26 December 2019

Doctor Jonathan Reichental is a multiple award-winning technology leader whose 30-year career has spanned both the private and public sectors. In 2017, he was named a top 100 chief information officer (CIO) in the world, and in 2016 was named one of the top 20 most influential CIOs in the United States.

Jonathan is recognized as a global thought leader on a number of emerging trends including the fourth industrial revolution, urban innovation, the future of cities, and blockchain technology. In 2013, he was recognized as one of the 25 doers, dreamers, and drivers in government in America. His innovative work in government has also been recognized by the White House.



  • What is a Smart City?
  • Could cities be hacked and held for ransom?
  • With new technology, what new laws will be developed or needed to be implemented to keep up with it?
  • How will designing whole cities change in the next 5 or 10 years?
  • Where are the opportunities for startups in the cities of tomorrow?

We also want to thank Wendy Xue, who introduced me to Jonathan two years ago on a delegation to Guiyang. Without Wendy, this interview could not have happened.


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Disclaimer: The transcript that follows has been generated using artificial intelligence. We strive to be as accurate as possible, but minor errors and slightly off timestamps may be present due to platform differences.

Shawn Flynn  00:02

On today’s show, we have Dr. Jonathan Reichental who is a multiple award-winning technology leader whose 30-year career has spanned both the private and public sectors. In 2017, he was named the top 100 chief information officer in the world. In 2013, he was recognized as one of the 25 doers, dreamers, and drivers in government in America. His innovative work in government has also been recognized by the White House. And on today’s episode, we talked to him about what a smart city is; could cities be hacked and held for ransom; with new technology, what new laws will be developed or needed to be implemented; how will design in cities in the future change; and where are the opportunities for startups in the cities of tomorrow. These and much much more on today’s episode of Silicon Valley.

Intro  00:53

You are listening to Silicon Valley by The Investor’s Podcast where your host, Shawn Flynn, interviews famous entrepreneurs and business leaders in tech. Discover how money is made in Silicon Valley and where tech is going before it gets there

Shawn Flynn  01:16

Jonathan, thank you for taking the time today to be on Silicon Valley. Now, Jonathan, can you please give us a definition of what a smart city is and a bit about your background and your career up to this point?

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Jonathan Reichental  01:28

Sure. Thanks, Shawn. It’s great to be here. Glad you’re doing this. You know, there isn’t any single definition for a smart city. But I’ve been thinking about this, as you know, probably for most of 10 years now. I got some ideas. The first thing is you have to realize that every city in many ways is distinctive. It has its own challenges. It has its own things that are positive. Every city is geographically different: different population sizes, different cultures. And so there’s not a one-size fits all. That makes it hard.

Jonathan Reichental  01:59

But really, for me, I give two kinds of different ways to think about it. One is that a smart city is really a response to its needs. And it’s about using tech to achieve those needs and find creative solutions. But the broader definition that you can use more universally, and it’s kind of taken from the Smart Cities Council definition, which is basically using technology to improve sustainability, livability, and workability. Not necessarily in that order. But those are the three kinds of core areas. 

Jonathan Reichental  02:32

And then a little bit about my career, I guess, real quick. I am a tech guy. So it’s appropriate that I’m here in Silicon Valley. You know, it took me a while to get here, but I guess I’m in the right place now. I wrote software… As a 12-year-old, I wrote my first software program and paid for it. It’s kind of cool. But yeah, I worked in Ireland for a few years. That’s where I was born. I’m an immigrant to the US, came to the US worked for Coopers & Lybrand. It was part of the big eight at the time. Now, it’s the big four. So it eventually became PricewaterhouseCoopers. And the job I had just before I left, which is like one of the coolest jobs I ever had, was the Director of Technology Innovation for the firm, which is amazing. 

Like, you’re playing and every two weeks, you get paid. So cool. Later on, after a few other jobs in increasingly senior roles in IT, you know, I became the CIO of O’Reilly Media, working with Tim O’Reilly. And then I was… kind of very interesting call one day to see if I’d consider moving to Palo Alto to be their CIO and CTO. And I wasn’t thinking about government or cities. But I was convinced and I’m really, really happy I did it. I spent seven years there had an amazing time. We did some interesting things, created some best practices for cities around the world. We shared what went well, we shared what didn’t go so well. And, you know, that was helpful, I guess, to many, many cities. I got a real love for it. I fell in love with cities. I fell in love with this idea of how can we have more elusiveness, how can we make things function better. And so I was there for seven years and then I left last December. And in January of this year, I started my own little company called Human Future. And it’s really an education company, I think. So I’m still trying to figure it out. But if I think about all the time myself and my colleagues are working, what we’re doing, we’re doing a lot of creation of content around sort of future trends and the future of the world. We’re doing a lot of teaching workshops, myself, I’m a professor at several universities now. So there’s my story.

