Is your city smarter than you? A look into the future of urban technology.
Just picture it: taxis that come at the push of a button, robot police officers with built in facial recognition software, bus and train station ads that change to suit the viewer, garbage that throws itself away, highspeed WiFi on every corner! Stores that allow you to go in, shop, and leave without ever having to go through a checkout line. Everything is covered in chrome, and Google, of course, monitors everything.
Maybe your idea of a smart city looks like the Jetson’s intro sequence.
While that’s a vivid and popular image of smart cities, most of what’s actually going into these cities is a lot less flashy. Most current smart city technology is being diverted into things like roads that monitor and redirect traffic to reduce congestion, and sensors built into pipelines to divert potential floodwaters during heavy rains. Many streetlamps now have smart LED lighting systems, which reduces both the cost and energy use of overnight lighting.
Even the civil service industry is looking to get in on the action. The United States Postal Service, for example, has considered adding sensors to their delivery trucks to report problems like potholes and other infrastructure issues. In New York City, the fire department has been developing data mining systems to analyze neighborhoods and identify buildings that could present a future fire hazard. The Risk-Based Inspection System (also known as the RBIS) connects each of the city’s 49 firehouses, making it easier for them to coordinate inspection efforts.
As it happens, New York City is considered one of the four smartest cities in the world, trailing behind places such as Singapore, Barcelona, and Oslo. So it’s no wonder that in addition to all the unseen infrastructure, it’s got a lot of the flashier elements too. In July of 2016, LinkNYC kiosks were installed all over the city, boasting such high tech capabilities such as free national VOIP calling, USB charging stations, and free high speed internet (there used to be web browsing, but it had to be disabled because some people were using the kiosks to watch porn, yeowch).
Not pictured here: the two 55 inch screens on either side of the LinkNYC kiosk, displaying targeted ads.
The best part about the kiosks? They’re being installed and maintained for “free.” There was no upfront charge for the taxpayers, despite how much it cost to install the kiosks, as well as the miles of fiber optic cables needed to run the machines. Instead, the kiosks are being paid for by targeted advertising that will be displayed based on the local demographics.
It’s not really all that surprising when you consider that CityBridge, the company in charge of building and maintaining the LinkNYC system, is ultimately owned by Google.
However, it does have critics concerned that we’re willfully building toward an Orwellian 1984-esque dystopian future. Once Google has securely gained a foothold in NYC, it intends to extend this system to every city that will buy it up. Eventually, they hope to be on every street corner, in every home, in every pants pocket… Soon, you might even live in a city entirely built and run by Google’s Sidewalk Labs.
It sounds a little alarmist, especially to anyone with an Android or Google phone (like me and my Nexus 6) who is already subjected to data monitoring and collection without too much backlash. Sure, it’s a little creepy that my phone has figured out that I leave work at roughly 6pm every day, and has Maps pulled up and waiting for me, but man, it’s awfully convenient.
Admittedly, having this image staring you would make it a lot harder to get to sleep at night.
And I’m not the only one who feels this way; most of Singapore seems to be in agreement. As of right now, Singapore has arguably one of the most integrated cities, along with being a wealthy financial center. There are tighter restrictions on residents’ behavior, and the government owns or controls many aspects of daily life, such as public transportation and housing. But as it turns out, it seems that people there are in favor of trading a few freedoms for a more efficient lifestyle.
It’s plain that the foundation for smart cities is already here. In fact, the technology may even be more viable than the technology for smart homes. However, there are still plenty of concerns regarding it that will need to be addressed before America embraces it with open arms.
How much technology is too much?
When does it become invasive?
What freedoms will we need to give up in order to achieve a good smart city, and how do we avoid dystopia in favor of a city fully on the grid?
I think now is the time to start the conversation. Leave a comment below, and start planning the Future.