Chicago's Internet of Things
The residents of this Chicago neighborhood will be some of the first to experience the Internet of Things (IoT), but are we ready?
Want to fight crime? Just grab a drone!
Residents of the Chatham neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago are tired of these meetings. They’re tired of seeing their brothers, sisters, sons, and daughters being killed every single day in this city. I’ll leave my rant on that for another day, but if you’ve followed my work for some time now, you know my thoughts on the issues that some of my fellow Chicagoans have been dealing with for decades. I’ve always appreciated leaders who, at the very least, will speak with their constituents about how to solve the problems within their own communities. What I’ve never been a fan of, however, are crime prevention strategies that involve Google, Microsoft, or anything related to drone-surveillance technology. Yes, I realize at face-value, none of the things I’ve listed are inherently bad. It’s just the people running these companies and technologies that I don’t trust — hopefully that clears things up a bit.
“MySkaut, a private Chicago-based “aerial security” company, would provide the service, which could also potentially be funded by the creation of an additional tax for residents of his [Alderman Sawyer] ward who’d benefit from the service.”
Things have gotten so bad in some parts of Chicago that residents, like Josephine Wade, are at a tipping point of desperation — so much so that a dystopian world where drones could fight crime sounds like a reasonable approach. From her perspective, I can imagine it feels like there aren’t human beings who can stop the madness within these communities, and I empathize with her pain. What I cannot get on board with, however, is Alderman Sawyer’s perspective on the matter, considering this is his ward. Again, I’ll save my rants on this issue for another day, but imagine for one moment: your living conditions right outside of your home are so bad that leadership is suggesting the use of drones to fight crime. Not only is most of the crime in Chatham gang-related, it’s also an increasingly complex set of interpersonal values and concepts that neither a drone nor its’ remote operator could ever understand without witnessing or experiencing firsthand.
“MySkaut is a platform that gives residents control of drone assisted public safety (DAPS) in personal, public, and community settings. We will deliver an example of the platform in our Chicago pilot.
While seemingly “harmless” on the surface, MySkaut isn’t exactly a locally-focused project in the long-run. “MySkaut originated in the Colony 5 Chicago civic tech apps competition in 2017…MySkaut is normalizing commercial low altitude airspace services by making UAV capabilities routinely accessible and affordable to businesses and consumers. The service enhances security options in communities as well as serves as a workforce multiplier.
Marketing itself as a product that provides “peace of mind,” the initial impression one might get from this website is that it’s a small, locally-focused start-up developed by a local resident who wanted to help the city improve living conditions for residents living in chronically-impoverished and violent neighborhoods. The company, as of last week, had none of the services updated to their site, so it’s only been within the last few days that they added specific services they plan to sell. However, after investigating further — the funding behind MySkaut comes from a communications corporation by the name of XtraMedium.
“MySkaut Mobility is operated and underwritten by XtraMedium Communications Inc, an Illinois corporation. Founded in 2002, our company has developed innovation, civic tech awareness campaigns and community training programs across South and West sides of Chicago.”
The description then ends with a list of “generous supporters (aka financial backers) including:
Microsoft, Google, US Census Bureau, Viacom, Oracle, Center for Neighborhood Technology, IIT, University of Chicago, Northwestern University, TechNexus, City of Chicago Mayor’s Office, and the City of Chicago Dept. of Innovation and Technology — among many others.
Quite a hefty list for a community-based strategy, right? Again — this might seem confusing with the connections - but hang in there with me as I go further into why this may be cause for concern — as well as a perspective into what cities might look like in the future, depending on the results of this test case. One might ask - what would all of these companies have to do with a small company operating in Chicago?
Upon first glance, you wouldn’t assume that a small company such as XtraMedium has the backing of giants like Google and Microsoft — but upon further examination, it’s clear how these companies tie into the projects that XtraMedium seeks to roll out in very intentional and specific communities within the city of Chicago.
The company explicitly states that it plans to operate (and, in many cases, already is operating) within distressed communities around the city of Chicago. Citing Covid-19 as a catalyst to implement this particular boost in implementing various technology strategies throughout economically distressed cities, it’s clear that fighting crime and improving business within these neighborhoods might just be a front for something far more expansive. While Chicago has been a testing ground for various smart city technology since the days of Rahm Emanuel — this brings an entirely new aspect to the technology projects we’re seeing pop up in almost every major city around the country. Citing specific opportunities for XtraMedium, the website states that it will synthesize smart city intelligence to benefit economically distressed communities, which will ultimately serve as a model for other cities as they roll out their own versions of these smart cities.
“Our outcomes will illustrate how a mini smart city leverages internet connected things, through a combination of tech, policy, and access to make a once distressed community thrive, livable, and technologically immune to disruptive episodes of capital destruction.”