Shawn Flynn  04:31

What are some vocabulary people at home need to know to understand smart cities before we really dive into this conversation

Jonathan Reichental  04:39

Well, if you’re new to this topic, smart cities can often seem like a weird name. Because does that mean you were dumb before you were smart? You know, not at all. Not at all. It doesn’t have that insinuation at all. Really, what we’re talking about is thinking differently. You know, cities are… They can be a hundred years old or thousands years old. They’ve evolved over time. And if you kind of look at them right now as a point in time, they’re in the state they’re in because of a variety of tradition and choices. And so we have to take what we have today and say, “Is the way that we do things the optimum way?” And so that’s really what it means by being smart or smarter maybe is a better term. There’s lots of other terms people use for describing the future of cities. One term, perhaps, is urbanization. And I say that, from the perspective of our future belongs to the cities. We’re moving into cities at an amazing rate, about 3 million people per week move into cities. Bill Gates has an amazing statistic. He says that every month, for the next 30 years, we will create infrastructure equivalent to New York City in the world. That’s a lot of refrigerators, by the way. So a lot of, you know, new flat screen TVs. And so, urbanization is a key word. 

Jonathan Reichental  05:55

Then there’s urban innovation. It is ideas, you know, creating value in an urban or city context. I think that’s another key term that I might refer to. We’re going to talk probably and if we don’t, it’s worth mentioning now, there’s kind of two sides to… At least two ways of thinking about a city and the technology that enables it. One is digitalization, right? So that’s taking a lot of the traditional old analog processes, stuff done on paper, which all of us experience and probably most of us hate. Putting an online thing onto your computer, on your web browser, putting it on as an app on your smartphone, so that people have a much better experience when they’re dealing with government services. So that’s digitalization. But the other side now, which is really getting a lot of momentum is, you know, modernization in the infrastructure. So these are things like, what could be anything from new forms of transport, supporting things like e-scooters and self-driving vehicles. But then you get into things like sensors so you can count traffic. By the way, you know, if you don’t work for government or city, counting traffic seems like so what? It turns out to be really important. You have to be able to count traffic accurately. And now with sensors at intersections counting traffic 24 hours a day accurately is really valuable. You need that information because you want to do things like understand infrastructure needs, reduce accidents, make sure that the timing of the traffic signals are correct. All sorts of applications. So there’s that element to that, thinking about a city through the lens of physical infrastructure.

Shawn Flynn  07:35

What types of technology are already being implemented in cities?

Jonathan Reichental  07:40

It’s a growing space. And by the way, it’s a remarkably ripe opportunity for investment. I mean, it really is. You haven’t typically seen urban tech or sometimes called gov tech. There’s another term. The sort of the most visible areas of investment, healthcare and FinTech and sorts of other domains. Gov tech has been a bit a little bit sort of away from the center and it’s changing. And one of the reasons it is changing, first of all, because so many cities in the world are engaged in this now new strategy to become smarter and to incorporate technologies. And the vendor community is rather narrow. Actually, that might be a surprise to any of your listeners. You know, if you want to buy a new 911 system, and for you know, international listeners, that would be the system when you’re calling the police or an ambulance. And so if you to want to buy the computer system to run that, there’s not going to be a lot of vendors. It’s going to be very small group. The problem with that, you know, of course, is that you don’t have as much innovation because there’s less incentive. So there is this significant uptick in interest and investment. 

And it ranges across the board. I mean, one of the things I find so interesting about cities is how diverse they are. Let’s just pick a few, right? You got buildings, and there’s a ton of tech associated buildings, right? Transportation, right? Probably one of the most important areas right now. How can we get people from place to place safely? You know, without all the congestion? How can you find a parking space? You know, how can we reduce the carbon footprint of cars? Energy! Think about how we’re in the middle of an energy revolution right now. And cities are at the forefront of that. Now we’re moving from a carbon history to now a non-carbon future. Public safety, water, networks. 

