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What is the smart city, and why is cloud storage key?

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David Friend, a specialist in cloud storage elaborates on What is the smart city, and why is cloud storage key?

Smart cities will demand a new paradigm for storage

(The image above is of Jamesteohart / Shutterstock)

Today, analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning (ML) have become big business. Throughout the 2020s, Harvard Business Review[1] estimates that these technologies will add $13 trillion to the global economy, impacting virtually every sector in the process.

One of the biggest drivers of the value-add provided by AI/ML will come from smart cities: cities that leverage enhancements in such technologies to deliver improved services for citizens. Smart cities promise to provide data-driven decisions for essential public services like sanitation, transportation, and communications. In this way, they can help improve the quality of life for both the general public and public sector employees, while also reducing environmental footprints and providing more efficient and more cost-effective public services.

Whether it be improved traffic flow, better waste collection practices, video surveillance, or maintenance schedules for infrastructure – the smart city represents a cleaner, safer, and more affordable future for our urban centers. But realizing these benefits will require us to redefine our approach towards networking, data storage, and the systems underpinning and connecting both. To capitalize on the smart city paradigm, we’ll need to adopt a new and dynamic approach to computing and storage.

Providing bottomless storage for the urban environment

In practice, the smart city will require the use of vast arrays of interconnected devices, whether it be sensors, networked vehicles, and machinery for service delivery. These will all generate an ever-growing quantity and variety of data that must be processed and stored, and made accessible to the rest of the smart city’s network for both ongoing tasks and city-wide analytics. While a smart city may not need access to all the relevant data at once, there’s always the possibility of historic data needing to be accessed on recall to help train and calibrate ML models or perform detailed analytics.

All of this means that a more traditional system architecture that processes data through a central enterprise data center – whether it be on-premise or cloud – can’t meet the scaling or performance requirements of the smart city.

This is because, given its geographic removal from the places where data is generated and used, a centralized store can’t be counted on to provide the rapid and reliable service that’s needed for smart city analytics or delivery. Ultimately, the smart city will demand a decentralized approach to data storage. Such a decentralized approach will enable data from devices, sensors, and applications that serve the smart city to be analyzed and processed locally before being transferred to an enterprise data center or the cloud, reducing latency and response times.

To achieve the cost-effectiveness needed when operating at the scale of data variety and volume expected of a smart city, they’ll need access to “bottomless clouds”: storage arrangements where prices per terabyte are so low that development and IT teams won’t need to worry about the costs of provisioning for smart city infrastructure. This gives teams the ability to store all the data they need without the stress of draining their budget, or having to arbitrarily reduce the data pool they’ll be able to draw from for smart city applications or analytics.

Freeing up resources for the smart city with IaaS

Infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) is based around a simple principle: users should only pay for the resources they actually use. When it comes to computing and storage resources, this is going to be essential to economically deliver on the vision of the smart city, given the ever-expanding need for provisioning while also keeping down costs within the public sector.

For the smart city in particular, IaaS offers managed, on-demand, and secure edge computing and storage services. IaaS will furnish cities with the components needed to deliver on their vision – whether it be storage, virtualization environments, or network structures. Through being able to scale up provisioning based on current demand while also removing the procurement and administrative burden of handling the actual hardware to a specialist third party, smart cities can benefit from economies of scale that have underpinned much of the cloud computing revolution over the past decade.

In fact, IaaS may be the only way to go, when it comes to ensuring that the data of the smart city is stored and delivered in a reliable way. While handling infrastructure in-house may be tempting from a security perspective, market competition between IaaS providers incentivizes better service provision from all angles, whether customer experience, reliability and redundancy, or the latest standards in security.

Delivering the smart city is a 21st century necessity

The world’s top cities are already transforming to keep up with ever-expanding populations and in turn their ever-expanding needs. Before we know it, various sectors of urban life will have to be connected through intelligent technology to optimize the use of shared resources – not because we want to, but because we need to.

Whether it be a question of social justice, fiscal prudence, or environmental conscience, intelligently allocating and using the resources of the city is the big question facing our urban centers in this century. But the smart city can only be delivered through a smart approach to data handling and storage. Optimizing a city’s cloud infrastructure and guaranteeing cost-effective and quality provisioning through IaaS will be essential to delivering on the promise of the smart city, and thus meet some of our time’ most pressing challenges.

