How would our data affect us if we could see it on the street?

Video game maker Ubisoft asks this unspoken question through a set of recently released data maps of London, Paris and Berlin. The visual dresses city streets in navigable 3-D wireframe display, pinpoints data sources — such as closed-circuit surveillance cameras — and tracks transit in real time.

The interactive feature is definitively promotional. It was conjured to draw interest for Watch Dog, a video game thriller that chronicles a vigilante hacker as he thwarts enemies using a digitally enhanced data system in Chicago. More than sci-fi appeal, the real-world maps are thought provoking. They ask timely questions like what it would be like if our public data were visually available in our day-to-day lives: Would we embrace it, be stigmatized by it or be able to find a happy medium?

To put perspective on this, using home data — not depicted in the maps — would residents be offended if full names and the purchase prices of their homes were painted on curbs? This is a real public data set. Would restaurant owners be vexed by sanitary inspection reviews if they were draped to their windows? Another real data set. Or as depicted in the interactive feature, would homeowners and neighborhoods concede to signage publishing crime statistics and average income levels upon entering the area?

“This is not fiction anymore,” the site’s introduction reads. “SmartCities [cities driven by data] are real, it’s happening now. Huge amounts of data are collected and managed every day in our modern cities, and this data is available to anyone.”

A dive deeper into the interactive data shows a map key of labels for underground transit, public bicycles, Wi-Fi hotspots, traffic lights, ATMs and a section devoted to geolocated social media posts — Twitter and Facebook among them. Additionally, neighborhoods are attached with statistics for unemployment and energy consumption. The data is ample, but as the developers say themselves, “non-exhaustive.” What could be gained if these interactive maps were formally developed to include additional data is an intriguing idea.

To the topic of smart cities, it’s worth noting that coincidentally enough the city of Chicago, the backdrop for the video game, has already launched and continues to develop a data analytics system called WindyGrid. The system houses information from every department in real time, gathering roughly 7 million rows of data per day. While not as advanced as the data system described in the game, it isn’t unlikely that one day it could be.

See below to view the interactive maps, or jump to them in full screen by clicking here.

Jason Shueh