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The Future of the Future: Being smart about smart cities

This article appears in the issue October 2011, [Vol 20 Issue 9]
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Closely related are the socio-political risks that come from the creation of too many artificial constructs, resulting in a mass psychology-driven dehumanization of the populace. Throughout history, we have seen people forfeit their freedom and self-reliance in favor of the "collective." We need to think long and hard about what could happen in an environment in which every move you make is electronically monitored—from store purchases to doctor's office visits to driving habits.

The flip side of total control is the breakdown of social order, as we have seen with the emergence of smart phone-enabled "flash mobs." Worse yet, with pervasive automation, a smart city becomes increasingly vulnerable to a catastrophic failure. A single fault can have ripple effects that can bring down the entire system. A smart city can become a dark city in a matter of minutes.

Now that we've scared you half to death, there's no reason to take up residence in the nearest underground bunker. History has taught us that it's impossible to halt the inevitable march of technology. Technology can either control us or we can control it. First and foremost, that means pulling together our global brain trust and contemplating new forms of governance. The waves of social unrest we're seeing throughout the world are a clear indication that our old, legacy institutions are incompatible with a massively interconnected, complex, fast-changing world.

Even beyond governance, the notion of creating and enhancing social cohesion may very well be the essence of building a peaceful and prosperous smart city, and hopefully, society. In a follow-up article, we'll elaborate on that idea, and pass along the latest blueprints for ensuring that the transition to the city of the future occurs in a way that's creative rather than destructive.

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