Ed’s note: Blockchain in smart cities – should we be afraid?

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Blockchain is more than just a platform for mining bitcoins or facilitating peer-to-peer transactions in energy trading. For one start-up in Singapore, it provides the building blocks for a smart city.

 The 100-hectare development is planned for Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh and will include residential and commercial property, schools, an exhibition hall and shopping precinct. According to developers, Limestone Network, the project will impact 10,000 business tenants and approximately 190,000 people daily.

“Most cities try to become smart cities by installing hardware like sensors and cameras, but our starting point begins with the software,” said Eddie Lee, co-founder and managing partner of Limestone Network.

“Building on a hybrid blockchain infrastructure, the smart city collects information through residents’ multiple daily touchpoints. These create an understanding of how the city moves, lives and functions.”

The first step in the project is to register all residents and workers in order to create a ‘digital passport.’ This involves scanning details against global databases to check for any criminal records and mapping identities into the blockchain network.

This unlocks all the features available to residents – including a digital wallet on their phone.

According to Lee: “People can also move around different buildings freely by just tapping in and out, which forms part of the “digital persona” of their activities.”

Personally, I’m not sure how I feel about being tracked in such minute detail as I progress through my daily life, but Lee believes in a country like Cambodia, where many Cambodians are ‘financially excluded’ and do not even own a bank account, this kind of data could help build a digital profile – which he believes could be the digital equivalent to a credit score.

He says because consumers have power over their data, they get to decide to whom access is given, and therefore have complete control over their data. He is further convinced that the system will provide greater security, efficiency and access.

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“The smart city should not only be about futuristic or cutting-edge technologies. It should be inclusive and include everybody, beginning with [people] at the bottom of the pyramid.”

Over the next five years, Limestone hopes to implement similar smart city models across Southeast Asia – such as other parts of Cambodia, Malaysia, the Philippines and eventually Singapore – in collaboration with local governments. 

While in many ways we are already tracked or monitored as we transact throughout our daily lives, the concept of all the information being kept in a central repository is a little too ‘1984’ for me. Perhaps I’m being a bit paranoid, and maybe multiple different entities having a bit of information about how I conduct my life is even more of a risk than just a single centralised entity but.. quite frankly, it makes me uncomfortable. And perhaps that is the crux of the success or failure of schemes like these – people want to know whether their every move will be watched, monitored and assessed – and then – who will be able to access the data about these movements?

Obviously, one of the greatest benefits of having all this data available is that it makes commercial sense for companies wanting to market directly to key customers groups, or for health services to monitor the elderly or infirm, but do you really have the ability to control who has access to your data? How secure is the system in a world in which cyber criminals appear to be getting smarter and the walls that need to be defended get more porous as they get more numerous?

Or is it a case of being able to move about with freedom, without worrying about carrying keys, money and being able to have a single repository that tells your life story of transactions, movement and, quite likely, communication?

What happens when you move or relocate to another smart city? Is your data transferred with you – akin to medical records? What happens should you lose your phone? How easily can you re-establish your digital passport and how easily can someone clone your passport?

The questions are endless – the answers as yet – in short supply.

The future is here – it may not be flying cars just yet – but a different type of future is here now. What do you think about this concept? We’d love to hear from you. Write to us at editorial@smart-energy.com and tell us what you think.

Wishing you a future-fabulous day!

Claire

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