Artificial intelligence (AI) has made it possible to collect and analyse large amounts of information, which could optimise processes in many sectors, including urban spaces, transport and healthcare.

In the long term, AI presents a toolbox that could greatly improve the services and infrastructure provided to residents worldwide. However, besides placing people at the centre of the continuous development and improvement of the technology, it is important to ensure that people and communities trust innovations. Only in this way can they be implemented, shaping our communities and helping to create cities that are tailored to communities and able to offer a better quality of life.

To date, not enough attention has been paid to the great benefits that AI can offer,  now and into the future. However, as AI progresses, the benefits have gained increased awareness and the technology is destined to become a real turning point for contemporary life.

Exploiting the benefits of AI could improve the quality of life of city dwellers, and help build environmentally and economically sustainable realities by providing more efficient processes and better automation, sustainable practices and medical care.

AI in the design of new living spaces

A number of global crises have come to the forefront of the minds of millions of people worldwide, and the housing situations of the global population is at the heart of the change required to build sustainable communities. Artificial intelligence can aid in optimising the way that new cities and districts are designed, and the way that existing communities are regenerated.

More people are migrating to cities than ever before. By 2050, the United Nations predicts that cities will host 68% of the world’s population. They say this figure will rise from the current 7.6 billion inhabitants to 8.6 billion in 2030, 9.8 billion in 2050 and 11.2 billion in 2100. Rapid urbanisation is a challenge for cities that will not be easy to overcome.

Leaders and policymakers are finding themselves increasingly concerned with how to develop transport infrastructure, supply and distribute energy resources, tackle crime prevention, and develop quality health services. From now on, they also need to be able to manage the peaks in demand for benefits due to unexpected epidemics.

Certainly, the use of artificial intelligence can be of great support in optimising city design, and in drastically reducing energy consumption and environmental pollution.

Transport: use of AI in infrastructure projects

In the United Kingdom, the Mayor of London has developed a transport strategy which aims for 80% of journeys through London to be made on foot, by bicycle or by public transport before 2041. For the city to successfully achieve this target, it is essential to develop a comprehensive analysis of how and when people use existing transportation systems.

The road monitoring process has long been inefficient, time-consuming and expensive. Previously, it was only possible to collect data by counting manually, which provided a very limited and unreliable idea of ​​the complete picture. 

AI has offered very interesting opportunities to increase efficiency and analysis. It has allowed us to collect data without the need for human operators, making it possible to analyse large quantities of data 24 hours a day, and above all, it has facilitated the development of predictive analyses capable of greatly optimising processes in a number of areas. 

Extensive data provides city leaders with a clear view, allowing them to make the best decisions when it comes to where to target their investment and how to adapt transport infrastructure.

Transport for London recently launched an experiment to develop an overview of traffic and a series of analyses. Using artificial intelligence programs, scanners have a 98% accuracy rate in identifying the flows of vehicles and people through cities. 

Such advanced technology is of great support to London’s urban planners, who now redesign areas of the city with the existing traffic models in mind. They are therefore able to prioritise constructing cycle paths in roads used by a large number of cyclists, for example. In essence, funds are invested to improve areas where a real need has been identified thanks to AI technology.

When implementing artificial intelligence programs, attention to data protection and confidentiality is fundamental and increasingly relevant, especially in Europe. In the case presented above, Transport for London states that all the videos collected by their AI scanners are deleted in a few seconds and that no personal data is stored. To further develop the use of AI globally, it is important that methods of data privacy such as these are followed by companies in any sector.

Sustainable use of energy

AI can analyse historical data to predict the expected energy consumption of a building, district or even an entire city.  Predictive analysis allows energy suppliers to make informed decisions on where to allocate available power, helping them to better manage the peak and the daily or monthly trend. 

This has led to the development of the Aggregator Business Model used by energy providers to generate in-depth information on daily and monthly trends, allowing companies to make informed decisions on where to allocate power and manage peaks in usage. 

The aggregated pool can include generators and consumers operating in one or multiple electricity markets. As a result, they are not only saving valuable energy resources but the end cost to consumers is also reduced. Similar applications are possible for water too.

How healthcare can benefit

In the field of medicine, AI is able to facilitate remote medical analysis, assist in the development of predictive medicine and provide vital assistance in circumstances where doctors and nurses are unable to cope with the increased demand for services. Growth in the healthcare sector is already accelerating, with the number of AI startups focusing on healthcare increasing from less than 20 in 2012 to almost 70 in mid-2016.

In London, the National Health Service, NHS England, has recognised the vast potential of technology in managing already pressed services. They will soon set up an artificial intelligence laboratory in an attempt to provide improved research and assistance to patients. Meanwhile, in the United States, Accenture’s analysis predicts that artificial intelligence applications could save the health economy US $150 billion by 2026.

Change in mentality

Looking ahead, the combined use of Internet of Things (IoT) and AI technology could generate the power to provide even smarter, cheaper and more effective solutions to global, inclusive and integrated challenges. However, a change in mentality is needed and a great deal of attention should be placed on the ethical value that AI can provide, from manual skills to predictive analyses.

The breadth and pace of change are unprecedented and the rise of technologies, primarily artificial intelligence, has the potential to significantly improve the quality of life for millions of people.

The development of this technology must be guided by strong values ​​and principles, as this will inevitably influence the way it is subsequently applied and implemented, whether it is possible to improve people’s lives or the other way around. We cannot miss the opportunity to exploit these technologies for the benefit of humanity, and there are many ways to guarantee it.

Any technological evolution should be tackled with humanity in mind. By putting people at the heart of the continued development and improvement of AI, it is possible to develop decision-making and forecasting processes which integrate human creativity with AI innovations. These could be rolled out across continents, truly shaping our communities and providing the robust, future-proof cities essential to future generations.

Cristiano Radaelli
Chief Innovation Officer

This article was first published in Italian on here.