New technology is helping local government create “smarter” cities in a variety of ways, from adaptive traffic lights to open data platforms to advanced utility meters. But with innovation comes complication. Privacy, security, and equality challenges are inevitable when the public sector tries to implement technology with the help of private companies.

This was the subject of a roundtable discussion hosted by U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-WA) at the University of Washington on Wednesday in Seattle.

The hour-long meeting brought together key regional leaders from a variety of sectors: City of Seattle CTO Michael Mattmiller; Seattle Public Utilities CEO Mami Hara; Socrata CEO Kevin Merritt; Microsoft Government Solutions Manager Mike Geertsen and others — to talk about the role of government in establishing policies and processes that enable the modernization of cities.

DelBene co-chairs the Congressional Internet of Things Caucus and is working on a comprehensive smart communities legislation. She told the group that government is “trying to play catch up” in regard to adopting new technology for its constituents.

“It seems like we are catching up to yesterday,” she said. “This idea of being forward looking in these areas is very important — the question is, how do we get there?”

DelBene said that many existing policies were put in place decades ago and did not anticipate rapid technological changes. Her hope is to learn from local leaders and help craft laws that can support the implementation of technology that improves quality of life for citizens and make government processes for doing so more efficient. She’s supportive of rolling out more pilot programs and testing technology to figure out what works and what doesn’t; in addition, it can help inform larger federal policies.

DelBene also told GeekWire after the discussion that the Seattle area is equipped to become a leader in becoming a “smart city” with its robust tech ecosystem.

“I do think we have all the different pieces,” said DelBene, previously an executive at companies including Microsoft and drugstore.com.

Bill Howe, associate director of the eScience Institute at the UW, said the region can lead with policies that ensure “responsible algorithmic decision making,” or data-driven models that take into account human observation. He called it a “huge opportunity.”

“We have the right folks at the University of Washington studying research issues; we have the right mindset in the city to treat this as a priority; we have the political will and climate; and obviously the right companies to buy into this stuff … data is in the water here,” Howe said.

It’s a particularly notable time for Seattle leaders to be discussing “smart cities” given the tech boom and how quickly new residents are moving into the city — a 31 percent population increase is expected by 2035.

Ed Lazowska, the Bill & Melinda Gates Chair in UW’s Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering, was at the meeting and noted that there are many smart city-related threads coming together in Seattle — from the UW’s eScience Institute program “Data Science for Social Good,” to data-driven companies like Microsoft, Socrata, INRIX, Zillow, and others whose work is relevant to smart city initiatives. He also talked about Seattle coming together with nearby Bellevue, Wash., which has a robust tech ecosystem of its own.

“There’s a real potential for the region to be a leader in smart cities,” Lazowska told GeekWire.

 

Continue reading for a quick rundown of the discussion topics at Wednesday’s meeting in GeekWire.

Originally written by Taylor Soper in GeekWire