Editor's note: On October 8, 2013, New America's Open Technology Institute, Asset Building Program, and Markets, Enterprise and Resiliency Initiative hosted author Anthony Townsend for a conversation about his new book, Smart Cities. Watch a recording of the event here. Ariel Bogle, a program associate with Future Tense, authored the piece below, which appeared in this week's edition of the Weekly Wonk. Read it in full here.
Technology can simplify the problems of a modern metropolis — from snow plow trackers to city-wide free Wi-Fi — but in the wrong hands, our cities may become smart, but ultimately, unwise.
In 2001, India’s Karnataka state unveiled a new digital land title system. By collating their records into an online database, leaders thought they could better protect the poor and illiterate from being forced to pay bribes to village officials to secure property they had a right to. Instead, the smart system enabled a larger-scale and centralized form of corruption. Bribery continued, merely targeting officials at higher levels, and land information was suddenly available online so that investors as far away as New Jersey were able to speculate on ill-gotten land around the city of Bangalore.
To urbanist and technology expert Anthony Townsend, the author of the newly published book Smart Cities, this story demonstrates how the technological reshaping of our cities (think: urban areas saturated with sensors that gather data and harness it to streamline public transportation and catch criminals) could have unintended consequences. And it raises a question we should all be asking as our cities get more digitized: Who’s keeping all of that new data?