OPINION: Together, we build a brave new world

Winnie Tang is the Honorary Professor, Department of Computer Science, The University of Hong Kong. She is also the founder of the Smart City Consortium.

Cities of the future are expected to face with many challenges. The ageing problem is approaching fast and hard like a tsunami. By 2020, the world’s population aged over 60 years and older will outnumber children under the age of five. Housing is also expected to bring enormous pressure to city governments, as urban areas are projected to house 60% of people globally by 2030.

In recent years, the earth's temperature also broke the historic record of over 130 years, demonstrating global warming is truly happening.

With the emergence of the Internet of things, artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics, it is estimated that half of the current livelihoods - from working class to professional – will disappear. It is estimated that 65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that do not exist at present.

To deal with these challenges in the human society and environment, many are turning to different smart city initiatives using information and communication technology (ICT) as an important tool.

So what is a smart city? What is the difference between living in a smart city and our society today? Based on the Smart City Wheel, developed by Dr. Boyd Cohen in 2012, a smart city is defined by the following six attributes. Many countries in the world are building smart cities from developing in these areas.

Smart Talent

ICT training (including computer programming, and science, technology, engineering and mathematics) becomes a must in addition to language skills. In Europe, there are at least 13 countries, including, France, Finland, Italy, and Switzerland, aiming to develop the problem solving skills of their younger generation and have geared up technology training since 2016. Starting from September 2017, China also required primary schools to have at least one hour of science class every week for grade one and two students.

Smart Government

Establishing a common spatial data infrastructure and opening up government information can encourage the public to brainstorm together how to improve the quality of living, which is the core value of a smart city. Some successful examples include GeoHub in Los Angeles of the United States, and Dubai Pulse in Dubai of the United Arab Emirates.

Smart Environment

A few European countries are also taking advantage of technology to protect the environment in a smart way. Sweden has digitized the image of the country's mountains, rivers, buildings and roads in a popular computer game Minecraft to boost young people's interest in urban planning. Meanwhile, a British company proposed to use a drone loaded with germinated seeds to fire pods into the ground at a rate of planting one billion trees a year. It is ten times faster than the current method, and the cost is only 20% of planting via manual labour.

Smart Economy

Exponential growth of the sharing economy is anticipated, with global revenue expected to increase to US$335 billion by 2025, 22 times that of 2015. The most popular categories include tourism, car sharing, finance, human resources, music and video streaming.

A research, undertaken by the US Whitehouse named Artificial Intelligence, Automation and the Economy S White House, stated there will be four types of work created in the smart economy: (1) collaboration with AI, such as medical workers using AI for routine patient checks; (2) creating AI technologies and applications, such as data scientists and software developers; (3) engineers who monitor, license, or repair AI systems, such as technicians servicing AI robots; and (4) work derived from AI-driven paradigm shifts, such as lawyers creating legal framework around AI, urban planners to establish environments to accommodate autonomous vehicles (AVs).

Smart Mobility

It is expected that by the middle of the 21st century, advanced AVs will reduce accidents by 90%. In the US, it would have the potential of saving about US$190 billion annually as a result of the decrease in casualties.

Smart Living

The rising of AVs is also expected to bring a smart living style. With AVs, commuters around the world are expected to save up to one billion hours, allowing more time to work or rest.

Such saving is likely to create extended value—with additional time available people to spend on mobile internet in a car, it is expected to generate global digital-media revenue of US$6 billion per year. At the same time, with more leisure time, a human being’s creativity would be unlocked.

The 4Ps

Furthermore, these applications are expected to connect families and neighbors (people), caregivers and doctors (from private sector) as well as the policy makers within government (from the public sector) to create partnerships (4P).  Such partnership can create a smart health environment to keep citizens safe, healthy and happy with the use of advanced information technology.

Big data analysis helps predict the development of disease; telehealth can reduce the fatigue of both patients and caregivers, and a sensor network at home can safeguard the patient. 

To achieve these ambitious visions, we need to join our efforts. Founded in 2016, the Smart City Consortium (SCC) brings together professionals from different organizations and sectors to develop a world-class smart city for Hong Kong. At the same time, the SCC actively connects with global stakeholders to create a vigorous ecosystem to promote Hong Kong's innovation and development.

My newly published book Smart City 3.0 displays in detail these upcoming scenes and challenges of smart city development. I hope this can inspire our younger and older generations on how to equip themselves, and take part in building our brave new world.

 

Winnie Tang is the Honorary Professor, Department of Computer Science, The University of Hong Kong. She is also the founder of the Smart City Consortium.