The news wires have been alive with stories about smart cities for the last 6 to 12 months. If you have read most of them, please humor this author and read yet another one. Smart cities seem to be inevitable. But are they? More importantly, are they what global citizens really want?
Answering these two questions may depend on how you define a smart city. What you might consider smart might be just the tip of the iceberg to the people who build the cities of tomorrow. Data you consider private might be fair game to law enforcement, government lawmakers, and bureaucrats.
Deciding the Data to Collect
Tomorrow’s smart city will be what it is based on its ability to make use of the internet of things (IoT). In case you don’t know, the IoT is that collection of global devices capable of connecting to other devices via the internet. Any device with built-in connectivity is an IoT device.
At the heart of the smart city is the IoT and the data it generates. As such, the sticking point is deciding on the data to be collected. Some kinds of data are absolutely critical to maximizing smart cities. Other kinds of data are completely irrelevant. Who makes the decision? Who enforces it?
Your Smartphone in a Smart City
We can illustrate the dangers of truly smart cities by looking at something as ubiquitous as the smartphone. Have you ever wondered how Google Maps provides real-time traffic information? They do so by monitoring every single phone running the Android OS. That’s right, Google is tracking you 24/7 – even when you are not using your phone. If the power is on, you are being tracked.
All of that is just fine and dandy if the only information Google is interested in is GPS data for recognizing traffic. But do not fool yourself, Google is collecting far more. They are collecting all sorts of data that they can monetize. Much of it is collected without your consent.
Let us scale this up to driverless cars. A network of driverless cars would only need data pertaining to the cars themselves. No personal data need be attached to make the system work. So will the driverless cars of the future be protected from data snooping? Probably not.
Herein lies the danger of truly smart cities. The same technology that allows us to gather and analyze the data necessary to make a city truly smart also allows the powers that be to track nearly every aspect of human existence.
A Plethora of Signals
Another thing to consider is the sheer number of signals that would be required to make a smart city work. There would be data signals controlling driverless cars, trains, and buses. Other signals would control centralized heating and cooling. Others would be used for law enforcement and fire protection. The list goes on and on.
This creates a very cluttered environment as far as data is concerned. According to Rock West Solutions, the best way to attack data clutter is with signal processing. They explain signal processing as that collection of hardware and software technologies capable of filtering unwanted information out of a signal so that only wanted information remains.
The risk of advanced signal processing is that it can take seemingly useless signals and glean precious data from them. It works so well that properly deployed data gathering techniques could all but eliminate individual privacy.
It seems that the smart city is inevitable. Are we ready for it? More importantly, will we really want it once it arrives?