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Smart cities: Mind the gaps

Recent research on technology and smart cities has highlighted a number of divides – such as a potential gap in how the tech industry and consumers view smart cities, and a disconnect between how citizens think about technology for individual use versus its impact for society as a whole.


People often tell me that discussions about the benefits of smart cities are old-hat – everyone is agreed on that, they say; we need to move on to the tough job of implementation. While the tech industry may be sold on the advantages, citizens, it seems, may not be yet.

The impact gap


New research from Vrge Strategies found that while the vast majority of 1,040 American consumers surveyed said that smartphones and internet technology have improved their lives, they also have significant concerns about technology’s impact on society as a whole, especially in relation to data security, the growing gap between rich and poor, and job opportunities.

A worrying 66 per cent said they would not want to live in a smart city (they were asked: Would you want to live in a smart city where nearly every object is connected to the Internet and gathering data and intelligence to better manage the daily activities of a municipality from security to traffic control?).

Separate research from Internet of Things (IoT) accelerator, Infiniti Lab finds that although 59 per cent of Canadian millennials reckon that a smart city would improve their quality of life, this falls to 33 per cent for Gen Xers and 29 per cent for Baby Boomers.

The awareness gap

A new report from the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) highlights that public bodies are experimenting with the use of technologies such as machine learning to make decisions in key areas that have a major impact on society, such as planning and managing new infrastructure, rating the performance of schools and hospitals, deploying policing resources and minimising the risk of re-offending.

RSA’s research finds that only 32 percent of people are aware that AI is being used for decision-making in general, and this drops to 14 percent and nine percent respectively when it comes to awareness of the use of automated decision systems in the workplace and in the criminal justice system.

The survey reveals that on the whole, people aren’t supportive of the idea of using AI for decision-making, and they feel especially strongly about the use of automated decision systems in the workplace and in the criminal justice system (60 percent of people oppose or strongly oppose its use in these areas).

The trust gap

The Vrg report notes that: “The trust gap is a threat to the future of the entire [tech] industry,” especially in “trust- critical” areas such as smart cities and digital health.

The opportunities – and urgency – are clear for city leaders and tech companies to work together to communicate better with citizens around smart city technology and its individual and wider benefits.

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