Keywords:  Vulnerable Populations, Privacy, Culture & Dialogue,

2019

Speculating ‘Smart City’ Cybersecurity with the Heart Sounds Bench: Détourning Data and Surveillance in Public Space

Noura Howell, PhD Candidate, School of Information, UC Berkeley

'Smart city' visions promise safety and efficiency using sensors, data, and technology. While data-driven approaches often claim to escape social prejudice with objective insights, they can instead bolster inequity and create cybersecurity threats for vulnerable populations.

By changing the visions of what we want sensing and data to do in smart cities, we can reduce cybersecurity threats for vulnerable populations. By creating artistic yet fully functional technologies, my work fosters critical discussion and radical re-imagining of the role of sensing and data in smart city visions. Contrasting trends at the root of many cybersecurity risks, my technologies provide emotionally rich experiences and explore vital alternatives for how sensors, data, and algorithms can affirm our humanity and diversity.
My latest project, the Heart Sounds Bench, amplifies the heart sounds of those sitting on it. In contrast to other technologies using heartbeat data to categorize emotions or suggest crime or health risks, the bench simply invites rest, listening, and sharing space with others. It proposes a very different role for sensing and data in smart cities. Preliminary results with participants sitting on the bench suggest its potential to foster a peaceful, joyful sense of connection with others.

This project is the final component of my dissertation. Publishing at top venues in Human-Computer Interaction, my work speaks to designers and technologists creating the next generation of sensing, data-driven technology. Through these creative and experiential designs, my work shifts the flow of design and technology toward safer, more humane experiences with sensing and data.