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Tech Trends in Future Cities

A report from the Jacobs Institute’s Urban Tech Hub at Cornell Tech showed that the main aspects that shape the future of urban technology are sustainable neighbourhoods, a supercharged infrastructure and inclusive innovation that strikes back at surveillance capitalism.

For the report, the research team conducted a 10-year horizon scan, scouring thousands of published journals, news articles and blogs to identify the most relevant and important trends. The raw data were synthesised to reveal 217 unique perspectives and 49 trends that describe the direction of urban tech in the next decade.

The Horizon Scan is meant to create a conversation across the many areas that are a part of urban tech. The report describes the innovations that the field could produce in the coming decade. But it also lays out the ‘technical debt’ that’s already on the books due to hasty decisions about sensing, AI, and tech governance.”

– Anthony Townsend, Project Lead

Though the report covers a number of technological advances, from mobility solutions to the complexities of privacy related to facial recognition, the research team homes in on six key themes that will likely have the biggest impact on the future of cities.

First, smart city concepts have seen steady progress over the last decade, with more municipalities equipping their buildings with digital sensing. Improved real-time tracking of energy, waste and water has led to increased control and savings.

The report cites scaling sustainable building technology as another theme, as cities look to cut carbon emissions in efforts to contain the effects of climate change. Technology will play a critical role as political and financial capital is focused on megacities, where street-level solutions will be key in extracting the maximum value.

City infrastructure is also expected to play an important role in shaping the future of urban technology. The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted how understanding the urban ecosystem can help anticipate outbreaks, as scientists used sewage sampling and microbiome sequencing in city transit systems to track the spread of the virus. Many cities are even wiring up waterways and parks to calculate the vitality of these ecosystems.

Artificial neural networks, which power some of the cities’ most sophisticated machine learning efforts, can provide incredible value to governments by predicting the movements of goods, people, resources and information. At the same time, by deploying such powerful tools society risks giving up individual freedoms, the report states.

The shift toward doing things remotely, from learning and health care to work and entertainment, reveals wealth and power disparities. Fostering technologies that empower the disempowered can help ensure an efficient, tech-powered future.

Finally, the researchers predict that in the decade ahead, “big tech will crack the code of the city and stitch together a planetary supply chain for urban innovation.” Governments are getting a clearer picture of the problems they want the industry to solve, and the challenges of realising smart city innovation is becoming clearer.

As reported by OpenGov Asia, a new report also revealed the trends shaping the future of local U.S. governments which include data, technology and Customer Experience (CX). “The Future of Local Government” report states that because the public interacts with local governments the most, those agencies are best poised to make a for constituents and businesses.

Using data to drive decision- and policymaking is becoming increasingly crucial. Historically, government data has been stored across an array of sources, databases, systems and departments; one in four local officials surveyed by Forrester Consulting said public datasets housed in multiple databases and lines of business systems are a significant obstacle to executing new customer-focused strategies. Bringing disparate data sources together to tap into the immense power of analytics and data-based business insights will play a critical role in reshaping local government for a new era.


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