Late last month, Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs published a 1,500-page master plan to redevelop two Toronto neighborhoods into a hyper-connected, digitally-assisted utopia, complete with a dynamic modular paving system, pneumatic trash collectors and a weather mitigation system that uses a network of retractable awnings to keep public spaces dry in rainy weather.
Toronto and Alphabet are hardly alone. Around the world, cities, public advocacy groups and their private sector partners are announcing new smart initiatives on an almost daily basis, ranging from a connected parking spot-finder in the UK to an entire smart city being created from scratch in Saudi Arabia.
If you believe the hype – self-cleaning streets, seamlessly connected transportation networks, thriving centers of innovation and technology excellence – the smart city future looks pretty bright. But there is a darker side to the smart city story that raises all sorts of questions about privacy, security and social equality that have only just begun to surface.
I recently hosted a series of roundtable discussions on this topic, which brought together some of the leading minds in government, technology, telecom, legal, finance, architecture and city planning to address some of these less obvious challenges. The depth of concern about potential unintended consequences stemming from the growth of smart cities was staggering.
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