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Smart Buildings Or Just Creepy?

Smart Buildings or just Creepy?

Quality, Consequences and the Construction Industrial Complex (part 185).

What are you willing to give up to live or work in a smart building? 

IMHO, there are two possible futures, one cool (maybe) and the other dystopian. Which one are we moving towards?

A smart building is the convergence of IOT plus machine learning or AI to optimize building operations and user experience. All good so far, however, for a building or a city to be smart an Orwellian level of surveillance is required. For a smart building to work there can be no privacy, it requires 100% surveillance of systems, equipment and people. 

No one cares yet, about surveillance (monitoring) of building systems and equipment. The real issue for this is cost plus competence of building design and installation. Spoiler alert, the required level of competence is currently an unrealized dream. 

However for a building to be smart, the users must be monitored and controlled and nudged and incentivized, towards beneficial behaviours and services offered. 

Future smart buildings will have security, access control, energy use and space utilization controlled and optimized by AI using inputs from mass surveillance. In practice it may look something like this:

  • You arrive at the building , as you approach it identifies you from CCTV facial recognition and verifies your ID by connecting to your phone.
  • It sends a message to your phone confirming where your meeting is and what elevator to use. The elevators have no buttons and are controlled via identifying the occupants and verifying ID from a token on your phone. 
  • You will only have access to the areas of the building the AI deems you should have. This is enforced by mass surveillance and digital access control at doors and floors. 
  • The meeting room you are going to has a meeting running late. The AI speaks to the meeting occupants and tells them to leave the room as the next meeting has arrived. Their AV facilities are shut off to ensure they leave. 
  • The comfort in the meeting room is tightly controlled by the building AI. The following comfort points are under second by second adjustment and control:
    • Light level
    • CO2
    • Noise level
    • Temperature
    • Humidity
  • During the meeting you need to use the bathroom. Using voice you ask out loud, “where is the nearest washroom?” The AI speaks back and directs you to the wash room and pushes a map to your phone as back up. All necessary doors are opened and you are monitored until back in the meeting. 
  • All phone and laptop use in the meeting is “scrapped” and backed up onto the building servers. 
  • The meeting is recorded (video and voice) and archived onto the building servers. 
  • When you leave the building your access token is revoked to ensure you cannot re-enter without authorization. 

This all sounds and little creepy, a bit like HAL 9000 from Space Odyssey. However, we are technologically close to what I describe above. The question is:

1. Do we want it? 

2. Will it be forced onto us? 

The cool version of this scenario has been presented in my favourite TV show, Star Trek (shout out to the awesome new show, Star Trek Discovery…..#captainpike….#kirkismycaptain). 

Think about it, in Star Trek TNG, captain Picard uses his version of Alexa. The ship computer interacts with the crew by voice, the computer knows where the crew are at all times and controls the environment and ship. In Star Trek the computer (AI) is benevolent and in service of the crew. Everything seems cool. However does Alexa know when the captain is in the washroom or snoring in bed or chasing after a young crew member he should not? 

The future for buildings could be cool and benevolent like Star Trek or Orwellian and malevolent like HAL 9000 in Space Odyssey. My distrust of humans organized in groups with large amounts of personal data at hand causes me to worry. 

Facebook and Google dominate the advertising industry and massively impact culture because they solved, and now own the digital ID verification space. ID verification is foundational to smart buildings and cites being realized. My generation worries about surveillance but my children do not. I guess Orwells 1984 and Animal Farm have been dropped from the required school reading list?

So we all have to decide what we are willing to give up to live the Star Trek life:

1. Are you OK with being surveilled all the time? 

2. Are you OK having your ID verified hundreds of times a day?

3. Are you OK having your data scrapped hundreds of times a day?

4. Are you OK having your personal data packaged and resold? 

All four of the questions above are already being done to you every day by Facebook, Google, Amazon, the government and in city public spaces. Are you OK with that? 

The trend to “Smart Buildings” and cities is really only an incremental step, it is a done deal unless there is mass consumer and user disobedience. 

This brings me back to my question, “Smart Buildings” or just a creepy 1984 scenario? 

Twitter: @BLDWhisperer

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