In my last blog I talked about the integration of ‘big data’ across heat, transport and energy to create a holistic picture of our digital infrastructure. My inspiration came from spending time with London’s Chief Digital Officer, Theo Blackwell. His work on the London Datastore has shown us that to serve a city and its citizens, you have to start with a whole system view and make that view accessible to all.
dividends and dividers
However, in our quest for total data integration we do hit upon a bit of a conundrum. For mass data collection to be impactful and helpful to an individual, it’s best when it’s based on total integration, or as some might see it, surveillance. When delivered piecemeal individuals are at the mercy of individual companies, acting on a narrow remit. When mass schemes are rolled-out, similar to that in London, mass governance and most importantly mass coordination can be achieved.
The UN classes the ongoing digital revolution as having dividers and dividends, where the role of digital technology is hugely enabling for some but incredibly isolating for others. The dividends have been evident during our ongoing battle against COVID-19. Supercomputers analysing thousands of drug compounds for vaccines; e-commerce algorithms handling thousands of online shopping requests and prioritising the elderly and disabled; and videoconferencing picking up the enormous slack as we became home-based.
While we can quickly recognise the dividends, there are also dividers, too. Social media has been awash with misinformation about the virus, mask-wearing and video conferencing platforms. Cyber fraudsters have taken the opportunity to prey on the vulnerable during a time of increased anxiety and ‘track and trace’ apps have been met with high levels of scepticism by their citizens.
Here in the UK we read about 16,000 coronavirus cases going unreported. Thousands of people were unaware they had been exposed to the virus as part of the contact tracing program, denting the already fragile state of trust in the British Government and its competence. And it’s not like our feelings of trust need to be further shaken in 2020!! According to estimates, the potential cost of worldwide data breaches will be more than $5 trillion by 2024. And with the growth of the Internet of Things (IoT), the potential for further hardware breaches is now growing at an alarming rate.
Just across the pond in the US, the upcoming presidential election had the potential to be an open goal for digital voting. With the country in varying states of lockdown and President Trump fuelling the discontent around postal ballots, the potential for a secure and verifiable smart phone voting system is huge. However, even though there are tens of apps in varying pilot stages, none have secured the trust of various cyber experts with the biggest concern still being foreign interference to directly affect the two-candidate system.
What these fears around voting and health reveal is that trust is the foundation of any society. If a voting app can’t be trusted, then democracy is at stake. If I feel my personal data is being maliciously used or is vulnerable, my trust in governments and business will continue to erode – whether that’s trust in their general cyber proficiency (did someone mention Excel?) or their motives around their goal and the ethical frameworks protecting that.
we’re craving trust
The global 2020 Edelman Trust Survey showed that citizens are craving trust from companies and governments with 76 per cent placing ethical attributes as their number one reason for trusting a company, with competence being the deciding factor for just 24 per cent. People are craving a new dawn of collaboration between businesses and governments. Trust can be won back with high levels of competence/innovation in the private sector but kept in check by governments guaranteeing people’s welfare over profit.
A story that always makes me smile broke many years ago in the US as, at the time, it was novel. Back in 2012, thanks to their loyalty cards, the supermarket Target collected data on customers buying certain key products in a bid to identify spend patterns and interest items. The supermarket could then use this information to promote spend by sending coupons to a shopper’s home for similar items. One day, an irate father from Minneapolis marched into the shop demanding that they stop sending coupons for items such as vitamin supplements associated with early pregnancy, muslin cloths, nappy bags etc, to his teenage daughter. The father then called the shop back a few days later to apologise having had a conversation with his daughter, saying ‘there have been some activities in my house that I haven’t been completely aware of and that she’s due in August’. The supermarket chain identified that this teenage girl was pregnant before her parents knew. The part that I believe made people feel so uneasy (and still does in large parts today) is that an algorithm could start to know us better than our loved ones, ultimately making more money for the business and selling more products. But did they have the customer’s welfare at heart? Did they truly believe that hyper-targeted advertising could enhance that individual’s life and create a healthier society? I have my doubts.
