By Steve Mackay
Have you ever wondered – what if this wonderful shiny new smart city of the future that we’re trying to build turned out to be an Orwellian* nightmare?
I was at a smart city presentation in a prestigious University in South East Asia recently.
After the learned presentations there was a quiz. The quiz was mainly for the students. Prizes were given for correct answers (or any answers at all). I assumed that some of the students had attended the presentations.
“Name one characteristic of a smart city” was one of the questions.
Aha! – I thought. “This will be interesting”.
The presentations had focused on solar bins, smart lighting, smart parking, coordinated public transport – what I call the “applications” in a smart city. They had then dived down into the necessary, but invisible “infrastructure” for these apps to run: the networks, the data sharing protocols, the security, the interfaces. The presentations had then gone into the finances: how does a smart city get funded; how does it become self-sustaining financially; how and when does it make a return, and for whom?
“Let’s see which answer comes up – in response to ‘what is a characteristic of a smart city’,” I thought. “Will it be an ‘application’ answer? Will it be to do with ‘infrastructure’? Will it focus on a smart financial way to get there”?
A hand shot up.
– “Yes – you have an answer? – So, what is one characteristic of a smart city?”
– “Correct”. Vast applause. “Here is your prize!”
I had a vision of a city in which everyone is surveilled. Maybe everyone and everything.
The Surveillance of Things. Even more so than now. Right now, if you commit a terrorist atrocity, your ID will be known in four minutes flat. That is a good thing. If you exceed the road speed limit by 10kph, it’ll be known in 6min 30 sec (OK I’m making up the numbers). That is a so-so thing. If a new government came in which doesn’t like dogs, and your dog pees in the park, that will be known in 18 min 45 sec. I’m not a dog lover but my daughter is. She would be upset. So that’s a bad thing.
And if the first practical application of IoT to smart cities, is increased, improved, more automated CCTV – CCTV with better face recognition, with dog recognition, with individual smartphone recognition – then what kind of horrible Orwellian Brave New City will we be living in?
*Orwellian: an adjective describing a situation, idea, or societal condition that George Orwell identified as being destructive to the welfare of a free and open society.