By Ignacio Matías Maestro , Public University of Navarra
A smart city is one that integrates society with its Government and that, through smart systems, detects needs and generates solutions, if possible, in real time. Smart cities use technology to be more sustainable and improve people’s quality of life and well-being.
There are many factors that influence a city to be called smart. For example, that it has energy saving systems that allow smart consumption, recycling, waste reduction or gas emissions; that it is committed to telemedicine or telecare or that, in transport, it has efficient traffic management, optimization of public transport routes and sustainable infrastructures.
A look to the future
It is very difficult to foresee what the technology will be like in 50 years. What has evolved in the last half century, compared to what we are going to advance in the next 50 years, if there are not many setbacks, is infinite.
We have never had so many possibilities for growth as we do now: we have so many that we don’t know where we are going to go. For the human being, living today is a gift and it will be spectacular. In 30 years, we will look back and everything will seem very strange to us. I don’t know what smart cities will look like in the future, but I do know that the cities of the future will be smart and even cognitive.
We know that in the future we will live in cities because it is the only way to preserve the rest of Nature, since, if we spread throughout the territory, we will kill what is within our reach. In the year 2050, 85% of the world’s population will live in cities, mainly because human beings are urban and we need to live together to move forward. And also, because we have to free the rest of nature from human pressure. Everyone has to have their space.
Transport is going to change so much that it is very possible that private cars cannot circulate in city centers and that public transport is the only thing that exists. Once we have control of the city’s traffic and its traffic lights, everything will be much easier and more automated. There will be no traffic jams or, if there are, they can be solved more efficiently than now. On the other hand, we do not know if there will be flying vehicles or not, but it is certain that we will have autonomous vehicles, and, if they go alone, it is very possible that they can fly.
In addition, it is clear that we will have to try to go into space, because here we no longer fit and we are collapsing the planet Earth. On the other hand, we know that there will be millions of connected objects in the world. Currently, there are already about 200 million sensors connected: in 2025 alone, it is possible that there are already a billion. There will be a lot of sensors, a lot of data, a lot of technology.
The role of data and its control
The data is essential to be able to do a good management of the city. Therefore, sensors are essential to obtain information, traffic light data, how many people are on the street, pollution, etc. The internet of things is the only way we currently have to anticipate and solve the problems of cities. Artificial intelligence, machine learning and technologies such as digital twins , edge computing or fog computing will play an essential role.
In the 21st century, data is the raw material and whoever controls it will have a lot of power. But technology is not the problem: it is the solution. The real problem is the social question.
Who can control the data we generate ourselves? It can be a city, a state or a company. If a company knows how we behave, it can try to sell its products to us. If it is a city or a state who controls us, the situation is worse, because they can direct us to try to make us think in a concrete way. In this regard, the European Union has already taken steps to ensure that the data is ours, but I cannot quite believe it. Currently, simply when we use any application, we are already transferring our information.
Society advances if it has freedom, but if we are not able to preserve it and there is a superior intelligence that controls our freedoms, we will be able to accommodate ourselves and act like “sheep.”
If the data is not ours, they will restrict our freedom. Therefore, when we build a smart city, we must try to make it a smart city with a soul, and not a shopping center-type city.
Smarter and more humane cities
A smart city created from scratch lacks a soul. A smart city has to reinforce its identity, think about the people who inhabit it, be alive and always in constant adaptation. In my opinion, it is much more important to make existing cities smarter and make them smart from their particular point of view: that is, they have their own history and intelligence, like people, and develop those aspects that each city , individually, want to boost.
There are examples of smart cities built from scratch, like Songdo in South Korea, but many people don’t want to live in them, perhaps because they are afraid of living in a city with so much technology. Perhaps they prefer to live in a less intelligent city, but more human.
In some cities in China they already control who goes on the street: they know who you are at all times. If there is an indication that a crime or robbery has been committed, they can immediately detect it and identify the culprits, which, on the other hand, generates some fear. Security is very important and with artificial intelligence, sensors and cameras, much progress can be made, but we must always bear in mind the limit of freedom.
We must make our cities smarter and more technological, yes, but also more humane.