technology with purpose
Now let’s be clear, I’m not about to diversify Siemens into predicting when people are pregnant because of their energy usage, or perhaps if they’re illegally growing vast amounts of marijuana in their garage (although that one might be truer than you might think). Where this vast entanglement of data crosses into my sphere of work is the potential for every device in a home, office or business to offer data into the cloud and smart algorithms finding patterns as a result. But where we differ is that this is technology with purpose; digitalisation for a societal benefit, or as we say at Siemens, technology with purpose.
Take electric cars for instance. Smart charging patterns for EVs will be monitored, journey lengths, places of work logged, and commute times crunched for optimum charge cycles. A lot of the current charging activity will take place on a street by street level, giving the Distribution Network Operators very little visibility of loads on the network. Just imagine if your entire street of 30 houses suddenly switched to owning an electric car. A normal daily household load of 2kW could jump to 7kW per house across multiple streets. Then factor in if 5 houses on the street were generating electricity as well (solar panels & ground source heat pumps for example), another 10 were storing it (battery energy storage systems) and 25 still used electric immersion heaters.
That’s why the teams here at Siemens are working so hard on digitalising our grids to give the operators visibility of loads at individual substations and at a street by street level. Optimising our energy system will require much better data transparency and access while ensuring appropriate security and data protection measures. It’s why we’re working with the Energy Systems Catapult (ESC) and National Innovation Centre for Data (NICD) to provide increased visibility, and access, to energy sector data. To do this we will create ‘Your Online Digital Architecture’… we just call it YODA.
The benefits of this national approach are clear: it will create a digitalised energy system, lower cost, increase asset visibility on the network, improve stability as loads grow and allow whole system management into residential areas where it’s presently impossible to map.
170 years of trust
Data and grids are our business. We’ve been working in this sector for 170 years and if there’s one thing we can put our name against, it’s trust. While that extends across trust in our hardware it also applies to the ongoing trust that our customers and partners need for their data security.
Protective walls need to be built around the digital worlds we create and that’s why in 2018 we joined six other partners to devise the Charter of Trust.
The threats and attacks to our digital world are mounting. That was evident in 2010 with the Stuxnet malware, but also by WannaCry and NotPetya ransomware in 2017. It is estimated that cybersecurity threats caused more than €500 billion in damages worldwide in 2016. There were 8.4 billion networked devices in 2017, but experts estimate that 20 billion internet connected devices are in operation now.
The Charter outlines three core objectives: to protect the data of individuals and companies; to prevent damage to people, companies and infrastructures; to create a reliable foundation on which confidence in a networked, digital world can take root and grow.
The biggest strength of the Charter is the coordination it will create. Already, 17 major OEMs including IBM, Dell and Cisco have given their backing to it. By coordinating, we can establish universal principles around supply chain security, cybersecurity education, standardisation of best practice and the elimination of weak points across the global network.
The key to building trust stems from having an ethical and moral standpoint on data and articulating this in a clear and transparent manner. The mass democratisation of data needs to be firmly anchored in a person’s right to anonymity, inclusiveness to ensure no groups are left behind, respect on usage and above all, security. These are the antidotes to some of the fears plaguing the industry around cyberterrorism, proper governance and data ownership.
According to the UN, the ultimate purpose of digital technology is to improve human welfare. Whether that’s through a direct improvement of your quality of life, a cost saving or an environmental benefit. As the two worlds of hardware and software become increasingly more intertwined, we’ll need to trust our white goods just as much as our computers. This can only be achieved by companies working with experts like Siemens, bridging the gaps between the virtual, the physical and the ethical.
By building the proper structures around governance, security and privacy, we can work collaboratively with all sectors and begin to build new spheres of trust that should form the bedrock of an ethically and morally trustworthy cyber landscape – one that benefits everyone.