David Friend is the co-founder and CEO of Wasabi Technologies, a revolutionary cloud storage company. David’s first company, ARP Instruments developed synthesizers used by Stevie Wonder, David Bowie, Led Zeppelin and even helped Steven Spielberg communicate with aliens providing that legendary five-note communication in Close Encounters of the ThirdKind. Friend founded or co-founded five other companies: Computer Pictures Corporation – an early player in computer graphics, Pilot Software – a company that pioneered multidimensional databases for crunching large amounts of customer data, Faxnet – which became the world’s largest provider of fax-to-email services, Sonexis – a VoIP conferencing company, and immediately prior to Wasabi, what is now one of the world’s leading cloud backup companies, Carbonite. David is a respected philanthropist and is on the board of Berklee College of Music, where there is a concert hall named in his honor, serves as president of the board of Boston Baroque, an orchestra and chorus that has received 7 Grammy nominations. An avid mineral and gem collector he donated Friend Gem and Mineral Hall at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History. David graduated from Yale and attended the Princeton University Graduate School of Engineering where he was a David Sarnoff Fellow.

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How will artificial intelligence power the cities of tomorrow?

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Published on 20 September 2021, in E&T, AJ Abdallah’s question of How will artificial intelligence power the cities of tomorrow?

How will artificial intelligence power the cities of tomorrow?

By AJ Abdallat, Beyond Limits

Achieving a decarbonised future will require efficiency-boosting measures that AI can help to identify and implement.

Artificial intelligence is taking the stage as smart cities become not just an idea for the future, but a present reality. Advanced technologies are at the forefront of this change, driving valuable strategies and optimising the industry across all operations. These technologies are quickly becoming the solution for fulfilling smart city and clean city initiatives, as well as net-zero commitments.

AI is becoming well integrated with the development of smart cities. A 2018 Gartner report forecast that AI would become a critical feature of 30 per cent of smart city applications by 2020, up from just 5 per cent a few years previously. Implementation of AI is rapidly being recognised as the not-so-secret ingredient helping major energy providers accomplish their lowest-carbon footprints yet, along with unparalleled sustainability and attractive profit margins.

What makes a city ‘smart’ is the collection and analysis of vast amounts of data across numerous sectors, from metropolitan development and utility allocation all the way down to manual functions like city services. Smart cities require the construction and maintenance of arrangements of sensors, equipment and other systems designed to create sustainability and efficiency.

Altering the strategy behind a city’s utilities operations is one of the major keys to making it smarter and more sustainable. AI solutions are already making significant strides where this is concerned. As the CEO of an AI company creating software for the utilities sector, the impact that advanced solutions are already having on the industry is something I’m very excited about.

One real-world example of AI powering smart city utilities is the Nvidia Metropolis platform, which uses intelligent video analytics to improve public services, logistics, and more. Nvidia describes it as being designed to: “create more sustainable cities, maintain infrastructure, and improve public services for residents and communities.” The company collects data from sensors and other IoT devices, city-wide, to provide insights that can lead to improvements in areas like disaster response, asset protection, supply forecasting and traffic management.

Another solution at the forefront of building smarter cities is a project led by Xcell Security House and Finance SA that aims to build the world’s first power plant guided by cognitive AI, driving utility development in West Africa. As the earliest implementation of an AI-powered plant from the ground up, it will employ advanced sensor-placement technology and techniques that embed knowledge and expertise into every part of the facility’s processes. Stakeholders will have streamlined access to facility-scale insights, creating a plant environment with greater risk mitigation as well as maximised efficiency and productivity.

These are just two of many emerging applications of AI in smart city development. When applying AI, the sector also stands to achieve greater cost and operational efficiencies in several key areas such as predictive maintenance, load forecasting/optimisation, grid reliability, energy theft prevention and renewable resource optimisation.

When discussing energy efficiency, many factors enter the picture, including the impact of environmental factors as commonplace as temperature and humidity levels. Historically, experienced human operators were best equipped to identify efficiency-boosting adjustments. Today, cognitive AI is making moves to encode that human knowledge and expertise across providers’ entire operations, delivering recommendations at a moment’s notice. Explainable AI creates the trust necessary for operators, engineers and stakeholders to solve acute issues quickly. The system’s shrewd situational awareness helps detect, foresee and solve problems, even when circumstances are in constant flux – scenarios as critical as an entire city’s water and power supply.

AI is already playing a principal role in supporting the move towards smarter cities by helping entire sectors get closer to efficiency and net-zero objectives. Achieving a decarbonised future will require more resourceful processes that boost efficiency and reduce waste. AI for utilities can elevate productivity, yielding more attention around resource consumption, and hastening the adoption of renewable, carbon-friendly strategies on a global scale.

