Your intelligent city run by a mega-corp

Will Doig in Salon writes a good piece on smart cities. His question is, once we give over our cities to increasing computerization and sensor integration, will we be unintentionally turning over our cities to big companies like IBM and Google? This isn’t an argument about the use of technology in cities–that’s an acceptable efficiency argument. Instead, it’s about turning over the management of key sectors of our cities to the consulting arms of these corporations.

the goal of these companies is not just to participate in the evolution of smart cities, but to connect and control virtually everything with massive operating systems that will run these cities in their entirety. “Everybody wants to be the architects of these systems because then you own them forever,” says Greg Lindsay, author of “Aerotropolis” and an urban-technology reporter for Fast Company. “You could say it’s sort of a land grab.”

What the article doesn’t mention, but should, is the data mining potential of gaining access to these city datasets. These companies are not looking to mine individual records–to know more about you personally. Rather, this access allows companies to refine their place-based inference engines and build incredibly detailed portraits about specific locations.

After reading Doig’s article, if you think there is no reason for embedding ethics into VGI, you need to look at this.

Under the Citypulse project in Paris, volunteer citizens were given the “Green Watch”, a special watch that contained two environmental sensors to detect ozone and noise levels. As these people went about doing their daily chores, the Green Watch recorded the noise and ozone in their surroundings and transferred this data via a mobile phone to an online platform to be used in various ways such as maps and models. The eventual aim of the project is to increasingly involve citizens in environmental measurements by disbursing several such environmental sensors and help build a sustainable city.

Okay, it can lead to cool stuff like this, but the public has to be able to know and control the chain of data usage.

The irony is in the phrase “If you’re not paying for the product then you are the product.” In this case, you’re both paying for the product and you are the product.

Comments are closed.