What if the Smart Cities of the Future Are Full of Bugs?

In an excerpt on Places from his new book, Smart Cities, urban forecaster Anthony Townsend considers the inevitable glitches.
October 14, 2013, 6am PDT | Places Journal
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Electric car sharing in Paris, dynamic road pricing in Singapore, nationwide smart meters in the UK. “The technology industry is asking us to rebuild the world around its vision of efficient, safe, convenient living,” writes Anthony Townsend, in an excerpt on Places from his new book, Smart Cities.

But wireless sensor networks and integrated communications systems are vulnerable to power failure and hacking, not to mention software errors. What if the smart cities of the future are chock full of bugs?

It starts when Townsend encounters a malfunctioning smart toilet in a Palo Alto cafe:

"How is it that even in the heart of Silicon Valley it’s completely acceptable for smart technology to be buggy, erratic, or totally dysfunctional? Someone probably just cured cancer in the biotechnology lab across the street and is here celebrating over lunch. Yet that same genius will press the manual flush button just as I did, and never think twice about how consistently this new world of smart technology is letting us down."

"We are weaving these technologies into our homes, our communities, even our very bodies — but even experts have become disturbingly complacent about their shortcomings. The rest of us rarely question them at all.

"I know I should stop worrying, and learn to love the smart john. But what if it’s a harbinger of bigger problems?"

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Published on Monday, October 7, 2013 in Places Journal
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