The next wave of connected and intelligent technologies—sensors, 5G, and artificial intelligence (AI)—promises to improve the energy efficiency of urban systems. AI, in particular, can help cities save money, address infrastructure needs, and reduce emissions. Yet cities face significant challenges in researching, developing, demonstrating, and deploying AI and other smart technologies.
A new report by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), the leading think tank for science and technology policy, shows that without greater federal involvement in R&D and better national coordination of demonstration and deployment activities, cities will fail to maximize the benefits AI offers.
“City governments ultimately must take the lead in deploying AI smart city applications, but there is an important role for the federal government in funding R&D and coordinating activities,” says Colin Cunliff, a senior policy analyst at ITIF and co-author of the report. “Some federal programs invest in AI or smart cities, but there are significant funding gaps in demonstration and deployment, and that’s becase there is no cross-cutting vision or strategy. Increasing federal R&D funding and providing better coordination can drive adoption of AI technologies on a larger scale than cities can achieve working independently.”
The report details many potential applications of AI for smart cities in transportation, the electrical grid, buildings, and city operations that can ultimately make cities more efficient and help them reduce their environmental footprint. To overcome the obstacles of adopting AI, the report shows how United States can draw lessons from how other countries have tackled these challenges. For instance, Singapore has developed a “digital twin” of the island that the government, businesses, and researchers can use as a test bed to run simulations.
While the federal government has undertaken an array of activities to support the development of smart cities, the report notes that these efforts have mostly been uncoordinated, and the government has had no strategic vision for AI R&D, demonstration, and deployment of smart city technologies. Some federal government programs are investing in AI or smart cities, but significant funding gaps remain. There are also no cross-cutting AI and smart city initiatives.
“Smart city investment has been compromised during the COVID-19 pandemic because of revenue shortfalls. Even the most capable cities are struggling to overcome some of the obstacles they face in smart city development,” says Ashley Johnson, a policy analyst at ITIF and co-author of the report. “Increasing federal investment and coordination to jumpstart smart cities would address several challenges at once. Smart cities offer an important opportunity to address infrastructure needs, reduce emissions, and save money to ease strained state and local budgets.”