Part One: A Tale of Smart Cities
There has been a lot of talk about 5G recently, and there is plenty more to come. The 5th Generation network is set to be the greatest leap in connectivity since the beginning of the Digital Revolution. It will enable a wave of new technologies and services that are currently only the stuff of imagination. From autonomous vehicles to the greater Internet of Things (IoT), 5G will usher in a new era of cyber-physical integration. Nowhere will this impact be more dramatic than in smart cities – urban spaces with digital DNA, built on data that feeds a continuous improvement of public and private services. The promises are great, but there are risks too, though these don’t get the same amount of press as the good stuff.
By now we are accustomed to the ‘smart’ prefix – smart phones, smart watches, smart homes, smart TV’s, smart refrigerators, even smart floss. With this backdrop, most people have an intuitive sense of what a ‘smart city’ might be – a futuristic metropolitan jungle with intelligent devices, structures and systems working together to create the harmonious conditions for a more successful and happier life. A place where the city knows what we want, before we want it, and gets it right every time. Even without 5G, this utopian vision already becoming a reality. The size of the smart city market is expected to be around $1.5 trillion by 2020, paving the way for emerging technologies and more efficient, cleaner, and better living environments.
But this brave new world comes at a potential cost. A system that relies on unfathomable amounts of data is inherently vulnerable to incursions into private information, and in a smart city there is lots of that. In the 5G and smart city zeitgeist, is equal attention being paid to the privacy of the individuals, organizations and communities that will make up those cities? As we will see later, personal data can be accessed and used in creative and unexpected ways to reveal the behaviour, preferences and profile of almost any individual connected to the system. Are our smart cities leaders taking care, not just to provide efficient, clean living, but to take care of our privacy too?
This is the first part of two-part series which looks at the past, present, and future of our smart city living and the privacy challenges it brings with it.
Driving the Smart City
When human beings moved away from a hunter-gatherer way of life to a more agrarian one, we opened up new ways of living. Hunter-gatherers have to move with the food. When we developed agriculture, the food moved with us – to a degree. When we learned how to grow our own food, and domesticate animals, we were able to create ‘settlements’. As time went on, these settlements became popular places to meet others, form bonds, bring up children and develop new technology. Those settlements allowed us to group together and feed ourselves on the fruits of our labor; clothe ourselves from newly discovered materials that were traded between settlements; allowed specialized roles to develop, such as the potter who created vessels to store spare food in, and beautiful goods to trade with other lands. Over time, our settlements have become increasingly complex and more densely populated. Great cities have been built and great cities have fallen. We find ourselves today in a world where the city-state is ever more important. A United Nations report into city living found that in 2016, 54.5% of us were living in cities and by 2030 60% will reside in urban areas. The report also found that cities are not only increasing in population density but in numbers too. By 2030 there will be 41 ‘megacities’ with more than 10 million inhabitants.
Alongside this urban population growth we have seen an exponential rise in the use of technology. In 1993 only 0.24% of the world had Internet access, in 2016, that figure was closer to 46%. Affordable, fast, bandwidth and widespread connectivity has facilitated the growth of the Internet of Things (IoT), stimulating massive investment in design and development of consumer and industrial devices; the sensor market for IoT has grown at a CAGR of 24% to 2022. This remarkable blooming of demand for IoT tech has not, however, been all positive. In their rush to be first to market, producers have been cutting corners, especially in device security, with the result that millions of devices connected to the IoT are ripe for hacking by attackers with malicious intentions.
Other technological advances in artificial intelligence, behavioral analytics, and the era of big data, are allowing us to explore new ways of using technology for everything from improved health, more efficient agricultural and industrial processes, and more accessible education. These outcomes are seen most prominently in city zones where greater efficiencies have the greatest impact. This includes critical areas like sustainability and waste management, as well as numerous other fields, like:
Mobility: No city can tackle sustainability without engaging with transport. How people get from A to B has a massive impact on their daily lives, affecting everything from their health to where they choose to live. Transportation facilitates trade at macro and micro levels, building intra- and inter-city economies. But, it also creates pollution, costs energy, causes fatalities and injuries, and takes up land for to service the infrastructure of the transport system. Smart city transport initiatives have already included smart cars talking to toll roads to smart buses getting the workforce at their offices on time. Smart transport can improve and even save lives. In the future it will include driverless vehicles and responsive route and parking management. The City of Columbus won a smart city challenge against 77 other cities because of an ethos:
“Transportation is not just about roads, transit and ride sharing. It’s about how people access opportunity. And how they live.” – Mayor Andrew J. Ginther
Energy: A robust and sustainable city demands reliable, cost-effective, and sustainable energy. Energy is a complex issue – with technological, environmental, and humanistic considerations. However, as cities – and their citizens – become smarter, decisions around energy will become increasingly pragmatic. Clean energy, for example, will no longer be prioritized for purely environmental reasons – the sheer numbers of city dwellers and industrial interests will demand the greater sustainability offered by renewable energy production. Smart energy infrastructures are built to optimize energy use and incorporate more clean energy, balancing the environmental concerns of increasing energy needs. Further developments will include the advancement of charging station networks to supply the growing number of electric cars.
