As the world becomes increasingly interconnected and dependent on technology, a new wave of intelligent applications is changing the way everyday activities are approached.

Devices like smart refrigerators, personal assistants like Alexa, or Amazon’s smart home security apps create opportunities for a more efficient life.

While Smart cities have been proposed as the future of urban planning, the question remains: how does this new technology connect with society in an “efficient” way?

The cities of the present and the future

The global Smart Cities market is expected to reach $717.2 billion by 2023, expanding at a compound annual rate from 18.4% 2018 to 2025.

Today, the smartest cities in the world are New York, Singapore and San Francisco. However, the Chinese cities of Shenzhen, Beijing and South Korea’s capital, Seoul, are vying to overcome them. And it is that, only China already has more than 500 projects related to The Smart cities, half of the global total.

One such initiative is already underway in the eastern city of Nanjing, which collaborates with the German-based SAP software company to create an intelligent traffic system.

Max Claps, who leads the company’s Future Cities team, says:

“Thanks to this collaboration, taxi and bus data (their GPS location, speed) are being collected, and along with video camera data, traffic signals, are located in a traffic control system and used to make decisions about road works , bus rerouting and traffic diversion, etc.”

As everyone knows, the main goal of Smart cities is to bring together infrastructure and technology to improve the quality of life of citizens and improve their interactions with the urban environment. However, the first step is to find out how data from areas such as public transportation, air quality meters and energy production can be effectively integrated and used.

The Internet of Things (IoT) might have some of the answers. By creating a network of objects capable of intelligent interactions, the door opens to a wide range of technological innovations.

Cities can identify both opportunities and challenges in real time, reducing costs by identifying problems before they appear and allocating resources more accurately to maximize impact.

  • Efficiency and flexibility

By investing in public spaces, smart cities can be places where people want to spend more time. The city of Barcelona has adopted smart technologies by implementing a fiber optic network throughout the city, providing free high-speed Wi-Fi that supports IoT.

By integrating intelligent water, lighting and parking management, Barcelona saved 75 million euros and created 47,000 new jobs in the smart technology sector.

  • Weather forecast:

As smart technology continues to improve and urban centers expand, the two will interconnect. For example, the UK has plans to integrate smart technology into future development and use Big Data to make better decisions to improve the country’s infrastructure, which will boom for the economy.

The potential to improve various aspects of public service systems, as well as quality of life and cost reduction, has driven Smart Cities’ demand for IoT systems.

Taking a step into the future will improve not only the way it interacts with the general environment, but also the way cities interact with their inhabitants, ensuring the best quality of life options.

Do Smart Cities have a dark side?

Despite the obvious benefits, experts warn that, around the world, citizens are unaware of the impact that smart city initiatives can have on their personal privacy.

They warn that smart technology also provides governments and their law enforcement agencies with powerful tools to monitor citizens, monitor their behavior, and take surveillance to a whole new level.

One eye-catching case is that of the city-state of Singapore, which is striving to have the first smart nation plan made up of more than 100,000 CCTV cameras on light poles, linked to facial recognition software.

The government says it is a system that will help catch offenders, people who smoke in prohibited spaces and combat other illegal activities, among other crimes.

However, this new system collides with people’s privacy and is that, increasingly, surveillance is taking place not only in public areas, but also in private spaces. For example, wireless sensors have been installed in nursing homes in Singapore to monitor movements, sleep patterns and even the use of residents in the bathroom.

Under current legislation, law enforcement agencies in Singapore are allowed access to data without seeking court approval or citizen consultation.

Currently, the city-state is partnered with the French software company Dassault Syst.mes to create Virtual Singapore, a 3D city model and platform that gathers all the data from the city in real time collected by the nation’s sensors and camera . And it will allow the government to expand any plane and scan it for information: its size, number of residents, energy consumption and more.

Until now, there had alwaysbeen talk of the “Big Brother” effect on authoritarian regimes, however, this trend is changing. Because, even in democratic countries where people have the right to protest and organize, smart technology could erode people’s ability to dissent.

True, digital technology reduces the cost of surveillance, leading to an increase in the power imbalance between individuals and corporations or the state and its all-powerful watchful eye.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to protect privacy in an interconnected world. One way to do this is to increase transparency, provide layers of consent, and establish detailed rules about data collection, access, and use. However, this framework is unlikely to become a reality in more authoritarian countries.

Concerns about smart utilities, designed to generate more accurate information, go beyond the fact of tracking the behavior of the inhabitants.

Where does the greatest danger reside?

With smart sensors and cameras that detect every move of citizens, and collect large amounts of data, what will happen if it falls into the wrong hands, or hackers hijack the smart infrastructure?

The cyberattacks of the past illustrate how vulnerable even high-tech infrastructure can be. For example, the computer systems of a nuclear plant operator in South Korea were broken in 2014. Although authorities insisted that no critical data was leaked, the incident raised security fears.

It is also worrying that most governments rely on private companies to realize their smart vision. Since, private companies are subject to strict confidentiality agreements and terms of service and use, which prevent the customer from conducting third-party penetration testing and have an idea of the real risks

Therefore, it is important to have in-house talent for drafting detailed procurement specifications and maintaining software over time. Updating systems in the future must be one of the main objectives of governments, to avoid situations similar to that experienced in Britain.

Wannacry’s cyberattack infected some 200,000 computers worldwide, including those belonging to Britain’s National Health Service trusts. According to an investigation, the incident could have been avoided if the trusts had kept the software up to date.

The hack caused the cancellation of more than 19,000 appointments, costing the NHS 20 million pounds in five days and 72 million in the subsequent cleanup and upgrade of their IT systems.

Although experts have spoken about the risks inherent in smart cities, some argue that the inhabitants have not yet firmly expressed their views on the problems, in part because of the lack of consultation when these initiatives are presented.

Conclusions

Smart cities have the ability to transform the lives of their citizens. However, there is a dark side to these smart cities that can go unnoticed.

Smart cities are leveraging modern technologies such as artificial intelligence and IoT to eliminate various urban problems. Several advanced applications show their potential to reduce traffic, energy consumption, pollution, improve safety and citizen participation.

However, along with the multiple benefits, smart cities can present several problems, such as invasion of privacy, power consumption, and poor data security. Such problems can have drastic repercussions on public welfare and negatively affect citizens’ confidence in the system.

It is therefore important that Smart cities governments, partner with trusted technology companies, and develop an effective approach to addressing associated concerns.

The necessary hardware and software must be audited frequently to maintain performance. In addition, developers have to regularly release software updates to eliminate bugs and fix security gaps.