Are smart citizens getting lost in the rush to build smart cities?

As governments and big business are diving headfirst into adopting “smart” technology, one industry expert says they have left behind a key player: smart citizens.

“It seems that if government or big business put the word ‘smart’ in front of any initiative it becomes instantaneously exciting and everyone rushes to be part of the new ‘smart’ topic,” said Robert Bond a lawyer with London-based law firm Charles Russell Speechlys. “Forget smart cities, what about smart citizens?”

Bond, who specializes in IP, technology, data protection and information security, recently observed that many experts and privacy groups are questioning how effective the push for smart cities can be if there is little investment in developing a smart citizenry.

“The citizen often has little idea as to how the technology works, why the technology is needed and what happens to their privacy in a smart environment,” he said.

“Big data” is great for smart citizens, but “big empathy” better?

Though big data can have many benefits, it is critical that “big empathy” also be introduced with these technologies. Human dignity and privacy concerns must be addressed at the beginning of any public-facing initiative rather than the end, said Bond.

“For the last few years regulators have been calling for governments, big business and technology developers to adopt privacy by design and more recently cyber risks have led the same regulators to call for security by default,” he said.

“Since data protection and safe use of technology is not part of the school curricular, there are generations of citizens that are not so smart at all.”

However smart citizens are considered in the rush to make cities “smarter,” those efforts do not appear to be going away anytime soon.

According to a recently published report by Grand View Research, the smart cities development market will hit $1.4 trillion in 2020, nearly triple the global market size of that market today

Smart city plans are pivoting from North America and Western Europe to developing nations in Asia and Africa, like China, India and Nigeria. There, the main factors driving this need are the rapidly expanding population, speedy urbanization and industrialization, where smart cities initiatives are designed and built to cater to many challenges. These include not only citizen safety and well-being, but also water management, energy management, urban mobility, and street lighting.

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