Thursday, October 1, 2015

Just what is a smart city?

Just what is a smart city?
Jessica Grasso 

            Earlier this morning, an article was published to shed light on the emerging idea of “smart cities”. According to Jack Gold of J. Gold Associates, smart cities will help “better manage power, reduce pollution footprints, increase public safety, or offer improved services to residents”. The counterarguments to the initiative are the cost of infrastructure and the invasion of privacy this model might impose on citizens.
Some examples of how technology will be utilized are street sensors to manage streetlights and traffic signals in the hopes of lowering energy costs and usage. Sensors will also be used to monitor water mains for leaks to reduce repair costs, or used to monitor pollution levels. Police can also use video sensors to manage crowds or spot crimes. One of the most interesting uses of sensors was in Bristol, England where a sensor system added to street lamps, recorded the shadows of pedestrians walking by. The shadows were then projected back through the streetlights for others walking by later to see as a form of art.
            In accordance with Moore’s Law, Carl Piva, vice president at TF Forum, believestechnology of the future will become more and more invisible to individuals, and…people will not even notice the technology. For the time being, that means seeing a lot of technology trying to talk to us or engage with us in various ways.” While I agree with her ideas regarding the future nature of technology, the long-run cost efficiency and that with more sophisticated technology, innovative individuals will be attracted to “Smart cities”; I have some concerns. I believe that the excessive sensors all over the city will threaten and invade citizen’s privacy. Piva explains, "If you jump on a bus (in China), you may encounter facial recognition, used to determine whether you have a bus permit". This concept is worrisome to me for security and privacy reasons. It seems like an interesting idea, but also one that can make citizens feel unsafe and exposed. Essentially citizens are forfeiting their identity to a government database that if hacked, could result in serious identity theft.
Another example of how technology plays a role in Smart Cities, Singapore has implemented interactive kiosks in airport bathrooms that allow users to rate the cleanliness of the bathroom. While I understand that the kiosk will help the airport increase performance, I find the idea to be extremely invasive. Lastly, I am concerned that the more technology expands and is used to help service cities; low skilled workers will become less and less necessary. Smart cities will take work away from city workers and force them to find a more high-skilled occupation because smart cities attract smart people. 
         Interactive technology, reducing pollution footprints, real-time decision-making and encouraging people to take high skilled jobs are some of the benefits of Smart Cities. In my opinion, while the benefits are great, some of the ideas will be too invasive and radical unless the government assures people that their private information will be kept private. 


 This is what a Kiosk screen in a Singapore bathroom would look like.

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