People want 5g and they want fiber into their home. And so in every one of these areas, and that’s just a small number relative to the number of domains there are, we need new tech. We’re seeing new tech, we’re seeing new ideas. So we’re seeing a lot more ways to automate stuff that’s typically been ugly and analog. A lot more apps for communities to be more engaged in their democracy. We’re seeing a lot more tools around data management. Think about this in a city context, everything is scarce. There’s not enough money, not enough time, too many projects, not enough talent. But there’s an abundance of data. It’s the one thing that cities have an abundance, right? And yet cities haven’t really fully embraced the power that data can bring to decision making, from building solutions to solving problems. So there’s a ton of new tech around that. And then you just have to pick one by one. And you know, any one of that was interesting to you, we could talk about more details

Shawn Flynn  10:29

Can you talk more about that data? And is this data just being collected here in the US? Or is this data all over the world, which country or cities are at the forefront

Jonathan Reichental  10:40

Every city collects data, and stores data and creates data, just by the natural act of being. It just does. You know, just think of any activity, if you make any kind of request. You think about libraries, the volume of data just a library creates and stores… It’s a heck of a responsibility. So cities have been good at sort of using data to… in the act of actually delivering a type of service or they have utilized it or created it in the act. But they haven’t looked at secondary uses and really try to understand patterns, parlay data, look for signals in the noise. And fundamentally, cities have to become better using data for decision making. By absolutely, this is not a US topic data, from the perspective of cities. It is absolutely pervasive and global

Shawn Flynn  11:35

And right now, the new advances for the cities, are they being developed at the request of the cities themselves, or are corporations developing something and then kind of pushing it on the cities themselves to use it

Jonathan Reichental  11:48

Yeah, it’s an interesting one, I guess you see a bit of both. Traditionally, the function of cities has been quite well understood. You know, you gotta have a police force. You gotta run libraries. You know, you gotta have enterprise solutions for the city organization itself. And so a nice community of vendors has grown around this. As I said earlier in our conversation, you don’t see as much competition or as many players trying to vie for the same business, as you might in the private sector. But you see providers. 

Now what’s happening today is, first of all, there’s a lot more hacktivism. You’re seeing people in the community stepping up to try to solve problems, too. It’s less about, you know, I pay a tax and I get a service in return. It’s more of a partnership because for every dollar or every euro that you put into your community, you don’t get a euro worth or a dollar worth of value back. So if you want to get full value or additional value, you can choose to participate. And you see a lot more, not only community city partnerships, you see in cities and organizations too.

Jonathan Reichental  12:56

So at the community level, you’re getting people coming up with ideas, being a lot more active. And of course today, anyone can be programmers, they wonder and develop a solution. And then you see interesting startups. I’m hopeful that this is going to be a real growth area in the years ahead. People who, let’s say, they come from a number of different motivations. One is you’re just fed up with something. And you’re like, I want to solve that problem in a different way. Maybe you’ve already had a company, you’ve sold it, and you’re thinking about what to do next, you want to do something that has social impact, I want to solve some really tough city problem. You’re getting a variety of these types of, you know, characters that are now pushing the envelope forward. I just want to make one sort of little caveat here *inaudible*. As a former CIO and CTO, I used to get a lot of people come into my office and pitch ideas. And many of them were amazing, and many of them are around today. And we certainly, at the city of Palo Alto, were interested in experimenting with people and collaborating. But it’s very important, you know, for the ones that were weaker, that these people fully vet their idea, you know that they speak to city officials and they speak to a wide variety of stakeholders. So that when they do finally, you know, put some effort in, they start to pitch an idea, or they craft, you know, a little minimal viable product. It actually does solve the right problem and it’s something that can actually work. What you don’t want to do spend time and realize that, you know, when you get to city hall, there’s not a chance or something like that whatever it may be, purchased or unutilized

Shawn Flynn  14:28

Cities in the future, what thoughts are going to be put into them that’s different than now, say 5-10 years down the line, for their infrastructure, how they’re designed

