Artificial intelligence (AI) has caught the imaginations of many industry leaders and now it has come to our cities. Academics and business leaders are currently exploring areas where AI can improve city design, the quality of life of inhabitants and optimise city operations. With AI, city planners can produce design solutions that will transform our urban spaces, track citizen wellbeing and behaviour, and analyse reams of data for new insights.

Data generated by cities

Because of the data generated by smart cities, planners can better design them to citizens’ needs. All buildings will soon have sensors embedded that can track how people interact with a property, move around a space and use it. The smart building market is expected to reach $36 billion by the end of 2020.

A better occupant experience

Using such data can help developers create more sustainable and efficient buildings. Simultaneously, occupants can have a better quality of life, with temperature, lighting and ventilation sensors automatically changing the environment in their homes and workplaces to their needs. Connected cameras and alarms can improve security and integrate with other devices. AI can then analyse all the data collected, giving a comprehensive overview of an entire building’s systems for more informed decision-making.

Challenging misconceptions

On a wider level, common misconceptions about a city’s workings and population growth can be challenged. For example, the MIT Media Lab has been using AI to understand how neighbourhoods have evolved over seven years in five different cities. The AI analysed millions of photos, something that was impossible for the human researchers, to link population changes to other city-wide concerns. The study found that positive and negative changes in population growth didn’t correspond with income increases or decreases. Housing prices were also not consistent with revitalisation.

Redesigning cities and homes

Similarly, AI has been used to redesign city borders. AI start-up Topos has re-established borough boundaries in New York City based on its AI’s feedback. The AI analysed satellite images, topographic data, business concentration, and population density then grouped areas based on their similarities.

AI can also improve mass-produced housing, to keep efficiencies high and maintenance costs low, but also considering the design and layout of a development. In his Mass Market Alternatives exhibition, architect John Szot highlighted how AI can bring diversity and creativity to uniform housing design.

Remembering the human

However, some argue that AI in urban environments will make our cities less vibrant and creative. With algorithms calling the shots, the likelihood of spontaneity will decrease. Architects and town planners will rely on data, not design thinking, to create the next Shard, the next Bird’s Nest, and the next Burj Khalifa.

Only time will tell us what these buildings will look like, with their foundations built by AI. So, in bringing AI into our cities and homes, we should keep space aside for the more human aspects of urban development.

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Tech for Life is a movement. We champion the responsible creation and use of technology, and provide leaders with a framework based on our guiding principles. The forthcoming Tech for Life book outlines our vision for a world where technology works for us, not against us. It provides examples of how responsible technology is already being created and used. And it calls for leaders in technology to commit to the five Tech for Life principles. Tech for Life is based in Copenhagen, Denmark.

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