A company called Living PlanIT is building a new city in northern Portugal that will apply computer monitoring and control technology to the task of managing an entire urban environment. Using its Urban Operating System," or UOT, PlanIT Valley, will coordinate energy use, transportation, and other activities of its 225,000 residents to a degree that is truly impressive--and a little bit creepy.

Cars are guided toward empty parking spaces, personal computers are engaged to run the uos when they’re sitting idle, and rooms not only lower the air conditioning when you’ve left them (yes, the system will know when you’ve left them), but can even decide whether it’s worth it to do so based on how long you typically leave that room vacant.

But wait, there’s more! leaky faucet? the uos can detect it, and if it can’t do the repair remotely, will dispatch a plumber. lose your child? surveillance cameras might be swiveled to ascertain “the child’s current location and activity.” apartment on fire? the uos will alert the fire department, direct each resident to the safest exit, adjust the neighborhood’s traffic lights to clear a path for the incoming trucks, tell the firefighters which parts of the building are affected and the locations of anyone inside, automatically unlock doors and windows, increase pressure in that neighborhood’s water mains, and allocate patients in priority order when they arrive at the nearest hospital.

Cities already behave like giant organisms, so I suppose we shouldn't be surprised when they evolve to a higher level of efficiency. It will be interesting to watch how this particular effort plays out when plan meets reality--in the form of 225,000 living souls. --b.d.s.