From Smart to Savvy: The Transition to Cognitive Cities (Part 2 of 3)

January 9, 2018


How a smart city can benefit both consumers and citizens
In our previous post, Technology alone doesn’t make a city safe or smart, we explained why becoming a safe and SMART city requires a lot more than resorting to technological solutions for meeting urban challenges. As the global population becomes ever more concentrated in cities, limited resources (like drinkable water) and existing infrastructure (like roads) will have to be more efficiently used and prudently managed.
In this blog post, we will highlight a few issues to keep in mind, issues which illustrate the limitations and responsibilities that successful smart cities must navigate when they adopt smart technologies.

Personal Data is Often the Price of “Free”

Smart city initiatives can get tricky. Amazon is able to accurately recommend other products you might want to buy because the company meticulously records and analyzes your order history and browsing behavior on its site. Facebook’s behemoth “free” social networking platform is made possible by generating revenue through advertising from the information you freely (and unknowingly) hand over to the company, including your age, gender, political views, and education level. Users benefit from the free service, and companies earn revenue from the data those users give up in exchange.
Urban residents, however, aren’t mere consumers, they are citizens. Consumers provide revenue in return for a vendor giving them the goods or services they ordered. Citizens have defined legal rights, as well as responsibilities. This is one of the key reasons why the tech transformation that has occurred in the private sector has yet to have an equal impact on city life. Their governments likewise have specified legal authority, but no overriding profit motive like Google, Apple, Microsoft, or Salesforce.
While many informed consumers may balk at the privacy they forfeit for free or enhanced web services, asking citizens to volunteer data to their government in return for safety or more convenient access to public services is often a different calculus than trusting Facebook with a very complete and quantified digital portrait.

Safeguards for a Safe and Smart City

Even though many current smart city approaches depend on what are fundamentally surveillance technologies (as we pointed out in our previous article), the current transition to smart cities can benefit not only the city government and municipal managers but also all residents – both as consumers and citizens.
For example, lower cost, better service, and quicker resolution times for services such as transit and utilities (gas, water, sewage, electricity) appeal to consumers. On the other hand, skipping waiting in line for legal forms and proceedings (transfer of title, car registration, birth certificate, voter registration, voting, etc.) appeal to citizens. Since these groups largely overlap, a smart city must provide for the needs of both.

Smart public transportation
Smart public transportation

Due to the privacy issues surrounding government collection and storage of data, all smart city initiatives must effectively convey those benefits to all stakeholders (business community, non-profits, community organizations, the general public) in a compelling way, and put in place appropriate safeguards for the protection and use of all collected data, as Europe is about to do with the GDPR.
In a smart city, a lot of data flows from residents to the government. In one of our clients, a large city that has been using a combination of Qognify’s Situation Management solution (Situator), and video management together with video analytics, every citizen can approach the authorities and ask for a video clip (useful for traffic accidents, lost wallets, and the like). The security solution is then used to retrieve the precise clip and assist in resolving the situation. Obviously, this calls for clear permission levels as for who can see the footage and what it can be used for. As an external control, citizens can vote to provide feedback to the government (e.g. throw out all the officials who approved the technology that is deemed too intrusive).
Consumers provide feedback too, most notably through voting with their wallet. Additionally, they can provide the kind of continuous feedback and interaction that’s integral to modern tech-enabled businesses and do so in a way which augments their legal power as citizens.
In our third and final post in this series, Cognitive cities: correlation and constant citizen interaction, we’ll discuss why.