#14 Paving the way for smart cities

#14 Paving the way for smart cities

#14 Paving the way for smart cities


As smart city projects pick up steam across the globe and present new opportunities for technologies capable of modernizing cities, they also present new risks that should be considered.

Episode number:
Date Published:
May 7, 2020

Welcome to the Power of Digital Policy, Smart City edition.

Traditionally, a smart city is defined as an urban area that uses IoT sensors and devices to streamline resources and service delivery and manage a city or town’s assets. I think we can agree that the definition has mutated more broadly to include suburban areas, or even rural areas, that are not only using IoT sensors, electronic signals, and other digital mechanisms to collect data and improve quality of citizen lives, but provide sustainable, innovative, and inclusive economies.

When I think about the broadest use case for digital policy and how it crosses into the physical world, touching everyone and everything, my head travels to the concept of smart city. After all, smart city infrastructure is part of the connected eco-system, with devices sending and receiving data for perfect end-user connectivity. Whereas we used to only see smart cities depicted in movies, now we see China, the US, and Western Europe incorporating smart city concepts into everyday life. If you haven’t been paying a lot of attention, some of the most cited use cases include:

  • As the capital city of China, Beijing is pushing the pace of construction of a smart city by streamlining public services. A Beijing Citizen Social Service Card, a virtual card that integrates all kinds of information like identity documents, social security, health conditions, and education information. The city also touts a real-time simulation road network based on extensive data, in order to quickly identify congestion points and analyze frequent congestion points, so as to guide the urban traffic scientifically. And if that wasn’t enough, the first AI hot pot restaurant is in Beijing. The unmanned restaurant self-manages the whole lifecycle, from allocation to servicing to cleaning. How amazing is that?
  • And then there is San Francisco which has adopted a Smart City Challenge mission statement. The city seeks to create an integrated transport system that lowers car usage, increases adoption of electric vehicles, and introduces smart sensors to monitor traffic and public service usage.
  • London has created a “Smart London Board,” which has a mandate to shape London’s smart cities agenda, including investment in smart infrastructure.

And there are lots of other great things happening with smart city concepts around the world.

But as smart city projects pick up steam across the globe and present new opportunities for technologies capable of modernizing cities, they also present new risks that should be considered. The sheer establishment of data infrastructure that is essential for intelligent data processing and connectivity brings up questions. If we were to create a checklist of considerations, some of the items might include:

  • Data privacy. The sheer volume of data that is fundamental to the connected network of smart cities requires some intrusion into a citizen’s privacy. Consider areas such as traffic and crime, emergencies, social behavior, and personal movements via GPS. All of the data to make a smart city work – whether it is collected and analyzed or stored by different IoT devices, have multiple connecting points between software and physical infrastructure, and between publicly and privately owned assets. They all – actively or passively – involve private data at some point. So how do you make the determination of what to collect and how to collect, when you can’t get permission at the citizen level. And is it acceptable to sacrifice one – or many – person’s privacy in order to make life better for the broader community?
  • Security is another area of concern. And regulations around cyber data protection and security has not kept up. Personal data needs to be protected, and it is critical to know who owns the data at any given time. The question of whether valuable data is owned by the individuals to which it relates, software developers providing the channel to collect the data, an infrastructure owner, or whether it should be characterized as public data, is full of concern and few immediate answers.
  • Then there are issues of software malfunctions, property damage and personal injury. Who is liable in such an ecosystem?
  • And then of course, there are things you might want to consistently execute in smart cities to take advantage of technology to create a dynamic, more livable urban experience, reduce day-to-day pressures, improve the environment, and introduce long-term sustainable costs for a high quality of life. Those aspects of execution also need to be brought up via digital policy .

To help shape the discussion around digital policy in smart cities, or even in suburban and rural areas, this month I am happy to welcome two amazing colleagues to the podcast so stay tuned for those.

On May 14 Anthony Veri joins me for a true deep dive into smart cities in a way that only Anthony can. If you want to learn the ins and outs of smart technology, wireless network, cybersecurity, and what it takes to put together a smart city, Anthony is the person to speak with. While his experience with tech giants, SMBs and startups gives him vast knowledge of leading and future technology, Anthony also is able to explain concepts in plain speak. So mark your calendar, or better yet, just subscribe to the podcast so that you automatically get the episode and tune in for amazing insights.

On May 28: My longtime colleague and partner in crime when it comes to co-authoring for Entrepreneur magazine, Ashwin Krishnan, joins me to discuss in greater details the privacy issues concerning smart cities and what we are giving up in order to get the benefit of such cities. Ashwin is based in Northern California so he has a front row seat of the show. Have a listen to hear practical advice as well as a framework for considering digital policy issues.

Thanks for taking the time to hang out and think about digital policy today. If you’ve found this episode insightful, please give me a shout out on Twitter and share it forward.

Take care and until next time, practice good digital policy.

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