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Smart Cities or Final Fatal Strike to Freedom?

Smart Cities or Final Fatal Strike to Freedom?
“Smartization” involves some elements of risk too...Photo Courtesy of Open Clipart Vectors

Most of us hearing “Smart city” imagine some sort of futuristic panorama: flying cars, robots, lasers, holographic objects. That is not quite right, however, for smart city, also known as “Intellectual or digital city”, is named so not only because of the technologies used for its development.   

“What is the city but the people?”

William Shakespeare,The Tragedy of Coriolanus

Not many people connect the term “smart” defining “smart city” with anything other than “having or showing a quick-witted intelligence”. Nevertheless smart or rather S.M.A.R.T. stands for Specific, Measurable, Achieving, Realistic and Timely. Thus “smart city” is first of all the one efficiently managed.

In XXI century urban environment status is not defined by only availability of infrastructure that is material resources. Smart cities require smart decisions, which would ensure qualitatively new development using innovative technologies, which envisage economic and ecological utilization of vital urban systems. Technologies in this case are used as the means of achieving the universal aim – develop well-equipped urban environment, while city’s “brain” in the first place is the dialogue with local populations and formation of common future in agreement with their aspirations. In other words, smart city is the one, which utilizes high level technologies for communications in order to fruitfully use available resources for well-being improvement, environmental damage decrease, innovation support, and energy usage and cost rationalization.

The idea of smart city was conceived in Santander, Spain after European Union selected this city for realization of the experimental project. Spending about €11 million, more than 20000 sensors were installed across the city, diagnosing pretty much all aspects of infrastructure: traffic light management and interlink, real time air quality monitoring by sensors installed in police cars, waste bins’ fullness, free parking space, ratio of cars vs. pedestrians and many more others.

World Bank states about 53% of all Earth population are urban residents and the figure is growing. Therefore, many believe smart city is not any longer a luxury, but vital necessity, for, consumption shifts towards agglomeration only from the energy viewpoint not to mention all other aspects of urban life. Eight out of ten Europe residents live in cities, which spend about 70% of Europe’s energy and transport jams in this cities cost Europe about €100 billion/year. Therefore metropolises keep looking for the ways to become smarter – more efficient, economic, resident friendly.

It is widely believed that smart city is the ideal, towards which all countries should strive after. It implies smart management, dwelling, people, environment, economic, and mobility. It is considered to be safe, economic, efficient, healthy and resident friendly.

The major features of smart city can be ascribed to five elements, the first of which is Efficiency, for smart city’s issues are solved and decisions are made using best-of-class technologies and with direct and active involvement of population along with the municipal and regional authorities. Ecological compatibility is another very important element of smart city due to the status of smart is awarded to those which proceed along the path of “green” development.City’s infrastructure systems are usually complex and multi-layered. Smart city’s task is to provide an effective system management using common information management centre.

World-wide city development trend is nowadays the solution of traffic issues. Smart mobility and application of intellectual technologies allows traffic organization to provide population with maximum comfort and safety.

Smart city is impossible without smart people, willing and capable of utilizing anything smart city can offer to them.

Five top smart cities of Europe are Barcelona (best in the world smart traffic and vehicle parking management system), Stockholm (leader in renewable resources treatment – re-using treated sewage water for heating or turning it into the fuel for public transportation), Amsterdam (developed system which connects manufactures, regulators and population), Vienna (the greenest city in Europe with the largest biomass power stations and more than 15% of city’s energy coming from renewables), and Copenhagen (which has the smallest in Europe “carbon footprint” and plans to make it emission-neutral by 2025).

“Smartization” involves some elements of risk too. As stated above, although smart city is not only innovative technologies, its infrastructure includes state-of-the-art technologies and devices, which are inter-linked with other devices and systems thus closely linked to Internet of Things (IoT) – “a system of interrelated computing devices, mechanical and digital machines, objects, animals or people that are provided with unique identifiers and the ability to transfer data over a network without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction”, which one of the major concerns is the over-reliance on technology.Any technology is vulnerable – power outage, soft glitch, hacking can cause huge material and moral damage.

What would happen if the remote device controlling diabetic individuals’ blood sugar level is broken? What would happen if sensors opening and closing house or building doors or sensors enabling gas fuelled house heating malfunction?

Manyelementsofsmartcity, suchasATMsorpayterminalsmakeitmucheasierforpeopletogetspecifictypesofservices. Modern people got used to them to such extent, that they do not even think about related potential risks of personal data disclosure. Case is all pay and information terminals are based on Windows or Android OS and finished with the interactive graphic interface, which does not allow access to the OS functions. However, those who are aware of such technologies peculiarities can easily avail themselves of profitable possibilities.

Another IoT related concern is the breach of privacy. Introduction of technologies into people’s lives changes their freedom level – it is no longer a difficulty to obtain individual’s location subject to the type of the phone he or she owns.  Monitoring provides huge amount of data and there where there is data always would be those willing to earn.

The issue is the smart cities do not allow individual access to the data. Population is the provider of data, often used without their knowledge, rather than the consumer of the collected data. People constantly develop data on their day-to-day activities, habits, and predilections and they might suspect this data being used for marketing purposes, for example be attacked with purposeful and, most of the times, unexpected, advertisements. “Your pulse suggests you are anxious. Why not get into this neighbourhood drugstore and get the newest demulcent?”

One might think the marketing would not be such unprincipled. But it is enough to recall London Wi-Fi stanchions, which were back-tracing pedestrians, identifying their smartphone Wi-Fi connections, registering their routine shopping in order to select purposeful advertisements.Imagine spending whole life in a fish tank, where your slightest movement is observed. This makes it kind of difficult to call it an independent life, doesn’t it?The question to answer is whetherpopulationis readytosacrificeconfidentialityoverefficiency.

Not only this makes modern technologies of smart cities sort of frightening: what if all the data gets into the hands of unfair individual? This is not to mention a potential for chaos from the queue of hackers wishing to force the city’s operational system open to get access to transport management (including aviation), lighting and heating systems and others to turn the information into the profit.

Residing in smart city is undoubtedly comfortable.It is also necessary to make it safe. Therefore, the fifth element of the smart city plays vital role in its proper development: smart people should not allow the innovative technologies turn into the means of total control; they must understand and remember that significant share of the smart city is the information system, which requires prudential approach and expertise protection.

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