Smart Cities: Today and Beyond

  • Last week, in the blog post “Imagining the Smart Cities of 2050”, Peter Diamandis, Executive Founder of Singularity University said, “Riding an explosion of sensors, megacity AI ‘brains’, high-speed networks, new materials and breakthrough green solutions, cities are quickly becoming versatile organisms, sustaining and responding to the livelihood patterns of millions.

  • “Over the next decade, cities will revolutionize everything about the way we live, travel, eat, work, learn, stay healthy, and even hydrate.

  • “Bringing together mega-economies, green city infrastructure, and e-services that decimate inefficiency, future transportation and web-based urban services will shape how and where we live, on unthinkable dimensions.”

  • Full text here.

  • Separately, from the upcoming book “The Smart Enough City: Putting Technology in Its Place to Reclaim Our Urban Future (Strong Ideas)”, its author Ben Green said “One of the smart city’s most alluring features is its promise of innovation: It uses cutting-edge technology to transform municipal operations. Like efficiency, innovation possesses the nebulous appeal of being both neutral and optimal, which is difficult to oppose. After all, who would want her city to stagnate rather than innovate?

  • Technological innovation in cities is primarily a matter not of adopting new technology but of deploying technology in conjunction with nontechnical change and expertise. This requires data scientists to reach out beyond the realm of databases and analytics to access as much contextual knowledge as possible.

  • “It’s always difficult to resist the allure of tech goggles—the perspective that every ailment of urban life is a technology problem that only technology can solve. But if we fail in this task we will end up building cities that are superficially smart but under the surface are rife with injustice and inequity."

  • Note: Green is a PhD candidate, a former Fellow at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, former data scientist in the City of Boston's Department of Innovation and Technology.

  • Full text here.


OUR TAKE

  • Smart cities are at an early stage of evolution and developing them is a complex process. There will be many lessons to learn and share among the various stakeholders.

  • Regarding Diamandis’ views: Given his alignment with “Singularity”, which envisions a world shaped by artificial superintelligence and technological growth, his comments are optimistic

  • Regarding Green’s views: His experience with local governments helps provide balanced perspectives on the limits of deploying smart city technologies “at-scale” and addressing  the need of various socio-economic groups.  

  • Bottom line: Technologies have been reshaping cities and societies for centuries. Their adoption has resulted in unexpected outcomes, both positive and negative. Successful smart cities will require technologies that are reliable, ease to use, cost-effective and address community needs.

Paul Dravis