AI + smart cities and communities

17 May 2018 02:00h

Event report

The breakout session on ‘AI + Smart Cities and Communities’ was opened by Mr Renato de Castro (SmartCity Expert) and Mr Alexandre Cadain (Co-Founder & CEO at ANIMA and XPRIZE Ambassador). Castro explained that the session would explore smart city design projects and the technology behind them, with a focus on how artificial intelligence (AI) impacts cities and communities.

In de Castro’s view, smart cities are built on five key components: the underlying technology (information and communications technology, big data, algorithms, etc.), the citizen-centric dimension, the goal of improving citizens’ lives, the emergence of new economies (such as the sharing economy), and the promotion of resilience. Smart cities are not and should not be about building new cities, but about building better cities to live in. To achieve this, it is important that smart cities projects move from a public-private partnership (PPP) approach to a public-private-people partnership (PPPP) approach, and involve citizens as equally important stakeholders in the development and implementation of such projects.

Cadain spoke about an evolution of ‘smart cities’ towards ‘intelligent cities’ and ‘ideal cities’. The ideal cities of the future could be cities in which there is a perfect harmony between humans and technology. Finding solutions for achieving such harmony is a task that requires collaboration across stakeholder groups and disciplines. He further noted that, when we look at successful smart cities projects, we should try to identify solutions and applications that could be replicated in other cities around the world. Moreover, we should consider how certain smart cities applications from developed countries could be replicated in cities in developing countries.

Mr Akihiro Nakao (Professor, University of Tokyo), acting as moderator and panellist, focused his intervention on 5G technology and its use in smart cities applications. Speaking about the importance of resilient communications infrastructure for the development of future smart cities, Nakao presented a project which combines 5G technology with AI to deliver real time video surveillance. Described in simple words, the project involves the use of drones, 5G technologies, and machine learning to capture and transmit real time feed of city surroundings, and analysing what happens on the ground through object recognition technology. Such a project could help improve city safety, which is a growing concern nowadays.

Nakao also touched upon issues related to privacy and data protection in the context of smart cities. He pointed out that companies do need data to be able to produce services that are beneficial for citizens, but that such services should be developed without violating privacy rights.

Mr Brian Markwalter (Senior Vice-President, Consumer Trade Association) started his intervention by mentioning that the Internet of Things (IoT) and AI technologies are continuously evolving, and while this evolution comes with opportunities (such as supporting urbanisation processes around the world), there are also challenges. Technology in itself might not necessarily evolve in a positive way, and this is something we should always keep in mind. Markwalter noted that, as people are already experiencing ‘AI technology coming to meet them and make their lives easier’ (through everyday applications such as smart speakers and other digital systems), they are increasingly expecting the same from their cities. And there are many areas in which cities can put AI technology to use to improve people’s lives, from transport and finances, to energy and the use of resources. When it comes to challenges that can impact the evolution of smart cities, Markwalter mentioned privacy and data protection concerns for end-users, and costs and return of investments concerns for the private companies and public entities.

Mr Chaesub Lee (Director, Telecommunication Standardization Bureau, International Telecommunication Union) spoke about the work carried out by the ITU-T Study Group 20 on IoT and Smart Cities and Communities. The group has been working on developing international standards that leverage the use of IoT technologies to address urban-development challenges. It has so far produced several key performance indicators (KPI) for smart cities, which have already applied been in cities like Dubai and Singapore to assess the performance of smart cities applications and identify areas for improvement. The group will also explore the use of AI for smart cities.

Lee also spoke about the UN initiative on United for Smart Sustainable Cities, which aims to encourage the development of public policies and the use of information and communications technologies (ICTs) to facilitate the transition to smart sustainable cities.

Lee further explained that there are multiple layers behind the notion of smart cities: infrastructures support communication, connected device produce data, collection of data through platforms, the platforms provide capabilities to develop services and applications, which are then provided to citizens in line with regulations and operational principles. All these layers have multiple needs (for example, the infrastructures and devices need to be interoperable, while the regulations need to be based on shared knowledge). By considering all these needs, we can improve the technology and the ‘quality of smartness’.

Cities are, by nature, distinct in terms of geographic location, history, citizen behaviour, culture, etc. The goal of smart cities should not be to create uniform cities, but rather devise ‘smart solutions’ that are adapted to the specificities of each city. The main challenge at hand, therefore, is how to apply AI and other technologies to individualised smart cities.

Mr Andrejs Vasiljevs (Co-founder and Chairman of the Board, Tilde) spoke about the need to consider language diversity in the development of smart cities. Nowadays cities are increasingly multilingual, and AI technology can be put to use to create multilingual solutions for inclusive smart cities and societies, which empower people. Machine learning technology has seen significant progress over the past years, and has helped advance translation of smaller and more complex languages, demonstrating that technology is ready to support all communities, irrespective of how big or small they are. In Latvia, for example, the government has deployed machine translation to allow people speaking different languages to access and use e-government services.

Vasiljevs also mentioned another example of AI used to promote more inclusive societies: chatbots or virtual assistants used by public bodies to facilitate interactions with citizens. He again gave the example of Estonia, where a virtual assistant, Una, is providing guidance and support to citizens who want to set up a company.

During the final round of discussions, several points were made:

  • Combining technology fields – such as machine translation and telecommunications infrastructure to deliver simultaneous translation – has the potential to advance smart cities.

  • Every city is different and this needs to be considered when technologies are standardised and applied.

  • When it comes to privacy and data protection, what matters most is that people understand what happens with their data. Data is essential for smart services, and we might not have smart services without sharing and using data. But it is essential that users are able to make informed decisions about the data they disclose and stay in control of their data. Data should be used with the need for privacy in mind.