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How ‘Smart’ Is Our ‘Smart Tech’?

28 Nov 09:00 by Tom Scullion

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Many day to day items are more intelligent than ever before. We have hoovers that clean for us whilst we're out, a watch that can make phone calls and you don’t even have to be home to see who’s at your front door. According to technology experts, these devices are all actually ‘dumb items’ that are made intelligent by ‘The Internet of Things’ (IoT) (Wired). This network allows the items to share data with each other and us through this web of connections. In Britain, most people are familiar with smart home gadgets such as home speakers or energy meters that allow you to adjust your thermostat remotely. As their popularity increases, it comes as no surprise that leaders across the world are seeing the potential in making their whole city ‘smart’.

This year Eden Strategy Institute revealed its official list of the ‘Top 50 Smart City Governments’ (PR Newswire). London was at the top of the list, with improvements to the transportation system being the main point of contention. Although the cities roads are still considered one of the most congested in the world, they have created an alternative system that is considered world-class. The Heathrow Pods (which are located at Heathrow airport) are a fleet of autonomous vehicles that provide transport around the airport and surrounding hotels. They were created to reduce the emissions emitted by the ‘hopper bus’ and have successfully eradicated 100 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions (Smart City).

London has also been praised for its open door policy and constant connection with the communities that will be affected by their decisions. The ‘London Datastore’ allows every resident to access data, which gives them a greater understanding of events happening in London, whilst also giving them the opportunity to offer solutions. This links to the key insight put forward by ‘Smart City Governments’ who believe the promise of open data is a cost-efficient way to increase ‘civic engagement’ (Smart City Government).

Although it's been successful in London, why would other cities want to embrace the IoT? Poor air conditions are a major problem that could be improved by a smart city.  Pollution, as many of us know, can have hazardous effects on both human health and the health of the environment. One possible solution to tackle the issue is solar powered air pollution sensors that link to large air purifiers. They can sense changes and increase the purification as and when needed.

Air quality aside, smart cities are also using technology to get ahead of crime. In Los Angeles, the PredPol system is being used to create an algorithm that will predict when and where crime will happen and act accordingly. This response has been celebrated as it focuses on helping police officers do their jobs better rather than replacing them with a robotic alternative. Even though this idea seems unrealistic, both Beijing and Zhengzhou deployed armed robots to patrol crowded areas, with some even carrying stun guns (Standard). 

For some, the prospect of living in a smart city with robots, self-driving cars and giant air purifiers is exciting news, but for those who aren’t ready just yet, what are the implications? Most cities around the world are taking on smart technology in some way and unfortunately the smarter the city the more data it can hold on its citizens, but is that really a problem? CCTV has recorded our every move for years in exchange for the hope it will reduce crime rates. This trade of privacy for safety is one most people are willing to accept but will we ever be happy to trade our privacy for improved travel or cleaner air? This is a question that there will be mixed responses to, but it seems many countries will continue to improve their smart status, due to the belief it will provide a better quality of life.

What do you think?