City councillors on executive committee gave the go-ahead for city staff to continue exploring a partnership with Telus to use 5G technology in what the company said would be a ‘living lab’, testing new surveillance and algorithm technology along Whyte Avenue.
Telus has previously tested its 5G lab concept in Vancouver, working with the controversial company Huawei.
The company says it won’t be Big Brother, however councillors Monday cautioned against using gains in artificial intelligence to invade privacy.
Coun. Jon Dziadyk asked about whether the company could use high-tech cameras and face recognition to identify alleged individuals in petty crime.
Ryan Walker, a senior design specialist with Telus, said the company has no plans to do so. “It needs oversight and understanding,” he told the committee.
“This opportunity through Whyte Ave. came through our partnership with the Edmonton Police and with some conversations with the Old Strathcona Business Association,” Walker said.
“So they (the association) came to the Edmonton Police with a very tactical problem statement around crime — graffiti. I think there was over the summer months there, there was an individual lighting cars on fire, so that was kind of the catalyst of what can we do, what can they do?”
Walker also told the committee there can be real-time efforts to assist with health care, for instance if someone who’s homeless is sleeping under a bus bench.
“Can a sensor assist some trigger, that says ‘Hey, that’s out of the normal scope’, can we do some sort of health info proactively as opposed to reactively,” Walker said.
“All of these are for that AI behavioral type of environments where we’re very cautious on the privacy and the health impacts. Where are those? What are the rules? But there are areas where it can help, it can benefit.”
Coun. Scott McKeen was interested in one proposal.
“They think that they’re going to be able to have an algorithm where somebody is… shaking a spray can to start their graffiti work,” McKeen told Global News.
It’s the Big Brother aspect that worried some councillors. “We can certainly make things more convenient,” said Coun. Ben Henderson.
“The trade off of that is how do you make sure the information we’re getting is not personally identifiable and doesn’t deal with privacy issues.”
City staff told the committee no specific partnership is currently in place, so it’s premature to include police in any discussion. “It’s early days,” said deputy city manager Stephanie McCabe.
In a statement emailed to Global News, a TELUS spokesperson said:
“TELUS presented a proposal to build a Smart City Living Lab on Whyte Avenue, aligning with the direction of the city’s Digital Action Plan. The proposal would see TELUS install next-generation technology along mutually-determined sections of Whyte Avenue, providing residents and businesses access to advanced connectivity.
“The Living Lab will not only prepare the area for future 5G connectivity, but will also provide valuable information to the city that will help increase safety through pedestrian and vehicle monitoring and aid in growth design with real-time trend and movement analytics.
“TELUS has a longstanding, strong working relationship with the city and, if the proposal moves forward, we will work collaboratively with city officials, partners and community stakeholders to ensure the Living Lab will deliver value to Edmontonians,” wrote Doug Self, with TELUS public relations.
An EPS spokesman declined comment via email because “the proposal is external to police.”
Work will continue on the scope of the test lab, with the proposal due to be back before city councillors in April.