Omni-Thrive: Societies as Organisms of Interdependence
Omni-Thrive: Societies as Organisms of Interdependence
What Biology Can Teach Us About Our Cities and Societies
By Justin Bean, Global Director of Smart Spaces and Video intelligence Marketing, Hitachi Vantara
The human body is a highly functioning, synchronized organism that is capable of responding to a variety of environments and situations. Each organ within the body does its job in an interconnected, relational way. The liver is not in competition with the brain or lungs, for example, but depends on their ability to thrive so that it can survive and thrive itself. Each organ does not succeed at the cost of another; they all have an interest in each other’s health and success, A failure in one organ or part of the body, even a minor one, can have a detrimental impact on the entire body. Natural ecosystems operate under the same principles. Disruption in one part of the ecosystem can put the entire ecosystem out of balance, resulting in a ripple effect that has far-reaching consequences. This is the concept of omni-thrive – that the overall system thrives at its maximum level when the individual parts thrive at their maximum level.
Society is no different. Our communities, cities, countries and even the world can each be viewed as an interrelated organic system in which sustaining a highly functioning whole depends on addressing the health of each part of the system, and vice versa.
When we view every social structure as interconnected and interdependent, we can approach its social, economic and environmental issues from a holistic perspective. Just as the human body requires information about the needs of its different organs to optimize the use of resources throughout the body, human societies need information about all segments and how they influence the health of each other and the whole. Societies that can encompass this big picture can address the needs of their citizens and organizations so that every individual — and the society as a whole — can thrive.
Some of these interrelations are more obvious than others. For example, improving traffic and pedestrian safety improves traffic flow and urban vibrancy1 while reducing the costs of emergency services and infrastructure repairs2, as well as lost economic productivity. Smart parking improves the economy, transit speeds and air quality.3 When the city of Dallas looked at its homeless issue holistically, the data showed that it was costing taxpayers a combined $40,000 per year per person between jail and emergency services costs, which justified housing-first programs that now cost the city $13,000 per person annually.4 These programs address the complex factors that lead to persistent homelessness directly and include programs for housing, mental and physical health, drug addiction and job training. Economic security improves physical and emotional health5 and reduces crime6, reducing the societal costs of these issues over the medium and long term.
This approach nurtures not only the economy and physical infrastructure of a city, but also its social infrastructure and systems – its culture, relationships, environment and sustainability, innovation, politics, education, equal opportunity and general quality of life for its people. Just as individuals thrive when they balance work, family and friendships, exercise and diet, and personal growth, so will a society thrive when it nurtures all the facets of itself. If there is lack in one part, it can affect the whole, such as when extreme inequality leads to unequal educational outcomes,7 or potentially to increased crime and even global conflict.8
Technology is one key enabler for the omni-thriving organic society. It not only gives us tools to address specific problems, it also allows us to view and support the organism as a whole.
A proof point for holistic transformation
City planners, government officials, corporate entities and other concerned stakeholders who are taking this type of holistic approach are providing significant proof points for the exponential benefits of using technology and multiple types of data to achieve social, economic and sustainability goals.9
One example that uses this holistic approach is Andhra Pradesh, the eighth largest state in India and home to approximately 53 million people. The state government is using data analytics and advanced technology solutions to solve complex societal challenges such as sustainable resource management, poverty, agricultural and public safety issues, and natural disaster response ― all in a holistic way.
Under the umbrella of its Real Time Governance Center, the state provides ongoing monitoring and reporting across its entire ecosystem of 33 departments and provides more than 745 services.10 Andhra Pradesh is able to integrate massive amounts of data from internet of things (IoT) devices, security and traffic cameras, department databases and citizen surveys to enable constructive, immediate, comprehensive governance. This integrated approach enables the state to reach its United Nations Sustainable Development Goals by tracking such things as life expectancy, education, economic opportunity and other factors that help improve the state’s Happiness Index.11 This not only improves the lives of its citizens, it provides a model for data-driven social transformation.
