On February 11, 2019, The Brookings Institution held an event moderated by Darrell West, the Founding Director for their Center for Technology Innovation, entitled “Smart Cities and Artificial Intelligence.” Speakers addressed concerns, obstacles, and benefits that new digital tools and networks would raise as they are incorporated into urban environments.

Nicol Lee, Fellow for the Center for Technology and Innovation

The first panelist, Nicol Lee, brought up the numerous benefits cities could experience from the implementation of Artificial Intelligence, sensors, and data analytics. She cited the contributions to sustainability and efficient allocation of resources these developments could drive. In turn, this would lead to heightened livability in cities, such as mobility without a car, remote commuting and remote medicine, and increased security and public safety.

Lorie Wigle, Vice President of the Software and Services group at Intel

The moderator brought the feasibility of implementing this technology back into perspective with a question to Lorie Wigle on the security challenges posed by the intersection of AI and cities. Wigle highlighted the need for security to arise within each different element of tech. In the case of a congestion management system, each traffic light sensor, connected car, and the system itself needs to be secure to prevent threats from infiltrating them. This starts with the actual design of each piece of technology; only with end-to-end security can we ensure the safety of the data and the system. She also noted that although there are security concerns with the tech itself, it can also lead to the kind of increased security within the city that Lee talked about. With smart street lighting, which could increase lighting during heavy congestion, or gunshot detection systems, the city itself could improve the safety of its inhabitants.

Adie Tomer, Fellow for the Metropolitan Policy Program

The final panelist, Adie Tomer focused in on the actual reality of what a smart city would look like. He noted how few people truly live in cities and how most are in suburbs. This changes the reality of a smart city, as most people will be driving into the cities from the fringes and thus infrastructure is paramount. Tomer stressed that in order to facilitate autonomous cars, we need to have a single blueprint of all the roads and be functioning on the same network, which currently is not happening as Apple maps, Google maps etc. all show different routes and roads. It would require heavy investing in mapping our current subterranean infrastructure such as water pipes as well as above ground layouts to fully realize the benefits of this technology.

Tomer and Lee agreed on the need to close the digital divide. Some neighborhoods have subscription rates as low as 40%, meaning that over half of people in some areas lack access to broadband. Even if cities implement more remote medicine and telecommuting, these people will be unable to access these benefits. Lee proposed centralized access points in libraries and public areas to bridge the gap for these citizens and allow them to benefit from smart cities through inclusive measures.

Final Thoughts Moving Forward

To end the event, each participant weighed in on the government’s role in regulating but also fostering the growth of AI. Lee remarked on the need for privacy legislation, an ethical framework to stop bias, as well as keeping things open for new advancements. Wigle advised that the government should be more of a role model, and not over-regulate. Finally, Tomer advised that digital fluency needs to be expanded so that the workforce can utilize the advancements in the cities, and that the government should act as a partner in this and other smart city developments.