The smart city is perhaps the ultimate example of data driven technology improving people’s daily lives. But let’s remember that the whole point of the Internet is that it gives everyone an equal opportunity, so we need smart technology benefits to help people wherever they live.
It isn’t exactly clear what counts as a smart city. It’s something of a self-determined label and is generally taken to mean a city whose planners and management make a particular effort to incorporate technology to improve the city. It’s not a case of providing technology in its own right, such as offering computers for public use in libraries or launching free city centre Wi-Fi, but rather harnessing data for making more informed decisions about other city functions.
One example is in Barcelona, where a trial project involves putting tiny, low-cost sensors into rubbish bins. The sensors measure how full they are and passing rubbish trucks on a round only stop at a location if the sensor suggests the bin will need filling before the next scheduled visit, thus making the rounds more efficient.
The idea is certainly booming, with the European Union partnering in 2014 with 370 smart city projects across 31 countries. Perhaps appropriately with technology being “neutral”, there’s little dogma about who runs such programs: local councils, universities and businesses are all playing their part.
One big problem is that such technologies often work better on a large scale, and even when that isn’t the case it may only be financially viable to trial them with large city infrastructures. That may mean smaller towns and villages get left behind, further widening the digital divide and making a mockery of the idea that technology means it no longer matters where you work or live.
For that reason, it’s a smart idea to do more work to share smart city ideas, technology and even resources to make sure everyone benefits from smart technology.