AI and Cities

With twenty-five megacities, with populations of at least ten million people, currently dotting the Earth, and an expected thirty more coming by 2025, the next few decades will see unprecedented movements of people into the city.

Movements that are fueled by the hope for opportunity, but are themselves posing some of the greatest challenges as megacities commonly struggle with issues such as unsustainable levels of pollution, landfill waste, and traffic congestion.  Issues that arise from the sheer size of these cities and the difficulty in managing the movement and waste of such a huge population, which for some artificial intelligence and automated technologies will be a powerful influence on the development of future cities and could be the panacea for the ills of urbanization.

AI also provides a wonderful tool to make infrastructure safer and deploy maintenance resources more efficiently.  The city of Shanghai has successfully employed AI technologies to track the deterioration of bridges.  This task, which is usually done manually, was seen to be an accurate and effective approach for monitoring structures (NCBI).

The problem of traffic congestion in urban areas is exemplified by Beijing, a city that notoriously suffered from a ten day, hundred-kilometer traffic jam during a holiday in recent years.  While this is the extreme, the city experiences daily gridlock along with urban areas all over the world.  A recent American study from the Auto Insurance Center calculated that the average American commuter spends more than their forty-hour workweek sitting in traffic every year, and nearly double that if they lived in Los Angeles.

Autonomous and partially autonomous vehicles have an increasing presence in headlines and on the road.  According to a study from the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, the widespread adoption of autonomous personal vehicles will diminish the average number of cars owned per household from 2.1 to 1.2, diminishing pollution.

In this somewhat distant future when autonomous vehicles are ubiquitous in cities road infrastructure could reflect a more eco-friendly design.  Modern roads are designed around human error, they are wider than they need to be and include large walls and other barriers.  In the future, the space used by such preventative measures could instead be used for vegetation of parks to increase the livability of cities.

For those that are worries about the impact of AI on jobs,  AI itself is being seen as the answer as AI systems can be valuable tools to gain information and be educated.  Online courses assisted by AI to learn from users’ preferences can break down barriers to accessing education for those who may have to work or can otherwise not physically attend school.  As people have to find new skills after being displaced by machines, easy access to education will become more important than ever before.

AI and automation have not yet neared their full potential for economic disruption.  According to research from McKinsey, twelve new technologies that are in their early stages of adoption could double global GDP by 2025.  Cities are the bases for technology development given their capacity for research and capacity for investment.

No one can say for sure what cities will rise up to lead AI innovation, however forty-three percent of industry leaders in technology and innovation believe that the global innovation hub is very likely to move away from Silicon Valley in the next few years (KPMG).  This shift could lead to a new region that attracts the best and brightest entrepreneurs and benefits from heavy investment.

AI will permeate so many aspects of urban life, with some of the most important applications of AI will help to make the cities of the future livable and healthy.  As massive populations continue to flow into urban areas and create new ones pollution and waste management will be of the utmost concern.

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