Moving beyond Smart Cities to Digital Nations

Photo by Daniel Dara on Unsplash

This is a time of crisis. This is also a time for solutions. Indeed, the world is currently engulfed in waves of financial, economic, environmental, social, and political crises. Amidst the turmoil, however, we are also witnessing valiant and creative attempts at different levels and by different actors to seek for solutions. A fresh approach to prosperity, one that is holistic and integrated and which is essential for the promotion of collective well-being and fulfilment of all is imperative. This new approach does not only respond to the crises by providing safeguards against new risks, but it also helps cities to steer the world towards economically, socially, politically, and environmentally prosperous urban futures. It is the time of solutions to the numerous challenges that confront today’s cities. If we are to take measures that will make a difference in the lives of the billions of people in the world’s cities and future generations, we need sound and reliable knowledge and information.

The market for smart cities is expected to be around $1.2 trillion by 2022. What this translates to is a rush of companies going to go after that money by building smart products that enable the smart city. Smart cities are creating a veritable gold rush, and this time, the rush is built upon data — often, our data. However, to share and transact using that data, we also need to develop a smart identity at the same time we build our smart cities.

Principles of the Smart City

  • A significant presence of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in critical infrastructure components and services;
  • A wide range of devices, interconnected on a single network and used for transmitting data perpetually and ubiquitously, with personal, financial, and business data moving freely;
  • An ensured system of smartly coordinated devices (public transportation, traffic lights, optimised use of electricity, water, and other resources) will result in the reduction of acute global problems that we are facing today;
  • A growing presence of public participation in the city government (‘public power’);
  • Growing importance and value of local economies, run by local communities

Once the smart city blossoms, our smart identity will move out of our homes, into our cars, and onwards through the city walls. Identity is the backbone of digital transactions. Moreover, smart innovations can use the power of identity to enable online transactions. Our smart identity will allow us to interact with our smart cars(VAHAN citizen services), send money by a click(secured Internet Banking), use remote patient care by sharing patient-generated data(Telemedicine), and secure our entry into the smart airport(Immunity passports). Our digital identity will inevitably be drawn into the machinery of the smart city, but it has to be done with respectful privacy implementation.

At the heart of every thriving digital “smart city” are the residents who participate in their local economy. For these vibrant local ecosystems to build trust, residents need to be known and verified individuals, both online and offline, which aims at giving back to the user full control of his/her identity. Self Sovereign identity can be implemented to identify the citizens of a smart city using blockchain technology, which ensures storage, secure time stamping, and decentralised hosting. This model eliminates the need for passwords and guarantees authentication with a high degree of security . An example of successful implementation is the Estonian e-Residency program, which allows users outside the EU to create a digital identity that can be used to set up a business in Estonia.

With the forecasts saying that by 2050, 68 percent of the world’s population will be urban, the concept of the smart city looks like the most technically advanced solution on how to adapt a city area and infrastructure to its new challenges. It will be necessary to implement the security of data and transparency of interactions. The services focused design of smart cities will benefit from portable, privacy-preserving and secure means of data exchange between residents and service providers. This approach to verifiable data exchange builds on the concept of verifiable credentials aligned with a self-sovereign identity. It is not necessary to create user experiences which are pinned solely to a mobile experience. A digital wallet on the mobile is one of the ways in which the output credentials of a verifiable system can be presented to access services.

The Trust over IP (ToIP) framework allows similar elements of identity and authentic verification to be enabled for edge and IoT devices. A number of the smart city plans include extensive usage of remote sensing capabilities in order to enable mechanisms of service delivery. In fact, modern improvements to urban planning would be more auditable and governance enabled with the availability of ToIP properties in automation workflows. The secure channel of data exchange enabled through ToIP will help in the transformation of service delivery across a range of sectors — ranging from education to healthcare, financial and transportation. A framework which addresses the topics of trusted exchange between machines and social customs based interactions among humans has a higher chance of being adopted and implemented. Advocates of smart cities and digital nations will need to be mindful of enshrining the principles of privacy, equality and equity in the plans so that a truly inclusive community can be built up.

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