Pollution: A study commissioned by The Lancet into the impact of pollution on our health estimated that 16% of all deaths worldwide could be attributed to pollution. This is a major concern in cities. Smart cities can utilize a mix of smart transport measures, energy efficiency, and smart sensors to help to improve urban pollution. The Chicago ‘Array of Things’ was one of the first hyperconnected sensor systems to monitor city-wide levels of pollutants like carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide with a goal of feeding this information back into city-wide management measures.
Water: In a smart city, serving multiple millions of individuals, water – the lifeblood of the human congregation – must always be freely available and clean. In order for this to happen, the distribution and processing needs of the population must be understood and constantly regulated. Smart water systems and smart water treatment plants will be able to analyze the usage patterns and use these data to predict future water needs. This will link into water loss management systems that will work to reduce water wastage and flood controls, increasingly important in the age of climate change. Water treatment plants will need to be ‘smartified’ to manage the living expectations of smart city inhabitants. This will impact the water infrastructure of already existing cities, in much the same way that the Victorians revolutionized the British sewage system in the mid 19th century.
Buildings: A smart city demands smart buildings. These will no longer be independent structures – they will naturally integrate with water, energy and waste systems, but they will also connect with our devices and tech needs. They will support our wellbeing by using stored and realtime data to control our heating and lighting from a voice command, determine our dietary needs, and maintain a healthy environment.
Government: Beyond essential services like medical care, water and energy supply, waste management, the management of smart cities requires services such as verified online identity, free or affordable Internet access, and transparency of operation. This is the role of city governance. What will it take to govern the cities of the future-present, with all their environmental, social, economic and political complexity? A number of organizations, such as the interdisciplinary group at the University of Padova, are looking at the governance side of smart cities to make sure that a holistic view across connected services has frameworks in place.
Ultimately, the goal of the smart city is sustainability of resources and a better way of living on an overcrowded planet. It is a technically and emotionally challenging undertaking balancing the convergence of humans, data and things, but the results are positive: greater focus on solving problems like pollution, mobility/transportation, energy, environment, water, waste, and open government. Answers can only be found in the integration and processing of the staggering volumes of data produced in a smart city, but in sharing this data individuals and organizations unavoidably open themselves to privacy infringement.
Technology, Data, and the Smart City
We have looked at why cities are becoming smarter and what is being done to realize this ambition. But what are the enablers – the how – of this transformation? .
To say that technology is evolving exponentially has become a platitude in our times, but it is staggering to think that most of we take for granted technologically didn’t even exist 30 years ago. The first home computers only became mainstream in the 1990s. The cornerstones of the Internet weren’t invented until 1989/1990 by Tim Berners Lee. The iPhone – the smartphone that changed it all – was first launched in 2007. By 2016 the mobile market share eclipsed the humble desktop. The Internet of Things connected devices installed base has grown by more than 10 billion in just the last four years.
According to PWC there are certain technologies, that are showing ‘megatrends’ and are described as ‘breakthrough technologies’. These technologies are infiltrating all aspects of our lives:
- Artificial intelligence (AI)
- Augmented reality (AR)
- Internet of Things (IoT)
- Virtual reality (VR)
Each one of these will help in the enablement of the smart city – but none can do this without one important thing…
Data, Technology, and Us
According to IBM research, we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data per day, and 90% of the data ever created was created in the last 2 years. These are dramatic numbers, but they are mirrored by an equally dramatic growth of new technologies that utilize sensors. According to Allied Market Research, the global sensor market will be worth around $241 billion by 2022. These are the sensors behind the smart grid, smart transport, smart water, and other smart city services. These sensors are the eyes and ears of the smart city. They are where the cyber meets the physical, bringing into being the new cyber-physical world that defines smart city living.
