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Cities around the country are quickly adapting "smart" technologies in efforts to bring about greater efficiency, reduce crime, identify at-risk areas, improve traffic, ensuring adequate downtown parking, and accomplish many more solutions to everyday big city problems.
This greater efficiency, though, may come at a prohibitive cost for the citizens. In fact, it's leading many citizens to take notice and begin asking questions on their own.
Consider these potential pros and cons and get involved in the conversation in your community before agreeing to go "smart" for various vital operations and infrastructures that will affect your life and the lives of your family.
What Types of Technology do Smart Cities Employ?
The term Smart City means different things to different people. For instance, the city of San Diego recently installed well over 3,200 cameras and microphones throughout the city so they could engage in large-scale use of this surveillance technology.
A mock-up Smart City located in the wilderness of New Mexico has tested the use of Stingray cell phone surveillance towers, Bluetooth monitoring, surveillance cameras, license plate readers, microphones, and more.
All of these technologies are being perfected under the guise of improving the lives of citizens, but there are many who believe, from the focus of Smart City spending, that the actual goals are a little more sinister.
Smart City Pros
The data gathered and collected in public places can help to improve the lives of ordinary citizens in larger cities. It's true. This can be used to reduce energy expenses for the city, ease traffic congestion, identify inefficiencies in public spending, and - in a perfect world - reduce the tax burdens for the population.
One fantastic example is in the city of Barcelona where using smart technology in water meters helped the city save $58 million per year.
It actually sounds quite good at first glance. After all, there is no harm in any of these things - and who doesn't want lower taxes for the multitudes. The problem is, that the government is using surveillance of these same people to accomplish those goals. Which brings us to the potential cons of a Smart City technology.
Smart City Cons
Although the cost to privacy in the world of surveillance cities is an important consideration, it isn't the only one to keep in mind. Some of the problems can have serious real-world consequences, like the following.
Security Vulnerabilities - Hacking is big business for criminals and big cities represent a gold mine of information and potential theft.
This makes them a target for a wide range of hackers including those that are simply out for a little mischief to those who would exploit safety vulnerabilities and others who might steal financial and personal information about cities and citizens alike.
Computer Bugs and Glitches - In a world of numbers, even the simplest of computer glitches can be costly. They can place 10-year-old boys on no-fly lists, cost millions of dollars, and send eviction notices to law abiding tax payers.
Power Failures - Without adequate fail-safes in place a power outage at a critical time can cause widespread devastation to the infrastructure of a Smart City. One hurricane, wildfire, tornado, or thunderstorm can cause a lot of problems for an unprepared city - even if it is a Smart City.
Totalitarian Control - what happens when a politician or even a corporation that has access to this data wants to use the information to empower themselves or even oppress others?
City data will also enable authorities to compile unimaginably detailed profiles of every single individual.
By analyzing information using data-science techniques, a city could learn not only the day-to-day routine of an individual but also his preferences, behavior and even emotional state. Cities could know more about people than they know about themselves.
Considering governments track records on snooping look at the history of the NSA or KGB the likelihood of smart cities not ending up as Orwellian as they sound is probably slim to none.
Smart Cities might sound like simple solutions for the future. Before you embrace the added efficiency that this technology promises, consider the risks it poses too.