According to a report from IDC, smart city technology spending across the globe reached $80 billion in 2016 and is expected to grow to $135 billion by 2021. It is imperative that companies, industries, and other entities looking to participate in this important stage of digital transformation seek out industrial-grade AI companies with software that provides holistic, organisation/sector/city-wide insights through sensor placement technology and data collection techniques.

Governments at every level, as well as public and private organisations, are facilitating technological implementation and digital transformation. Private and public partnerships have become a major mechanism by which cities can adopt technology that makes them smarter. The best course of action is to embrace AI that blends knowledge-based reasoning with advanced digitalisation techniques, helping stakeholders distinguish unanticipated scenarios and make tough choices.

Choosing the most dynamic form of AI to transform the utilities sector will contribute remarkably to the development of smart cities. Enhanced communication, strengthened collaboration, increased fuel savings and decreased waste will help companies – particularly in high-value industries – to increase their profits. Indelible process improvements, like streamlined operational capacities where all facilities function more efficiently in harmony, are the future of smart city technology.

AJ Abdallat is CEO of Beyond Limits.

Arab Narratives About Artificial Intelligence Are Explored

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Al-Fanar Media elaborates on a report where the so-called Arab narratives, about Artificial Intelligence, are explored. AI is also predicted, it could change the MENA region more profoundly than anything else before. How would that happen?
Is it through using a wide-ranging branch of computer science concerned with building intelligent machines capable of performing tasks that typically require human beings’ brains?
Or is it just another way of procuring the ability of a computer or computer-controlled or robot to perform tasks commonly associated with intelligent beings? Or put another way, is it needed to cover humans’ unpredictable performance by a more stable and well-controlled machine?

But what are Arab narratives?

The MENA region is culturally dominated by the Arab ethnocultural authoritarianism in the current socio-political systems and finds it difficult to get their respective populations to come up with some added value in any domain.

They might, though, have some success with the AI. Let us see.

The picture above is for illustration.

Arab Narratives About Artificial Intelligence Are Explored in New Report

By Tarek Abd El-Galil 

CAIRO—The Middle East and North Africa region needs to be more involved in the global debate about the development of artificial intelligence-related technology, says a new report that examines the narratives about technological futures that are widespread in the Arab world.

Narratives about future uses of robots and intelligent machines—how a culture portrays them in areas including history, literature, art and films—can influence the development and reception of artificial intelligence (AI), says the report. Yet Western perspectives typically dominate AI discussions, it says, and Arab perspectives are largely missing.

The authors examine the ideas about artificial intelligence that are prevalent in the Arab world and seek to bring them into the wider debate (Image: Pixabay).

Titled “Imagining a Future With Artificial Machines: A Middle Eastern and North African Perspective,” the report was issued earlier this month by the Access to Knowledge for Development Center at the American University in Cairo’s School of Business and the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Artificial Intelligence at the University of Cambridge.

It notes the MENA region’s rich history and culture and the ability of its youth to employ technology as a means of expression, by presenting  literary works based on science fiction or by their economic participation in technology-based start-ups, which can help create new business models suitable for the future and contribute to providing job opportunities in an area where young people make up a large majority of the population

Joining the Global Dialogue

“The region might not be rich in technology compared to developed countries,” said Nagla Rizk, a professor of economics and founding director of the Access to Knowledge for Development Center, who is a co-author of the report. “However,” she added, “it has a rich stock of culture and history that manifests in technological narratives in different ways.”

“Our participation in this initiative was an excellent opportunity to include the voice of our Arab region in the global dialogue platform on artificial intelligence narratives.”

Nagla Rizk  A professor of economics and founding director of the Ac cess to Knowledge for Development Center

The report comes as part of the Global Artificial Intelligence Narratives Project, an initiative within the Leverhulme Centre to build a network of experts around the world to analyze different cultures’ perceptions of the risks and benefits of AI. The initiative holds a series of workshops outside the English-speaking world, with local multidisciplinary groups of researchers and practitioners from fields related to AI narratives, such as science fiction, scientists, artists, AI researchers, philosophers, writers and anthropologists.

“Our participation in this initiative was an excellent opportunity to include the voice of our Arab region in the global dialogue platform on artificial intelligence narratives,” Rizk said.

