Distributed systems for sustainability and survivability

I’ve been thinking about future cities this recent Earth Day. I have children and I’d like to leave them a futuristic Earth that I’ve always dreamed of. We still don’t have flying cars, but today’s mobile devices are pretty cool, so I’ll call that a wash. I was reading an article about using cisterns for a distributed water collection system. It makes sense for several reasons including energy cost and sustainability. In addition, it provides security for the water supply as there is a source of fresh water close to people who need to consume it. In South Florida, I’ve seen the same thing with inline generators installed at people’s homes. This idea isn’t as green as collecting rainwater, but from a security standpoint they are both taking the same approach. The next step is Energy Smart Miami, which provides consumers with a window into their energy consumption as well as communication between the energy grid and endpoints at homes and business to better manage consumption.

Any distributed system, technical, personal or otherwise is going to have some similar characteristics. These systems have distributed decision making and authority for local actors to make decisions without having to contact a central point. This allows local nodes to focus on managing local resources as well as using system resources as necessary. Large organizations (hopefully) act in the same way, providing autonomy to smaller more agile teams, while communicating enough to provide support across a large organization. As technology and communication become cheaper and richer, it makes sense to develop products, organizations, governments, communities and systems that can stand alone and focus on local needs, while being participants in a greater system. Think Global, Act Local.

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