Ontological Design for Cognitive Cities: The New Principle for Future Urban Management

Ontological Design for Cognitive Cities: The New Principle for Future Urban Management

Sara D'Onofrio (University of Fribourg, Switzerland), Astrid Habenstein (University of Bern, Switzerland) and Edy Portmann (University of Fribourg, Switzerland)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-8085-0.ch008
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Based on the advancements of a smart city, the cognitive city focuses on the communication between the city's stakeholders and cognitive systems to create a human-machine symbiosis in which human and machine can interact directly with each other. To develop the cognitive city means to design this sociotechnical relationship. This requires a variety of approaches, methods, and tools. To this purpose, the authors of this chapter suggest the concept of ontological design. This principle helps to develop a research methodology toolbox that can be applied to create research and development strategies suitable for shaping the relationship between human and environment. This chapter is an essay with the aim to encourage the reader to reflect. Ontological design means that it is necessary to become aware of the influences of today's actions on the future. With the help of an illustrative use case, this chapter wants to demonstrate why and to what extent the concept of ontological design can support urban development.
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Due to growing urbanization, today’s cities face major challenges, such as the increasing scarcity of resources and the preservation of human well-being. The vision of a cognitive city is an important approach to meeting these challenges in the interests of the city and its stakeholders (e.g., inhabitants, companies and nonprofit-organizations) (Finger & Portmann, 2016). The cognitive city is based on the concept of the smart city and aims to compensate for its deficits. The focus often lies on technological possibilities, which represent a way to solve the problems of urban efficiency and sustainability; however, this strategy tends to be accompanied by a lack of stakeholder involvement to improve cities’ processes in line with stakeholders’ needs. However, as a sociotechnical system, the good functioning of a city depends on the well-balanced coexistence and cooperation of technology and human minds. It is therefore important to create an environment for collaboration to foster urban development, among other aspects, to create a cognitive city.

In terms of challenges to and problems of cities, there exist several scientific problem-solving approaches. If the problem is to be answered by identifying behavioral patterns or explaining a cause, empirical methods such as interviews or surveys can be applied. However, it is important to be aware that these approaches are useful for a specific class of problems but cannot entirely address the complex problems confronting a city. For instance, Krasnova, Abramova, Notter and Baumann (2016) carried out a survey about “why phubbing is toxic for your relationship” to understand the role of smartphone jealousy among “generation Y” users. This is an important topic in our society and we must address it, but it is very specific to an object (i.e., smartphone) and to a stakeholder group (i.e., generation Y). The findings of this study can be applied to urban development only to a certain extent. It helps draw the attention of the digital generation to certain points but addresses only one of many problems. It does not offer solution approaches to overcoming this problem. Another example is “The Swiss Software Industry Study 2017”. This study helps to obtain “in-depth information about the current state, emerging trends, and long-term developments of the Swiss software industry” (Hurni, Huber & Dibbern, 2017, p. 3). However, similar to the previous study, it is very limited (geographically, thematically and methodically) and can therefore hardly, or only to a certain extent, be applied to urban development.

Innovative approaches such as action design research (Sein, Henfridsson, Purao, Rossi & Lindgren, 2011) can be utilized to address a specific problem. However, even if they are future-oriented, these research venues also have limitations. For instance, Petersson and Lundberg (2016) applied action design research to develop working methods to “promote the technical development of turnouts” in the railway sector. Starting from the assumption that “failure of turnouts can lead to significant delays and societal costs”, solution approaches are developed by applying action design research. In comparison to empirical research, solution approaches are created to help to solve specific problems (including the consideration of stakeholder needs). However, the probability that the same approach can be transferred to other areas is rather low. The same applies to the prototype “personal digital assistant 2.0” developed by Kaltenrieder, Altun, D’Onofrio, Portmann and Myrach (2016), which was specifically designed for the mobility, as well as for the improved organization of busy people (i.e., improvement of calendar management). To a certain degree, their findings can be adapted to other areas, but adjustments will be necessary, depending on the target group, the application area and other aspects. Therefore, collaborative methods are vital to tackling multifaceted urban problems, and a well-considered mix of methods proves most promising in shaping the city of the future. It is vital to think outside the box and find new ways while avoiding conventional ones. This is where the fundamental idea of ontological design comes into play.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Ontological Design (Research): Based on the idea that humans shape their world in such a way that this world affects and shapes them, ontological design research refers to a research methodology toolbox that can be used to develop strategies to shape the relationship between humans and the environment.

Design: Design is about creating an artefact. The aim is to prepare, model, and then execute the development of an artefact. The whole process is understood as design, and the goal is ultimately a designed artefact.

Question-Answering System: A question-answering system, regarded as an IT artefact, aims to automatically deliver relevant and concise answers to questions. It represents a dialogue system that is accessible through an interface, such as a web application, to conduct a conversation with a human.

Smart Participation: Smart participation is about giving urban stakeholders the opportunity to be involved in the development of the city. Various possibilities for participation, such as discussion rounds (from passive listening to active involvement), are conceivable.

Smart City: The term smart city is often used to describe cities that enrich functions relevant to the city using advanced information and communication technologies that can contribute to an efficient and sustainable development of the social-ecological design of urban space.

Urban Intelligence: Urban intelligence is the cognitive intelligence of the city. A network based on individual intelligences (humans, electronic devices, etc.) creates unique and valuable insights from the city to foster its development.

Cognitive systems: Cognitive systems can not only recognize the meaning of processed information but also create cognitive linkages between information and learn from it. They are able to process fuzzy data and to include the abilities of human cognition to a certain extent in information processing.

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