The Smart Cities Revolution

Right now, more than half of the world’s population is living in cities and the concept of Smart Cities is growing in prominence in the digital economy.

While urban development has had to adapt to the population demands this has frequently proved to be random, uncoordinated and generally considered inadequate. Over the last four decades, Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) are increasingly integrated into urban infrastructures, leading to the rapid development of Smart Cities. 

Smart Cities have can offer a variety of benefits with the potential to revolutionise people’s lives. These include increasing electronic connectivity, economic efficiency, reducing cost and decreasing environmental output.  The Smart City concept is, however, still in its infancy and is heavily reliant on technologies like IoT, mass transport systems, utilities and other infrastructure which are likely to prove vulnerable to cyber attackers and criminals.

One  outstanding problem concerns the social and organisational aspects of Smart Cities security, resulting from competing interests of different parties, high levels of interdependence and social and political complexity. 

Some academics have talked about the rapid rise of the IoT in grand terms as a Fourth Industrial Revolution, after steam, electricity, and of course, computers. While this might be premature, there’s no doubt that this pioneering technology is going to affect almost all aspects of our lives in cities and other urban areas. 

A study from consulting firm McKinsey study suggested that there are three layers that intertwine to make a Smart City function. 

  • The technological base consists of smartphones and sensor-equipped devices producing data and connecting to high-speed communication networks. 
  • Computers process the data to deliver workable solutions for specific problems. 
  • The general public interacts with these technologies, and all of the applications of Smart City technologies depend on individuals simultaneously using them and providing data to generate predictions.

The Importance Of Artificial Intelligence 

Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the context of Smart Cities may be used to process personal data, such as delivering and monitoring the use of power in homes, monitoring traffic movements, serving relevant adverts based on geo-location to potential consumers moving around the urban landscape. It may also include the use of facial recognition to track and monitor people moving around public spaces, for both safety and personalisation reasons.

When AI is processing personal data, there are a number of critical issues to do with privacy and data governance.

There may also be issues  regarding the fairness and reliability of the algorithm. For example, with facial recognition technologies deployed for policing and public safety, the dataset for training the technology must have a sufficiently broad range of different demographics represented within it, so that it would correctly identify people of different racial and ethnic origins, rather than one particular ethnic group more reliably.

Whilst there are risks inherent in deploying AI, the advantages will mean that both developers and purchasers of Smart City technologies will want to understand how to solve those risks so that they can reap the benefits of being able to better use and understand their data.

For many cities around the world, the journey towards adopting smart solutions is still in its early stages. Most current initiatives are characterised by a narrow focus and isolated approach, however, it is known that smart solutions can reduce crime rates, improve people’s health, reduce time spent in traffic, save lives, reduce water and energy consumption, optimise waste collection and reduce the environmental impact caused by a city. 

Smart City technologies promise to revolutionise the way we live in our urban areas and organisations in both the public sector procuring these systems and in the private sector developing them, will need to take account of the unique implications of this new technology and navigate the data privacy and AI risks.

With so much potential, it is imperative that the right policies are put in place to bring us the cities of the future as soon as possible. 

InTechnologySmart Cities:    De Montford University:      I-HLS:      Leeds University:   McKinsey:

ITProportal:   Business Going Digital

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