Worthwhile Reading: Excerpts from Anthony Townsend’s ‘Smart Cities’


Urban visionary and futurist Anthony Townsend is out with his new, highly provocative book, “Smart Cities: Big Data, Civic Hackers and the Quest for a New Utopia.”

Here’s his take in Salon on the Big Brotherish surveillance networks that watch us as we go about our daily routines in cities: “Your city is spying on you: From iPhones to cameras, you are being watched right now” (nothing subtle about that headline)

Two arguments he makes in the Salon essay:

“In many parts of the world, mass urban surveillance is overt and often welcomed. In recent years Chinese authorities have implemented two of the largest urban surveillance projects ever attempted.”

“Mass surveillance, designed to protect smart cities, may actually put their residents at great risk. Once assembled, stockpiles of personal data are a honeypot for criminals. Theft of personal data is now endemic and epic in scale . . .”

And here’s a link to a lengthy excerpt in Places, an interdisciplinary journal, that’s a fascinating, must-read about the often overlooked consequences of technology-laden smart cities and their potential for the sorts of bugs that sideline computers, cellphones and even ‘smart toilets’ — but on a much large scale and with far higher stakes.

In the Places Journal essay, he ponders whether a malfunctioning sensor on a toilet in Silicon Valley and a public MIT computer monitor that has succumbed to the BSOD — Blue Screen of Death — are harbingers for a new generation of cities that will be dependent on thousands of sensors to collect streams of data and complex layers of information processing to analyze it.

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