Stacey knows things
Connected cities and unintended consequences
by Stacey Higginbotham
I attended the Smart Cities Innovation Summit this week in Austin, Texas and in conversations with various city officials who were installing connected sensors and services, one theme kept surfacing:
We are not ready for the radical transparency that smart cities will bring.
Jason Noh, CTO at Namoo, showing of a connected streetlight deployed in Busan, S. Korea.
That said, most of us won’t have to worry about this level of transparency for quite some time because our cities aren’t likely to transform anytime soon.
But let’s focus on transparency. My two favorite examples came from a conversation with Jason Noh, CTO of Namoo, who was representing the City of Busan in South Korea. He said that the city had outfitted an area with about 400,000 residents with cameras and sensors as part of a testbed for connecting the city as a whole.
One of the things the project measured was noise pollution from sensors installed in lamp posts every 25 meters. Noh said that after the city put that data online, property owners protested because those living in buildings where noise pollution was highest felt that it hurt the value of their properties. Thus, the city started making the data harder to understand and more difficult for normal citizens to access.
His second example related to cameras that photograph people driving through stop signs and red lights. If someone broke the law, a ticket would arrive in the mail a week later with a photograph of the perpetrator. Noh said that again, the city received pushback because the people who often opened the envelope with the ticket were wives of the husbands caught speeding. Apparently, the husbands were often photographs speeding with a mistress by their side. Now the pictures are blurred.
These stories drive home what is both an opportunity and a challenge for the internet of things. The ability to access, store and analyze more information than ever before leads to a world where it is possible to learn anything about anything– or anyone. In business, this is forcing companies to think hard about the information they share and how to build business models around proprietary knowledge without giving away their competitive edge.
In cities, this level of transparency can lead to beneficial outcomes, such as taking action to alleviate noise pollution in problem areas, but it can also lead to an invasion of privacy and even a sense that law enforcement is discretionary. If a city can “see” everyone breaking a nuisance law, for example, how does it decide when to enforce it?
So, as we embark on a gradual scheme to connect our environments, it’s worth thinking about the costs and benefits of such radical transparency so we can prepare for the inevitable debates over privacy, law enforcement and even property values.