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This is where you will live, like it or not

Is the Internet of Things future worth the loss of privacy it will bring?
Tel Aviv skyline (photo credit: Abir Sultan/Flash 90)
Tel Aviv skyline (photo credit: Abir Sultan/Flash 90)

When you look back at the predictions by great science fiction writers like Jules Verne,  you are amazed by the accuracy of some of their predictions and disappointed by the lack of implementation of others of their forecasts. We are not jetting around with personal jet packs. But with modern day communication technology, we rarely have to jet over to a location in order to have a meeting. International calls have dropped off as programs like Skype become more and more popular. And it is just a matter of time before self driving cars and programs that can read our minds are actually  commonplace.

In the following article,the author describes how the company SparkLabs is launching its version of the Internet of things in the South Korean city of Songdo Songdo is unique in that it is a smart city that has been designed from scratch to incorporates all of the high-tech infrastructure that the ultimate geek could dream of. This is by no means a small venture. Songdo has been developed on private real estate at the cost of $35 billion. One of its smart features is ubiquitous sensors that can monitor temperature, energy use, traffic flow, people movement as well as be able to navigate a user to the closest smart car charging station and bathroom.

Songdo is far from a ghost city. It presently has 35,000 residents and this number is intended to grow. While this city is intended as a giant petri dish for startups, it is only a matter of time before other cities are designed in the same fashion but with additional services like schools and other child oriented services. Imagine a child growing up in such a city and then for the first time leaving to the outside world for the purpose of graduate education. It is hard to imagine the culture shock that such a young person would undergo.

Needless to say, Songdo will incorporate advanced healthcare services. Even today, with the extremely fast growing market for personal drones, one would expect that a person experiencing chest pain in Songdo would be attended to by a robotic drone that appears within seconds of phoning in the complaint. The robotic drone would take vital signs and do a cardiogram and would most likely then give the first critical electrical shock to the patient’s chest.. By the time the humans arrive, the patient might very well have recovered.

By the way, I note above that the patient or patient’s friend would need  to call in the event. But in such an environment, constant monitors of the patient’s well-being would already identify the pending heart attack and already send the drone in order to be ready to act in case there is an acute event.

Is there any room for privacy in the city like this? With sensors scattered across every wall, every walkway, every path – how can one claim that there is any privacy. It goes without saying that banking in such a city would all be automated and use digital identification. Cash would probably not even be recognized as a legitimate form of payment

People like to separate between privacy and security that they are two sides of the same coin. Without any privacy, how can there be any security. Everyone knows what you’re doing, when you’re doing it, with whom you are doing it and so on. Conversely without any security, all of your private information is readily accessible. I have argued with security specialists as to the difference between these two. It is my impression that the primary reason that security experts argue is self preservation. If a company comes to accept that human managed security guarantees nothing more than automated security, then the entire security IT department can be fired. IT security specialists will still argue that privacy is broken but that security still holds strong. This is nothing short of a ridiculous argument. But so be it.

Cities like Songdo will most likely become commonplace within the developed world. As the price of materials and technology drop, more and more cities will be able to afford such advanced services. But at some point, the developing world will still significantly lag behind the westernized world, in terms of city design and technology access. What are the social implications of having half the world benefiting from advanced technology while the other half still lives in shantytowns. I would not suppose to provide a simple answer. I can only hope that the cost of constructing a Songdo city becomes so cheap, that it will arise just as quickly in New York as it does in Kenya.

Thanks for listening


About the Author
Dr. Nahum Kovalski received his bachelor's of science in computer science and his medical degree in Canada. He came to Israel in 1991 and married his wife of 22 years in 1992. He has 3 amazing children and has lived in Jerusalem since making Aliyah. Dr. Kovalski was with TEREM Emergency Medical Services for 21 years until June of 2014, and is now a private consultant on medicine and technology.
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