She noted that because modern technology, especially artificial intelligence, is usually developed in technologically advanced countries in response to the needs and aspirations of their people and in a way that expresses their cultures, this can result in a kind of inequality, given that the rest of the world does not share those countries’ needs in developing this technology.

Not a Technology ‘Desert’

The report refutes the common notion that the MENA region is a technology “desert” devoid of ideas and the real development of technology. It reveals the existence of rich, rapidly growing technological oases that mix the influence of Western, Eastern and local cultures, and have their own independent character. (See the related articles “Genetics and Artificial Intelligence Drive Qatar University’s Covid-19 Research” and “Arab Researchers Use Artificial Intelligence in Bid to Thwart Fake News.”)

For example, technological development is being pushed at breakneck speed by the governments in the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, as well as in less affluent countries such as Egypt, Jordan and Tunisia. Such initiatives are often influenced by Western models, in contrast with the current grass-roots efforts and start-ups, which usually rely on simple technologies and local techniques that reflect the concepts of individuals.

“Stories about AI that are grounded in the realities of people living in the Middle East are the best way to explore local visions of the future using smart machines.”

Tomasz Hollanek  A media and technology researcher at the University of Cambridge and a student fellow at the Leverhulme Centre

“Stories about AI that are grounded in the realities of people living in the Middle East are the best way to explore local visions of the future using smart machines,” said Tomasz Hollanek, a media and technology researcher at the University of Cambridge and a student fellow at the Leverhulme Centre. Hollanek, who is also one of the report’s authors, believes it is important for these visions to reflect the aspirations and needs of the region’s people, rather than importing ideas from elsewhere, particularly from the English-speaking West.

Fear of Reinforcing Stereotypes 

The report expresses concerns that some narratives about artificial intelligence in the region will reinforce gender stereotypes in the future. It cites an example from a popular Egyptian comedy skit from the 1980s, in which a female robot named “Ruby” appears as a domestic servant who responds to orders from the play’s main male character.

In contrast, “Ibn Sina,” the first Arabic-speaking robot, created in the U.A.E., is anthropomorphized as male and is not a servant. Named after a famous 11th-century philosopher, physician and poet, the robot symbolizes the region’s scientific heritage and reflects strength and wisdom, the main traits of masculinity in patriarchal societies.

Another local example is a robot named “Zaki”—which means “smart” in Arabic.  Zaki is a chatbot used in an Internet banking platform in Egypt, and thus reflects men’s control of the financial sector, the report says.

Hollanek points out that narratives can have a direct impact on how technologies are conceived and developed. For example, the representation of certain groups on screen can have a realistic effect on who performs certain jobs: the more female AI researchers appear in films and TV series, the more likely young, ambitious women will pursue a career in AI research.

“We hope for a better reality and future for Arab women, away from stereotypes, which will naturally be reflected in their portrayal in technological narratives,” said Rizk.

Obstacles and Opportunities

“We just need to be able to discover talented people and properly employ them to build a base for technology development.”

Mohamed Zahran  A professor of computer science at New York University

According to Hollanek, the report reveals how post-colonial perspectives—both in the region and among MENA citizens and beyond—continue to significantly influence perceptions of the Arab region’s potential for full realization of the benefits of AI. That’s why he says it’s important to imagine a future with intelligent machines as a decolonial activity, as a way to resist the Western ideas of “progress” or “development.”

Mohamed Zahran, a professor of computer science at New York University, believes there are obstacles facing the region’s acceptance of the development of artificial intelligence. These include the fear that robots will take people’s jobs, and the fear of Western dominance in the technology market; fears the report also highlighted.

However, Zahran agrees with the report’s authors that the region will be able to overcome these obstacles, with its capabilities, talents, and emerging artificial intelligence start-ups, in addition to the ability to rent supercomputers that are now available.

While technology is Western, Zahran said, the report draws the world’s attention to the Middle East and what it can contribute to developing the future of artificial intelligence. “We just need to be able to discover talented people and properly employ them to build a base for technology development,” he said.

AI used to examine construction following earthquakes

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SmartCitiesWorld News team informs that AI is used to examine construction following earthquakes in its vital assessment concerning quality, safety and potential risks in its future usage.

The picture above is about how an App helps engineers identify structural issues. Photo courtesy: Build Change

AI used to examine construction following earthquakes

An open-source project hosted by the Linux Foundation with support from IBM and Call for Code will use machine learning to help inform quality assurance for construction in emerging nations.

