We’ve all seen it in the movies, and you’ve probably read about it from sci-fi novels. But the reality is that we are living in the future now. In the era of “smart” living, artificial intelligence (AI), and the Internet of Things (IoT), even our cities and communities are shifting onto the use of various technological tools to make the places we call home safer, and least to say, even smarter.
Through the efforts our cities put into the collection and analysis of live data, AI can now help cities and municipalities with operational management processes. This includes street traffic, deployment of community services, resource allocation, utility load and distribution, and even with disaster mitigation and crisis management.
What You Need to Know about “Smart” City Living
At its best, these smart tools we interact with on a daily basis can undoubtedly offer living environments that are attuned and particularly responsive to the needs of the general population. These also allow citizens opportunities to directly engage and coordinate with their governments and within their communities. However, the data required by such systems and tools come with a price which is even more invaluable than any material resource the government can get access to, as it is often human and more personal. This is based on the reasoning that in order for our cities to be “smart” enough to respond to us, they need to learn about us, usually through surveillance and monitoring of our homes, our communities, and the very streets we live in.
Even the most seemingly harmless projects can impose farther-reaching implications in our lives. One good example would be the “smart” metres. These are used primarily to track our energy consumption with the goal of providing citizens a more efficient and accurate way of determining their energy usage, as well as to promote habits that could benefit the wider population and reduce environmental risks. In this example, however, if the tracking mechanism is detailed enough, these smart metres can become tools that can gather private and personal information such as whether or not someone is home, how many people are there, if they are currently awake or sleeping, and even which devices are being used at a certain time.
What are the Loopholes of Smart City Living (and Countermeasures to Correct Them)
One of the many challenges when it comes to the approval and adoption of smart city solutions is determining the basis of whether or not these solutions have been driven by a threat or an event, instead of a well-planned effort to resolve an existing (or even a projected) issue within the community.
The Inequality in Smart City Design
Citizen engagement is needed where the “costs” of living in a smart city is unreasonably shouldered by communities and citizens that are considered to be within the marginalized sectors of society. In places where there are unusually higher incidences of violence, people are not to be treated with lesser rights to privacy. Where people are more prone to violence, injustice, and unfair treatment of their rights, the citizens should all be engaged and be actively sought to involve themselves in the decision-making process within and for their communities.
There is no doubt that smart cities have the potential and capacity to uplift the quality of safety and convenience deserved by citizens in every community. However, when the benefits come at the cost of our privacy as individuals and communities, it’s important that we be given a role to be considered part of the planning and implementation of such solutions within our very own community. This is how we should hold the government and service providers accountable for their management of our resources.
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