Jonathan Reichental  14:40

Well, you see a new generation of leaders beginning to emerge now. We’ve got the beginning of the… We’ve been seeing this sort of brain drain now for the last decade or so and will continue, you’ve got a lot of people retiring. It’s just the shifting of the demographics. And you have, I think you and I are probably Generation X. Maybe you’re younger than me, *so right corner right here, right the board. Okay, so I’m Generation X here, you’re perhaps at the border of Millennial and Generation X. So you know, we’re internet natives. You are for sure. Internet came fairly early in my life too, but it wasn’t around for most of my life. And then you have millennials and beyond who the internet is just a part of their lives, they are internet natives. And so as they enter government and city life, they’re bringing a whole different mindset around how we can think about challenges and how we can use technology to solve problems. So that ought to be reflected in how cities function over the next decade or two or three and beyond.

Jonathan Reichental  15:37

The low cost of technology obviously plays a part. For example, sensors, we’re going to see the sensorization of our infrastructure. Some simple things like air quality sensors, number traffic counting, or, you know, managing water better or precious resources in order. Making sure that it flows to where it needs to flow and it’s clean and drinkable and it’s available for the purpose it’s been made available for. Those things were difficult in the past for variety reasons, but one of them was just cost. These things were too expensive. So now you get these cheap sensors that can hop on narrowband connectivity or even 3g, 4g, and eventually 5g. And you know, even citywide WiFi and connectivity, specifically for Internet of Things. So that’s going to enable a whole set of new technologies. 

Jonathan Reichental  16:30

You have other pressures like autonomous vehicles. It’s been said that autonomous vehicles might be the most important and disruptive technology in cities in the first 50 years of the 21st century because it’s not just about cars that drive themselves. It’s about completely rethinking cities that were or have been for the last hundred years built around cars. Maybe we can start to build cities around people again, right? Instead of building them around cars. Well, there’s gonna be lots more. It’s going to be the impact of artificial intelligence in cities. Making services more accurate and more responsive, producing information that we haven’t had access to before. Blockchain might be interesting in a city context. We’re already seeing it being used for things like real estate registry. And dare I say maybe quantum computing might have a role in the cities of the future. Exponentially faster computing stack than Haskell computing today, that will solve specific problems, perhaps around climate change, you know, because we need really good mathematics and computational power to solve climate change. So what we see really, in summary, is not necessarily, you know, one or two phenomena shaping the future of our cities. Over the next few years, we will see a multitude of technologies and behaviors of phenomena, all firing on all cylinders. And that’s why I believe, first of all, we’re in the beginning years of a revolution for the fourth industrial revolution. That changes a lot of things about how we live and how we work and how we play. And it’s going to fundamentally change our cities in the long run

Shawn Flynn  18:02

Cities that already exist, can they be updated with all this new technology, the sensors? Or will the cities have to be built from scratch?

Jonathan Reichental  18:12

If only we have the luxury of building from scratch, right? I really think that’s going to be the exception. Today there’s a decent handful of cities around the world that are being built, in Egypt and other countries. You see some work being done in the Middle East in particular, you know, Masdar and over in Korea with Songdo. Even here in the US, we have at least one or two potentially new cities, but the vast majority of the cities of the world, the hundreds of thousands of cities are going to have to be re-engineered in place. I mean, there’s nothing we can do about that. You know, you think about a city like Mexico, right? Mexico City. I haven’t kept count but I think it’s in the 28 million people. I mean, it’s a mega city, or Shanghai. We’re gonna have to just retrofit it. We’re gonna have to modernize it. That’s going to be the vast majority of what happens in the century ahead

Shawn Flynn  19:03

To retrofit a city, what would kind of the steps be… would it just be putting sensors at every street light and at the sewerage entrances? Or how do you start? What’s the first thing you do?

Jonathan Reichental  19:15

Because really, we’re at the beginning of this, most cities are not engaged yet in a smart city strategy. And they may not call it that, but that’s what they’re going to be doing, you know, is retrofitting it with the technologies of tomorrow, rather than having to deal with older, decaying, technologies. Honestly, the first thing is to decide to do this. That’s the first thing. And to have a real vision. I say, more than ever, you have to collaborate and work with the broadest base of stakeholders. This is not about the mayor and the city manager hatching up a plan. This is about reaching deep into the community to represent the views of every demographic and businesses, visitors, and city staff. You know, the region that the city is part of, maybe the state as is appropriate. And then you know, the national goals too. So having a vision is real key. And again, it’s going to be reflective of the need, right? 