A new open source machine learning tool has been developed to help inform quality assurance for construction in emerging nations.

Build Change, with support from IBM as part of the Call for Code initiative, created the Intelligent Supervision Assistant for Construction (ISAC-SIMO) tool to feedback on specific construction elements such as masonry walls and reinforced concrete columns.

Structural issues

The aim is to help engineers identify structural issues in masonry walls or concrete columns, especially in areas affected by disasters.

Users can choose a building element check and upload a photo from the site to receive a quick assessment.

“ISAC-SIMO has amazing potential to radically improve construction quality and ensure that homes are built or strengthened to a resilient standard, especially in areas affected by earthquakes, windstorms, and climate change,” said Dr Elizabeth Hausler, founder and CEO of Build Change.

“We’ve created a foundation from which the open source community can develop and contribute different models to enable this tool to reach its full potential. The Linux Foundation, building on the support of IBM over these past three years, will help us build this community.”

The ISAC-SIMO project, hosted by the Linux Foundation, was imagined as a solution to help bridge gaps in technical knowledge that were apparent in the field. It packages important construction quality assurance checks into a mobile app.

“ISAC-SIMO has amazing potential to radically improve construction quality and ensure that homes are built or strengthened to a resilient standard, especially in areas affected by earthquakes, windstorms, and climate change”

The app ensures that workmanship issues can be more easily identified by anyone with a phone, instead of solely relying on technical staff. It does this by comparing user-uploaded images against trained models to assess whether the work done is broadly acceptable (go) or not (no go) along with a specific score.

Workmanship issues can be identified by anyone with a phone. Photo courtesy: Build Change

“Due to the pandemic, the project deliverables and target audience have evolved. Rather than sharing information and workflows between separate users within the app, the app has pivoted to provide tools for each user to perform their own checks based on their role and location,” added Daniel Krook, IBM chief technology officer for the Call for Code initiative.

“This has led to a general framework that is well-suited for plugging in models from the open source community, beyond Build Change’s original use case.”

Construction elements

According to Build Change, the project encourages new users to contribute and to deploy the software in new environments around the world. Priorities for short term updates include improvements in user interface, contributions to the image dataset for different construction elements, and support to automatically detect if the perspective of an image is flawed.

Build Change seeks to help save lives in earthquakes and windstorms. Its mission is to prevent housing loss caused by disasters by transforming the systems that regulate, finance, build, and improve houses around the world.

IoT Growth in Cities Accelerated by COVID-19sMART

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An ESI ThoughtLab report on sustainable development goals in 167 cities, representing nearly 7 percent of the world’s population, found that the coronavirus has accelerated technology growth worldwide as planners, administrators and businesses consider the post-pandemic realities of urban centers. Claire Swedberg explains why and how IoT Growth in Cities was Accelerated by COVID-19.

Global Study Shows IoT Growth in Cities Accelerated by COVID-19

By Claire Swedberg

Analytics company  ESI ThoughtLab (ESITL) has found that technology, including Internet of Things (IoT) solutions, is at the forefront as municipalities plan their COVID-19 pandemic recovery, along with sustainability initiatives. According to the company’s recent report, released this spring and titled “Smart City Solutions for a Riskier World,” COVID-19 served cities an unexpected stress test. The study found that cities are investing in technology-based solutions to meet sustainability development goals (SDGs) at an accelerated pace.

Lou Celi

To make that transition possible, says Lou Celi, ESI ThoughtLab’s CEO, a dual effort needs to be made to ensure citizen support and cybersecurity for IoT rollouts. ESITL collaborated with a coalition of businesses, government agencies and academics to conduct the overarching research, which explored 167 cities in 82 countries on all continents, representing 526 million residents (6.8 percent of the world’s population). The organization studied and interviewed cities to learn about their SDG efforts, including their existing and planned use of IoT and other smart technologies.

The project, which launched in early 2020, took approximately a year to complete. This was accomplished during the pandemic, and tracking will continue going forward in order to compare data following the outbreak. The IoT plays a part in the study, with the researchers examining the intersection of technology and sustainability goals. “It was a real watershed study,” Celi says, and cities were found to be already well invested in SDG and smart-city solutions, with most seeking to accelerate their adoption.

The study focused on urban rather than rural areas. “More than half of the world lives in cities, and that’s where social and environmental issues require the most attention,” Celi says. The research team’s survey used a scoring methodology that allowed them to categorize cities by their progress against the United Nations’ 17 SDGs. Cities were categorized in three stages of SDG progress—implementers that were still in the early stages, advancers that were making progress, and sprinters that have made the most progress on SDGs—and about 22 percent of the cities studied were sprinters.

