. Europe has been around for millennia, and understands well the horrors of war, and the extreme dangers of spying on innocent civilians and the attempt to control a population by fear and intimidation, which is one reason why its Fundamental Rights differ from the United States -- Europe lived through the Nazi invasion.

Which brings us to the Internet of Everything, the conference I attended on July 8 as part of Digital Venice 2014, which was presented by Roberto Masiero, Co-Founder of The Innovation Group, and by. Cisco, which was represented by Agostino Santoni, CEO of Cisco Italia. Cisco is really pushing the Internet of Everything, or the IoE, and says that it is a $19 trillion global opportunity. Since Italy is still in a recession with 12.6% unemployment, and a whopping 45% youth unemployment rate, the idea of a new arena for growth is particularly exciting.

Apparently there is an Internet of Things (IoT) and an Internet of Everything (IoE). Cisco says that the IoE is not its trademark, or its architecture, but if you google the Internet of Everything, you get Cisco, whereas if you google the Internet of Things, you get... everything. The sector does, indeed, seem to be exploding. Huge investments are being made; Forbes says that "influential conversations" about the Internet of Things have increased 70% between late March and early July of this year.

First -- what IS the Internet of Things? It will connect everything in the world, including people, to the Internet. Billions and billions of things. From Forbes:

The new rule for the future is going to be, “anything that can be connected, will be connected.” But why on earth would you want so many connected devices talking to each other?  There are many examples for what this might look like or what the potential value might be.  Say for example you are on your way to a meeting, your car could have access to your calendar and already know the best route to take, if the traffic is heavy your car might send a text to the other party notifying them that you will be late.  What if your alarm clock wakes up you at 6 am and then notifies your coffee maker to start brewing coffee for you? What if your office equipment knew when it was running low on supplies and automatically re-ordered more? What if the wearable device you used in the workplace could tell you when and where you were most active and productive and shared that information with other devices that you used while working?

That sounds a bit too much like Big Brother for my taste, though when applied to a "Smart City," it makes more sense. Traffic lights would be connected so you wouldn't have to wait unnecessarily for a green light at 2:00 in the morning. Trash cans run on solar energy would alert their collectors when they are full. Self-driving cars mean no more accidents, though how it will prevent a tractor trailer from jackknifing on the LA freeway, I have yet to understand.

Under 30 CEO
The problem, of course, is security and privacy, and someone who was not a techie, Gerard de Graaf from the European Commission, brought that up in his keynote speech. He said a lot of politicians don't get it, and that tech scares them. They need to be shown: HOW CAN THEY ACHIEVE THEIR AGENDA? He said that we could not build a 90% bridge; it must be a 100% bridge, and that all the pieces of the puzzle must be put in place -- he compared it to doing a jigsaw puzzle with your kids, to complete the entire thing only to discover that three pieces are missing. He said that his home is his castle, and that the IoT will know everything about our lives. We will be connected but incredibly vulnerable, and it could easily disrupt our societies.

Since Google and Facebook and other American giants are attempting to gain the lead on the Internet of Things, and since we have already seen how the United States government has abused its data, to me, the top priority must be security and privacy. 

With headlines like these:

A Year After Snowden, U.S. Tech Losing Trust Overseas

you would think the US government would put a brake on it, but no. Just a few days ago Germany kicked out the head of the CIA. According to the Voice of America: "Analyst Pawel Swidlicki of the Open Europe research organization says that could get worse unless the United States stops spying on Germany. 'German public opinion will only continue to harden against the U.S., which would have very negative implications for quite crucial issues, like the EU-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, currently under negotiation,' Swidlicki said."

Stars and Stripes
The reminders of World War II still permeate the air in Europe today. Less than three months ago, on April 25, 2014, nearly 30,000 residents of nearby Vicenza here in Italy were evacuated due to the discovery of a humongous "Blockbuster" bomb dropped during WWII by the British, found, ironically, in the Peace Park next to the recently-expanded US military base -- expanded to the outrage of the residents, who created Peace Park to block further expansion. How the citizens of Vicenza feel about the USA in their midst:

Peace Park... today continues to be a social laboratory of participation that combines anti-militarism with an affirmation of common goods. But the park is not the only result. Vicenza is no longer the same, and the United States has to reckon with a city ever less hospitable, so much so that holidays once important for friendly encounters with the local community—such as the Fourth of July or Halloween—are now occasions when the sites under the Stars and Stripes close up, forced to guard themselves against the antagonistic citizenry.

The damage that has been done by the United States must be repaired immediately before moving toward the future. As has been illustrated time and again, the USA has infuriated the entire world with its disrespect and interference. We have learned the USA has tortured, assassinated, used punitive psychiatry, used extraordinary rendition, droned women and children, killed innocent civilians and is spying on completely innocent people going about their everyday lives. I, myself, have been targeted on a personal level, and I can attest that the USA has trampled on my rights to an outrageous extent. Like an alcoholic in denial, the USA seems incapable of realizing the damage it is inflicting on the rest of the human race. That is the reality of the situation, and it must be addressed, not covered-up and avoided. It is dysfunctional behavior, and it needs drastic intervention.

Even before Germany kicked out the CIA station chief, Angela Merkel kicked out Verizon.

Snowden Asylum in Germany? Support Grows for NSA Whistleblower After Merkel Cancels Verizon Contract

Support is growing to grant Edward Snowden asylum in Germany. Perhaps that is the solution that is needed. He seems to know a bit about technology:), and has proven that he has integrity and great concerns about security and privacy. If the United States refuses to grant him asylum, it is a waste of talent to keep him in Russia when he has knowledge that could help create a solid foundation for a technological future in Europe. If Europe wants an edge, offering a safe haven to the rest of the world where innocent data and innocent personal lives are free from governmental interference would be a way to start.

The Internet of Things
If we are seriously talking about a new $19 trillion "global opportunity," then that opportunity must be founded on sound moral principles, trust, transparency and integrity, otherwise it will be a world in which no one wants to live, no matter how perfectly toasted our bread is.

Ciao from Venezia,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog


  1. This past week, from July 7 to 12, Venice was the digital capital of Europe as Italy kicked off its turn at the Presidency of the Council of the European Union with Matteo Renzi himself, the Prime Minister of Italy, arriving here in Venice on Tuesday, July 8.

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