Insights November 14th, 2019
New York City is beautiful during the dark hours of the night. The streets have a distinctive voice and hum that’s both reassuring and remnant that there is life. But, the city is not asleep, it never has been, and today NYC is an enlightened smart city.
That enlightenment results from the nervous system of sensors meshes with diverse data collection, real-time processing, and derivation of insights that drive human action, and it never stops.
This ‘enlightenment architecture’ is the ecosystem of the ‘smart city’, and it’s a trend that’s growing globally.
The worldwide smart cities market will grow from today’s market of $622 billion, up to $3.48 trillion by 2026. It’s a significant indicator that the world is desperate for insight in light of the millions of people moving into cities. More evidence can be seen from the fact that today there are over 1,000 smart city pilot projects are ready for or are under construction worldwide and China is home to about 500 of them, covering big and small cities. Examples of these are Songdo in South Korea, Bristol in the United Kingdom, Barcelona in Spain and, of course, New York City.
New York City is entering a stage of enlightenment. The city administration has invested in architecting a smart city through foundational initiatives for like NYCx Program and LinkNYC helping drive the smart city agenda forward with the full support of Mayor Bill de Blasio. In fact, LinkNYC – the world’s largest fastest and municipal Wi-Fi network – has been used over 50 million times since implementation and then onto the deployment of sensors helping with everything from wearable devices to over 8000 connected vehicles, including cars, taxis, trucks, pickup trucks and buses.
Their aim was to have the insights to better serve the 8.6m people living, moving, and working across the five boroughs every day. However, New York City cannot run on surface data and gut feel alone.
The next logical stage in the development of New York City’s enlightenment is to extend its sensory capture of data and enable an evolution towards being able to tap into the wisdom held in both the conscious and what I call the ‘city subconscious’. For that you need to deploy artificial intelligence (A.I.) able to take the data, distill insights, and drive enlightenment in the city administration on how best to serve the citizens and businesses.
To bolster the case for implementing good data and artificial intelligence practices over and above an Internet of Things and data network deployment, we need to look at the three motivations for implementing AI that all Mayors, CTOs, City Managers should consider.
Increased Return on Investment
25 billion sensors have been deployed in the world – pipes, sewers, office buildings, buses, cars, the smartphones in our pockets. They create a nervous system for the city, and our lives. Always on. Always capturing data. But, will this prove to be useful in the end or just written down capital expenditure?
In 2018, Data is wasted investment unless you can squeeze every bit of value out of it. Having analysts and data scientists is a good start but they need tools, and the tools that will deliver the most value is around artificial intelligence that can process data and learn of patterns that we do not see.
In fact, without investment in more robust analytics, data scientists, and artificial intelligence cities will be stuck in an old cycle using new technology. A direct shift of philosophy towards real-time data flow that provide operational insights will determine the health of the modern smart city.
Enhanced Operational and planning intelligence
This is where A.I. kicks into a higher gear.
Urbanization and globalization are increasing trends. To know is to grow and we need to grow with confidence that we can be sustainable and resilient. And, as more people and businesses move into the cities the operational and planning staff become increasingly under pressure.
There are many applications of AI that empower the municipal management in improving how the city operates and helps them plan into the future thus improving quality of life overall.
- Improved traffic flow and street configuration can be more actively reviewed through the discovery of patterns not easily discernible. In addition, analysis of pedestrian and bicycle movements can be analyzed alongside traffic to create a more holistically sound strategy for population mode shift.
- More balanced, and flexible, business licensing can be define through patterns seen in foot fall and revenue analysis alongside more macroeconomic trends in seasonality, tourism influx, and citizen needs and wants.
- New building codes can be introduced that leads to a greater contribution to the holistic smart city strategy, considering both historical, current, and future building and public infrastructure plans.
- Future city growth can also be more accurately modelled with more certainty on future scenarios linked to multiple, and diverse, data sources. This will lead to smaller margins of error leading to a more robust planning cycles. A side effect of that is that more (or more focused) investments in smart city infrastructure can be made more accurately thus leading to an improved return on investment.
- Smart management of lighting, water resources, and energy leads to reduction in waste and optimized use of resources. This can achieved at the home, borough, and city level automatically with the right A.I.-enabled solution.
Improved Citizen Safety and Engagement
People are the true energy that drives the city so we cannot ignore how important they are. In fact, when architecting the smart city, it is important to put the 6 human desires – certainty, variety, significance, connection and love, contribution, and growth – at the centre of design and deployment efforts.
In addition to that measuring levels of social connection, happiness, wellness, and GDP per capita are crucial to the health of the smart city. More specifically it can help in a multitude of ways:
- Public safety and security is enhanced by AI through sophisticated surveillance technologies, finding patterns across linking crime databases etc.
- Crowd management, estimation of size, predicting behaviour, tracking objects and enabling rapid response to incidents.
- Citizen engagement and service delivery 24/7/365 through chatbots that respond to enquiries and create connection through information. A.I. can also then highlight and prioritize complicated and time-sensitive queries for operational staff to take action on.
Accurate measurement of this requires two key parts. Citizen data contribution and feedback using applications and allowing access to mobile devices where personal privacy and data ownership are not compromised. And, providing data and infrastructure transparency, accessibility and ownership around public data. With this, implementation of AI at this level will result in more empowered citizens, greater awareness for businesses, and more informed infrastructure and service providers that can better meet our ongoing needs.
I believe that the end goal of smart city initiatives is to connect many cities. I like to think about what the world-renowned Sociologist Manuel Castells says, “The global city is a distributed phenomenon. There is only one global city, and it floats on top of the others like lace.” That is the real promise. A global city consciousness that can learn across countries and continents and help us live together in more harmonious ways.
Cities never sleep. Through sensors and AI we now have the opportunity to be more alive, vibrant, and awake than it ever has been before.