Edge computing and Internet of Things (IoT) may finally develop into more than tech-talk bingo as cities confront threats like the coronavirus.
The Chinese government collects massive amounts of data on citizens and has been using it to combat COVID-19. The weapons at hand are a practically a bingo-board of buzzwords: Facial recognition, drones, machine learning, edge computing and IoT.
Life under containment in China works something like this. Everyone’s given a code (red, yellow or green) that determines how likely they are to have the virus. If you can leave your apartment complex during the lockdown, a face scan opens the gate. As you walk down the street, 200 million CCTVs capture images and feed them into a central database, analyzed with machine learning.
Basically, if you’re in sight of a camera — and you probably are — it’s likely the government knows where you are and who you’re interacting with. Buy candy at the corner store with your smartphone and WeChat, and they have that information, too.
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If you get sick, all of this intel streams into the healthcare system to analyze the risk of infection in a sort of six degrees of pandemic. These same tech tools also lend a hand to police. Go outside without your face mask or rustle up a card game with some buddies? A loudspeaker hovering over you from a drone herds you back inside.
We’ll leave aside concerns about privacy, for the most part, except to echo author Yuval Noah Harari in affirming that we must “choose to protect our health and stop the coronavirus epidemic not by instituting totalitarian surveillance regimes, but by empowering citizens.” Think less about being tracked (a few interesting solutions employ Bluetooth) but more about owning your own data and using it to hold the government accountable for its decisions.Edge computing and Internet of Things (IoT) may finally develop into more than tech-talk bingo as cities confront threats like the coronavirus. Click To Tweet
Dystopian sci-fi plots aside, China showed the world what edge computing and IoT computing can accomplish when deployed at scale.
While the idea of a city where tech makes life better or safer for residents has been around for almost a generation, overall improvements (thanks to these initiatives) have been few, with “smart” becoming code for terrible.
Most smart city projects make gee-whiz promises about things like better parking, optimized streetlamps and tourist information but the results have been ho-hum: Three-quarters of IoT projects flop after proof-of-concept.
These days, people are also less sure that these projects will make their lives better. In early March, even the normally placid Canadians led a successful revolt against Google’s ambitious smart city project near Toronto. Underwhelmed by the prospect of bike paths that melted snow and optimized traffic lights in exchange for their personal data, they forced the tech behemoth to scale back the project and are still trying to kill it.
The concept may be easier to push forward in a crisis. After Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans desperately needed better data management to rebuild. The local government moved quickly to update and maintain property databases more while crowdsourcing with locals to launch an open data movement that monitors public safety and crime.
Until December 2019, projects around smart cities and the data managed for them were a little more than pie in the sky experiments. January 2020 pandemic has shown us all how data can make cities safer and healthier. Or scarier.
In any case, now’s the time to make investments in infrastructure, data management and storage that will make cities truly safe and smart.