AI in Smart Cities: The benefits and challenges

According to Microsoft, smart cities are urban areas that use digital technologies to enrich residents’ lives. From improving infrastructure to modernising government services, enhancing accessibility, driving sustainability, and accelerating economic development. In essence, it is a city that makes the lives of its inhabitants more comfortable and safer. 

To make their cities “smart”, Governments use a combination of cutting-edge solutions like the Internet of Things (IoT), cloud computing, artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR), edge, and blockchain.

How is Artificial Intelligence Used in Smart Cities?

City planners, local governments, and architects apply AI and machine learning (ML) for traffic management, road safety, water resource management, e-mobility, public safety and law enforcement, newer automation systems, and even the digital delivery of public goods and services. Indeed, the applications are abundant and quite possibly limited only by the imagination of those in power, the budget available, and the technology at hand.

According to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 55% of the world’s population resides in urban areas. This number is expected to rise to 68% by 2050. As such, there is a strong push to create a more robust digital backbone to make these cities more manageable. 

What are the Benefits of Implementing AI in Smart Cities?

The benefits of implementing AI in smart cities all fall under the theme of creating more efficient, safer, and improved economic outcomes for their citizens. One of the biggest and most powerful tools to achieve these goals is the use of big data in conjunction with IoT. The data gathered gives a powerful insight into the circumstances of a city.

A well-designed data analytics strategy allows city officials to access and analyse a massive amount of information. Effective big data applications and strategies provide a city with information to identify and staff police in high-risk areas, for example, as well as forecast and plan for expansion in citywide population growth and identify trends in citizen interests, concerns, and needs. In addition, live data can make rescue and retrieval much easier in times of disaster like hurricanes or earthquakes. 

In our time of climate change, it is pivotal for future cities to manage their waste sustainably. Due to the rise of greenhouse gases, debris in our oceans, and trash in our streets, smart cities are fighting back. From energy-efficient buildings, air quality sensors, and renewable energy sources. Deploying air quality sensors around a city can provide data to track low air quality peak times and identify pollution causes. These sensors can help lay a foundation for reducing air pollution in even the most populated cities.

What are the Challenges to Implementing AI in Smart Cities?

The challenges in implementing AI in smart cities are as equally abundant as the benefits. The European Union published a briefing on the use of AI in smart cities and urban mobility. Therein, they outlined the multiple benefits mentioned above. However, the brief also outlined the difficulties to implementing AI in urban settings: 

  1. Availability and reliability of data and technology

Despite the integrated nature of the EU, there remains an uneven level of technological adoption in the different states. For example, the Eastern part of the EU falls behind the West regarding infrastructure and integration. Estonia, for example, is leagues ahead even against countries like the US and China, with its early adoption of digital technologies and blockchain. As a result, more infrastructure must be implemented to truly leverage AI.

  1. Ethical challenges for responsible use of AI

The ethical challenges may be the most fundamental issue in applying AI in cities. The use of big data, digital technologies, and AI always entail surveillance and privacy issues. Given the pioneering reputation of the EU with the GDPR, it makes sense that the union takes extreme measures to ensure the responsible use of AI. And such caution lengthens the time between ideation and implementation.

  1. Regulatory difficulties around infrastructure and data

For smart cities to work, cities must become more open and hyperconnected rather than individually regulated. Within a city, there is the challenge of integrating electricity, heating, water and mobility infrastructures. Individually, even in one city, these systems may be different, a different energy company, for example. As such, regulation must be put in place to make these integrations more seamless – in a city, between cities, and eventually, between union states.

Key Takeaway

The use of AI and digital technologies to create smart cities is certainly the future. More so, if we want to create a more sustainable way of living. However, while the benefits are exciting and abundant, many difficulties remain to solve. But we can definitely look forward to smarter cities!

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Author: Michelle Diaz

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