Although Smart Cities and Territories will significantly improve the quality of life of the people who inhabit planet Earth in the coming years and decades, simplifying, automating and making many aspects of human life sustainable, behind their implementation lies a significant amount of risks that must be properly prevented to prevent Smartcities from becoming Boomerangs that play against our civilization.
What are the main risks in the implementation of Smarticites?
By: Gabriel E. Levy B.
Smart Territories, including of course cities, refer to a complex interconnected system of technologies and socio-cultural developments, which allow to manage all relevant aspects of the functioning of contemporary human life, incorporating advances in the field of digitalization and Artificial Intelligence, substantially improving everyday aspects such as health, educational, cultural, environmental, mobility, construction and security systems, promoting the efficient use of energy resources, ensuring accessibility of public spaces and promoting mechanisms for citizen participation, placing in all cases the human being at the center of its development model.
“A smart city detects the needs of its inhabitants, and reacts to these demands by transforming citizens’ interactions with systems and public service elements into knowledge. Thus, the city bases its actions and management on this knowledge, ideally in real time, or even in anticipation of what might happen”, Juan Murillo, Head of Territorial Analysis at BBVA Data & Analytics .
But although from the territorial, academic, urban and social planning, smart territories seek to raise the quality of life of the inhabitants, there is, as in all human development, an implicit risk, which if not anticipated, prevented and mitigated efficiently, could play against, If this happens in the early stages of the implementation of Smart Territories, it could generate more setbacks than progress in this field, so it is necessary that all the agents that make up the value chain of digital transformation in the territories, have full knowledge of the risks and articulate properly in their mitigation.
Taking into account that Smartcities and Smart Territories models are based on the principles of Digital Transformation, which by default inherit all the risks present in the network, that is to say that the current vulnerabilities in computer systems are the same that we will have when implementing smart cities and territories.
In recent years as connectivity increases around the world and more aspects of human life go online, cyber attacks have increased proportionately, ranging from information theft, kidnapping and extortion, to money laundering, arms trafficking, drugs and the consolidation of digital organized crime.
In 2018, the city of Atlanta, in the state of Georgia, in the United States, was the victim of one of the most aggressive computer offensives that the world has witnessed so far, it was the kidnapping of all the sensitive information of the city through a software called Ransomware SamSam, which using the methodology of “Brute Force”, accessed the servers of the city and encrypted (Encrypted) the sensitive information of the public administration, and then demanded ransom for the same  .
In mid-2021, another group of hackers used ransomware to hijack one of the most important oil pipelines in the United States, which left some states without gasoline for several days, forcing its owners to pay a million-dollar ransom  .
These two episodes alone highlight how an intelligent development, which serves to automate many aspects of human daily life, in one of the most developed countries in the world, can fall into the hands of cybercriminals and become an unprecedented risk or threat.
Cybercriminals have shown that any target is susceptible to attack, from the transportation infrastructure of cities to clinics and hospitals where hundreds of people can die.
All of the above requires that future developments and implementations in smart cities contain a solid and robust cybersecurity strategy that guarantees the lowest possible level of risk.
For their part, governments must ensure that Digital Transformation implementations are accompanied by a robust IT risk analysis and include a monitoring, prevention, reaction and contingency plan to try to prevent the penetration of the integrity of IT systems.
The second major risk factor, and no less important than the previous one, is that of privacy, given that many of the implicit developments in smart cities include biometric and human recognition systems, the dream of omnipresent control of all forms of totalitarian government could be consolidated, giving way to true states of control, in the best style of the big brother of Orwell’s novel 1984.
The massification of facial and auditory recognition systems, which are already available around the world, which incorporate AI technologies, could track all public and private activities of citizens, which although it is very suitable for crime control, is in turn very dangerous when it comes for example to private life, documenting the places a person frequents, the people you meet, the food you eat, among many other aspects that could easily be used to persecute political or ideological opponents of a particular government and that would aim to keep the population under control.
As we have analyzed in previous articles, clear rules of the game for the implementation of this type of technology are urgently needed.
For the Spanish expert Moisés Barrio, there is an urgent need for regulation on Artificial Intelligence, because for now the states have left the issue in the hands of individuals and with all the known history in this area, there has not been sufficient intervention and regulation, leaving many aspects adrift.
“It is not entirely clear who should be held liable if AI causes harm (e.g., in an accident with an autonomous car or by an incorrect application of an algorithm): the original designer, the manufacturer, the owner, the user, or even the AI itself. If we apply case-by-case solutions, we risk uncertainty and confusion. The lack of regulation also increases the likelihood of knee-jerk reactions, instinctive or even fueled by public anger.” Moisés Barrio in Retina of Ell País of Spain .
For Barrio, the risks of AI are multiple and its wide variety of possible applications generate an equal number of possible risks:
“AI systems already have the ability to make difficult decisions that until now have been based on human intuition or laws and court practices. Such decisions range from matters of life and death, such as the use of autonomous killer robots in armies, to matters of economic and social importance, such as how to avoid algorithmic bias when artificial intelligence decides for example whether to award a scholarship to a student or when to parole a prisoner. If a human were to make these decisions, it would always be subject to a legal or ethical rule. There are no such rules in the AI present.” Moisés Barrio in Retina of Ell País of Spain .
The biggest problem regarding Biometric Artificial Intelligence systems is that their implementation has already become widespread in many countries, especially in the first world, without adequate regulation, so we are witnessing a very high risk factor, which has not been adequately mitigated by legislators.
Digital Divide of Territories
The third major risk factor present in the implementation of Smart Territories is a factor that we have analyzed many times in the past and that is not at all less important, it is the Digital Divide, which refers to the existing distance, in this case, between places, regions, cities or territories that advance rapidly in the implementation of the Digital Transformation and those that for mainly economic reasons do not, generating a new type of discrimination, because while in some cities the quality of life will rise significantly on account of Big Data, the Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence and connectivity, in other territories, especially rural and developing countries, the technological lag will amplify the very significant differences between urban and rural areas, magnifying the spiral of poverty, functional and digital illiteracy, social backwardness, lack of employment, education and limited access to health systems, which ultimately ends impact on new social, economic and even warlike conflicts.
In conclusion, although Smart Territories are a route with great benefits for the improvement of the quality of life of human beings, there are three major associated risks that, if not addressed in time, could end up affecting its implementation or playing against it as a boomerang effect.
The agents responsible for the development and implementation of digital transformation strategies in the territories must assertively address the multiple risk factors, whether manufacturers and those responsible for technological implementation that must ensure that computer systems are robust to block any cyberattack, or legislators working on new regulations that guarantee the civil rights of citizens, especially privacy, or national governments, which promote public policies that promote a symmetrical implementation of digital transformation in all territories, avoiding the increase of the already worrying digital divide.