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The Case for ... Cities That Aren't Dystopian Surveillance States

Cory Doctorow:

...why isn’t it creepy for you to know when the next bus is due, but it is creepy for the bus company to know that you’re waiting for a bus?

It all comes down to whether you are a sensor – or a thing to be sensed. In the “internet of things,” we’re promised technology that will allow us to project our will on to our surroundings, changing our lighting or unlocking our doors or adjusting our thermostats from anywhere in the world. But anyone who’s used these technologies for more than a few minutes quickly starts to suspect that they are also a thing, just another thing to be sensed and acted upon from a distance, generally by unaccountable algorithms seeking to corral us into altering our conduct to maximise returns to their manufacturers’ shareholders.

As with cities, homes were sensing and actuating long before the “internet of things” emerged. Thermostats, light switches, humidifiers, combi boilers ... our homes are stuffed full of automated tools that no one thinks to call “smart,” largely because they aren’t terrible enough to earn the appellation.

Instead, these were oriented around serving us, rather than observing or controlling us (with rare exceptions, such as electricity and gas meters, which were designed on the assumption that they were going into hostile territory and that we couldn’t be trusted not to tamper with them). In your home, you are not a thing, you are a person, and the things around you exist for your comfort and benefit, not the other way around.

Shouldn’t it be that way in our cities?

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