Jonathan Reichental  20:12

So you could think of a small city here in Silicon Valley, we have about 40 cities in Silicon Valley. They’re all about anywhere from, you know, 20,000 to 80,000 people generally, with a few outliers, but that’s kind of the range. So there’s questions about first of all, transportation is a big one. 

So most communities are grappling with congestion and gridlock. Things like, you know, finding a parking space. We’re very, you know, we’re Northern California here in Silicon Valley. We were big on making sure that we’re taking care of the environment, and also the climate. And transportation is a massive factor in that so you know, the thing, that sort of technology that you were asking about, your question, whether is it about putting sensors in first or whatever… Really, it’s about a response to what’s important if you’re in Silicon Valley here and in your small city. And congestion is a real problem and people are having difficulty getting to work and just can’t stand it. We’re trying to, you know, reduce the amount of carbon being spewed into the environment for cars. Well, maybe you want to provide more alternative transport, you know, a smart city is one that has choices. You have bicycles and these scooters and public transport, and carpooling and more incentives for people to buy electric cars, and on and on. So really the right answer is, what’s the tech and the project and the effort that’s going to best again to solve in a very unique way, the unique problems of each community.

Shawn Flynn  21:43

So I’m just thinking about the demand to want to live in one of these smart cities in the future. Do you think that would increase the homeowners’ prices or what will be the difference between living in a smart city and a legacy city?

Jonathan Reichental  21:56

It’s an interesting question. I think maybe one of the ways to think about the question is it a short term versus long term? For example, today, if you are a startup, actually, you could say any organization, you want very fast connectivity, you might choose a community that has fiber to every building, has exceptionally fast internet. That’s going to, yes, that’s going to increase the value of homes and make the city more attractive. You could also say that cities that are well served, have a higher quality of life, and attract more people. San Francisco is one of the most expensive places in the United States. It has a mix of great culture, you know, reasonable infrastructure, lots of jobs, and you know, whole mix of things that where each of them is supportive of each other. In the absence of one, you might not get the benefits of the other. And so that makes it very attractive also that we have a lot of challenges too, no doubt. We do have too many people vying for the same property and it’s increasing prices to astronomical levels. Before I court your question, will smart cities attract more people and increase the value of homes? I mean, the answer in the long term is most cities will be trending this way. It sort of normalizes it a little bit. In the short term, you have cities that will be outliers and do amazing things and be more and more attractive. And then over time, more communities will have a variety of transport options. They’ll have better tools for their community, for anything, from starting a business to having energy-efficient buildings, having good strategies for mitigating climate change. That’s how I kind of think about it, dividing it between the short and long term

Shawn Flynn  23:39

What will the energy infrastructure look like for these cities?

Jonathan Reichental  23:44

I think we’re heading towards a solar future. Primarily, I think solar will be the dominant form of power, in the long term. Now, there may be some energy surprises. I hope there are, where we continue to experiment with them and a fusion of other innovative things, using bacteria and other waste materials of *inaudible energy. But you know, that sun that comes up every day generates an enormous amount of power. And if we can leverage it well, at the right cost, we will really have, you know, unlimited clean energy for the future. Getting the right mix today, and even in the next 10-20 years, it’s still gonna be complicated. We’re not going to be in a carbonless world any time soon. You could imagine sort of the energy portfolio being made up of everything, a little bit of oil, a little bit gas, lots of solar, maybe some wind, some geothermal, some wave action. And the mix will be dependent on the geography of the place, investments that are made, and then the point in time. 

So some communities won’t be faster, some will take longer, but there are some real aggressive goals around this becoming effectively majority carbon… Some great goals and in Europe and here in many cities in the US and China now have really committed to a solar future as well. And even the Middle East, you know, unintuitively where oil comes from in abundance, they realize that the futures is not going to be carbon. It’s actually quite a good news story if we can get it right, you know if we get the cost down, if we can master battery technology, because that’s the missing link very much as when there isn’t abundance of sunshine, we need to be able to store and we need low cost, a safe battery technologies for home but also for cars and for our factories. But I believe based on what I’m saying is that we’re we’re headed in that direction and of the many challenges we have in the future, this could be a good news story

Shawn Flynn  25:39

With smart cities, what new laws have to be created or what needs to be changed right now to implement some of this technology

Jonathan Reichental  25:49

Well, you know, with technology, it’s not lost, probably you and I, and a lot of listeners know that today, technology is moving faster than the law can keep up with. It used to be that when something new emerged that took decades. You know, you think about for 50 million people to have used the telephone, it took 50 years. We had time to put in place, you know, regulations and figure it all out. On the other hand, when WeChat came out, it took barely one year to reach 50 million people, and then quickly, it was adopted by almost a billion people after that

Shawn Flynn  26:21

WeChat for everyone who is listening is the kind of the Facebook app of China, you can do everything on without leaving the app. It’s pretty incredible.

