Councils around the world are grappling with the ethical issues associated with AI as part of smart city building. And they are learning that protecting privacy is only the start.
Tom Symons, principal researcher at UK-based innovation foundation Nesta, says ethical considerations aren’t huge now – but they will advance ahead of the “frontier edge” of AI and machine learning as the focus expands from data collection and handling to how data is actually used.
“Is it reasonable and fair, is there transparency, does it reinforce existing biases?” Symons says. “Is the data being used to do something unethical?”
Nesta and several local authorities are engaged in a multi-city global experiment, Decode, looking at digital-service implementations that let citizens keep control. Leading the charge are cities like Barcelona in Spain, and Amsterdam in the Netherlands.
Francesca Bria, chief technology officer at Barcelona City Council and Decode lead, says digital tools such as smart contracts, data-commons licenses, encryption and attribute-based credentials are allowing citizens to share data on their own terms, setting specific entitlements to their own personal data dynamically on an ongoing basis.
“These are then the citizen-set rules to be enforced when data consumers access the data,” says Ms Bria. “We are going from the previous more dismissive approach to empowering citizens and understanding the value of their data.”
In the Spanish city, an e-participation platform, Decidim, lets citizens run surveys, propose ideas, and participate in budget processes and consultations. Some of the 30,000 active users were worried that Decidim would expose their political beliefs; as a result, authenticated users can remain anonymous in debates and when signing petitions.
Barcelona is also looking at enabling citizens to submit local environment data, such as information on pollution.
Identifying hot topics
In 2015, the UK’s Bristol City Council teamed up with Knowle West Media Centre and Barcelona thinktank Ideas for Change on a participatory “sensing” . . .