The balance between smart cities and AI challenges

by Jake Crown

Spending on technology for smart cities could near $100b by 2021, with the three primary aims to make them more livable, workable, and sustainable.

More than half of the world’s population already lives in urban areas, and with this number expected to keep rising cities are planning ahead to avoid pitfalls of rapid urbanization such as pollution, traffic, and crime.

The underlying fabric for these cities is typically in the “internet of things,” or the billions of devices and sensors sharing data. Artificial intelligence and machine learning are enormously powerful in these connected communities as the people serve as both a source of information as well as beneficiaries of it.

But the technology that enabled investments in infrastructure, healthcare, business, and more come with concerns as well.

  • The shift to urban living, and the likely employment opportunities that come with it, threaten to leave huge swaths of civilization inadequately prepared for the new economy, further exacerbating income inequality.
  • Algorithmic bias can become increasingly problematic if unaddressed, impacting everything from criminal sentencing to who gets a loan or a job offer.
  • How do we maintain adequate privacy in a world that already has billions of connected devices and the expectation of billion cameras by 2020?

One emerging pattern all smart cities will have to consider is the level of standardization in practices. We’re in the early innings of this shift and it’s too soon to say whether it’s better for the connected cities of the world to be consistent in their goals and means, or whether a patchwork of rules for each municipality is better suited to reflect the needs and culture of its citizens.

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