The Blockchain Smart City
As recent societal and technological advances have granted many around the globe access to a higher living standard, urbanization is becoming a much more common global trend than in decades previous.
Although state and municipal governments can simply look upon humanity’s rich history of migration as a reference guide to properly toe the line when it comes to governing cities, the recent breakthroughs of certain technologies have presented the opportunity to create innovative, automated city management systems that can process large amounts of data for public benefit on an ongoing basis.
Namely, the union of so-called “smart-city” technology (for collecting user data) with distributed ledger technology (for securing and authenticating that data) is proving to be a popular proposed solution for city governance of the future.
Smart City Technology
Smart city technology utilizes electronic data collection sensors to supply information that a municipality can use to manage resources efficiently. The smart city serves to collect, process, and analyze data from citizens, devices, and assets to manage traffic and transportation systems, power plants, water supply networks, waste management, law enforcement, information systems, schools, libraries, hospitals, and other community services. The technology allowing for data collection and processing is in and of itself a combination of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and Internet of Things (IoT) technology.
Where the smart city concept comes to play is in the simplification of many currently overwhelming and convoluted public administration job functions. Through the greater access to accurate and real-time granular data, a large portion of public systems can be remotely monitored and reconfigured automatically in the event of system malfunction or anomalous circumstances. Additionally, smart city implementations allow processes to constantly be improved upon as consistent streams of data inflow present opportunities for generating more precise solutions.
While implementation of this technology would serve to provide a consolidated database for all of the public facilities listed above, the potential for private businesses to benefit directly from smart city technology exists as well.
Distributed Ledger Technology
Distributed ledger technology encompasses a set of specialized databases that secure and validate user – or machine – inputted data and can be built to permit/deny data access to different users of the ledger. More simply, think of a paper-based accounting ledger that confirms the occurrence of transactions between parties A and B where nobody can smudge out the pen-writing of either A, B, or the nature of the transactions that transpired.
The way the distributed ledger system maintains security is two-fold:
First, the nature of each transaction is encrypted in such a way that no machine is able to secretly access the confidential information.
Second, to prevent a purposeful attack from a powerful machine in destroying the record of these transactions, the “distributed” nature of the distributed ledger comes to play in that the multitude of decentralized nodes maintaining the system also contain a portion or full comprehensive list of completed transactions between participants.
Given that there are more members on this distributed network than just those who engaged in any given transaction, each distributed ledger system is created in such a way that nodes on the network can validate the authenticity of said transaction without knowing the contents (this concept is known as zero-knowledge proofs).
The best established use cases for distributed ledger technology are found in cases where maintaining the integrity and confidentiality of highly-valuable information is of the highest priority, as well as cases where immediate, secured data transfer and receival is essential. From banks to insurance agencies to hospitals to a wealth of other industry-diverse private institutions, distributed ledger technology has been implemented and proposed to disintermediate third parties from processes as a method of making them more secure.
How Do They Work Together?
Through the combined integration of smart city and distributed ledger technology, different municipal departments can collect and process large batches of data at lightning speeds with assurance that none of the data is corrupted.
Due to the sheer multitude of IoT devices required for a smart city, and the vulnerability many of these devices would face in the data collection & processing phases, network administrators would find themselves overwhelmed in attempting to maintain the security of every network and device.
With the additional use of distributed ledger solutions however, the data collection & processing phase would be more reliable in both attesting to data authenticity and allowing for process refinement, and would free up cybersecurity professionals to attend to the remote monitoring of processes as a whole rather than on a case-by-case basis.
Where Have These Solutions Been Proposed?
While smart city solutions and blockchain solutions have each individually seen a flurry of proposed and actualized use cases, the implementation of the dual-technology-system is still largely in the discussion and planning stage. Still, there are some identifiable examples of such implementations coming to fruition in the present day.
Notably, a few smart city programs are underway in cities like Dubai to integrate both distributed ledger and smart-city tech into daily life. In Dubai, as a part of the city’s Dubai 10X Initiative, the city is implementing the world’s first blockchain-powered government to secure all visa applications, bill payments, and license renewals on the blockchain by 2020. The emirate is focused on integrating blockchain technology into government processes through one agency at a time, as evidenced by the Dubai Land Department’s blockchain-powered system launch this past October.
Meanwhile in Taipei, distributed ledger technology in the public sector has also taken hold in the form of digital identity management. In partnership with the IOTA Foundation for use of their distributed ledger network, the government of Taipei is launching a citizen identification system which safeguards citizens against theft and voter fraud.
The private sector has begun to show interest in the IoT-blockchain hybrid model as well. Ford, in partnership with Qualcomm, Waze, and Autonomic, has recently announced the launch of a blockchain-secured, cloud-based mobility platform for cities to manage self-driving vehicle ride-hailing, deliveries, and bicycle-sharing. Nokia, meanwhile, is targeting the IoT data analytics monetization market with their new blockchain-powered Sensing-as-a-Service (S2aaS), which provides intelligent analytics on environmental data gathered from IoT-connected sensors. Lastly, startup DigitalTown has recently produced a full-scale solution that aims to move smart city economies of the future onto the blockchain.