Urban Artificial Intelligence: From Real-world Observations to a Paradigm-Shifting Concept

Blog by Hubert Beroche: “Cities are facing unprecedented challenges. The figures are well known: while occupying only 2% of the earth’s surface, urban settlements host more than 50% of the global population and are responsible for 70% of greenhouse emissions. While concentrating most capital and human wealth, they are also places of systemic inequalities (Nelson, 2023), exacerbating and materializing social imbalances. In the meantime, cities have fewer and fewer resources to face those tensions. Increasing environmental constraints, combined with shrinking public budgets, are putting pressure on cities’ capacities. More than ever, urban stakeholders have to do more with less.

In this context, Artificial Intelligence has usually been seen as a much-welcomed technology. This technology can be defined as machines’ ability to perform cognitive functions, mainly through learning algorithms since 2012. First embedded in heavy top-down Smart City projects, AI applications in cities have gradually proliferated under the impetus of various stakeholders. Today’s cities are home to numerous AIs, owned and used by multiple stakeholders to serve different, sometimes divergent, interests.

The diversity of urban AIs in cities is well illustrated in our project co-produced with Cornell Tech: “The Future of Urban AI”. This graph represents different urban AI trends based on The Future of UrbanTech Horizon Scan. Each colored dot represents a major urban tech/urban AI trend, with its ramifications. Some of these trends are opposed but still cohabiting (eg “Dark Plans” and “New Screen Deal”)…(More)”.