Everyday we manually control the events in our lives. We try to maintain a good work-life balance, ensure we stay healthy all whilst moving towards a much greener and sustainable lifestyle. With a Smart City, these events are automatically operated for us, allowing a smooth autonomous life achieved through the synergistic combination between humans and information technology.
“A Smart City is a place where the traditional networks and services are made more efficient with the use of digital and telecommunication technologies, for the benefit of its inhabitants and businesses. This means smarter urban transport networks, upgraded water supply and waste disposal facilities, and more efficient ways to light and heat buildings”
The potential benefits that Smart Cities will bring sound inviting however, there are various issues and ethical dilemmas attached to this concept, which range from data control to privacy. The benefits will be explored in this article, followed by some issues that will be further discussed.
Interconnectivity – The safety web
Picture a city where suspicious behaviour is monitored, and potential suspects are constantly tracked; through the use of an interconnected network allowing all systems to communicate with each other ‘unexpected events’ can be detected. What if the unexpected event was someone unlawfully entering your property? Within moments, an intelligent notification system could notify the relevant parties, and a team could instantly respond to this issue. If you were at home, and you began to feel ill, you’d find yourself waiting in A&E for a few hours. Consider a world where you could receive instant personalised medical care, again through the use of an interconnected network. Not only would this be more convenient for you but it would alleviate the strain on health services and allow for patients to be prioritised instantly. Furthermore, this will be increasingly important due to the aging population of Western countries such as the UK. Through the successful implementation of smarter cities, assistance could be on hand within minutes.
Sustainability – The Greener future
With 35 million cars hitting the road on a daily basis, the introduction of effective traffic monitoring will have a huge impact. Imagine if you never had to wait more than 5 seconds at a red light again because all information regarding the traffic was being monitored and meticulous actions were being taken accordingly. This means less exhaust gasses being emitted into the environment as cars spend less time being idle. Every day more than 3.3 billion litres of treated water is lost through leaking pipes in England and Wales. This would meet the daily needs of 21.5 million people! (2) With water leakage monitoring systems this could easily be avoided. State of the art swarm technology could be deployed in the form of robots down the pipelines to detect leaks and to repair them as and when needed. It is evident that effective monitoring systems could be the long-term solution to a sustainable future.
Privacy and Security – Are we being watched?
The metropolitan police in 2011 estimated that the average British citizen is captured on CCTV 70 times a day(3), and with smart cities this figure will only increase. Visualise a life where you are constantly being monitored, would you still be able to live a normal life, or would you live in paranoia that you are being watched? The principle of utilitarianism could be used to argue that it is ethically just to improve safety by monitoring everyone. However, the prospect of being monitored has underlying human rights issues as it infringes on people’s privacy if it is misused. On top of this, personal details will be stored on the internet, which could be susceptible to hacking on a macro or micro level. Take ‘Anonymous’ for example, an online hacking group who in the last few years have been in the media threatening to hack various organisations. So, if Anonymous can do it, are we really safe?
Responsibility – Who’s in control?
There also lies the question from the general public who all live under this new, evolved and fully technological city. Who actually owns this system and the information it holds? Furthermore, this development will require expensive infrastructures that you will most likely have to pay for. Another issue with the concept of smart cities is the ability for everyone to adapt to the idea. With European countries containing an aging population it is likely that the older generations are more reluctant to change and may not necessarily want it as they cannot see the benefits. It is likely that the older generation will not be able to adapt to this change as smoothly as the younger generations would; therefore, Kant’s theory would render this as unethical as this development would not benefit all the parties equally.
The implementation has potential to enhance the standard of living, however, it also raises ethical dilemmas. Even though the more frequent monitoring of the public has the potential to improve safety, does the chance that a robbery will be stopped or preventing a terrorist attack outweigh the constant breach of privacy? However, with an exponentially growing population and increasing expectation of both living standards and services, can these demands and expectations be truly fulfilled with the existing infrastructure? The Smart City concept is growing in popularity, Manchester, Amsterdam and Singapore form part of an ever growing list of cities, and it may become a reality sooner than we think. So…
Are you ready for a smart city?
Group 27: David Choo, Jia Ling Kam, Khoa Nguyem, Rui Zhou