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Top 5 Smart City Predictions: AI and the Birth of Self-Aware Cities

August 1, 2017 - 2 Comments

What will cities look like in the future? With the birth of Machine Learning, explosion in Artificial Intelligence and our increasingly Tech-Centric culture, they may look much different than most people expect. And the process of planning them will as well. But one things for sure – they will be smarter.

smart cities, smart cityAs a licensed Landscape Architect working in the Tech industry, I see great untapped potential to adapt innovative technologies to empower landscape architects, architects, civil engineers and city/regional planners. And as these professions become increasingly involved in the Smart Cities process, they would be wise to begin educating themselves about the emerging technologies companies such as Cisco are developing.

So to prepare my fellow designers for their unexpected future creating more sustainable environments, I offer up my top 5 predictions on the future of planning SmartCities:

By 2020: Use of a single city wide digital platform to unify all operations, data aggregation/analytics, and actions across agencies will become popular. This will pull data from all city sensors, cameras, end points, databases, etc. and then aggregate that data into a single source, all in real-time. This data will then be pushed back out for immediate use by city leaders, agencies, businesses (including design firms), universities and even citizens to take immediate actions that result in better outcomes for all. Cisco is already pioneering this concept with its Smart+Connected Communities Digital Platform which provides a great foundation for your Smart City solutions. Plus there will be some very exciting news about that platform coming very soon.

By 2025: As Smart Cities become the rule rather than the exception, local governments will have to adapt their planning methodologies. This will result in the inclusion of language into municipal building codes and Unified Development Ordinances requiring and regulating types, uses and even quantities of digital technologies for buildings, land development and roads. This will initially reveal itself through minimum requirements for sensors, WiFi and other network infrastructure.

smartcities, smart city, smart cities, AI, big data, urban planningBy 2030: The use of artificial intelligence in design studios and government planning departments will include the presence of fully mobile androids who will serve as liaisons between technology and humans. They will also serve as base creatives, providing feedback on designs and serving as catalysts to spur new approaches. They will also be given authority as final arbitrators on planning issues that are often biased by human preconceptions.

By 2035: The responsibilities of engineers, architects, landscape architects and other planning professionals will shift significantly as self-aware technologies increase their role in design and planning. This will allow the various design professions to become so efficient that they will be able to merge into a single unified profession. This evolution will also empower the human workforce to engage in more high-level decision making and free them to be more creative in general, spurring a renaissance in planning as well as a much happier workforce.

smart cities, smart city, nyc, sustainability, time lapse, ciscoBy 2040: We will be able to create a living, breathing manifestation of a city – an entity endowed with its own self-awareness, across all agencies, assets and communities to make decisions for the common good, better and faster than humans ever could. These self-realized cities will begin collaborating with each other, ultimately planning new communities on their own and building them using automated tools and large scale 3D printers.

Will these predictions come true? The years may be off, but in time, yes. It is a fascinating view from which I find myself these days; immersed within the rising framework of future cities but somewhat subdued by their potential because I feel the environmental design professions are not yet being fully utilized in the process. But this is just momentary. For in the end, the Smart City itself will become designer and builder – the sole-source originator of community.

For the latest news, trends and analysis on Smart Cities, Planning and Tech, follow Kenn on:

LinkedIn: Kenn Dodson, RLA/SME

Twitter: Gircom

Related Article: Will AI Replace Creative Professionals?


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  1. Excellent perspective Kenn, and thanks for sharing. As a forward-thinking civil engineer working with many state and local government clients I often find myself daydreaming during and after project meetings. Sort of makes me feel like the boy on the image you included at the beginning of your message. I listen to all the information my clients share. They always have so much institutional knowledge and they tend to sometimes be constrained in addressing what are perceived to be more traditional problems and solutions. More and more I am finding if you are willing transition a formal project meeting to a more open-minded and interactive discussion the outcome can be something special. In my world, I spend a great deal of time talking about “best available data” but it always seems that term is looking at static data – sets of information that have been collected and maybe analyzed, a bit, but not far enough to bring true value. For this reason, I really appreciate your comment “they would be wise to begin educating themselves about the emerging technologies…” So true, and at the same time in our profession we would be serving them best to help start educating them. As we are not bound by the same degree of politics, and as we have a greater depth of resources to begin to understand the ROI of data and technology, we can help them build their model to advance to more of a “self-aware” city. The past few years I have worked with some innovative applications that leverage existing data sets to provide for more efficient decision making. When I think of AI I often immediately have the picture of a shiny robot working over my shoulder, just like the image in your post. But the more I work with clients to develop smart applications the more I realize AI does not need to walk or talk, it does not need to learn emotions. Much is being discussed right now about AI as a near-term reality and even as a threat. That is just to acknowledge the issues are on the table. From my perspective when I think about AI I am thinking about some of the solutions I am working on in the space of water management and also in emergency management applications. From the water perspective, I look out to the 2020 and beyond horizon and I picture a city where water management through IoT applications becomes the defense to offset the risks of flooding, drought and water quality in the treatment and distribution networks. A city where water is managed to the micro level and continues to be an affordable asset to society. Further, I see AI as a means to make more efficient the coordination of response and recovery efforts as we continue to face natural and man-made hazards in our cities and beyond. Bringing the mass number of systems and data already available into a central platform is a step that helps so many to see the vision and begin to work towards the seemingly endless possibilities.

    • As you mentioned, a unified platform for data is critical. Once that is in place, a great many things can be accomplished. A great opportunity exist in connected sensors for transportation – especially flooding, severe weather, surface temperatures, materials monitoring.

      But one key untapped area would be natural resources – such as tree canopies, parks/recreation and greenways, conservation areas, forestry (including urban forest). I’d classify all of these under the umbrella of Green Infrastructure – perhaps Cisco should take a look at extending our Connected Digital Platform to that area as well.