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LISTEN: Good or bad? Analyzing smart tech use in Brooklyn

May 16, 2019 Scott Enman, Paul Frangipane and Lawrence Madsen
Brooklyn has become a testing ground for smart technology. Image via Pexels

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The borough works hard to refine such technologies in its own neighborhoods for more effective and fair implementation, but some devices come with risk and raise questions about privacy. Here is an examination of their pros and cons.

For example, DBP created the Living Lab project, where companies and research groups measure the effect of proposed technologies in specific neighborhoods, like the Fulton Street Mall and Hoyt Plaza.

“We want people to know that Downtown Brooklyn is a place for innovation. We want new businesses to test their technologies here,” Ryan Grew, director of operations for the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, told Brooklyn This Week

A consortium led by NYU Tandon has also worked with neighborhoods to improve transportation with its C2SMART project. One of the programs tracks the amount of traffic on a busy street, the number and location of pedestrians, and other data in order to adjust the timing of traffic signals to speed up flow and increase safety. Flatbush Avenue is one of the sites being used in the research.

Other innovations have been less welcome. Residents of Atlantic Towers in Brownsville are resisting a motion by their landlord to install facial recognition software in their building’s entranceway.

“If there’s a case where it does not work, we’ll be locked out of our homes, which we pay rent for,” said resident Tranae Moran.

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Moran also referenced a study from M.I.T. Media Lab that showed some facial recognition technology fails to identify black women up to 35 percent of the time.

Efforts to discern which technologies exhibit bias and privacy problems have yet to show signs of clear success, in large part because of the uncertainty as to where efforts should begin.

“It’s the first time a group like this has been pulled together, especially to discuss this type of topic,” said Jeff Thamkittikasem, chairperson of the city’s Automated Decision Systems Task Force.

“The law is written pretty broadly. ADS could include an excel spreadsheet if we’re not too careful about structuring the conversation,” he added.

There has been conversation, however, on how to use smart technology to improve the lives of city dwellers, including at Smart Cities New York, an annual workshop and two-day conference co-founded by Raj Pannu.

“If you look at the urgent problems of the world, whether they’re climate related issues or human displacement issues, technology is not going to be the only solution,” Pannu said. “The solutions are really only going to come when all of the sectors collaborate together.”

  • Interview with Ryan Grew at 1:24
  • Interview with Mary Frost at 2:54
  • Interview with Jeff Thamkittikasem at 6:48
  • Interview with Tranae Moran at 9:34
  • Interview with Raj Pannu at 12:17

Brooklyn this Week‘s host Lawrence Madsen is a native New Yorker. He attended Columbia University, and volunteers with the disaster relief group Team Rubicon.

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