Sidewalk Labs a new development on Toronto’s quay that is a collaboration project between government of Toronto and Google
Sidewalk’s vision for Quayside — as a place populated by self-driving vehicles and robotic garbage collectors, where the urban fabric is embedded with cameras and sensors capable of gleaning information from the phone in your pocket — certainly sounds Orwellian. Yet the company contends that the data gathered from fully wired urban infrastructure is needed to refine inefficient urban systems and achieve ambitious innovations like zero-emission energy grids. — washingtonpost.com
Another article zooms in on the role of governing data and creating a democratic structure. “Our mission is really to use technology to redefine urban life in the twenty-first century.”
In this article
the focus is on the governing structures and challenges and the role of the buy-in by the public.
Data collection, privacy and surveillance are at the centre of discussion around Sidewalk Toronto. Consistently, however, these discussions begin with “what will you do with my data?” rather than with “why do you need my data at all?” It’s as if surrendering data to the private sector is required. It’s not.
The discussion focuses on the role of Google here extracting and using the data in a business interest. Let’s make a bold connection to what happens in China. The highly surveillance culture and the new social crediting systems are analysed in the role it plays for a new kind of democracy in this article
In January, when Xi addressed the nation on television, the bookshelves on either side of him contained both classic titles such as Das Kapital and a few new additions, including two books about artificial intelligence: Pedro Domingos’s The Master Algorithm and Brett King’s Augmented: Life in the Smart Lane.
It made me think on the strategies from Roman times on bread and circuses. The system is designed for surveillance but it seems sometimes that the Chinese have not the biggest issue with that concept, as their wealth is increasing. However I don’t believe that completely true talking to Chinese students, there is a balancing act with having enough benefits on the one hand and knowing exactly what is possible to control people. I am not defending or hailing the system at all, it is de-humanising people.
Getting back to Sidewalk Labs and the Silicon Valley strategies. I have to think on the ideas of Elon Musk for a hyper-direct democracy in Mars. Replacing the representative democracy concept we have now with direct influence. That is in fact the same as a Chinese model, only -hopefully- with a different starting point and end state. It is the context for Sidewalk Labs.
It all does well connect to my research topic, and the Things as Citizens, one aspect of it. What are the consequences of adding the new technology to the city, and especially done by a party as Google? It is not only about making a city smart with sensors or other data cloud-connection, it is adding a new player in the city. In the Sidewalk Labs the autonomous vehicles play an important role. Who is governing those? I think that aspect is an interesting extra layer that is not yet taken into account in these discussions on data extraction and surveillance.
ThingsCon just published today a new edition of the Responsible IoT publication. I contribute with an overview on the research on Cities of Things and Things as Citizens. You can read it here
. Don’t forget the check all the other articles