The Infosys Labs research blog tracks trends in technology with a focus on applied research in Information and Communication Technology (ICT)

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Nature's wrath

As we start going about our daily business today, millions of people are still reeling under the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. My deepest condolences to the people who succumbed to the fury of nature and for those whose lives have been irreversibly scarred by this act of God.    

In the midst of a chilly Fall evening in 2007, I found myself on the wooden Broadwalk around Atlantic City. I remember strolling out of Caesar's and into the Pier Shops. I had made plans to dine at Souzai Sushi and Sake. I was already comfortable by the time I settled down in the temperature controlled environment. Adding to the ambience was the sushi chef's exemplary public display of culinary showmanship. From the corner of my eye I could catch reflections of "The Water Show" - the $7 million water, light and sound extravaganza.  It had all ingredients of a memorable evening. Yet, what I remember most vividly was the effect of the Atlantic's dark waters,  playing out a passionate scene on the other side of the glass facade. The ocean's rumblings were seemingly overpowered within the contained space.

Looking back, it seems like Mother Nature was laying low and letting us, humans, bask in the glory of our own achievements and make merry in our  fool's paradise. Unfortunately for us, some of her other whims are not as convenient.  Superstorm Sandy made landfall at that very spot, leaving being a trail of destruction. However, such catastrophes present us with a rare opportunity to test the resilience of our collective systems and will power. It allows us to introspect on what is and what could be.  In fact it makes a stronger case for creating effective solutions to benefit humanity.

While it is sad that Superstorm Sandy caused loss of life, the silver lining is that the situation could have been worse. Damage to life and property were curtailed because we had a rudimentary oracle. Years of human endeavor have given us the ability to put an eye in the sky to lookout for upcoming storms. We have created complex models that can predict storm movements. We have invested in infrastructure to obtain data from ground zero. We have also created an internet to disseminate information among the general population as well as tablets to access the information remotely on a near real time basis. We also have some policies, awareness and discipline in place so that we know how to react in the face of an adversity.  This is no mean feat, and yet, there is a lot more that could have been done.    

Slowly, but surely, smart things are becoming part of our daily existence. There are "Things" that respond to us. There are "Things" that reason about our actions.  What is perhaps lacking is the ability to pool these experiences into a pervasive fabric that can be tapped into for the collective good. In the days to come we would build sense and respond systems that ensure business continuity. We would build smart buildings and bridges that adapt to their environment.   We would also build systems that recognize and prioritize human health and safety. But to get there we need to start thinking in a selfless, collaborative manner. We need to create a smarter and more responsible civilization and our systems need to reflect that philosophy. Every Superstorm Sandy will test the core of human resilience, but we will be better prepared to mitigate collateral damages.

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