Can a city be too smart?

In this third of the “pre-launch” blogs from the Centre for a Sustainable Built Environment, KTH Professor Kristina Höök gives a short talk on how we can make better use of smart technology in cities. Kristina works in the field of human-technology interaction. She argues that, in our cities that are ever-more connected by technologies such as sensors and smart phones, these technologies need to be designed to suit to people, indeed, they need to be desirable to people, or else they run the risk of being ignored – of being “too smart”.

Kristina makes her presentation in Swedish. A summary in English follows.

English Summary

Kristina reflects that visions for technology and big data use in urban contexts haven’t materialized as planned – our fridges don’t order milk for us. She argues that this is, in part, because these visions were developed by technologists who tend to be fascinated by the potential of their tools, rather than by the needs of people. The work of Kristina and her group focuses on human needs and desires, seeking to explore how technology can respond to these. We move to cities to live more interesting lives, not simply more effective lives, and the development of cities must respond to this. Indeed, Stockholm is, by styling itself as an “attractive” city, rich in experiences and multidimensional.

Kristina introduces the audience to the “Internet of Things” and the “Cloud” that supports its functioning. These technologies mean that it is possible for people, objects and information to be connected constantly. Smart phones and other devices act as our portals into these systems. These connections make it possible to develop an entire wave of new smart solutions – solutions that are designed for people.

Kristina and her colleagues have developed a range of human smart solutions. One allows you to track your stress levels via a wrist band. Another allows you to couple nature into your city apartment so that you can see real time weather or the dynamics of other natural systems in your home. A third uses design to develop an attractive energy meter for the home – a meter that is also a ceiling lamp. As you reduce energy use in your home, the lamp opens, flowering outwards. Controlling your energy use thus becomes a pleasurable, positive experience.

Kristina and colleagues have also developed connected apps for people out in the city, for example, that allow you to trace other people’s responses to museum exhibitions. Another smart phone based app allows skiers to track their performance in real time.

Developing these connected systems requires a broad range of competences – ICT, materials, data analytics – and, vitally, insights into human behavior. KTH has the range of skills to deliver desirable, human solutions, enabled by outstanding technologies.