Dr. Mark Fox is a Professor of Industrial Engineering and Computer Science where his current research applies Artificial Intelligence to Smart Cities. He received his BSc in Computer Science from the University of Toronto in 1975 and his PhD in Computer Science from Carnegie Mellon University in 1983, where he was an Associate Professor (tenured) of Computer Science and Robotics. He was a founding member of Carnegie-Mellon’s Robotics Institute. From 1981 through 1987 he founded and led the Robotics Institute’s Intelligent Systems Laboratory, and from 1987 through 1991 he co-founded and led the Center for Integrated Manufacturing Decision Systems. In 1993 Dr. Fox co-founded Novator Systems Ltd., a pioneer in out-sourced eRetail services and software. In 1984 he co-founded Carnegie Group Inc., one of the first companies to apply Artificial Intelligence to solving engineering, manufacturing, and telecommunications problems. He is a Fellow of the American Association for Artificial Intelligence (AAAI) and the Engineering Institute of Canada.
Tell us about you. What motivates you?
I focus on building a society that's equitable, and civilized, meaning that it looks out for the wellbeing of people, that it provides them with their needs. That underlies everything that I do. Then you take that down to the next level - Where do people live? Well, the majority of people work within cities. You want to solve problems – You do it within the cities themselves.
Why the focus on cities? There are other units of measurement, that are also organized around institutions and people. The most obvious ones are the federal and provincial organizational unit. Why focus on cities specifically?
Well, for Canada the 80%, of the population lives in cities, 20%, of population does not. So if you want to feel the largest impact you focus on cities. I've told people at the provincial level that their role in society is to manage the empty space between the cities, and it’s the purpose of cities to manage the city itself. I stand by that characterization.
"I've told people at the provincial level that their role in society is to manage the empty space between the cities, and it’s the purpose of cities to manage the city itself. I stand by that characterization."
Ha. No one mincing words there. What are your professional interests?
I invest time in the Center for Social Services Engineering [at the University of Toronto] which is focusing on the extension application of engineering science, industrial engineering etc. to dealing with designing and delivering services to people who are in need. There, we deal with questions like, “How you take the 60,000 NGOs in Ontario and turn them into a single virtual NGO, so that they eventually utilize their resources within this place?”
We have other projects dealing with immigrant skills and transformation of those skills. We are building an ontology representing social services. We have spent time in the slums of Mumbai both in Dharavi and Santa Cruz, looking at the design of toilet blocks, how best to set up this physical infrastructure, and also the community support operations. There's a number of other projects that are underway. Ultimately, we deal with the whole area of how engineering contributes to the wellbeing of people.
And then part of my life is concerned with how you represent the knowledge that a city uses to provide its services. It's all about knowledge representation. It is focused on how to measure the performance of cities using these knowledge representations as a basis of deriving their performance indicators. We are concerned with how to analyze all this data to determine root causes of the for good performance of the city across different themes of sewage transportation, governance, economics, urban and shelter.
What elements of today's impact reporting do you think will survive and thrive in the future? What do you think the future of impact reporting will look like?
Well, here's the thing about impact reporting. Let’s make explicit what everybody already knows - That for whatever reasons we shy away from truly tracking the trajectory of individuals. So, whether it's privacy concerns, or lack of technology, or information gathering limitations, or integration of data from various services, our ability to track individuals and understand the impact of service delivery, is limited.
So, when we look at a lot of the data we gather today it's really oriented towards the service provider. We're spending a lot of time tracking the impact of that money. So, we ask agencies to track the impact. The only problem is that an agency will track measures that show the best light of that agency. Okay, but what we really need is metrics on the individuals themselves. We need to be able to track the individual over an expanded, extended period of time. We need to know their pathway through life, we need to know what interventions have taken place along that pathway through life, and we need to be able to see which pathways are effective, which interventions are not effective and then - Only then can you then take it back to the service providers and ask the question, you know, are the service providers effective? Now it may be the case that service providers are effective, but it's just the service they're providing that is the issue. Okay, so there's a distinction between the service we are providing and the service provider. The service provider may be very effective, except that the service has no impact whatsoever on individual.
So, in some sense we're measuring the wrong thing. The reason why we're measuring the wrong thing is because we're measuring the thing we can measure.
The future for me is when you're tracking individuals, their impact, successes, and failures and then tie that back to service provision.
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