With the huge development in the internet of things in the last decade, we as humans are becoming increasingly connected day by day. Many cities have recently begun to use the internet of things (IoT), 5G networks and artificial intelligence to maximize social welfare, whether it be through managing traffic congestion, ensuring public safety or providing eco-friendly solutions to processes. The idea of an interconnected smart city is gradually becoming a reality.
Right now, AI is mainly used to monitor traffic and waste removal. An example of this is Cascais in Portugal, which is one of many cities to use sensor fitted rubbish bins, which notify local authorities as they begin to reach maximum capacity, making the waste collection system much more efficient and effective. The use of AI allowed the number of refuse trucks to be cut by around 20%. In Indiana, sensors are currently being used in the sewer system to check water levels and redirect wastewater, and according to Indiana University, the system has prevented at least 3.8bn liters of raw sewage from entering the river each year. Not only do these technologies help to increase efficiency, but they will greatly improve environmental welfare and allow governments to improve the quality of life for their residents.
The development of AI does not stop there. Experts predict that the use of AI will be integrated into more complex tasks and for predicting events. The Nashville fire department is one that is keen to integrate AI software to analyze previous fires and safety incidents to predict the location of future incidents, so the fire department can improve emergency response times. In the UK, Hackney and Bristol’s councils are piloting AI to help social workers prioritize cases. The AI analyses anonymized data, including debt, antisocial behavior, and school attendance, creating a family “profile of need”. The possibilities go further to include street lights that change intensity based on the presence of humans (detected by their smartphones) and virtual guides for the elderly should they get lost. Recently there has also been news of the NHS looking towards artificial intelligence in order to improve healthcare, creating a £250m national AI lab to build ‘cutting edge treatments’ and oversee the digitization of our national health service.
Yet the proposition of a smart city poses many threats, namely to our data. Smart cities pose one of the biggest cybersecurity challenges ahead. With the growth of the internet of things and complex networks, the wider the surface of the attack becomes. With every additional connection, it becomes harder to figure out where a vulnerability has emerged. While advances in artificial intelligence allow security experts to identify and respond to threats more quickly, hackers use the same technology to find weaknesses to infiltrate systems. And the potential threat is immense in smart cities, hackers could infiltrate the networks that control water and electricity systems across the city, using critical infrastructure as blackmail.
As our technologies develop and become increasingly adept at managing and monitoring public systems, and we gradually evolve into smart cities, we must constantly question whether this infrastructure and our data is secure.