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Conjectures on the dynamic functional transformation of intelligent infrastructure

Conjectures on the dynamic functional transformation of intelligent infrastructure

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Although the technology of ‘Intelligent Infrastructure’ systems is kept absolutely at cutting edge, many of the presumptions about the transport problems they are intended to solve are outdated, in particular the relationship between demand and supply of facilities for movement, which is more complex and more volatile than is suggested in the methodologies which have dominated economic analysis. The conjectures in this paper are that, as a result, there could be a dynamic reorientation of the functions of technologies, which, conceived to solve one set of problems, will be progressively adapted to serve functions other than the original intention. The core driver of this process is the analysis of economic (and environmental) efficiency which leads to the replacement of ‘predict and provide’ as a way of meeting the unrestricted demand for travel, to ‘management for quality’ aimed at reducing traffic volumes, enhancing localities, and improving reliability. Three examples are suggested: the technology of real‐time information and route advice systems could evolve mainly to serve the policy of charging for road use; technologies intended to allow drivers to maintain high speeds in heavy traffic could be reversed, being used instead for the controlled reduction of speeds; technologies developed to maximise the traffic volumes able to use congested networks can be adapted to give selective improvements to priority classes of road user. The common theme is that technologies originally perceived as providing for an extrapolation of current patterns of demand and current views about the trends underpinning them, will instead be used as active instruments to modify those patterns and trends. This process may be seen as an example of ‘unintended effects’, though not necessarily undesirable ones: if shifts in the transport policy direction are well‐founded, the outcome of such a technological transformation might actually be more efficient, rather than less, than the pathway initially envisaged. Thus the way in which advanced information technology will impact on transport can be radically different from what was expected, because of fundamental changes (still uncompleted) in the policy context, which in turn derive from the dynamics of competitive but regulated markets in the context of high external costs. It is suggested that this proposition is a possible, perhaps likely, but not inevitable picture of the future development of transport technologies.

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