Watch this space

Thinking through an idea that occurred to me during our SOCITM ShareNational panel on ethical use of data and technology.

What happens if we explicitly think about “our spaces, which people use”, rather than “people that use our spaces”? That may seem like a semantic quibble, but I think it leads in three interesting directions:

  • First, space sensors are much simpler than people sensors. Even before lockdown, Jisc colleagues were looking at CO2 monitors and low-resolution infrared cameras. Now: might that be enough to work out when a room needs a period of ventilating to reduce the virus load or, longer term, which rooms we need to reduce effective capacity to prevent dangerous (or, in normal times, sleep-inducing) levels of human exhaust building up; might those fuzzy pictures be analysed to work out the gaps between warm bodies (and whether they are stationary or moving) and let us identify places where we need to improve traffic flow (a Microsoft video suggests how this might work)? Simple messages and low data rates might mean we can dispense with power and network cables, and just use battery and (low-power) wireless for sensors that can be quickly deployed to any location where there is a concern;
  • Second, space sensors are much less of a privacy threat than people sensors. If we explain them – maybe even show examples of their output – then we should be able to calm fears of surveillance. Similarly with data, if we look for data about spaces, rather than people, we should be able to discard a lot of the identifiers that raise dataveillance concerns;
  • And third, building on these two. Thinking about spaces seems to lead naturally to measures that involve improved design: thinking about people may be more likely to tempt us towards measures that involve enforcement.

Spaces are something we all use. Using sensors and data to improve them should benefit everyone. Maybe thinking about spaces can help build a sense of shared community, rather than a divide between campus managers and campus occupants?

By Andrew Cormack

I'm Chief Regulatory Advisor at Jisc, responsible for keeping an eye out for places where our ideas, services and products might raise regulatory issues. My aim is to fix either the product or service, or the regulation, before there's a painful bump!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *