Carnival has equipped three of its massive cruise ships with a slew of wireless technologies aimed at elevating the passenger experience.
I was recently invited onto the Royal Princess cruise ship docked in San Francisco to see what Carnival is calling the largest Internet of Things deployment and how it and other technologies such as facial recognition improve the passenger experience.
It was the first time Carnival had invited journalists to see what it has dubbed as the “first real example of a smart city.”
Every passenger and all the ship’s staff carry a wireless Bluetooth and NFC-enabled medallion about the size of a fat 25-cent coin. Through a massive network of sensors and edge computing devices, the medallion controls the opening of cabin doors, ordering drinks, delivery of services, and in emergencies it ensures no one is missed.
Facial recognition is used to identify passengers as they come on board. And their location is known at all times to the ship’s captain through a large dashboard that also shows the exact location of each of the ship’s workers.
This location information is used in many ways — like by cleaning staff to service a cabin when they notice it is empty. Previously, they had to rely on knocking or other signs of vacancy. It’s also used to deliver drinks and food directly to the passenger. And the medallion automatically unlocks the cabin door before the passenger reaches it.
Drinks and food are automatically charged to the passenger’s account, and alcohol consumption is not monitored or flagged if excessive. The medallion is also used for funds in the ship’s casino. And large touch screens allow passengers to find and track each other. In addition, there are various apps and games enabled by the medallions throughout the ship.
Each vessel is outfitted with high-speed satellite internet access in addition to two data centers to process everything on-ship.
Carnival also plans to install these systems in land-based entertainment facilities, and it says it might even have uses in hospitals, which have a similar set of challenges in linking patients with services.
A city of pleasure can also be configured in other ways. It’s not a stretch to see how a Carnival IoT-type installation in a real city would function. It could improve linking residents with city services, etc. But there’s also a strong dystopian potential: Doors opening only for the right people, and huge privacy issues in tracking every person in real time.
Entire buildings could be closed to certain residents, and interactions between individuals could be monitored. There’s thousands of ways such a system could be abused and used to oppress a population.
These technologies could create a city of hell just as easily as they can be used to create a city of pleasure. Digital technologies, however, are neutral and don’t deserve a dystopian reputation. It’s their application that’s not neutral.
Many Silicon Valley technologists subscribe to the notion that critics should get out of the way and allow technologies like IoT to find their own level within society, even if there are some negative effects. That’s a disastrous strategy, in my opinion, because every technology use has an agenda: It is not neutral.
We all have a shared future, we all have a share in how we want to live in that future. Technology always has a purpose. But without an active dialog, the potential for an abusive Big Brother-like city situation is inevitable and will gradually creep in until it’s too late. I worry we could inadvertently paint ourselves into a corner for all the right reasons and find ourselves in a hellish technology-enabled oppressive society.
Imagine a future with superior Big Brother technologies monitoring everything you do and say — and judging and punishing you in real time.
We should not get out of the way of technology. We should have a say in the type of future we want — not the one we happen to get. Carnival’s cruise ships show that we can choose a city of pleasure.