It could be a privacy advocate’s worst nightmare, but soon the city of Chicago will have lamp posts that are aware not just of its surroundings but also of the people that pass by it. However, in theory, the sensors on these posts will only be taking in environmental data and human numbers to aid the city government in urban planning and nothing else.
It does, of course, sound like a page right out of a science fiction novel or film, particular the ones that tell about the rather innocent beginnings of what would eventually be a government’s iron hand and all-seeing eye. Nonetheless, the director Urban Center for Computation and Data Charlie Catlett assures citizens and denizens that great care has been taken so that the data, at least the ones coming from humans, will be as anonymous as possible.
There isn’t really any problem with the environmental data that will be taken, which includes measuring air quality, light intensity, sound volume, heat, wind, etc, basically turning streetlights into mini weather stations. Most the apprehension will probably revolve around the other sort of data that the fixtures will be taking. The sensors will be counting people by observing cellphone traffic, which is bound to raise some red flags. While the researchers may promise to keep things anonymous, experience has told a different story, especially when bigger entities, and governments, are involved.
That said, the data coming from these sensors could indeed provide the city with valuable information. It will be able to more accurately pinpoint places of human congestion, pollution, and other factors that could help it in developing infrastructure or, as the case may arise, even demolishing old ones.
Researchers are hoping to have the first sensor up by next month, a total of eight spread around Michigan Avenue intersections. By the end of the year, they plan to have dozens more around the Loop and hundreds across half the city in the years to come. Definitely ambitious numbers, especially considering that they will most likely be delayed by objections and inquiries.