I went for a jog the other day and as I started to cross an intersection a man’s voice grabbed my attention. It was emotionless; not quite stern, but it stood out, and made me stop – literally.
The reason this was so odd is that at that very moment there was literally no one around. The voice instructed me to wait before crossing the street and then methodically counted down until it was safe for me to cross.
It was a talking streetlight, similar to the Intellistreets high-tech system of streetlights that were recently announced by manufacturer Illuminating Concepts, in partnership with Amerlux.
Of course, my streetlight did not have many of the features those streetlights will offer – such as wireless cameras or the ability to record conversations – or the rumored backing of the Department of Homeland Security, which Intellistreets supposedly does.
Compound that scenario with the recent news that Google and Apple are both jockeying to create 3-D aerial maps through planes sent over cities and critics start to claim we are living in an Orwellian mousetrap built by big brother.
Maybe I am de-sensitized, or over-sensitized (I’m still deciding) to technology, so when I read stuff like that, I feel its inevitability.
Then I think, when is a streetlight that tells you when to leave an area or where to dispose of your soda can, or tell you to wait to step onto the street, a step too far?
London – one of some 20 cities that have already been tested by this new eye-in-the-sky-technology – has incorporated surveillance cameras on its streets for quite awhile (cameras I’m sure that will be in even greater force during the 2012 Olympic games), and its usage has set a precedent for Intellistreets to be rolled out into American cities Detroit, Chicago and Pittsburgh.
For its part, Illuminating Concepts has responded to its critics in a press release stating: “What the Intellistreets system is designed to do is simply make our streets safer, more energy efficient and smarter, while being informative and entertaining.”
Naturally, it cited major disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina and September 11th, as events when its services could have aided citizens and relief workers.
Fair enough, and in the day to day, it can also tell you to pick up your trash.
In fact, it may very well become commonplace in the not-too-distant future, according to a recent press release from Amerlux, which states that the system is capable of being incorporated into other areas of our lives, such as at sports venues, retail malls, college campuses and many others.
“Streetlight processors can store and analyze data including soundtracks, announcements, commercials, and video files, as well as offering a patented full-range speaker system,” the release says. “With built-in brains, the streetlight retains playlists similar to an iPod; it receives and sends commands, and downloads and stores information.”
That sounds benign enough, right? Perhaps it is no riskier than watching gas station TV at the pump.
Hey, maybe the Intellistreets system will even prevent me from getting run over by a Google driverless car as it rolls through my neighborhood taking pictures for Google Street View! — John Filippelli