Monday, January 22, 2018

#22 / On The Sidewalks Of Toronto

Sidewalk Labs is an "Alphabet Company." Its ambition is to "imagine, design, test, and build urban innovations to help cities meet their biggest challenges," and to "improve quality of life." Toronto is test case number one. 

If you would like to know more, you can read what Sidewalk Labs has to say about its efforts in Toronto. Just click this link. There are lots of pretty pictures on the Sidewalk Labs website (see above).

If you'd like a third-person (and hence a bit more critical) view, click on this link for a New York Times article by Ian Austen, who reports for The Times about Canada. Austen concludes that the cities that Sidewalk Labs is envisioning may result in an updated version of 1984. This is primarily because of the baked-in, total surveillance that Sidewalk Labs assures us is going to "improve quality of life."

Sensors inside buildings will measure such things as noise, while an array of cameras and outdoor sensors will track everything from air pollution to the movement of people and vehicles through intersections. Nothing is too prosaic to analyze: Toilets and sinks will report their water use; the garbage robots will report on trash collection. Residents and workers in the area will rely on Sidewalk-developed software to gain access to public services; the data gathered from everything will influence long-term planning and development.

Knowledge (information) is power. There is no doubt that lots of (possibly) good things can be can be accomplished if adequate information is available. Speaking to my use of "possibly," in parentheses, The Times article suggests that the Quayside development proposed for Toronto may end up allowing residents to benefit from living in what amounts to a "gated community," but without the gates: 

The data, Ms. Robinson warned, might be used to limit or discourage the otherwise legal use of public spaces by homeless people, teenagers or other groups.

Whether or not that is an improvement to "quality of life" depends on who you are. 

I am a bit leery, personally, about pretty picture schemes to eliminate social problems. As a side effect, our schemes to do that often eliminate what is most "human" about us, our erratic, unpredictable, spontaneous, discomfort-making actions and activities. 

What some people call "freedom."

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