Cities around the globe are expanding. According to a United Nations report 2018 Revision of World Urbanization Prospects by 2050, 60% of the world’s population will reside in cities. This rapid urbanization has created new challenges including a lack of affordability, accessibility, and sustainability. This is forcing policymakers to consider innovative solutions to alleviate the pressures associated with high population density and a high demand for public services.
In an age of rapid technological advancement, it is not surprising that cities are turning to the Internet of Things (IoT) to provide these solutions. Cities that embed technology into their infrastructure and service delivery have been coined “smart cities”. According to McKinsey, a smart city has three layers that work together. The first layer is the technology base, the second is specific applications which translate data into alerts, insights and action, and the third is usage by cities, companies, and the public. It’s in the use of these applications and data that communities can improve the quality of life of their citizens.
According to a PwC report Future Smart Cities, the smart cities market is growing. The market is expected to exceed US$1 trillion by 2020 and US$2.5 trillion by 2025. In Canada, the federal government launched the Smart Cities Challenge in 2017, to incentivize communities to develop and implement innovative solutions to their most pressing challenges. The City of Waterloo was amongst the finalists with their proposal to “develop connected community spaces, broader education platforms and technology-based programing that supports equity, mentorship, volunteering, mental health, food security and nutrition and STEAM learning.” In Toronto, Sidewalk Labs and Waterfront Toronto are working to develop the “neighbourhood of the future” in Toronto’s Eastern Waterfront.
The emergence of smart cities presents an exciting opportunity for the engineering community. Engineers have been essential in the design and development of the smart elements that cities already exhibit today. Engineers possess the technical expertise and ingenuity to lead the smart cities transformation. However, it is essential that engineers simultaneously consider how new technologies will impact the privacy and quality of life of residents. The design and deployment of new technologies must always take into account the ethical implications of their application.
There has been a growing concern from the public and advocates of data privacy, that smart technology is highly susceptible to hacks and will affect the privacy and freedom of residents. With increasingly integrated networks this could become a security risk for citizens whose lives may depend on some of these services. There is no question that society has much to gain from technology, however innovators and policymakers must work together to protect the public interest.
What are your thoughts on the benefits versus the risks of smart technology and smart cities? Do you think engineers are equipped to integrate these ethical considerations in their designs?