Possible Projects

We can use IT to participate at local and global levels, at different temporal levels ranging from instantaneous to generational, and we can participate consciously and automatically. Consider one scenario, the smart power grid.

There is enormous attention to developing a smarter electric grid that will smoothly incorporate renewable energy sources, adapt to rapidly changing local conditions, and support two way flows of energy. We can think of this as moving from monolithic and unidirectional flows to agile and multiplex flows enabled by better infrastructure and computational controls. The popularly espoused assumptions are that this new system will be fully automatic with the human consumer only considered as a parameter to be manipulated via social engineering techniques such as variable pricing (e.g., see any newspaper story or Science, April 10). It seems to me that this kind of model ignores the distributed intelligence in people who might be encouraged to participate more actively (both consciously and in real time) than simply signing an agreement with their power companies to allow remote control of their appliances and electric cars. Would you adapt your behavior if you had accurate and instantaneous information about the wind or sun in your neighborhood? What if the information was for my son’s house in Maryland while I am in North Carolina? What if the information was for wind and sun around the globe? What would the reverberations be for a million people interacting in real time with their personal power consumptions informed by the contemporaneous interactions of the entire group? How might we investigate these questions? What kinds of systems and information resources would be useful to individuals? To communities? The pessimistic answers suggest greed, sabotage, and exploitation. The optimistic answers suggest optimal use of resources and more engaged and satisfying living. As an optimist, I say let’s get some better participation options in the emerging smart power grid right now while the new infrastructure is being planned and built.

Possible Projects