Rebecca Hammons: Defending Humans in a Digital World

Dr. Rebecca Hammons is making sure people don’t get lost in cities.

Not in the literal or physical sense. She can’t help you find the nearest pizza joint.

Instead, Hammons is helping society navigate the complexities of “smart cities” and making sure that new technologies prioritize the needs of humans over corporations.

A smart city is one that uses information and communication technology to collect data from citizens, devices, and assets. Insights gained from this data are used to manage resources and services more efficiently.

“There are a lot of industries that have grown up over the years, like automobiles and aviation, that were unregulated initially,” she said. “It wasn’t until people were harmed that legislation came about.”

“We are hoping to stay in front of technological changes to smart cities — and to try to prevent the need for that kind of oversight through responsible self-regulation.”

Hammons, who has her doctoral and master’s degrees from Ball State, is an associate professor in the Center for Information and Communication Sciences. The center administers a master’s degree program that combines technology with business and leadership skills.

The need for tech-savvy consumer advocates like Hammons is great. She comes at the problem from an extensive background — including software quality assurance and product development for tech giants such as Apple, Raytheon, Tivoli Systems, and Wang.

With fellow Ball State professor Dr. Ron Kovac, Hammons coedited the book “Fundamentals of Internet of Things for Non-Engineers,” published this year. The Internet of Things refers to the giant network of devices that connect to the internet. Each device collects data, which can be exchanged and analyzed. In relation to smart cities, this data can be used to monitor and better manage traffic, utilities, crime detection, and many more community services.

Worldwide, smart city technology spending reached $80 billion in 2016, and is expected to grow to $135 billion by 2021, according to a report from the International Data Corporation. That growth coincides with expanding urban populations. By 2050, 70 percent of the world’s population will be living in cities.

Hammons foresees a potential fly in the ointment based on the fact that smart technology can generate a lot of data about citizens and their movements, especially when the technology is linked to individual smartphones.

This information can be incredibly valuable to companies eager to get their hands on consumer behavior information, she said. But it also potentially creates a huge concern for data privacy.

In her research and in the classroom, Hammons stresses the need for corporate social responsibility.

“We would like to see the standards be people-centric and be focused on protecting the privacy and identity needs of people rather than vendor-driven globally,” she said.

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