Smart cities and smart governance go hand in hand
- Countries have recognised the benefits of big data and blockchain
- Artificial intelligence facilitates better communication between citizens and the government
- IoT technologies and sensor-enabled services can deliver new ways to understand and analyse urban challenges
- Given their low cost and high flexibility, drones have a lot of potential to improve our daily life
- Quantum computers bring both benefits and threats
Data-driven smart city systems demand a level of connectedness unimaginable just a few years ago, and the metropolises of the future will be dotted with wireless sensors that track everything from weather to power supply to traffic. They’ll then communicate with smartphones to help residents commute more smoothly, or send data to local authorities to help govern everything from transport to trash collection.
And technologies such as big data, blockchain, the IoT, drones, and even quantum computers will enable us to make our cities and governments far more efficient than they are today. Get ready for a future of cities that anticipate our needs and adapt to our actions.
Countries have recognised the benefits of big data and blockchain
Today, our leaders are learning to ignore their instincts, relying instead on data analysis. For this, big data analytic platforms are essential. Using big data analytics, governments can access torrents of relevant information important to their daily functions, and the advantages of this method of governing are impressive. Access to real-time data eliminates guesswork, letting elected officials and technocrats know what really needs attention and why. Real-time analysis is vital; emergent situations can’t wait, and crises often demand concrete, precise action. While there’s still a lot of work to be done, it’s clear that connectedness and big data analytics can improve a government’s ability to provide a better quality of life for its citizens.
And blockchain, the technology behind Bitcoin, facilitates peer-to-peer transactions, removing the need for intermediaries, by making the data it stores “immutable, traceable, and verifiable”. And many countries have already recognised the benefits of blockchain technology. For instance, Estonia has developed an e-residency program using blockchain for non-citizens. Potential e-residents apply online, and if accepted, gain electronic access to the EU business environment and public e-services through their digital identity. As an applicant, anyone can open a bank account there and start a company. This way, Estonia has begun offering its government services globally, and even former US President Barack Obama was impressed with this system, saying that “With their digital IDs, Estonians can use their smartphones to get just about anything done online, from their children’s grades to their health records.”
Artificial intelligence facilitates better communication between citizens and the government
AI is useful for a lot more than data analysis. Smart AI chatbots, for instance, are a critical connection between the public and the government. For instance, in the US, the Department of Homeland Security’s Citizenship and Immigration Services created a virtual assistant called Emma. It responds accurately to ordinary language, a breakthrough driven by recent advances in machine learning and natural language processing. Additionally, this virtual assistant gets smarter as it answers more questions, learning from her own experiences. User feedback tells Emma which answers helped, improving its ability to understand data in a process called ‘supervised learning’. Such automation could save 96.7 million work hours annually, with potential savings of $3.3 billion a year – those numbers are hard for any government to ignore!
IoT technologies and sensor-enabled services can deliver new ways to understand and analyse urban challenges
As a multidimensional asset, the IoT is recognised as a means of improving pretty much any service a city provides. Søren Kvist, the senior smart city consultant at the Copenhagen Solutions Lab, reveals Copenhagen’s plans to build an integrated digital infrastructure known as Copenhagen Connecting. To become carbon-neutral by 2025, and driven by the need to manage an estimated 20 per cent increase in population, Copenhagen will use real-time data to lower CO2 emissions, reduce traffic congestion, and improve the quality of life of its citizens.
And there are other ways to reduce traffic as well. Jason Pomeroy, a Singapore-based architect, is convinced that autonomous vehicles will “have a huge impact on the world’s infrastructure”, adding that “in cities like Amsterdam, where 50 per cent of the surface area is actually water, autonomous boats that can be used as bridges, as a means of transporting goods or as river taxis, will also be highly advantageous, to reduce not only pollution, but also congestion on the streets.”
Given their low cost and high flexibility, drones have a lot of potential to improve our daily life
Tom Gemmell, a shareholder at the law firm Polsinelli, says that “Drones have been proven to be safer, reduce costs and increase productivity when compared to performing the same tasks by traditional manned aircraft or ground-based methods.’’ Because of the potential cost savings, governments should pay more attention to identifying which areas of their work are suitable for drone applications.
Drones could also serve as a helpful tool in reducing traffic congestion. Traffic congestion is a big problem for cities worldwide, causing residents to waste both their time and money. But drones could fix this by monitoring specific intersections and providing operators with real-time information or by sending their data to smart traffic systems.
Quantum computers bring both benefits and threats
Although the idea of quantum computing has been around for decades, only with recent discoveries has quantum technology taken a step closer to feasibility. While not useful for every task, quantum computers will revolutionise our information-based society. Motivated by such predictions, governments worldwide are investing heavily in this technology.
But the evolution of quantum computing raises security and privacy concerns, because quantum computers are powerful enough to break any modern encryption. Matthew Green, an associate professor at Johns Hopkins University’s Department of Computer Science, points out that quantum processing is the boogeyman every encryption expert fears. “It’s the big problem in our field. All of our public key encryption that we use today is vulnerable to quantum algorithms that break it entirely. We don’t have anything efficient to replace it yet.’’ So, governments will have to be careful to limit access to these powerful machines.
Smart governments use the IoT to improve decision-making and services, leveraging the power of artificial intelligence to get a handle on the mass of data hyperconnectivity makes possible. Our smart systems are decreasing traffic congestion and improving our use of renewable energy, helping us be better stewards of increasingly scarce resources. And improvements in cybersecurity like blockchain and biometrics are making our transactions more secure, but quantum computing, for all its benefits, is threatening encryption even as it makes other good things possible. Still, the future for smart cities and smart governance is bright, promising an improved quality of life for all citizens.