The Cognitive Future of Cities
Imagine a future where you no longer have to think about how to respond to an email, research a new market, analyse an annual report, recommend a strategy for the next quarter, or plan the menu for your mother-in-law’s visit next week — Dubai’s plan is to have AI take care of it.
Dubai’s AI Roadmap
To some, all this might sound like a plot straight out of the next James Cameron blockbuster. But earlier this month, the Smart Dubai Office announced a new Artificial Intelligence Roadmap for the city, which aims to make AI a reality for Dubai residents in the coming years. The announcement was accompanied by a workshop and panel discussion, moderated by Xische CEO Danish Farhan, on the role of AI in the future of cities.
The AI Roadmap is the latest in a series of ambitious announcements by Dubai’s smart city initiative, which aims to leverage the latest technologies to transform traditional service-delivery mechanisms and internal processes, in order to make Dubai “the world’s smartest city,” and achieve an even loftier ambition: to make Dubai the happiest city on earth.
With Dubai’s track-record for turning (literally) out-of-this-world ideas into reality, it is time for all of us to start thinking seriously about what it means to live in a city augmented by AI. And with Dubai’s leading smart city experts gathered to announce the new roadmap, the panel discussion presented the perfect opportunity to unearth the real challenges and opportunities facing cities as we enter a new era of AI.
As moderator, Danish Farhan asked panelists Wesam Lootah (CEO, Smart Dubai Government Establishment), Dr. Noah Raford (COO, Dubai Future Foundation) and Bashar Kilani (Middle East Territory Executive, IBM) to confront some of the biggest issues facing the field of artificial intelligence and cognitive computing today:
1. Sci-fi fantasy no longer
The discussion on the future of artificial intelligence in cities opened with a bit of film history. Reflecting on the pace of technological and social progress from 1968’s 2001: A Space Odyssey to 2013’s Her, Danish Farhan questioned panelists on the fundamental validity of artificial intelligence.
Is artificial intelligence the key to our civilization’s brightest future, as some have heralded? Or does it belong in tech’s trash-can as a notion of over-reaching engineers?
Panelists were quick to champion the advancement of artificial intelligence, points to exponential advancements in the past five years as evidence that AI is here to stay. As futurist Noah Raford pointed out, “The rate of change has been increasing as quickly as change itself. In just three years, from 2011 to 2013, humans generated 90% of all of the data that has ever been created in the history of humanity”
Wesam Lootah of SDG and Bashar Kilani of IBM agreed, sharing evidence that computers are growing exponentially more powerful, at the same time that the world is generating astonishingly huge amounts of data every day. All this has lead to an explosion in artificial intelligence capabilities. What even just a few years ago was a dream or a gimmick will soon become the new way of life, panelists agreed. And we are not just talking about suped-up Siri’s and Alexa’s who can order you a car if you’re running late for a meeting, or recommend a movie to watch.
As Bashar Kilani pointed out, today’s technological breakthroughs are creating new cognitive machines that are capable of analysing vast amounts of data to extract findings, make connections, and give recommendations in real-time and in natural language. “These are machines that can, and do, think like us,” he said.
The question is no longer if artificial intelligence will disrupt the way we live, but when.
2. Leading role for governments
Until now, Danish Farhan contented, the private sector and the start-up ecosystem have played a leading role in the uncertain future of game-changing technologies like AI — with most governments giving little more than lip-service to disruptive change. “Dubai is setting itself apart as a city willing to take the leap with artificial intelligence. But what should that role entail?” he asked.
What is the role of government in a technology that is so intimately connected to our beliefs on morality and humanity?
“To fundamentally change the way we live with machines, the government will need to play a leading role,” Wesam Lootah said. “And this isn’t just by becoming evangelists for technology. We need to become active players in the research and innovation ecosystem, and develop, test and scale new solutions across whole cities.”
“Artificial Intelligence is a technology that touches deeply on our most basic constructs of society and humanity,” Noah Raford added, echoing sentiments shared by many in the audience. “The government must play a role in determining the course of this technology. There are moral decisions to be made that cannot be left to the private sector alone.”
“When it comes to artificial intelligence, the government and the private sector must work together.” — Bashar Kilani, IBM
Earlier this week, the Dubai Government, led by the Smart Dubai Office and the Dubai Future Foundation, demonstrated what this radical collaboration in artificial intelligence will look like in the form of the first AI roadmap for the city. Under the new roadmap, the Smart Dubai Government Establishment will lead the opening of a citywide artificial intelligence ‘layer,’ and support the development and execution of AI for enhanced services and processes in the government and the private sector.
“SDG and IBM will be working government entities and the private sector to deploy artificial intelligence solutions by providing opportunities for skill development, experimentation, and go-to-market support,” Bashar Kilani added. “We need to prepare the whole city for the AI future.”
The new Smart Dubai AI Lab will become the new catalyst for artificial intelligence in the Dubai, unlocking the potential of this emerging technology to fundamentally change the way we interact with our city.
3. AI as a force for good
Today, we are awash social commentary on the negative impacts of artificial intelligence on the way we live. With the spectres like SkyNet and Black Mirror, you could be forgiven for never wanting to speak to Siri again. Danish Farhan asked panelists to contend with the dark side of artificial intelligence, and how the public and private sector can work together to guide AI to become a force for good.
Who’s future will we be getting: Hal (2001: A Space Odyssey), or Jarvis (Iron Man)?
Noah Raford put it bluntly: “Artificial Intelligence will take away jobs, and there is nothing we can do to get them back.” But when properly executed, he added, “AI has the power to enable cities with unprecedented access to data, unimaginable speed, and a reasoning assistant to do more, better and faster.”
Merely “supporting” artificial intelligence is not enough for governments, the panelists concluded. As custodians of the public’s well-being, governments should learn from the example set by Dubai, and take an active role in experimenting and prototyping to direct new technologies to the public good.
For the happiest city on earth, the future of Artificial Intelligence is clear: we choose Jarvis.