If we decide to treat people as sensors, and not as things to be sensed – if we observe Kant’s injunction that humans should be “treated as an end in themselves and not as a means to something else” – then we can modify the smart city to gather information about the things and share that information with the people.
Imagine a human-centred smart city that knows everything it can about things. It knows how many seats are free on every bus, it knows how busy every road is, it knows where there are short-hire bikes available and where there are potholes. It knows how much footfall every metre of pavement receives, and which public loos are busiest.
Try imagining a mobile device that gathers data about its user, but doesn’t ever share that data with anyone, ever
What it doesn’t know is anything about individuals in the city. It knows about things, not people. All of that data is tremendously useful to the city’s planners and administrators, of course, as a way of planning and optimising services, infrastructure and future building.
Cory Doctorow discusses the idea of a smart city for people, rather than the capturing of data for the sack of surveillance.
Now, equipped with your device, you are prepared to be a sensor, rather than a thing to be sensed. As you move around your smart city, the things around you stream data about their capabilities, limitations, prices, uses and nature. Want to find a loo? Your device not only knows which ones are free, but also what time you habitually pee, and whether or not you’ve been drinking a lot of water and might need one. Want a free seat on a bus? Likewise, the device will tell you where there is one free. When you stand at a bus-stop, your presence, but not your identity, is registered, so that the transit system can adjust the vehicles and routes.