Jonathan Reichental  26:30

It is incredible. You think about on demand transport thing, Uber or Grab *inaudible Southeast Asia, Cabify as they have in Spain. There’s different flavors and different countries. You know, that came so fast that the city scrambled and actually some cities rejected it. But now they’ve had some time to process it. We had, you know, from one day to the next, e-scooters arrived in San Francisco and it was mayhem. We didn’t have any the rules for how you manage thousands of people on e-scooters with all the traffic we have here, all the motorized vehicles and it’s already dangerous. You know, you put in a few thousand of those on the road. So it’s a long way of saying, tech is going to be ahead of regulation here,paying for it. There’s no question. Unless the legal world has some very creative solutions, I do think it’s going to be an interesting, interesting… to see how we address these challenges of tech being way ahead of the regulations

Jonathan Reichental  27:29

I mean, look at social media, it’s unregulated, billions of people using these powerful powerful platforms, and still no regulation exists. So we’re going to figure out what the rules are. The one thing that really jumps out to me in this question, because, you know, we could go step by step through the magnitude of things, but that wouldn’t be a good use of time. I think the regulation that we have to really come to terms with around the world is going to be privacy. How do we manage information in an era of first of all, abundance of data, excessive information on you and I? What’s the right mix so we don’t stifle innovation. But we also do decide what the right level of protection is. By the way associated with that, I just want to throw out this other thought, we have to decide who owns data too. I say it because it’s related to the whole privacy thing. But it’s today, you know, when you create a post on your favorite social media platform, you create it for free, you get a compensation and somebody else uses it and makes money with it. And then information about you is monetized and used to target you and others, and yet you get no compensation from it, no benefit, no monetary benefit for having value in that. So I think this will be a topic that we will need to sort out in the years ahead.

Shawn Flynn  28:47

If technology is going to be ahead of regulations, does that mean the corporations in the future are going to be more and more in charge of cities? Or will the local governments still have control

Jonathan Reichental  29:00

Well, corporations do have a lot of power. That’s for sure. This is a space that’s evolving. I don’t know that I’m expert enough to say, you know, where things might trend in the future. There is a propensity for less government and more corporate power in the United States. That’s our system. And we’re even, I think, a little bit uncertain and challenged by that notion too. But if you go to other countries, it will be quite the opposite, where government is both powerful and everyone else, not so much. It is a culture by culture, country by country type of  question. It does seem like technology, done right can be very empowering. It does already give people more power. I mean, think about the voice you have today, versus 15 years ago. I mean, Twitter, right? That any one of us, even a podcast like this, how podcasts can with the simplest equipment, you can record something, and an hour later, you can distribute it all over the world. That’s empowering. That’s powerful. That’s really powerful. And I think we see the effects of this. I mean, we saw the effects on elections, when people have voices, sometimes saying stuff that’s accurate, but also saying stuff that’s fake, something we always have to manage. Look, certainly, I could say, this question of where power will lie in the years ahead is probably one of the most fascinating things that we’re going to have to figure out

Shawn Flynn  30:30

I’m curious to ask you what your opinion of crimes will be in these smart cities because you’d mentioned if there are sensors everywhere, everything’s being monitored. You can’t really get away with doing anything. So what will crime be like

Jonathan Reichental  30:45

You know, you think of crime, you think of somebody breaking into a jewelry shop and stashing the diamonds and bracelets in a bag and then running. Increasingly, crime is done over the internet now. It’s sort of like, it’s not visible and it’s hard to trace. Our credit card information gets stolen frequently. It’s then posted on the dark web and sold to nefarious actors. So you know that physical crime part is one thing, but I think we’re going to see an awful lot more crime committed online, which needs a whole different set of tools. There’s no doubt, for example, that… let’s go back to the city infrastructure for a second, that the use of lighting in communities has reduced crime. For example, you know, if you have low cost lighting, placed in strategic areas, even lighting that goes on when there’s human movements in places where you wouldn’t expect that humans at a certain time, this has reduced crime. You can say that all the cameras that are in the environment, I’m not sure that they’ve ultimately reduced crime, but they’ve certainly helped solve crimes. And of course, I acknowledge this is a big debate, right? Are we comfortable with cameras everywhere in the public domain? I think we need to debate that and come up with what’s right for each culture. 

