Sunday, 18 February 2018

COMMENTARY ON - DIFFERENT WAYS TO THINK ABOUT 'SMART' TRANSPORTATION BY Y.B. DR. ONG KIAN MING

Dear Right Honourable (Y.B.) Dr. Ong Kian Ming, Member of Parliament for Serdang,

Happy Chinese New Year and may the year ahead be a happy and prosperous year for all Malaysians.

I have commented to your article Different ways to think about ‘Smart’ Transportation in The Malaysian Insight of the 18th day of February in the year 2018 and reproduce it herewith, indicated in blue, with some minor grammatical corrections and some further clarifications.

You wrote - "No matter how ‘smart’ a system is, it cannot solve traffic problems caused by human driving patterns and infrastructure bottlenecks."

Very good point Y.B. Dr. Ong! To put it simply, the devil is in the implementation and remediation (or more precisely, the lack thereof) on the ground in realspace, not in cyberspace, and and I wish you had focused more on addressing realspace issues, rather than about providing information, data and analytics about them to the public and the authorities but otherwise do nothing on the ground about them.

Long before Jack Ma proposed his gee whiz City Brain Artificial Intelligence (AI)-driven smart city solution in Kuala Lumpur, the Integrated Transport Information System (ITIS) was operating (in the Klang Valley) since 2005, with signboards over major roads telling us what we already knew - i.e. that we are stuck in a horrendous traffic jam and for how far we will have to have to endure it, and more recently, users can also check traffic current conditions on certain roads on their Apple iPhones, iPads or Android devices so as to plan our travel route and time to avoid or at best minimise being caught in a jam.

All fine and dandy, except that this has continued to be the case day after day, year after year since 2005, apparently with nothing or very little having been done to resolve the causes of the jams, many of which are due to entry and exit ramps from and to other highways being added to older ones such as the Federal Highway, such as those to and from the Penchala Link and those to and from the LDP, all of which result in creating traffic bottlenecks during peak traffic periods, not to mention the horrendous traffic jams in Bandar Sunway, Subang Jaya and other places within the Klang Valley.

So if the realspace causes of these traffic jams were not resolved long after ITIS went into operation, how will Jack Ma's gee whiz City Brain Artificial Intelligence (AI)-driven smart city solution solve the problem in realspace within the Klang Valley, Penang and elsewhere in Malaysia?

Let me leave you with my open e-mail to your party comrade, Y.B. Lim Lip Eng, Member of Parliament for Segambut way back on 21 August 2017.

"WE NEED REALSPACE, NOT CYBER-SOLUTIONS TO TRAFFIC CONGESTION"

And my more recent post where towards the end, I also referred to this gee whiz traffic solution proposed by Jack Ma.
"Digital Free Trade Zone !!!! - Hmmmm! And what about Dagang Net"

To add to that, as someone who has written about the information and communications technology industry in Malaysia and worldwide since September 1994, I have heard so many claims about how this or that application or IT-based system will solve problems on the ground in realspace in Malaysia when the first thing which needs to be done is to solve basic maintenance and remedial issues on the ground promptly, for example to promptly repair a traffic light which has failed but failed traffic lights can go unrepaired for days on end.

As far back as the late 1990s, I saw a working model of the proposed use of artificial intelligence and neural networks to control traffic lights at junctions developed at a Malaysian public university. The proposed system would have sensors in the road which would detect the queue of cars waiting for the traffic light to turn green and based upon the length of the queue, the proposed system would prioritise letting the cars in the longer queue clear. And, when there are few cars on the road, such as late at night, the system would give the green light to a car which arrives at the junction when there are no other cars detected at the other traffic lights.

Whilst it potentially would be a good system in principle, however, I am unaware of whether or not, or where this proposed system was ever implemented, and knowing how often roads are dug up and shoddily filled up again, as well as the poor maintenance track record of traffic lights and the sensitivity of existing systems to heavy rain, lightning and so forth, I fear that such a sophisticated and sensitive traffic light system would break down very often.

I'm glad that The Petaling Jaya City Municipal (MBPJ) has replaced those gee whiz, high-tech and oh! so hip, hype happening and cool, solar powered parking coupon vending machines with very much low-tech scratch paper parking coupons sold by dealers from amongst local businesses who can earn some commission. Better still revert to parking attendants who put parking bills on your windscreen which you can pay at a parking payment booth. That would provide employment, including for the many unemployed university graduates, including unemployed IT and engineering graduates, who have otherwise had to find work cleaning toilets or driving Uber.

