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Fixating on the future is an innate aspect of human curiosity because it’s one of the great mysteries of the human experience. But sometimes life moves at such a break-neck pace that we fail to realize the future has actually arrived. That future is Songdo, Korea, and as of 2015, it is now our present.

Songdo is the first fully functional smart city, built completely from scratch on 1,500 acres of land about 40 miles southwest of Seoul. Taking 10 years and more than $40 billion to construct, Songdo is one of the most expensive development projects in history.

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As a wired smart city, everything in Songdo is connected to the Internet and constantly streams data that is analyzed and monitored by an array of computers with hardly any human involvement. Songdo is an example of a large scale deployment application of the Internet of Things which is a network of, you guessed it, things embedded with some form of electronic in order to facilitate widespread connectivity and data exchange to and from other connected devices, operating within our existing Internet infrastructure. It’s a heady, but fascinating concept which is very much now a reality.

Essentially, Songdo is an automated city, and every piece, nook and cranny of it is connected wirelessly and electronically to create a sustainable, living city. It was birthed from the idea of promoting green technologies and reducing carbon emissions, but the existence of Songdo stretches way beyond those initial environmental concerns. What we have here is a city that needs no human action to operate – a city that serves its people and can meet, anticipate and adapt to their needs.

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With the responsibility of its upkeep out of human hands, Songdo’s inhabitants can focus their attention toward its true function – an international business district. Japan, China and Korea are three of the world’s largest economies, and Songdo is sitting pretty, nestled in a prime location with a three and a half hour flying time to a third of the world’s population and the Russian, Chinese and Japanese markets. With such a strategic location, and serving as a designated Free Economic Zone, Songdo is being positioned as the next commercial nexus of Northeast Asia.

For a city so connected, with computers built into houses, offices and streets, there’s a startling lack of panache. Songdo boasts about its varied shopping, entertainment and dining offerings, as well as its world-class private schools and residential options like every other unashamedly please-come-visit-me brochure, but in reality, Songdo as a city is an amalgamation of features that define our world’s greatest cities. It’s got a canal system inspired by Venice, a 100-acre Central Park, the wide boulevards of Paris and a convention center modeled after the Sydney Opera House.

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There’s no doubt that Songdo is a technologic marvel. But Songdo as of now, being the living, breathing city that it is, lacks a soul. This becomes disconcerting when you remember that, as an automated, intelligent entity, Songdo can do a lot of the things we do faster and better for us. Will Songdo make mankind obsolete? No. But as our present, Songdo is blowing our expectations for the future out of the water. It’s all too easy for us to get swept up in sheer spectacle and wonder. Our challenge moving forward is ensuring we don’t let that supersede the heart, soul and creativity that got us this far in the first place.

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