Jonathan Reichental  31:57

The reality is, as societies become more developed, people become more educated, there’s more gainful employment, crime does go down. You know, we have seen remarkably here in the US, particularly in our big cities, most of our big cities, the crime has really gone down a lot. And we see this in a lot of cities around the world, big cities, could be quite unintuitive where people have opportunity and good education. And perhaps there’s we can imagine a time where there’s more equality and inclusiveness, less divisions in society, less inequality, the opposite seemed much less of that, that crime and of itself becomes less. The only crime that I do, I guess, really worried about increasing over time is crime derived from issues that people have with their governments. They want to, they want to express their anger, frustration, by doing criminal activities, all the way up to terrorism. That could be something we have to live with for a long time. And that that does concern me, as us here in the US are concerned about how do we manage all the guns? Good news story generally, but also, you know, some, I think, an open-mindedness about some really difficult problems to still solve as well.

Shawn Flynn  33:09

You’d mentioned cybercrime, would it be possible in the future to take a city hostage? I believe I remember reading a news article not too long ago about one city. I think it was the hospital that the power was taken captive and they had to pay a certain ransom in Bitcoin. Do you think that occurrence could happen more and more in the future?

Jonathan Reichental  33:29

I do. Unfortunately, I do think that a hyper-connected software driven data world as far greater numbers of vectors, entry points into creating havoc, creating problems. And that coupled with many organizations not doing enough to protect themselves, a lot of government agencies not making the appropriate investments, not making it a priority. That’s a little bit of a cocktail for potential set of disasters. We’ve seen it already. I mean, we’ve definitely for eexample, we’ve seen cities become hostage here in the US and around the world to run somewhere tax. And so the frequency and potency of cybercrimes conducted against communities and city infrastructure have only the potential to get worse. Now, this all depends on our, on the good guy side, how much investment do we make? How quickly does the technology evolve? Making it a priority I think is absolutely essential. But there’s a couple of different ways of thinking about the future too.

So we have some credible new defensive cyber technologies emerging around artificial intelligence. We also have the promise of potentially quantum networks, or unbreakable networks, you know, so quantum done right to create a new quantum cryptography that is used to exchange data. it could potentially be… I always hesitate and saying totally unbreakable because I’ve been in this industry too long, but it seems like to break quantum cryptography, you have to break the rules of physics, which is impossible. I’m crossing my fingers about the positive nature of that. But that’s a little ways out. But it does suggest that, first of all, the future is never a straight line. And we think things will turn out often surprises because you have inflection points and you have disruptions and new tech emerges, a new phenomena emerges that we couldn’t possibly anticipate.

Shawn Flynn  35:25

Is there anything else that you’ve seen recently that really fascinates you, or any startup technology or service that you find really interesting that you’d like to talk about?

Jonathan Reichental  35:36

Quantum I think is going to be very compelling in the years ahead. I’ve heard more than one person say, that’s in a position of knowledge in this area, that we are within a few years of a multi-trillion dollar refresh of the entire world’s computing stack

Shawn Flynn  35:53

Can you talk a little bit about quantum computing, what that is? Just to give a background.

Jonathan Reichental  35:58

Hard to do in just a few moments, but I’ll try my best. Classical computing, the computing that we all use, you’re probably using to listen to this podcast is, you know, based on effectively the flow of electricity, you know, you’re taking… You have circuit and the electricity flows in one direction or another, creates ones and zeros, which ultimately, is the instructions for computers to work. And it services really well, services really, really well. Those little pathways that we need for processing to take place, we now put millions of those little chips. In fact, some chips have billions of these little things. But we’re kind of coming to the end of the potential growth spurt… The speed increases from classical computing is going to slow down now in the years ahead, because we just can’t get smaller. 