The gee whiz public traffic information and bus arrival times accessible on PC's tablets, smartphones and so forth only inform the public about problems or help them plan their travel times but do not solve the problem in the medium or long term. These are like a sign placed a road warning motorists to avoid a big pothole or sinkhole in the road which remain there for years without the big pothole or sinkhole being filled in.

So please don't believe everything IT industry promoters and "pandits" tell you, since quite often what they told the public and which was reported via the IT media has turned out quite differently on the ground in realspace and in real life many years later.

Like would you believe someone comes to you with with a smartphone app claiming that it will raise the dead back to life, magically fix a broken glass or magically fix and re-inflate your car's flat tyre without you having to do anything apart from pressing a few icons on your smartphone screen?

If you need a professional opinion about solving traffic problems, ask a Professional Civil Engineer whose area of practise includes traffic planning and management. I'm sure you have quite a few of them within the ranks of your own party or you may want to ask the Institution of Engineers Malaysia in Petaling Jaya to recommend some prominent members whom you can consult.

Meanwhile, if you haven't already done so, may I recommend you read the book "Silicon Snake Oil: Second Thoughts on the Information Highway" by scientist Clifford Stoll, published 22 years ago on 1 March 1996.

Old is gold and it's still available on Amazon, with used copies going for a low as 10 US cents. Hmmm! The courier charges will cost much more than the book.

And while you're at it you may also want to also get Clifford Stoll's "High Tech Heretic: Why Computers Don't Belong in the Classroom and Other Reflections by a Computer Contrarian" published on 19 October 1999.

"Who the hell is Clifford Stoll?" you may ask.

Well according to Wikipedia, Clifford Stoll is:-
"Clifford Paul "Cliff" Stoll (born June 4, 1950) is an American astronomer, author and teacher. He is best known for his investigation in 1986, while working as a systems administrator at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, that led to the capture of hacker Markus Hess, and for Stoll's subsequent book The Cuckoo's Egg, in which he details the investigation.

"Stoll has written three books, as well as technology articles in the non-specialist press (e.g., in Scientific American on the Curta mechanical calculator and the slide rule), and is a frequent contributor to popular mathematics channel Numberphile."


Whilst I do not dare claim anywhere near the credentials of Stoll, however I have worked as a humble computer service engineer before some mid-life crisis, itch, starry-eyed notion or something in my genes led me into writing and like Stoll, I too am critical of what I hear from the marketing side of the IT industry, and from IT futurists, business and management consultants and speakers who make their money from the number of backsides in seats which pay handsomely to hear them speak, but whose speeches often make guys like me want to vomit.

Here are two more of my IT.Scheiss posts which are in similar vein to what Clifford Stoll wrote in book High Tech Heretic but within the Malaysian context:-

Teachers' union says 1BestariNet useless for online learning from home

In my recent post 'Why Would Norwegians Go to #Shithole US?!':, I briefly refer to Trump but mostly relate to my encounters at a Computers in Education on 28 January 1997.

A couple or so years ago, a professor at a Malaysian university offering computer science and engineering courses said, “After all these years, there has been no clear evidence anywhere in the world which shows that purely computer-based learning is more effective than traditional instructor-based learning especially in schools, colleges and universities, even though it has proven to be effective in facilitating continuing professional development amongst working professionals”

So there you go. After being told all the hype, hoohah, bullshit and ballyhooby distance learning and e-learning advocates since the mid-1990s about how computer-based learning and e-learning would "revolutionise" and "democratise" education, bring education to the poor worldwide and help "raise them out of poverty", now an academic involved in such programmes admits that computer-based learning has proven to not be all that effective in basic education.

So if you need to know, ask the experienced practitioners about the real-world results on the ground.

BTW. Why did you leave early from that MSCPMP Forum #2/2016 “On Leadership: The COST of Bad Decisions” at the Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall on 21 July 2016?

Perhaps I misunderstood but I somehow understood that you were to be one of the panellists and I would have loved to hear what you had to say and perhaps ask you some questions.

Remember I told that former Bank Negara Deputy-Governor that if Trump wins the U.S. Presidential elections, the tide would turn against the globalised, open-borders world which he appeared to have been advocating?

Well, now that Trump is U.S. President, for the better or the worse, he slammed the door on U.S. participation in the TPPA (HURRAH!) and the proverbial pendulum has begun to swing back against neo-liberal globalisation towards more protectionism, not so open borders, as the popular sentiment is turning away from globalisation, especially since the global economy has not quite recovered from the crash of 2008.

Whilst I am no Trump fan, however I have been against imperialist, neo-liberal globalisation since it was proposed in the mid-1990s, so I welcome the pendulum swing against it.

I am, yours truly

IT. Scheiss
http://itsheiss.blogspot.my/


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