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By Jean-Francois Barsoum


Senior Innovation Executive

IBM Canada

The Reality of Smart Cities

My Path to this topic...

Having worked in Management Strategy Consulting for some time, some colleagues and I felt that the changes brought on by climate change would profoundly impact business practices in several areas. We attempted to create a consulting practice focused on that issue, but the market seemed too young, and far away from traditional technology domains of expertise. Still, IBM explored the domain and at first, applied its manufacturing and nanotechnology patents to ussies of photovoltaic panel efficiency and water filtration membranes (for desalination) – clean power and clean water being two of the world’s most pressing needs. After a while though, we began to see how a data driven approach could help solve core environmental problems tied to GHG emissions (smart grid for power generation and smart transportation for vehicle emissions), as well as municipal and watershed issues (smart water). The right scale to tackle these three domains is, broadly speaking, cities: so our environmental concern was translated into a smart city approach, looking at gathering the data related to power, transportation and water, with the goal of optimizing and reducing waste and emissions tied to these activities.

Jean-Francois' Reading List on Smart Cities

Readings on Smart Cities


Water Mission


Water Mission is an example of the use of technology to facilitate access to clean water; in this case, in several poor communities, including a large refugee camp in Africa. Ten or fifteen years ago, you might have had a choice between humanitarian work and a career in technology; these days, most humanitarian work has a tech component. Technology was and remains a tool to achieve objectives, and it’s important to keep that objective in mind.

Making Water Smarter

Aqua Hacking

A number of startups are working on solving issues related to water. There's an impressive number of alumni still working on making water use "smarter" through the use of AI and other technologies.

Unique Capacity

Ontario Water Consortium

The Ontario Water Consortium, provide a technology platform for testing new technologies related to water treatment and testing, but also to evaluate the effectiveness of new approaches to water management.

Readings on Climate Change

An Inconvenient Truth (and sequel)

Directed: Davis Guggenheim

An Inconvenient Truth and its sequel. Just as Silent Spring sparked a generation of environmentalism in the sixties, this film opened the eyes of many to the reality of climate change – something scientists had known about for decades prior. It’s one of the watershed moments of the current climate crisis, and will likely be a marker for the start of this revolution for many years to come.​


Silent Spring

Rachel Carson

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson was the original wake up call, and one of the greatest and most accessible science books you can find. While the specific concerns are not the same (it doesn’t really tackle climate change; it’s largely  focused on pesticide use), it triggered the creation of the US Environmental Protection Agency. This book started both David Suzuki and Al Gore on their paths to environmentalism.


Star Trek, the Next Generation

Sci fi is great (sometimes) at presenting allegories that help us understand current social strains. This episode of Star Trek The Next Generation is ostensibly about the impact of Warp Drive on subspace fabric, but a thinly veiled reference to how human activity is contributing to climate change. The force of social momentum (and how it resists change, but can eventually change massively in another direction) is well depicted.

Why we should trust scientists

Naomi Oreskes

An important book (and TED talk) by Naomi Oreskes on how tobacco lobbyists redirected their efforts to climate skepticism, using similar strategies that delayed cigarette regulations.

Skeptical Science

The one site you need to understand climate science, read up on new publications and discoveries, and get the facts to rebut deniers. Definitely one to bookmark.

A Brief history of Autonomous Vehicle Technology


Although this isn't the newest article on autonomous vehicles, it does provide a good overview of how the technology came to be, which gives good historical context.  At the same time, at a high level, the UCS does provide a template for how to examine the social impact of autonomy

About the Author

Jean-François Barsoum has over 20 years of experience at IBM where his focus is on understanding and communicating the societal and environmental impacts of technology. He was part of the core team that built the smart city concepts in the early 2000s.


Currently, his main objective is to communicate and popularise climate change solutions, smart city innovations, and the potential impacts of autonomous vehicles.


In 2008, he was selected by Al Gore's Climate Project to be trained by the Nobel Peace Prize laureate. He later joined the board of directors of the Canadian branch of Mr. Gore's Foundation for Climate change education.


He regularly advises startups in incubators and accelerators, and is developing large research collaborations with several Canadian universities in Artificial Intelligence and Quantum computing.


He chairs the disruptive technology committee of the Montreal Chamber of Commerce, as well as the Quebec Smart Transportation experts’ committee; is a director at the Canadian Water Network, and has advised the Canadian government on cleantech programs. He is also part of the committee overseeing the application of the Quebec Policy on Sustainable Mobility.

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