At the same time, there’s a completely different type of science. It started to kind of emerge at the end of the 19th century heading into the 20th century. And there’s physics called quantum mechanics or quantum physics. And the deal with the nature of motion and energy, at the very smallest level, I’m talking about the particle and subatomic level. Things get really weird when you get that small. Nature behaves and in unusual ways. As the decades went on through the 20th century, smart people, including Albert Einstein, and Richard Fineman, and David Deutsch and others, they started discover some of the many, many of the properties… even though they were really unusual.

And, by the way, still, to this day, highly difficult to explain. In fact, many areas we can’t explain. We started realizing that there was ways we could tap into it and sort of maybe take advantage of the phenomena of quantum mechanics. One of those areas was to be a computational model, and a computational theory of information. By manipulating these subatomic particles in a certain way, you can arrive at bits, ones and zeros much more rapidly than you can with classical computing. In fact, we anticipate, ultimately, it’ll be more millions of times faster. The Google quantum supremacy experiment that was conducted in October of 2019, quantum computation solved, what would take thousands of years with a classical computing computer, was done in in seconds on a quantum. So it just gives you an idea of the accelerated computational power.

Shawn Flynn  38:22

Jonathan, we’re gonna have to follow up on that and get you back on the show to talk about quantum computing, hopefully, right before your book comes out. Is there anything else you’d like our listeners to know before we wrap this up?

Jonathan Reichental  38:35

I think there’s two opportunities if people are inspired by the future cities. One is that it’s an area of growth. So even in a world where we’re all concerned about the future of work, we’re very much concerned about automation and AI and what that means to our value as humans. There’s gonna be a lot of opportunity to reinvent our cities and be part of that reinvention. That’s a growth area. And of course, to be complemented by automation, and by robots and AI and all the things that are emerging now. But we don’t have enough really smart people thinking big and we don’t have enough talent in really key areas like data science, cyber security. So it’s a growth area. I think that’s the first thing. If you like cities and want to get involved, there’s never been a better time. 

Jonathan Reichental  39:24

I think the second thing is if for investment. I think that the vendor community is not as broad and as innovative as as it can be, as it is in different sectors of the economy. We need a lot more participants. We need a lot more startups, a lot. We’re talking about hundreds of domains here. And we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of cities with remarkably difficult challenges to solve. And so I think, you know, if you’re an investor, you know, gov tech or urban tech is a growth area. It’s still not the simplest place to play to see returns and to make your business explode, but it’s starting to happen and it’s got huge opportunity. But you know what you can, you can invest in cities and startups that serve cities, because you can make some money, but you can also do because it’ll change the world. And there’s a enormously positive social impact of that to get to do both, you know, make a bit of money and do something that’s really valuable and right. And that’s why I like the space so much is I don’t have to choose, right? I don’t have to choose between making money for shareholders and, you know, making the world a better place to live in. So when you work on urban tech problems, what you’re really doing is working on quality of life. And I think that’s worth something.

Shawn Flynn  40:47

Jonathan, what is the best way for people to find out more about you or get in touch with you?

Jonathan Reichental  40:52

I’m very accessible with social media today. I always think of something like this thing what you’re, you know, doing today as the beginning of conversation, not the end of one. So I’m a big fan of Twitter. So you can get me at @Reichental. I’m sure you’ll put it on the notes on the podcast, and the LinkedIn. 

I’m very active on LinkedIn. So just find Jonathan Reichental on LinkedIn, and you can send me a message there. You can follow me or connect with me. I think you’ll find me very responsive. I would love to hear from people with ideas. I’d also love to hear from a wide range of stakeholders for input into my new book on smart cities, as well as ideas that I can share with cities around the world as I travel and talk to mayors and city managers and city administrators in every corner of this planet.

Shawn Flynn  41:38

So we’ll have all that information on Jonathan in the show notes at Check out Silicon Valley. And I also want to thank Wendy Xue, who introduced me to Jonathan originally ago on a trip two years ago to Guiyang. I met Jonathan, along with Alan who was on an earlier episode of Silicon Valley. So once again, Jonathan, thank you for taking the time to be on Silicon Valley and we look forward to having you back on the show when your next book comes out.

Jonathan Reichental  42:05

Thank you so much. This was great.

Outro 42:07

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