Headline, December 07 2019/ '' ' GOOGLE CITY SMART? ' '' : CANADA

'' ' GOOGLE CITY SMART? ' '' :


LAST WEEK, AS TORONTO BASKED IN sunny autumn weather, I visited a small blue building tucked incongruously in a wasteland of grimy warehouses and construction sites.

To the uninitiated, it might look like installation art. But it is actually a new battlefront in the ''tech wars''.

On October 31, a Canadian government agency called Waterfront Toronto gave provisional permission to Sidewalk Labs, a division of Google's parent Alphabet, to move forward with its plan for $1.3 billion ''smart city'' on the land around the building.

The decision followed months of heated debate in Toronto about whether the tech giant should be involved in urban design. The city only granted permission after Sidewalk made concessions - and the plans still require final approval next spring, after public consultation.

However, if the project passes, it will mark a watershed.

Sidewalk is trying to create one of the most advanced smart cities in the world, replete with architecture that can connect, monitor and interact with people, executives also hope to replicate this experiment elsewhere.

When I first heard about the project, I recoiled. 

Since Sidewalk unveiled its plans two years ago there have been endless controversies related to how tech giants hoover up our personal data and use it to predict and shape our behaviour.

The Cambridge Analytica was case in point. It also emerged this week that Google had been collecting millions of medical records, without notifying patients., through a partnership with a US healthcare provider. [Google says the initiative complies with federal law and includes protections for patients data.]

Tales like this make citizens reluctant grant tech companies more influence. This concern cuts across generation : my teenage daughters were horrified by Sidewalk's plans.

Yet when I walked into that blue building, I felt torn, the design for the city is elegant, shaped mostly out of timber, with many eco-friendly elements : the buildings use sensors to control rainwater collection and deploy solar panels to generate power, automatically switching off electricity devices when idle.

And many of Sidewalk's innovations sound sensible, particularly given the parlous state of so much urban infrastructure.

For example, Sidewalk wants to design pavements that are appropriately heated, via sensors, in all weathers, and traffic lights that use sensors to keep the self-driving cars and bikes moving efficiently and safely.

It is designing cafes with awnings that protect people from heat or cold and underground tunnels through which robots can deliver goods to apartments.

Of course, this convenience comes at a cost - extensive surveillance,

But those of us who live in urban environments are already subject some surveillance. Since residency in Sidewalk's city will be voluntary, its future inhabitants will presumably have made a choice about the privacy trade-off.

The question is whether public sector officials can keep the tech company in check. This is not easy, given urban planners know more about dog parks than data management.

However, the Waterfront Toronto group did force Sidewalk to scale back - from the 190-acre site the tech group lobbied to the 12 acres initially proposed. Sidewalk will also need to share any intellectual property linked to the project.

Most importantly, Sidewalk has agreed to give-up control of the data governance. Keerthana Rang of Sidewalk insists that data will be handled in ''accordance with Canadian law''.

Will all this make the project more acceptable to the public? Can digital convenience come at an acceptable privacy cost? It is still too early too-tell.

But Toronto's battle will only become more interesting now, as innovators create ever-more tantalising ideas to improve our [often shoddy] cities amid the tech-lash.

Better keep watching that little blue-building.

The Honor and Serving of the latest Global Operational Research on Cities, Technology and Future, continues. The World Students Society thanks author, Gillian Tett.

With respectful dedication to the Leaders, Students, Professors and Teachers of the world.

See Ya all prepare and register for Great Global Elections on !WOW! : wssciw.blogspot.com and Twitter - !E-WOW! - The Ecosystem 2011:

''' Haunts & Heaves '''

Good Night and God Bless

SAM Daily Times - the Voice of the Voiceless


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