While the technology for a sentient city is already available, what's missing is the ability to connect all the different data streams to form a comprehensive picture of a city's happenings. Wilmington, N.C., however, is trying. In February, the city and surrounding New Hanover County launched a pilot that could make it the nation's first true smart city. Using cameras and sensors, the city will analyze and respond to everything from traffic congestion and fuel consumption to water quality and sewage capacity.
Unsurprisingly there are privacy concerns. While most citizens probably don't mind the idea of pole-mounted devices collecting data on rainfall or air pollution, they are likely to be less receptive to the notion of cameras or traffic sensors that follow their movements throughout a city. Those kinds of concerns are not insurmountable, but they must be dealt with, says Cleverley, who notes that Chicago adopted a policy with its vast network of cameras that individuals' faces are, by default, blurred out. Law enforcement officials must go through an approval process, akin to obtaining a warrant, if they want to look for a specific person.
In the end, the collection of sensor data isn't what's important--it's how a city uses that information. "You can deliver better outcomes for society if you think about a city as a system of systems," says Cleverley. "What these technologies do is make it easier to track these systems. What they don't do is guarantee success."