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24 May 2016

Wi-Fi on every street corner, sensors that tell the dustbin men when to collect and wearable technology that improves public transport by letting them know who’s waiting and where are just a sample of things we could hope to see in a connected smart city.

Essentially as we connect more devices to the Internet – watches, smartphones, cars, buildings and even wheelie bins – we have more data at our fingertips upon which to make smarter and more efficient decisions. That in turn makes us smarter and more efficient. And in an age where technology should help us to reduce costs, that’s a good thing.

Predictions are bullish – there are literally millions of apps being accessed by billions of users, viewing trillions of things every day, and according to analyst firm Statista, we will see 3.33 billion connected ‘things’ in smart cities by 2018. Why ‘things’? Well, some of those technologies are sensors that simply pass on data – so we’re not quite there yet. Gartner predicts that roughly two thirds of devices will be consumer-owned items, and as the population grows, more data is collected and the city becomes smarter. In theory.

But what about the risks? As cities have the ability to collect reams and reams of data about their citizens, it throws up some big questions. First of all, security – the perennial question. As we automate we become vulnerable to everything from ransom ware to cyber destruction and of course, privacy. As consumers if we don’t like the terms of service of a social media platform, we simply don’t use the platform, but how do you opt out of society or stop a government collecting data about you? It’s clear there are still some big moral issues to solve along the way.

Like anything, cities will require an IoT strategy backed by not just smart technology, but smart people. Failure to see IoT as a serious way to gain municipal efficiencies as well as addressing the bigger issues may mean that our cities aren’t quite so smart for a while longer yet.

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