“Aggressive and creative use of IoT (Internet of Things) will enable retail, hospitality, travel, live entertainment, and professional sports industries to recover and thrive.” Citing the “Array of Opportunity” (in coordination with the “Array of Things” in Chicago — this program will essentially help in fast-tracking the “smart city” features that you’ve been learning about over the last few years. Why these neighborhoods? “By 2022, most small businesses will be operating across common neural networks between the corporations that lend their technological capabilities to these businesses and ordinary individuals through a network of apps.” The Array of Opportunity, then, is really just a repackaged version of how The Great Reset and the Internet of Things will be rolled out specifically in Chicago. True to form, the city of Chicago chose neighborhoods that have been economically-distressed for decades—including the Array of Opportunity (an extension of the Array of Things) — “a quadruple-helix collaboration for local and expanding entrepreneurs, municipal leaders, industry, and academia to identify research questions and commercial solutions comprising urban sensing, IoT devices, and other next wave innovations.”
What is the “Array of Things?”
Launched in 2016 and promoted as a “fitness tracker” for the city of Chicago, the Array of Things is an “urban sensing project” funded by the University of Chicago, Argonne National Laboratory, and the City of Chicago, “to better understand and improve cities.” The University of Chicago received $3.1M from the National Science Foundation for the AoT project, according to the AoT website — a curious investment at first glance. While the program is cloaked in overly-complex technical language — the general idea for this project was and is to test out various programs between “nodes” or sensors set up around the city in various locations to monitor traffic, movement, temperature, general safety. This data is then sent to a centralized location hosted by the City of Chicago. While it’s clear the city itself doesn’t have the capacity to understand this data they’ve been collecting—it’s clear that the Array of Things is a precursor to what’s ahead for the rest of us. The Array of Things serves as model for deployment of citywide sensor networks — partnering with research institutions and corporations.
Will the “nodes” be monitoring individuals?
One of the aspects of this project that stuck out to me the most concerns the eventual rollout of the IoT via automated vehicles. It’s becoming clear that many of these neighborhoods will serve as modern-day transportation hubs via the IoT. While we know the specifics of this project most certainly do include individuals — the Array of Things actually isn’t designed to monitor people—at least not in the way one would typically think. In fact, “the technology and policy have been designed to specifically avoid any potential collection of data about individuals, so privacy protection is built into the design of the sensors and into the operating policies.”
The Internet of Things
Finally — we reach the mysterious “Internet of Things (IoT).” You’ve likely heard of this in one way or another — but we’ve reached the point where you’ll likely notice technologies coming out that will be designed to operate on the IoT. Essentially, the IoT will serve as its’ own network where, quite literally, “things” will be operating in a cloud/network that’s entirely its’ own. Devices operating on this network/grid — everything from automated vehicles and unmanned drones to wearable technology and sensors — will all be operating within this space.
The IoT brings “formerly inert objects into the dynamic world of information technology. It encompasses a range of technologies, from sensors that monitor environmental conditions to RFID tags that can allow users to interact with objects. In the world of IoT, everything produces data that can be gathered and analyzed. Once-passive objects become dynamic, capable of conducting remote updates and on-the-fly improvements. Fundamentally, IoT means a shift from reactive to proactive systems; from delayed problem management to automatic sense-and-respond capabilities.”
“Cities are expected to spend $41 trillion on IoT technologies in the next 20 years. In the pursuit of smarter, more responsive city services, local governments have partnered with startups and major technology companies to begin experimenting with IoT across all dimensions of urban life.
The “adoption of IoT technologies is a key component in Chicago’s effort to become the most digitally connected city in the world.” As the city continues to deploy sensors in everything from water and waste systems to streetlights, this public-private partnership will determine how well these systems will work in smart cities as they continue to develop in the United States.
Smart energy grids, environmental conditions, water and waste management, public transit and vehicle-to-vehicle management will all operate on the IoT in the semi-near future.
Harvard’s “Data-Smart City Solutions” elaborates on the issue — focusing on vehicle-to-vehicle communication. “The US Department of Transportation is testing the uses of vehicle-to-vehicle communication, enabling cars to sense and respond to possible risks on the road. Cities are also connecting to drivers within their cars…pushing alerts when the light changes from red to green to discourage distraction while driving.”
Tying It All Together
Because neighborhoods like Chatham are economically-distressed zones, the City of Chicago has effectively become the model testing ground for all things IoT. Through public-private partnerships, these businesses and organizations are testing out various technologies, including a network of sensors that will ultimately provide a framework for “crime-fighting drones,” like those mentioned at the beginning of this article, to operate entirely on their own. While the services offered currently require a human to operate and determine where to “fight” or “prevent” crime — the goal, ultimately, will be for these vehicles to operate autonomously without any human interaction. These test cases are providing data to companies like Microsoft and Google — two of the largest and most powerful corporations in the world.
Economically distressed communities have been used as testing grounds for various city planning projects for decades. Unfortunately, the citizens living within these neighborhoods are all too familiar with the various projects that are cloaked under the guise of operating in good faith—but the outcome usually benefits people living outside the community.
The saddest part of all is that most of the people behind these projects have aspirations far greater than improving the lives of Chicagoans. They’re funded by billion-dollar corporations who seek to dominate the technocratic state we’ve found ourselves in. Imagine growing up in a neighborhood where shootings are the norm. You have outside businesses coming in to try out various “crime reduction” programs designed to prevent crime from happening—all while the neighborhood itself becomes a dystopian-like testing ground for technology designed to operate on the Internet of Things. While the initial rollout will involve humans on an interactive level, the end goal seeks to allow these various technologies to operate entirely without human interaction. What does that mean for everyday people?