The paradigm of AI in shaping smarter cities

Shaping smarter cities is one the main goals of the century. Could AI be an innovative solution to overcome obstacles and improve efficiency and management of these urban areas?

Our technological reality has been increasingly becoming more and more disruptive, given the many challenges that innovation has been bringing, whether from a social, environmental, economic, or legal perspective. Nevertheless, it is beyond dispute that technology will play a fundamental role in maximizing efficiency, improving quality of life, and creating new opportunities for smarter cities.

Every day, public transports, and other essential services of cities process millions of pieces of information about their users and city dwellers, making Big Data a real phenomenon.

Due to the pandemic, climate change, and the unstoppable trend of rural exodus and the population growth in large urban areas, more and more difficulties have been arising for local governors, namely, at the level of city management.

In many cases, the population growth has been causing major constraints on the functioning of essential public structures and services, resulting in an insufficient capacity of response to the community needs.

These constant challenges have been engaging the international community to change its perspective when it comes to building the cities of the future and start focusing on solutions based on new emerging technologies. From western countries to the east of the globe, technology is now the epicenter of evolution, as it is being employed for purposes of stimulating economy growth, improving cities, and bringing communities together.

Among these technologies, Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been considered by many experts a promising solution towards sustainability, modernisation, and cohesion, having a particularly decisive role in greener and more future-oriented cities.

AI represents nothing less and nothing more than human technological creations, based on predetermined techniques and algorithms, aiming at the performance of tasks that a human would normally perform. Due to the complexity of their code, they can easily achieve a high self-learning capacity, namely, in decision making, predicting results, or providing recommendations, without a direct and permanent human intervention in the activities they are designed for.

This self-learning capability is mostly fueled by the availability and use of massive amounts of data, like the ones large cities have been relying on for urban management purposes. In other words, they both rely on the existence of data for better results. By unifying their potentialities and developing specific AI infrastructures with the sole purpose of empowering smart cities, we are creating new possibilities to make some of the main fragilities of cities to disappear.

Employing machine learning models will facilitate processing massive amounts of data available in these cities’ services, contribute for product optimization and manufacturing, better access to healthcare programs, connectivity acceleration, as well as will especially contribute best to enhance and mitigate the consequences of urban mobility, which has been for so long one of the main pillars of big cities. It has been and will continue being one of governors’ goals to provide to the community affordable and sustainable public transports, in line with the objectives set and reaffirmed by world leaders in numerous climate summits and conferences, during the last two decades. 

AI helps achieving these goals by creating new smart mobility solutions to address the challenges of the century for this sector. The implementation of autonomous electric and hydrogen powered vehicles as an alternative way of mobility, is just one of several examples of projects being already developed and have brought together several major companies, in different countries. Such projects promise to truly shape the cities of future by creating more road safety, less traffic on streets, reducing city pollution and, in turn, contribute to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

In the same line of thought, AI can also be directly employed the purpose of traffic monitoring and management. Through the implementation intelligent sensors, it would be possible to measure the impact of roadworks on flow, a real-time control of traffic signals or identify safety-critical events such as car crashes and stopped vehicles. In this regard, there are various examples of start-ups that have been making efforts for this urban decongestion and developing projects all around the world.

From a purely sustainable development perspective, AI can also prove useful for the recycling industry. Through cameras and high-tech computer systems, it is already possible to scan and recognize plastic, glass, cardboard, and enable a more efficient recycling. In turn, this would help reduce health risks for workers, ensure a higher quality control, less waste, as well as speeding up processes.

As we stated, there is plethora of advantages that AI promises for the cities of the future but associated with these benefits there are always risks and implications about its uses.

Implementing an autonomous transportation vehicles network, would imply high costs with their infrastructure and maintenance; secondly, given that is a machine, there would be always the risk of system failure; thirdly, there could be problematic situations in determining liability in the event of an accident. Moreover, in the case of traffic management, as other possible ways of application of AI, there is always the main concern of protecting information and privacy, given the many cybersecurity and hacking risks. Finally, employing AI to automate the recycling industry, would result in a decrease in the available jobs and, in turn, a rise in the unemployment levels for this sector.

Innovation has made its mark in our world in a wide variety of areas, bringing immense benefits as well as challenges. Although we are still far from a consensus on AI use for smarter cities, it is inevitable to affirm that in the future AI will have a determining role in the daily routine of each one of us. It is now up to us and the generations to come to embrace it as a challenge and seek solutions for the future.

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