June 18, 2024
Opinion: The Role of AI in Shaping Cities Raises Concerns

Opinion: The Role of AI in Shaping Cities Raises Concerns

Walking home and suddenly being halted by a security drone verifying your identity may seem like a far-fetched scenario, but it is not entirely implausible. Sunflower Labs, an AI company, has already developed a drone system that could potentially be used for such purposes. As AI continues to make advancements, the concept of AI urbanism has emerged, which involves using artificial intelligence to shape and govern cities. While this idea may have its advantages, it also raises questions about the potential dangers of relying too heavily on AI in the running of cities.

The development of AI is closely linked to the development of cities. The actions and behaviors of city dwellers provide valuable data for AI systems to learn and adapt from. Whether it’s driving a car or purchasing goods, AI systems are constantly learning about urban environments and human preferences. Smart cities, as we currently know them, use technologies like the Internet of Things and connected sensors to gather data for operational purposes. AI urbanism goes beyond mere quantification of data and tells stories, explaining the why and how behind events in cities.

However, AI urbanism also comes with potential risks. For instance, Palantir, a US company, has developed an AI system that predicts crimes and identifies potential perpetrators. While this may aid law enforcement in resource allocation, it raises concerns about the ability of AI to determine what is right or wrong without a moral framework. Recent controversies surrounding AI models like ChatGPT have highlighted the limitations of AI in understanding the meaning behind its actions. Delegating decision-making powers to AI systems in urban governance raises serious questions about social justice and equity.

Furthermore, the environmental impact of AI technology cannot be ignored. AI systems are energy-intensive and contribute significantly to carbon emissions. The infrastructure required to maintain these systems also consumes critical resources. While AI may promise sustainability, its actual costs and implications in cities can outweigh the benefits.

The autonomous city, where AI systems perform social and managerial functions without human involvement, is becoming a vision for the future. Projects like Neom in Saudi Arabia aim to create cities managed entirely by AI systems, featuring self-driving vehicles, robotic food service, and predictive algorithms. However, as the autonomy of AI grows, human autonomy decreases. The rise of autonomous cities threatens to undermine the role of human stakeholders in urban governance, potentially impacting their well-being and decision-making abilities.

The implications of an autonomous city run solely by AI are vast. Will you be able to secure a mortgage and buy a property? Will you be targeted as a suspect by the police? AI already influences these decisions, and in an autonomous city, AI could become the sole arbiter. As AI becomes increasingly reliant on data from cities, it is crucial for citizens to question the concept of the autonomous city. Do we truly need AI to make our cities sustainable?

As AI technology continues to advance, it is important to strike a balance between its potential benefits and the risks it poses. Close monitoring and critical engagement with the implications of AI urbanism are necessary to ensure that cities remain both efficient and equitable.

*Note:
1.      Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2.      We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it