Globally, smart city initiatives and developments are beginning to bear fruit. From a 15 percent reduction in traffic jams in Hangzhou, China to autonomous passenger drone trials in Dubai, UAE, ideals are becoming realities.
In Bahrain, the creation of a complete 3D model of the Kingdom will allow smart city collaborators the chance to effectively see how smart solutions will fit into the nation’s existing systems such as water, waste, and power structures.
Since 2016, the Bahrain Smart Cities Summit has been the Kingdom’s platform for academics and industry leaders to discuss smart and sustainable solutions for the cities of the future. And in 2018, the Bahrain Smart Cities Awards were established to recognize excellence in these endeavors.
Indeed, it seems the Kingdom is poised to join other smart hubs on IMB’s Smart City index, a happy development for many given the numerous advantages of smart cities but a concerning trend for others because of privacy concerns.
Benefits of Convenience and Safety
Life in a smart city promises a number of boons, both to the state, the environment, and to the citizens who live there. Interconnected systems mean convenience and ease — imagine using an app to find the closest available car park, being guided there, and paying for it from your phone, a reality in some municipalities. Or never having to take out the garbage in time for the garbage truck because pneumatic shutes suck away rubbish for that later sorting and recycling.
Safety should also be increased as smart cameras now have the ability to instantly match a passerby’s face to a database of citizens’ faces, meaning law enforcement agencies can swiftly find and apprehend any criminals who walk past. In terms of the environment, better tracking and data analysis can show cities the best way to conserve resources and limit the impact of fossil fuels, for example. Data also provides a roadmap for the best way to make the switch to renewable sources while smart systems can ensure no power is unnecessarily wasted.
Despite benefits such as the above, there are numerous privacy concerns that cities must address before switching to smart, data-driven models. Because smart cities rely on mass data to meaningfully make any changes and adjustments to existing systems, citizens’ daily lives, patterns, and habits must be tracked by sensors to garner the information needed. Perhaps the best example of this is in Singapore, where city engineers have dubbed their sensor-heavy overhaul the E3A: “Everyone, Everything, Everywhere, All the Time.” It might be the smartest city in the world, but the cost is privacy.
Ideally, the smart cities of the future will be built from a privacy-first perspective, with all information collected being depersonalized and treated en masse as opposed to segregated according to data points, or worse, sold to third parties, something that has tainted the aims of Toronto, Canada’s waterfront project. The crux of the issue is that in a smart city, there is no option to opt-in, rather, the choice is made for citizens. We can shield our online activity to a certain extent by connecting to a VPN, but in public places where our movements are tracked and fed back to online systems, we don’t have that luxury.
Will Bahrain follow a Singapore-like shift or choose to prioritize privacy from the beginning? It remains to be seen.
Brad Smith is a technology expert at TurnOnVPN, a non-profit promoting a safe and free internet for all. He writes about his dream for a free internet and unravels the horror behind big techs.