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Will a networked smart city threaten urban anonymity?

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The city of the future will be covered with sensors that can enable bridges, bricks and traffic signals to communicate with its inhabitants. But are there risks to this technological revolution?

The city of the future will be covered with sensors that can enable bridges, bricks and traffic signals to communicate with its inhabitants.

But are there risks to this technological revolution?

According to Nokia user interface design head Adam Greenfield, the smart city comes with its own share of pitfalls.

Speaking at the Supernova conference in San Francisco this week, Greenfield said that the ubiquitous networking of the smart city undermines the anonymity that fosters reinvention.

"Networked information technologies increasingly condition cities," Greenfield said.

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Can you know too much in a city? If technologies such as RFID remove the distinction of neighborhoods and landmarks, is the city still a city?

"We're entering a time where every brick and every window and traffic signal an addressable object," Greenfield said, noting the adoption of a new Internet protocol, IPv6.

In other words: soon you won't just be conversing with everyone in the city; you'll be conversing with the city itself.

(At this point, I should mention the Twitter account of London's Tower Bridge, which has its own API for when it is opening and closing and for whom. Example: "I am opening for the Dixie Queen, which is passing downstream.")

Greenfield argues that new city residents are needed to explain these new technologies to the masses. That means regulation comes into play, too.

For now, the concept is too early for cities to spend energy on. But it's worth consideration.

Isn't it?

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Andrew Nusca

Editor Emeritus

Andrew Nusca is editor of SmartPlanet and an associate editor for ZDNet. Previously, he worked at Money, Men's Vogue and Popular Mechanics magazines. He holds degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and New York University. He is based in New York but resides in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure