Digital wonderland or IoT hellscape, we need to take the reigns
It seems that all around the globe now, cities are trying to become smart. That is not to say they’ve been daft before, but with explosive growth in urban areas comes an increasing pressure on public services and infrastructure. Mass urbanization is outstripping the finite resources available to most cities, something we painfully experience when it comes to housing, transportation or utility bills.
Ironically, this strain on resources is creating a huge business opportunity — some studies predict a market size of $1.5 trillion by 2020. But, to do what exactly? The overarching theme is “increased efficiency,” pretty much a no-brainer. A key aspect here is the use of emergent technologies to facilitate better decision-making processes. Or simply put, “let’s slap a sensor on anything, gather as much data as we can and see what it’s good for.”
Of course, with billions in funding up for grabs, you can’t blame the ICT sector for throwing the entire Technology Hype Cycle at a complex, multifaceted phenomenon. And with the concepts of IoT and Big Data converging, there is no doubt that exciting new opportunities open up that have the potential to change our lives for the better (think smart traffic management or preventative healthcare).
But we must never forget the human context: We are more than data points, we are people. A Smart City needs to empower us, not take away choices. So rather than blindly following the path of technocratic governance, we need to look at our communities and ask how we can improve the everyday life of our fellow citizens.
Doesn’t it seem obvious to start where public services and citizens connect?
Let’s start with the little things. Like queues. Even with e-government becoming more prolific, sometimes you have to make a trip to city hall to see a human being.
So how about this:
On your way to city hall, you’re told your number in the virtual queue along with estimated waiting time, which is, of course, updated constantly. You’re a bit early, and since you’re already pulling up outside and the person ahead in the queue is stuck in traffic, you both get an offer to switch places. It’s less stressful for everybody so you both agree.
You march inside, and you’re told that Mrs. Helpful will be waiting for you on the 2nd floor, up the stairs and then turn left. No, the other left. Now down the corridor until… Yes, right here. Mrs. Helpful is familiar with your case and just needs to discuss a few details, then you check the forms and apply your digital signature. (The transaction is then added to the e-government blockchain, but that’s another story for another day.)
There, all done. On your way out your parking is validated and since you’re happy with the service you received, you decide to send Mrs. Helpful a virtual Kudo Card as a token of your appreciation.
Oh, by the way, there is a public town hall meeting next week on a subject that matters to you, would you like that entered into your calendar? Sure you do, you’re an active citizen who cares about the local community.
This fictional story contains little to no surveillance, only small traces of Big Data and a dash of free location information. There are no technological barriers – all we need is the right mindset to make Smart Cities work for us, the people.
About the Author(s)
Volker Konietzko is a Business Developer at Digital Business Design agency Brains & Hearts (www.brainsandhearts.de).