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How AI makes cities smarter

Jure Brence, November 2021

The idea of smart cities is an attractive and ambitious vision - communities, designed to facilitate and leverage the power of information and communication technologies in urban spaces. Vast amounts of data, collected through the paradigm of the internet-of-things, enable advanced management and planning through a web of interconnected systems, all captained through the power of artificial intelligence.

In the 20th century, the nature of urban planning gradually shifted from traditional civic endeavours to more scientific approaches, with works such as The City Scientifi0c by G. Ford in 1913, To engineer the metropolis by Schultz & McShane in 1978 and The scientific management of urban space by Fairfield in 1994. With the rapid technological advancements that followed, the emergence of the smart city dream was a natural development.

However, the prospect of modernizing a centuries old city with all its geographical, societal and cultural complexities is no easy feat. Cities built ground-up to be smart, such as UAE’s Masdar and South Korea’s Songdo, serve as beautiful demonstrations of the vision, but are not achievable on a larger scale in the near future, as discussed in The ‘actually existing smart city’ by Shelton and others.

Nevertheless, many successful examples of existing cities becoming smarter exist. Countless municipal governments all over the world are launching major projects with the aim of becoming greener, improving the quality of life for their residents, as well as keeping their economy competitive. In today’s post, we take a look at two such cities. What problems is Singapore planning to tackle with AI? How is Amsterdam benefiting from existing AI applications?

The ambitious AI strategy of Singapore

The National AI Strategy is a key step in our Smart Nation journey. It spells out our plans to deepen our use of AI technologies to transform our economy, going beyond just adopting technology, to fundamentally rethinking business models and making deep changes to reap productivity gains and create new areas of growth. - Lee Hsien Loong, Prime Minister of Singapore.

The island state is already successfully employing AI in many applications. The Travel Smart Programme analyzes collected traffic data and alleviates rush-hour congestion by redirecting passengers and incentivizing them with price reductions. Autonomous vehicles are being employed in limited settings, such as the self-driving shuttle of the National University of Singapore. AI chatbots help care for both the physical and mental wellbeing of the elderly. The healthcare system is nearly fully digitalized and is a great position to continue adopting AI. Virtual Singapore is a dynamic 3D city model and collaborative data platform, supporting simulations and future planning. As part of its national strategy, Singapore is developing and deploying AI in a number of sectors.

In intelligent freight planning, the movement of freight will be optimized for greater business productivity and traffic efficiency. AI will aid in the pooling and dynamic assignment of trucking jobs, as well as in the routing and scheduling of trucks. Seamless and efficient municipal service means delivering municipal services to residents in a reliable, responsive and timely fashion. AI chatbots are expected to guide residents in navigating a web of agencies and institutions to easily deal with their issues and errands. AI algorithms will be deployed in neighborhoods and estates to pre-emptively detect issues and minimize inconvenience. Chronic disease prediction and management will be improved through AI that analyzes clinical, behavioural and genomic data and produces personalized risks scores, as well as helps patients self-manage their conditions. Furthermore, AI will aid primary care doctors and care teams in developing personalized care plans for their patients. Border clearance operations intend to apply AI to screen passengers, with the aim of expediting the process and improving traveler experience, while keeping the border secure. Finally, to personalise education through adaptive learning and assessment, Singapore will leverage AI and help teachers better customise and improve the learning experience for every student.

Amsterdam’s progressive smart city initiative

The history of smart city development dates back to the 70s, when Los Angeles began the first urban big data project, gaining insights about the issues of the community through cluster analysis. Amsterdam took the next big step in 1994 – the development of a virtual city, one of the first social web projects. Since its conception in 2009, the Amsterdam Smart City initiative has facilitated more than 170 projects, completed collaboratively by businesses, residents and the government. One of the things that sets Amsterdam apart from many other cities is its data policy – municipal data is open source, available online to be deployed or expanded by users.

SocialGlass is a project, combining social media data with geolocation data to create a reflection of the human landscape. AI can learn to recognize patterns in the data and provide insights about the local mood and events in the city.**

Self sustainability is an important part of building empowered and resilient communities. This development can be facilitated by urban farming, such as AI-driven robotic vertical farms that automate the cultivation of crops.

Many of the projects focus on people and providing them with the tools they need to take a more active role living in their community. ParkingHero is a blockchain-based platform that helps users quickly find cost-effective parking spots. This is achieved by enhancing live IoT data from sensors across the city with AI algorithms that predict parking occupancy from past data.

And what is Amsterdam’s vision for the next phase in its smart city transformation? They believe future development must be led by the people and the communities, while being enabled by the city and the technology. Amsterdam will thus continue to get smarter by focusing on residents as co-creators.