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Smart cities or smart people?

Blog: The city is connected to the Internet. We used to connect ourselves online with specifically dedicated devices (computers and later the mobile), but today there are virtually no limits to the things that connect us when we move around urban space. Traffic lights, cars, trash cans, mailboxes, shops. The Internet of Things is a term used to describe the increasing number of things connected to the Internet with sensors that collect and analyze data about us and our surroundings.

The Internet of Everything

There is The Internet of Things and then there is The Internet of Everything. Right now strategies for “Smart Cities” are developed across the world. Urban and shop environments optimized and streamlined through Internet connected technologies with sensors that collect and analyze data in big communication networks. Data on weather and traffic conditions, but also data about people’s behavioural patterns, etc. Current Smart City initiatives in Denmark for example couple data between institutions and individuals to find solutions to lack of parking spaces, dense traffic and garbage in the cities.

The collection, consolidation and analysis of big data is the foundation of The Internet of Things and the many new smart city and retail environments. This poses a number of challenges to the individual citizen’s privacy. Privacy and data ethics have therefore increasingly become key issues debated by example city planners, developers, decision makers and experts worldwide.

An Internet of People

It seems there are no limits to the things that are connected today. The very idea of smart cities, an ever connected environment that constantly analysises our every move to optimize every day urban life, embodies the dream of an Internet of Everything. Where do we draw the limit? “Forget the Internet of Things. We need an Internet of people “  writes the British law professor and Guardian writer Julia Powles. The Internet should not be sneaking up on us invisibly from our environment, we must be able to see it and the processes that underlie the collection of our data. We must be able to test their legality and opt out of the data collection if we want to, we must make the inner workings of the Internet of Everything visible by new design and developmental processes:

…what if we could design objects that utilised the internet in truly smart, differentiated ways, while also communicating their own function? What if we could understand this function intuitively, effortlessly? And what if these objects showed us – actually showed us, through their design features, their data flows and their legally-binding background conditions – how our information is being used, who can access it, where it is going, and why? What if, like the Pompidou Centre, the pipes of each thing were worn on the outside, arguing the case – rather than merely assuming it – for why we need to network it in the first place?”