Artificially Intelligent Cities?

Published on 15 Feb 2024

How can AI help local authorities to create better, more sustainable places for their residents?

How can AI be deployed in a responsible and ethical way?

What even is AI?

These were some of the questions explored in the recent ‘Artificially Intelligent Cities’ event organised by the CW Smart and Intelligent Cities Special Interest Group (SIG) who welcomed guest speakers: Phil Claridge from the CW Artificial Intelligence SIG and Mandrel Systems, Andrew Chetty from Starling Technologies, Anna Jordan from Alchera Technologies, Sherin Matthews from AI-Tech UK and Daniele Quercia from Nokia Bell Labs.

To help set the scene, Phil Claridge gave attendees an introduction to the AI ‘zoo’, explaining the different types of AI from algorithms to machine learning, deep learning to generative models and whatever comes next. Phil also explored topics around a number of questions including:

  • If local authorities are going to use this technology, how do we get the best out of it?
  • How do we make sure that it’s set up correctly with a strong foundation of data?
  • How do we ask the right questions and make sure we apply common sense to the outcomes?
  • How is AI currently being used by cities?

Andrew Chetty from Starling Technologies followed and explained how the company is using machine learning to prioritise pavement users by reacting to the number of people approaching and waiting at pedestrian crossings. This allows cities to adjust crossing wait times and crossing durations for pedestrians, provide information to drivers to improve safety and give a better experience to people walking and biking through cities, thus reducing the impact of traffic flow.

Anna Jordan from Alchera Technologies followed and explored how they are using AI to optimise the road network. We’ve all been held up in traffic on the M25 and wondered why motorways can’t be managed better! Alchera Technologies take different sets of data relating to the M25 and use that data to optimise roadworks, scheduling them for the quietest times. This is one example of how the right data, with the use of AI transport networks, can make our journeys quicker and less stressful!

Sherin Mathew, CEO of AI Tech UK, emphasised the pressing necessity for AI adoption. When councils find themselves losing time and money due to inefficient and unproductive operations and processes, it's time to consider innovative solutions. Exploring AI opportunities can empower both employees and citizens, leading to enhanced processes, optimised operations, and improved citizen engagement. Sherin specialises in establishing an AI centre of excellence, which can efficiently manage leadership, strategy, technology, data, and governance practices internally, ensuring a low-risk, cost-effective, confident, and well-governed approach.

Parting thoughts – The use of AI in cities tends to be about optimisation, efficiency and predictability. Daniele Quercia, the Director of Responsible AI from Nokia Bell Labs, challenged our thinking, exploring questions such as:

  • Is this really what we want when experiencing cities?
  • If we had data exploring what makes people happy, would we optimise for happiness or choose walking routes based on smell or sound?

We need to remember why we are using AI and the responsibilities that come with it. The talk referenced Jane Jacobs, the great American urbanist, who said “there is no logic that can be superimposed on the city; people make it, and it is to them, not buildings, that we must fit our plans”.

We must use AI for the benefit of people as they make cities.

Blog Written By: Dan Clarke, Head of Technology and Innovation at Greater Cambridge Partnership and CW Smart and Intelligent Cities SIG Champion

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