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Why Smart Cities Will Have to Get a Lot Smarter

July 20, 2017, 10:04 PM UTC
The Empire State Building and lower Manh
The Empire State Building and lower Manhattan can be seen from the 90th story of One World Trade Center in New York, April 30, 2012. New York's skyline got a new king April 30, 2012 after the still unfinished World Trade Center tower, built to replace the destroyed Twin Towers, crept above the venerable Empire State Building. AFP PHOTO / Pool / Lucas JACKSON (Photo credit should read LUCAS JACKSON/AFP/GettyImages)
Photo by AFP—Getty Images

In the future, smart cities will likely bring about many benefits, like less pollution and more efficient transportation systems. But they could also bring about many unintended consequences, according to a panel of speakers at Fortune’s recent Brainstorm Tech conference in Aspen, Colo.

The group of experts from energy, transportation, government, finance, and other sectors gathered to debate the top-of-mind topic earlier this week. One of the most pressing questions that repeatedly came up was how to keep hackers from breaching increasingly digitized smart grid systems and transportation networks.

“A lot of cities are buying what’s cheapest, not what’s most secure,” said Mike Bell, CEO of Silicon Valley-based smart grid company Silver Spring Networks. “People who are making buying decisions don’t understand the technology.”

Ahmad Wani, CEO of 1Concern agreed: “Cities have to have the responsibility to at least vet these technologies.” (1Concern uses artificial intelligence to assess potential damages from natural disasters.)

It’s not only city-wide, municipal technologies that could be vulnerable to attack. The roundtable also touched on home appliances—in an “Internet of Things” environment, where everything is connected to home networks, many people don’t even know that they may be exposing themselves to hackers.

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Another unintended consequence of smarter cities? If autonomous vehicles become more mainstream, people could learn to outsmart the robots, creating mass confusion in urban centers. For example, if people walk in front of a driverless car, it won’t hit them—it is programmed to stop if it sees pedestrians in its path. But what about the car behind them?

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The solution, according to many of the panelists, is public/private partnerships that work toward solving some of these looming issues—the good and the bad.