Back to Smart cities: Mission control

A New Era of Security for Seniors and Other Vulnerable Groups

By Thomas Jenny, Senior Underwriter

There are times when we are willing to sacrifice a certain amount of privacy for enhanced  security: when we are old, very young, ill, or otherwise vulnerable.

 Dignity, Autonomy, and Reduced Costs for Seniors

 Our infrastructure isn’t the only thing aging. By 2030, over 1 billion people will be 65 or older. By 2050, 37% of Europeans will be over 60, and 10% over 80 in some countries. The average life expectancy will rise from 74.6 to 81 by 2050.

Seniors will be majority stakeholders in the smart cities of the future, and that gives the strong arm of Big Brother another character.

Frailty, illness, dementia, defenselessness—these are all reasons to be consigned to a nursing home. Given the choice between a nursing facility, and staying home under heavy surveillance, most seniors would choose to stay home. 

Remaining independent benefits seniors, of course, but it also benefits society. It reduces family care expenses, insurance costs, and public subsidies. Norway uses a smart-care system that helps seniors stay at home, and costs 15% as much as nursing-home care. Those numbers have convinced the UK to try it.

The system starts with smart sensors that detect incapacitation, changes in heart rate, unusual movements, accidents, stoves left on, open doors, and more. If something weird or bad happens, the system automatically connects to emergency services. Regular healthcare checkups are conducted live over Skype. A voice reminds seniors to take medicine. It also reminds them of birthdays and other events, to keep them socialized. Yes, surveillance is 24/7, but seniors and their families are not complaining. 

Progressive medical companies are working hard to establish this kind of system, before 37% of us age out of the workforce. The assisted-living technology market is booming ahead of our aging boom. The UK’s forecasts market revenues of USD 141 million in 2015. To achieve a true economy of scale and end-to-end service, sensor and device connections need to be standardized, preferably across Europe. This will drastically reduce the cost of senior care, which will be crucial to our economies, as the ratio of pensioners to workers shifts.

The Risks of Smart Home Care
Of course, there are risks to making vulnerable seniors dependent on technology to that degree. 

Misdiagnosis is an obvious one. What if a telecare worker misdiagnoses a symptom over Skype, and a senior gets worse or dies? How will blame and liability be assigned? Did a sensor malfunction? Was it a computer virus? Did the Wi-Fi fail? Did the system crash? Diagnosis protocol will need to account for every conceivable scenario. A homecare black box, like the ones in airplanes and new cars, could also help identify the guilty party, whether man or machine. Brokers and insurers may offer reduced premiums to healthcare providers who include black boxes in their systems.

Seniors may also be asked to sign liability waivers. Many seniors who aren’t in critical condition would sign the waiver, risking misdiagnosis without recourse to prosecution, if it enabled them to live independently.

Inevitably this senior homecare system will be linked to the operations center, at the very least because of the automatic connection to emergency services. Skype sessions are likely to be routed through the operations center as well, since public healthcare workers are involved. How far the video surveillance expands to fill the needs of seniors at home, and how much of this is routed through the operations center remains to be seen. Clearly, there is a danger that all of a senior’s computer data, and his entire medical history, could be accessed through these data links.

Will seniors enjoy the same right to privacy we are all fighting for? Or will we also ask seniors to sign privacy waivers?

Deterring and Capturing Criminals
Homes with small children or invalids might also be connected to the operations center. Many parents use nanny cams already. Given the opportunity, parents or family members caring for invalids might choose to connect those cameras to the operations center, at least while they are at work.

Many of our public places have also been monitored by cameras for years. Satellites also routinely scan nearly the entire surface of the earth. Smart cities are adding many more miniature, invisible cameras—like the ones in Las Vegas streetlamps. The days of privacy in public places are over. We can no longer expect any privacy outside our own homes.


The benefit is that it will be much harder for criminals to act with impunity. 24/7 surveillance of our streets and public buildings will certainly facilitate the capture and prosecution of perpetrators. In that way, it could serve as a powerful deterrent against attacks on women, children, and other easy targets.  It will also enable emergency services to reach crime and accident victims faster. Vulnerable members of society could enjoy a historic level of safety, as long as the operation center is functioning.

What happens if mission control itself is attacked?

Click on the following links to read next topics:

Smart Cities: Mission Control

Page 1: How Smart is the Data ?

Page 2: The Watchful Eye

Page 3: A new Era of Security for Seniors and Other Vulnerable Groups

Page 4: Cyber Defense for Infrastructure Partners

Page 5: Smart City Risks and Rewards

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