Originally posted on smartcitiesasia.com
With artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things fast advancing as we speak, the entire world around us is gaining more and more information at an alarming rate. There are times that one feels as if we are stepping into an entire new world and the gap between our kids and us, let alone their grandparents, has become light years. And now there is talk about “smart cities” where all aspects of life around us seem to be gathering intelligence for supposedly the better good. But are we actually comfortable with the notion that even the walls around us may be watching our every move and analyzing what type of a person we are? As the devices around us get smarter, they gather so much data about us that they can actually predict our future actions. And maybe begin to control us. Are we even ready for such a highly controversial transition?
The very language we speak is changing and there are times we literally cannot understand new concepts being mentioned in the highly technological world we are living in. It started with smartphones, continued its way to smart watches, and now the taxis we ride in are becoming smart. Smart dishwashers, smart homes, you name it. Everything is also becoming connected and at times one gets the feeling that a big, supercomputer mind is stalking and monitoring our daily lives.
The Good, … and the Ugly
Matthew Fawcatt of NetApp has posted an article in Forbes providing useful insight on this rising issue. Many questions come to mind after reading this piece. While the city of Barcelona has launched the campaign of smart trash bins, Baltimore on the other side of the Atlantic has initiated a highly controversial aerial monitoring program. This operation began with the intention of enhancing Baltimore PD’s ability to combat crime, yet it has received extremely negative views from the public due to its clandestine nature from day one.
And this is just what we are hearing about in the news. Rest assured this is only the tip of the iceberg about what local and federal governments are doing without our prior knowledge. Prism, the highly scandalous monitoring system of the National Security Agency in the United States is just one such example, and no one knows for sure if the surveillance program ever actually came to a complete halt after all the noise it made.
The Asia Pacific is seen as a region struggling with smart city challenges, and opportunities, all in a league of their own. China is enjoying unprecedented city growth rates with an emphasis on infrastructure, and having to find ways to resolve certain dilemmas such as congestion and rising air pollution. Beijing is now encouraging the development of smart cities with specific purposes. Forecasts show 100 such cities in the most populated country on the planet will be home to over 1 million people in around a decade’s time.
A long slate of innovative tech and auto companies are based in Japan, seeking to establish their solutions in this country and beyond. However, Japan is facing a declining population problem–opposite of China–and they are looking for their own unique solutions. The central government is focusing on attracting creative and entrepreneurial individuals from across the globe to render grown and inject innovation in cities across Japan.
One major condition
As suspicious as we are about intelligence gathering, this is the main aspect of smart cities becoming a success story. Advocates argue the more the data, the smarter the city and the easier our lives. To be honest, that line sounds too much like an elections campaign TV commercial. This is a question facing all decision makers about the issue of entering the campaign of launching smart cities or not: Do we place priority in using data or protecting data? Smart cities will most definitely need as much data as possible, and they can never have enough. While the ordinary citizen will want to put restrictions, limitations and regulations on the amount of data anyone can be authorized to gather about them.
Yes, technology is providing many conveniences that we have learned to love. Some of us simply have placed our entire lives into smartphones and can’t imagine life without them. However, there are also a growing number of advocates making their voices heard about the need for greater control and protective measures on how exactly their data is managed.
While lawmakers have listened and actually tried to impose stronger and more effective laws to protect people’s privacy, there have been glitches hampering their efforts. One difficulty is once data is posted on the web, there is no simple way of controlling and regulating how it is used, or misused by others. The European Union has employed the “right to be forgotten,” yet they have experienced their own difficulties in this regard. To make it easier to understand, you can’t simply “delete” what you post on the Internet, and have it automatically vanish into thin air.
To make it plain and simple, a completely new perspective, viewpoint and a truly cooperative spirit is needed to tackle this dilemma. Like it or not, the idea of launching smart cities is around the corner and there is no stopping it. Look at Pittsburgh and how it has become a pioneer with Uber in the field of self-driving cars.
If we are to invite the concept of smart cities, what is utterly needed is very effective and bold leadership. If we lack such a necessity, we simply have to accept the fact that we have to further mature as a society to be able to welcome such a highly sensitive and controversial leap forward.