In smart cities, every action we take produces data – the currency of smart development. From our ride to work, to the coffee we pay for on the way into the office, to the responsive air and light of our work environment, to the wearable that helps us train at lunchtime, to a relaxing end of a day in our smart home – data, data, and more data.
Our every movement, the very air we breathe, the food we eat and the water we drink, will become part of an integrated set of data-based services that run off sensor-driven technologies. Our data and that of our environment feed the smart city.
The sensors we mentioned above are part of an array of integrated technologies such as mobile computing, IoT, big data analytics, artificial intelligence, wearables, facial recognition/biometrics and consumer-facing digital identity, all producing and processing data on a continuous basis.
The data we create and that our environment generates is the basis for smarter living. The problem arises when these same data are used against us.
Examples of Smart City Technology and Applications
The Edge – sustainable building:
Even a smart city needs buildings to live and work in. Smart buildings can be thought of as a microcosm of smart industry. Sophisticated units manage and control all of the connected systems within the building – a sort of mother-ship for the smart living that lies within the building structure.
Smart buildings are going up all over the world, but a prime example is the office building of Deloitte Netherlands, known as ‘The Edge’. The Edge champions energy efficiency with solar panels, under-ground geothermal energy storage, optimal lighting and recycled rainwater. But what give The Edge the edge is its multitude of sensors that ceaselessly collect environmental data. This leads to responsive building management with just-in-time cleaning and maintenance. The privacy boundaries become blurred, however, at the point that the building collects individual behavioural data. Cars are associated with individuals in the parking lot, the whereabouts of an individual can be found at any time, even the coffee machine can potentially know who you are. Though Deloitte is actively protecting the personal data of their employees at The Edge, the privacy implications of a similar operation managed with less rigour are significant.
Rotterdam Smart Grid:
Smart grids are becoming more common internationally, offering a powerful capacity for efficient energy management. In Rotterdam, Siemens os working with city administrators and Durch energy providers to connect up 20,000 homes and companies to a smart grid by 2020. The data generated by energy consumers helps producers and managers spot patterns and trends in energy usage that can then be used to moderate and optimize energy supply.
Singapore Smart Transit and ERP:
As city populations soar in coming decades, transport will require intelligent management. Singapore are using a mix of smart policy and smart transport to help move their growing population around the city. Singapore Land Transport Authority is rolling out a new Electronic Road Pricing system (ERP) which will use smart-phone sized car-based units to inform drivers of traffic conditions and road prices. The information can be used by drivers to better plan their journeys across the congested city. The system uses satellite navigation technology and signal beacons to boost signals in places of weak coverage. However, worries over soaring costs to drivers and concerns over the surveillance capability of the ERP system are beginning to surface on social media.
Improving Smart Access:
The rise of the smart city is inextricably connected to the accessibility of high quality, high speed connectivity – free in public areas and highly affordable elsewhere. Ensuring citizens have free wifi is driving adoption of smart city tech: cities across the world are offering free wifi within city centers and improving the reliability and bandwidth capability of these networks. New methodologies in networking such as Software Defined Wide Area Network (SD-WAN) and home network partitioning are offering a solution to massive data generation and communication alongside super-fast connectivity. However, this technology seems rudimentary in comparison with the 5G networks just over the horizon. With lightning speed, almost zero latency and coverage density up to a 100 times greater than current systems, 5G spells a revolution in connection and access to the grid.
The Long and Winding Road to Smart Privacy
Across the globe, governments are pushing for their cities to become smarter. Initiatives like the Smart City Challenge from the US Dept. of Transport are encouraging city-states to address urban issues like transport and pollution with modern technologies. These initiatives are built on a backbone of data, environmental concerns and general improvements to living standards. It is inevitable and important that human society moves towards a smarter way of living. We must use intelligent ways to improve our infrastructure and its dependencies. To do this we have to share our personal information, from direct to indirect identifiers. At some point, in a not too distant future, it is likely our every moment, both awake and asleep, will be recorded. Does this matter? Do we really care?
In the next article, I’ll more examine these questions and some of the implications of a more open way of living.