With  2.5 quintillion bytes of data1 created each day, it’s difficult to make smart decisions without AI. But who’s in charge of it and what will the average citizen of tomorrow be prepared to trade for better public services? Find out how cities can scale up for the big data challenge in this HSBC “Cities of the Future” video.

    There’s a scene in Fast & Furious 8 where hackers take control of thousands of vehicles in real time, so they drive themselves through the streets of New York to block a politician’s motorcade. Could it happen? In theory, yes. In 2015 Fiat Chrysler recalled 1.4 million vehicles in the US after it was shown that a third party could hack a Jeep through its internet-enabled, in-car entertainment system2

    But in reality, there are likely to be more positives than negatives in having your vehicle – or any of your personal technology – uploading data to a remote server. And when it’s aggregated and anonymised, those positives are exponentially increased to the benefit of everyone. At least, that is the premise on which smart cities are being built.

    “The implication of a connected, smart, semi-autonomous system requires a level of design thinking not only at the technology and data level, but also integrating with financial, regulatory and physical infrastructure in a way that we’ve never achieved in the West… we’ve never really had to,” says Charles Simpson Partner-Head of Mobility 2030, KPMG and a speaker at the recent HSBC “Cities of the Future” conference.

    “What data is going to be gathered? How is it going to be owned? How is it going to be structured? Who accesses it? What’s the regulatory framework in the context of privacy and security? All these are critical questions.”

    The term Big Data might sound uncomfortably close to Big Brother, but when it comes to smart cities, it’s the utility that will (quite literally) keep the lights on. As important as oil to a carbon economy, experts agree that it’s key to delivering public services more efficiently and more cost-effectively than an analogue system ever could.

    From improving education and healthcare, to reducing crime and traffic congestion, the smart city relies on gathering information from handheld devices and other data points, then applying AI and machine learning to create a responsive infrastructure. When combined with apps that allow city dwellers to digitally interact with services in real time – such as Boston’s StreetBump to report potholes, and Singapore’s MyResponder to report cardiac arrests – data can redefine the individual’s relationship with the city state3.

    But with big data comes big responsibility – to personal privacy as well as state security – and for that reason Utopia might be a little way off.

    “Trust and consent is a key issue for the smart city,” acknowledges Carmen Munoz-Dormoy, CEO of Citelum, the public lighting and associated connected services subsidiary of EDF, which is working to retro-fit cities across Europe with intelligent systems. The success of it depends largely on the type of governance the city puts in place to gather, process and if needed, open its data to create and offer new services to citizens. Smart city technologies enable surveillance and data-gathering, be it monitoring footfall on a street to control lighting or traffic flow to facilitate parking management in real time and data governance is a key issue.

    Maher Chebbo, Chief Innovation Officer at General Electric (GE) Digital Power is unequivocal about how such information should be handled.

     “Data is owned by the people from whom we got the data”. Every operator, every provider should make get the customer’s consent before they can use their data.

    He believes in ‘democracy by design’ in the form of strong service level agreements about security between cities and the providers of technology.

    “To achieve [this], we need to have the stakeholders work on mandates, brought by the European Commission, about interoperability, interchangeability and standardisation, which means you can take any hardware, unplug it, put in another hardware from another manufacturer and it continues to work,” says Chebbo.

    He isn’t alone in demanding a new ethical-based architecture around which a city’s firmware is wrapped; the moral implications of having an intelligent algorithm directing public services is unchartered and potentially dangerous territory.

    “Cities are going to be an incredible source of data going forward, particularly as the Internet of Things comes into play. There will be sensors everywhere; data is going to be collected in ways we can’t even imagine,” says Niall Cameron, HSBC’s Global Head of Institutional Digital. “[But] data in itself without analysis is not much use.”

    The systematic collection of data provided by everything from your intelligent fridge to the GPS-enabled wristwatch monitoring your heartrate, propels us into a brave new world – one in which we’ll have invested USD232 billion in AI by 2025, up from USD12.4 billion in 20184, according to KPMG.

    Charles Simpson Partner-Head of Mobility 2030, KPMG is concerned is that some are shaping that world faster than others, in territories where perhaps there is less debate over the permissioned acquisition and use of data.

    “Cities have been gathering data for 50 years, some of it accidentally, some of it deliberately, but at a fragmented, micro level. And they’ve been using it for relatively limited regulatory and compliance-type activities,” he says.

    “One of the challenges and concerns is, will Western cities be able to architect and package projects at a scale that are investible, relative to what we think will be coming out of China and the Far East?

    “From our point of view, this implies cities taking more of a command-control visionary architecture position.”

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