Smart Dubai, an ambitious technology-powered transformation project that aims to put a smile on the faces of the residents of the city-state, is now making a big bet on the world’s first open, decentralized data architecture. In partnership with Outlier Ventures, a web 3.0 investment platform with pioneering technology companies leveraging blockchain, artificial intelligence (AI), and a novel vision of convergence, aims to unlock and democratize value from data. The move, which will see the launch of a Dubai Decentralized Data sandbox, will enable innovators to work in a rapid prototyping environment to uncover new ways of organizing, interfacing and extracting insights, value and smiles from Dubai’s data lake. A new report published by Outlier Ventures and Smart Dubai highlights these attributes of smart cities.
This ambitious project, only the latest major technology initiative launched by the emirate’s digital transformation leadership, recognizes that data is the world’s first limitless asset. Identifying new ways to organize data, with decentralized structures being among the most innovative and secure, can set Dubai on a pathway to accelerating its digital transformation journey. Under current technology standards for organizing and monetizing data, the value derived tends to be one-sided and most often in the hands of highly centralized legacy operators or systems. This can make legacy systems particularly vulnerable to cyber threats, such as Equifax’s massive data breach, as centralized structures are veritable “honey pots” of prized personal information. Indeed, nothing makes a more compelling argument for self-sovereign digital identities like this type of breach of data, privacy and institutional trust. Pushing the boundaries to what some in the cryptosphere refer to as Web 3.0, the investment thesis behind Outlier Ventures, which has partnered with Smart Dubai on this initiative, is that a more decentralized data architecture will not only be more secure, trustworthy and efficient, it will also enable value to accrue in a networked manner.
Younus Al Nasser, Assistant Director-General, Smart Dubai, and Chief Executive Officer, Smart Dubai Data remarked that “Cities such as Dubai are ideally placed to help stakeholders strike the right balance between data that are owned and controlled centrally, and more dispersed models.” Adding, “We intend to move carefully and confidently towards a future in which open data repositories like our own Dubai Pulse Platform Data will combine with decentralized technologies such as blockchain, open data marketplaces and ‘digital agents/representatives’ to put data in the hands of those who will create genuine societal and economic value from it.”
Specific Outlier Ventures portfolio companies involved in this initiative signal the directions Dubai’s decentralized data project will go. Sovrin Network, Outlier’s answer to self-sovereign identity systems, will be involved in the open data sandbox, as will Fetch.AI and Ocean Protocol, which address issues of friction and interoperability between data systems. This interconnected model, part of what Outlier Venture’s calls its Convergence Stack, is meant to enable the deployment of cutting-edge technologies like blockchain and AI, while cutting across informational siloes that inhibit breakthrough transformation. Jamie Burke, CEO, Outlier Ventures observed that “Today’s web has evolved in a direction its creators didn’t foresee. It’s an economic model policy makers and the world at large are now realizing is sub-optimal, unsustainable and one that holds back innovation. Decentralized Data for Dubai is a bold move by Smart Dubai that signals its belief in the potential of truly open data to unleash economic and societal value.” He asserted Outlier’s vision for web 3.0 by adding that “At Outlier we believe the Convergence Stack will drastically expedite the adoption of Web 3.0 making data usable by a wider number of participants so innovation can flourish and economic value can be realized right the way across the data ecosystem.”
With the launch of this sandbox a series of challenges or hackathons will be called to order giving firms the opportunity to work collaboratively with Smart Dubai and other stakeholders on real world challenges and opportunities. All while operating within the confines and operational safety of a digital sandbox. The prevalence of innovation hubs and sandboxes in this manner have proliferated around the world, with city-states, like Dubai and small island nations, like Bermuda, being at the cutting edge of this co-creation strategy. Data and new strands of value extracted from the world’s data lakes may very well be one of the world’s largest stranded assets, notwithstanding perennial challenges with data valuation and governance. Indeed, enterprise blockchain investments, including from technology majors like Oracle, are beginning to recognize the linkage between decentralized technologies like blockchain, which until now is the world’s best instrument for bringing scale and reduced friction to the validation of trust, and traditionally walled-off data repositories. Nowhere is this more evident than in the type of information and data governments around the world store on their citizens.
That these data sources are generally walled off from other government services or functions, places a heavy burden of proof and trust on the citizen to establish who they are, what government or city service they need and to validate the legitimacy of these claims at every turn. This yields the slow, bureaucratic process that dominates the provision of most citizen services around the world and the decidedly downcast unhappy outcomes people labor under. By today’s standards, short of embarking on radical, Dubai-styled digital transformation, there is little governments can do to break this mold. The smart cities of the future will embark on precisely this model of rapid prototyping, which Smart Dubai and Outlier Ventures are calling for in a new report issued today.