Social and ethical implications of smart
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Michelle Cullen IBM Corporate Marketing and Communications, PhD Candidate June 12, 2014. Social and Ethical Implications of ‘Smart’. To enhance urban environments, local governments are increasingly turning to ‘smart’ technology projects.

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Social and Ethical Implications of ‘Smart’

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Social and ethical implications of smart

Michelle Cullen

IBM Corporate Marketing and Communications, PhD Candidate

June 12, 2014

Social and Ethical Implications of ‘Smart’


Social and ethical implications of smart

To enhance urban environments, local governments are increasingly turning to ‘smart’ technology projects

  • A ‘smart’ project refers to the merging of ICTwith physical infrastructuresystems (e.g. roads, grid, water) and natural systems (e.g. waterways, weather) to create an ‘intelligent’ infrastructure within urban environments

  • Smart projects are typically designed to help:

    • Improve city systems efficiency

    • Promote sustainability

    • Encourage citizen engagement / participation

    • Boost city brand / attract resources

  • Smart project returns tend to show gains in operational efficiencies… but what are the potential social and ethical implications that should be considered with design and implementation?


Social and ethical implications of smart

Case Study 1 Empowering consumers to promote sustainability

Smarter Water Pilot Study, Dubuque, Iowa

  • IBM and the local government partnered to create a household water portal to support city sustainability goals. During the 3 month pilot:

    • Consumers could see visualizations of their water consumption patterns

    • Games and comparative rankings were used to encourage behavior change

    • Awareness of water usage improved

    • Utilization decreased 6.6% and leak detection and response increased eightfold

“The overarching idea is that if you give citizens tools to find the inefficiencies in their lives, they’ll tighten the screws themselves.”

Clay Dillow 2011


Social and ethical implications of smart

Empowering citizens in smart projects often translates into citizens taking on partial responsibility for project ‘success’

  • Government responsibilities are increasingly being pushed downto citizens

  • Government focus is progressively on enabling, inspiring and assisting citizens to take responsibility for social problems in their communities

"Yes, the progress of technology is accelerating. Yes, the consciousness of key professions and institutions has been raised. But the crucial change—the one that will have a truly transformative impact—is activating the consumer.”

Samuel J. Palmisano, former CEO, IBM, 2010


Citizen behavior is nudged through smart technology design by local government and tech providers

Citizen behavior is nudged through smart technology design by local government and tech providers

  • Behavior is nudged through smart technology design by using:

    • Visual communication

      • Enhances comprehension

      • Creates a shared view

      • Aligns people on needed actions

      • Enables quick review of vast quantities of data

    • Consumer behavior techniques

      • Incentive systems

      • Descriptive norms

      • Ego motivators

Dubuque Smarter Water Pilot Portal


Social and ethical implications of smart

Case Study 2Understanding connections between city systems

Systems Thinking Tool, Portland, Oregon

  • IBM and the local government partnered to develop a new approach to city planning that looked across city systems all at once and over time. The simulation model:

    • Examined relationships across core city systems, such as the economy, housing, education, public safety, transportation, healthcare and utilities

    • Allowed city planners to see how city systems interact with and affect each other, helping to inform long-range planning

    • Enabled city officials to create “what if” scenarios

“By overcoming silos in the way we think, we are able to better visualize how our city systems work together and develop policies that achieve multiple objectives to help realize the full potential of our city.”

Joe Zehnder, Chief Planner for the City of Portland


Social and ethical implications of smart

Resource allocation within cities is increasingly being based on evidence-based decision making

  • Governments are changing the way they make decisions – data is increasingly weighted with social and political factors

  • City systems datagrows exponentially; it is assumed that governments know how to make sense of this data.Yet data constraints remain:

    • Correlation

    • Human understanding

    • Provenance

    • Privacy

  • “Technology of any kind is never neutral; it has the potential and capacity to be used socially and politically for quite different purposes.”

  • Raymond Williams 1983


Social and ethical implications of smart

Processes associated with smart projects encourage networked governance, with an emphasis on the private sector

  • Over 75 Portland urban experts across city systems convened to inform the model and its interconnection points; resulting in new connections across silos

  • Session facilitation methods were adopted by various government departments in their own endeavors to build constituencies

  • IT providers played a key role in shaping the project, with entrepreneurialism influencing approach

  • The process of implementing a smart project is an important as the end product

“In a world of increasingly interdependent systems, the wild west of competition needs to be complemented and tempered by far more collaboration across old boundaries: across academic disciplines, industries, nations; and, yes, even amongst some of our most fierce competitors.”

Samuel J. Palmisano, former CEO, IBM 2011


Social and ethical implications of smart

And, as smart city solutions become more prominent, other potential social and ethical considerations emerge…

  • Unequal access or exclusion to services and infrastructure

  • Renegotiation of citizen-local government relationship

  • Expectations

    • Higher citizens expectations for local government

    • Responsibilization of citizens

  • Costs

  • Appropriateness

  • Privacy

  • Security

“Social biases have always been designed into urban infrastructure systems, whether intentionally or unintentionally.”

Graham and Marvin 2001

Photo Rob van Kessel, Environmental Graffiti


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