Infrastructure Report: Is the Government about to become an app store?

By James Penn

The expansion of the initiative is not just confined to industries and utilities. Photo / 123RF
The expansion of the initiative is not just confined to industries and utilities. Photo / 123RF

Is the Government about to become an app store?

That's the prediction of Gabriel Leydon, CEO of MZ (short for "Machine Zone"), a company known throughout Silicon Valley for its smartphone games but which is working on something rather different in New Zealand.

MZ has been developing a new "command centre" for Auckland Transport. All of Auckland Transport's buses are tracked and displayed: "a real-time view of every single bus on the road, down to the second."

But for MZ, this seems to be a small-scale pilot of a much broader initiative.

Leydon floated the idea at the 2016 Tripartite Summit in Auckland.

"You could run the entire country in real-time," he said. "A country and all its citizens can interact with everything connected to the internet inside that country."

The factors driving this trend include the standardisation of government data feeds, technology that improves the speed with which those data feeds can be absorbed, and the development of artificial intelligence capabilities.

Scale is key: "The current capacity of what it would take to run a few million users and the entire public transportation system is less than 1 per cent of what we're capable of," says Leydon.

"We're able to condense extremely large-scale systems down to a single data feed, where it's easily manageable and you can build applications around it."

What does Leydon's vision look like? A command centre and user-facing applications for everything from the police and ambulances to garbage services. Imagine notifications for when the garbage truck is almost at your house, for example.

And the expansion of this initiative is not just confined to industries and utilities, but is geographic too.

"We're going to take that to the rest of the country," Leydon promised. "It will affect absolutely everything."

Machine Zone CEO Gabriel Leydon.
Machine Zone CEO Gabriel Leydon.

"This is what Machine Zone's ultimate goal of working with New Zealand is: we would like to create a fire hose of everything in New Zealand, everything going on. And we would provide an application platform where people can build applications around the totality of the data happening inside the country."

Or perhaps Leydon would say when such wholesale digitisation takes hold, the role of government may well be transformed, or more accurately, refined. First, government may have to facilitate the development of such a "fire hose" of data by legally requiring certain operators to collect and contribute data.

As Leydon sees it, government would then have a role in publishing the data, which would "unlock the creativity of the engineers around the world to create efficiencies that government just can't create."

More significantly, Leydon sees government being able to focus resources more closely on social services. "A lot of government could be reduced down to algorithms and bots," predicts Leydon. "Which is really positive, because we could focus a lot of our money on social services."

A country and all its citizens can interact with everything connected to the internet inside that country.

Beca's Matthew Ensor points out automation is really difficult. Ensor told the summit, "We've got this idea that smart cities are going to be beautiful, technology is going to look fabulous, and there will be one app to rule your life.

"I think it's going to be messy. We'll have lots of technology all around the place telling us things in real time. And lots and lots of solutions that will compete with each other."

- NZ Herald

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