SIM City or Smart City?

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?

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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


21 thoughts on “SIM City or Smart City?

  1. With the vast majority of the Western world owning a computer with access to the internet, people often interact online and often publicly through means of social media. Despite the concerns of our privacy being invaded, it doesn’t seem any more prevalent than when laptop computers and smart phones became available; two devices which have made everyday activities much more convenient, though at the cost of ‘true’ social interaction.

    Any risk or fear associated with smart cities is just an extension of concerns that have come to cultures and societies in the past. The opportunity to reinvigorate the economy, environment, healthcare and job infrastructure is likely worth the tax-payers money for the benefits it could potentially provide.

    However, the public must also be educated on these issues so that there is a larger understanding of the concept and its implementation outside of how it can benefit us as individuals i.e How will our city advance, and what can we do to help navigate this change?


  2. Already we have more and more CCTV and monitoring, i think the move towards a sim city will be slow such that it is unnoticed. Not necessarily a notion I agree with, but something I think the population will accept as part of the future. The concerns about control, privacy and security will definitely need addressing, but maybe as the technology progresses this too will improve, and legislation will be put in place to protect the population.


  3. When I was a boy we dreamed of a future of freedom and great technological advances. I am sickened to the core to learn that our lives could be hacked!!!11. There is too much technology in the world and it is regressing the age old conversation


  4. Great introduction to the topic with a clear gist of advantages and issues with smart cities.
    Many European funding agencies are pushing developments towards smart cities, we should not forget the older generation when planning.


  5. A Smart City may bring about advantages for all such as improved safety and efficiency, as said before, but I feel that this is a difficult concept to implement in this day and time. Partly due to the older generation who are more resistant to change, but also due to the the psychological effects this may have on the entire population. This extreme breach of privacy could lead to extreme changes in behaviour because we know we’re being watched so closely, and this might be seen as a good thing if behaviour changes for the better, but is this unnatural world really the world we want to live in?


  6. The idea of a sustainable, smart city is appealing but I would be reluctant to sacrifice privacy to achieve this. Anything that infringes on human rights is something ultimately I couldn’t agree to no matter what the perceived benefits are. However the rest of the benefits are hugely appealing; a case in point being some of the architecture in Singapore which is adorned with plant life both to increase biodiversity and to insulate buildings bringing down CO2 emissions.


  7. As a teacher who specialised in Computing at university I can understand and appreciate the pros for a Smart City and can also see how easy it would be for the younger generation to adapt to such a way of life. However that being said the statistic that an average British citizen is captured on CCTV cameras 70 times a day is quite a frightening realisation! Although I believe a Smart City would have an unbelievable range of benefits for our care system and justice system I do agree that the older generation potentially might not be so easily swayed.
    All in all a very interesting and thought provoking article.


  8. Despite the idea of a smart city being interesting, and advantageous in many ways if it were to work successfully, the ethical issues it raises are an alarming factor. You mention the idea of who would own the system in which people are constantly monitored and watched, lacking privacy and who would be in control of such power. Does this not lend itself towards the idea of playing God in some ways? It conjures ideas of a world heading toward one as George Orwell describes in ‘1984’, where people are micro-managed and watched by the establishment, who have the power to deem what they define as ‘safe’. Though the control of security and the workings of a smart city could be democratically run, it is unlikely that any democratic party could meet the priorities of all the needs of different classes, ethnicity, gender and race.
    I can clearly see many benefits in health care and public services if a smart city were to work, but even as someone as part of the younger generation the ethical considerations for something like this to work are significant.


  9. The growth of Smart Cities is inevitable and we continue to fuel its growth. Our daily activities such as taking photos on our smart phones (geotagging), Checking In on Facebook or using our loyalty cards at the supermarkets are all ways we record our behavior. Smart Cities sound like a world away but it’s probably closer than we think. It is going to be interesting to watch how we all evolve and adapt to this next chapter!


  10. Technology has been quickly implemented into our everyday lives from smart phones and social media to CCTV and face recognition has its advantages such as increased convenience and security, which may render the concept of Smart Cities quite appealing. Though on the other hand, a simultaneous trade-off is inevitable in regards to privacy and ironically ‘security’; who is to say the data gathered of every individual will not be used for activities which may potentially lead to adverse outcomes?

    It would not come as a shock to see an advancement of technology, which controls and dictates human behaviours and interactions in the coming years. It begs the question as to whether technological change is for the best? After all, the paradox of technology – humans making technology more human, thus making the need for human interactions obsolete.


  11. While I think the idea of a total smart city poses real ethical dilema when it comes to constant monitoring or the populace (even within homes), the idea does not have to extend this far. Instead, a modicum of privacy may still be adopted for the individual with their home, while outside their monitoring may be a result of mass monitoring as opposed to specific tracking of an individual. If this approach is adopted then I can’t see why the surveillance imparted by a smart city would be a bad thing.


  12. Besides the obvious ethical issues concerning privacy and monitoring, Smart Cities have the potential to exacerbate social divisions by restricting modern technologies and services to an elite urban community and keeping peripheral (rural, suburban, etc.) communities in a state of relative ‘backwardness’. Given that elderly people are more likely to live in these peripheral communities, they could actually lose out – rather than benefit – from the introduction of Smart Cities.


  13. The questions around privacy and security are really interesting; whilst I would support the idea of greater monitoring to catch larger number of crimes, it is uneasy knowing that your whereabouts and activities could be tracked quite easily if smart cities develop in this way, although arguably if I do nothing wrong then there is nothing wrong with me being monitored


  14. Really interesting points! Perhaps the next step is to further develop our technologies to mitigate the drawbacks before rolling them out into cities. If the data collected in smart cities was solely interpreted by computer software, it may be more readily accepted than if certain agencies had access for other means


  15. I think addressing the cyber risk in a smart city as “information theft” is really not getting to the point. Having a smart city means EVERYTHING will be connected to the internet, including what people now days refer to as IOT (internet of things) – it means not only information can be stolen – but your life style could actually be affected by a hostile third party.
    Electricity could be shut down, traffic lights can be messed with, water can be shut down and so on. In a reality where nuclear reactors were damaged by a computer worm (e.g “stuxnet”), anything could happen.
    This affects national security as well. Beforehand to hurt civilians or affect their lives you would need to be physically close. Now days – that’s not the case. Implementing a smart city puts the civilians of a country “at the front lines”, which means hostile countries could directly target them – whether it is to steal their information, damage their life style and sometimes even hurt them.


  16. Really important to get talking about this issue as we are going towards a smart city without the people who wouldn’t adapt as easily, actually being informed about it. Great article!


  17. This is a really thought provoking article. It really worries me that smart cities could be used to enable leaders to become dictators.they could effectively monitor dissenters out of opposition. Lack of funds would mean that the advantages would not be realised. For example, go the medical scenario described the few ambulances we currently have would not be able to cope.


  18. Personally, the biggest concern of Smart Cities would be the ever present risk of the data collected in the name of national security/crime prevention/health etc being misused.
    The advancement of humanity and technology does not necessarily go hand in hand, but then, who can say what the best version of humanity really is and whether humans can ever be trusted with the handling of such data. Evidently, the rate of technological advancements mean that modern society has all but decided that the advantages outweigh any risk. Act first, think later.


  19. An interesting article indeed that looks into smart cities from different perspectives. Thought provoking for sure. Definitely encourage everyone to give this article a read and to think about how smart cities could impact the way we live!


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