The imperative for coordinated problem-solving
Societies often tend to attack each of their challenges in isolation ― often simply by throwing money at them without deeply understanding them in the context of other challenges and influences. This approach ignores the principles behind healthy organic systems. Much of Andhra Pradesh’s success can be attributed to the way in which technology has given it a higher-level, broader, interrelated view that provides insight into every aspect of the state’s social programs, distribution channels, and response methods, allowing for coordinated issue resolution.
Tools such as data analytics, artificial intelligence, 3D LiDAR sensing technology and 5G networks have evolved to the point where they can be used to assess an entire social system. Embedded in these technologies are features that address privacy concerns12 while at the same time allowing for the capture of valuable information that can be used to improve the places where we live and work. Whether the system is an enterprise, a city or a country, these tools can support the resolution of complex issues in a holistic, balanced way that benefit us all socially, economically and environmentally.
Meaningful solutions can be developed when we address specific issues and opportunities. When we combine tools, technologies and unified data with operational expertise, opportunities are boundless for solving difficult issues in critical areas such as infrastructure, sustainability, safety and transportation. This is particularly meaningful with a projected urban global population of over six billion by 2045.13 And as cities grow, the best solutions will adapt and scale with them.
Beyond technology to cultural transformation
But technology itself is only half of the equation — technology must be combined with a new way of thinking. It’s critical to recognize that while 50 disconnected smart city projects acting independently might generate small changes in a few areas, they will fail to bring about the large-scale, across-the-board cultural change we need to transform our world for the better. To do this, we must think in terms of ensuring that all parts of the organism are functioning well so that the whole organism/city/society can thrive at its maximum potential – a cultural change that communities such as Andhra Pradesh are beginning to put into action.
In the future, technology innovation will rely on more sophisticated solutions, as well as investments in new ways of doing things. For example, Hitachi Ventures is investing in relationships between startups, established Fortune 500 companies and social entities to discover new ways to solve global challenges and infuse innovation into social systems.14 And some cities have discovered the benefits of these investments and public and private collaboration. For example, the City of Moreno Valley, California has implemented solutions that improve the safety of its citizens through more effective traffic flow, and faster and more accurate emergency response.15
Cause for optimism and growing opportunity
There’s no doubt that the organism that is our society faces many important challenges. The impacts of climate change, mass extinctions, social division and unrest, increasing demands on public infrastructure and services, economic inequities and other forces are putting increasing pressure on our social structures, and in some cases, they may threaten our very survival.
However, new innovations and solutions are appearing at an exponential rate, becoming rapidly more sophisticated, automated, and affordable and leading to a potential world of abundance.16 Social theorist Jeremy Rifkin coined this convergence of solutions and innovation — such as getting clean energy from free natural sources (the sun and wind), the sharing economy, IoT, 3D printing, automation and new business models — the “Zero Marginal Cost Society.” Rifkin is referring to a society where materialism ironically decreases because access to almost everything becomes nearly free.17
A holistic approach to social issues can be the North Star that guides us to solving our problems together. In doing so, we can solve some of society’s most pressing challenges to bring our societies into a state of omni-thrive, with balanced environmental, social, and economic health, so we can all thrive well into the future.
Global Director of Smart Spaces and Video intelligence Marketing, Hitachi Vantara
Justin Bean is the Director of Smart Spaces and Video Intelligence Marketing at Hitachi Vantara, which brings IoT solutions to market with the mission of social innovation. Justin has worked with Silicon Valley startups and Fortune 500s that are applying IoT and other disruptive technologies to improve our lives and cities. He has worked in the US, Japan and South Africa on projects that include smart cities, smart parking, electric vehicles, renewable energy, machine learning and 3D printing. He was the recipient of the THINK Prize in from renowned innovation and design firm IDEO for their Financial Empowerment Challenge. He also served in Americorps NCCC with a focus on empowering disadvantaged communities, holds an MBA in sustainable management, and resides in San Francisco, California.