When gathering information, ESITL collected quality-of-life data from such sources as the  World Bank,  Numbeo, Spain’s  University of Navarra and the  IESE Business School. The organization also conducted interviews with urban leaders and experts. “To identify best practices and provide case studies, we had in-depth discussions with government decision-makers and business leaders in smart cities around the world,” Celi states. ESITL established a multi-disciplinary advisory board to review the results, which consisted of city leaders, corporate executives and academic experts.

The study found that while IoT and other technologies are already being adopted to meet SDGs, COVID-19 has punched the gas pedal, with 65 percent of cities interviewed indicating that the biggest lesson they learned during the pandemic was how crucial smart-city programs are for their future. “One thing that’s very clear is that the pandemic has led us into an undeniably digital-first world,” Celi states, adding, “We knew the digital economy was coming, just not this soon.”

Smart-city solutions already yield sensor data that drives intelligence, Celi says, ranging from traffic control to air-quality measurements and infrastructure management. Now, he reports, “Cities are upping the ante. They are adopting transformative technologies, the exponential ones like IoT, blockchain and AI [artificial intelligence], as they try to harness data.” The cities that are most advanced in the use of smart technologies and are achieving the most progress in meeting their SDGs are those described as Cities 4.0, which are gearing up for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Such cities are advanced in using smart technologies and data to drive their social, environmental and economic agenda. Some examples, the survey found, include Athens, Helsinki, Moscow, Philadelphia and Tallinn. All 20 of the 4.0 cities have made large investments in IoT and cloud-based technologies, while 84 percent said they are currently making large investments in the IoT. On average, the study found, cities currently use six types of data, including biometrics and behavioral data, and will be using seven in the next three years. Those at the forefront of adoption—the sprinters—are expected to increase some of the fastest growing digital technology sources to nine.

When asked if the pandemic has had a lasting impact on their planning, 69 percent of the respondents indicated they are reconsidering urban planning and the use of space. More than half (53 percent) said the pandemic has permanently changed how people live, work, socialize and travel in cities. For 36 percent, COVID-19 exposed the weaknesses in cities’ operational continuity capabilities.

“Cities have changed dramatically since the pandemic,” Celi says, “and we’re not going back. They’re going to be using technology to reposition their cities and their focus is going to be on SDGs.” Additionally, 65 percent of respondents reported that the pandemic has demonstrated how crucial smart-city programs are for a city’s future. “Cities’ use of the IoT, from interconnected devices, is already very high, but it will be growing even faster and converge with other digital technologies, such as cloud, 5G and edge computing.”

According to the study’s results, two key challenges must be considered as technology expands in cities: public investment and security. As technology is adopted, Celi states, “It must be done in a smart way for security, and with citizens onboard.” With regard to security, 60 percent of cities indicated they still have cybersecurity vulnerabilities with their technology deployments. Smaller cities are the least secure, he notes, with only 29 percent reporting that they are well-secured against cybercrime.

“We found cybersecurity was a very big issue,” Celi states. “IoT raises a lot of digital risk.” Bad actors could do damage with cyberattacks, he explains, and the incidence of such attacks rose by about 50 percent during the pandemic. “The lesson is that cybersecurity should not be an afterthought. It should be something adopted initially.”

According to Celi, the most successful deployments were those from which the public gained benefits, while also reducing concerns about privacy. Already, the use of technology during the pandemic has lowered the level of privacy worries as citizens grow accustomed to having more technology in their lives to solve common problems. Based on the survey results, he says, the public’s data-privacy concerns have yielded to the realization in the past year that digital solutions can improve safety and lifestyle. Still, he adds, without a concerted effort to include the public in technology deployments, privacy concerns can result, leading to mistrust.

Cities with high levels of citizen participation tend to be those with stronger communities and more empowered citizens, the study indicated. Those deemed sprinters used a variety of techniques to bring the public onboard, such as ensuring that disadvantaged populations were included in technology capture and use, as well as providing gamification and incentives. City employees need to be brought into the decision-making process as well, the research found, in order to make technology adoption successful and inclusive. Other potential headwinds ahead for SDG efforts may include regulations, finding the right partners and keeping pace with technology changes.

Going forward, Celi says, “Our big push is going to be ‘What’s next?’ What everyone wants to know is, ‘What’s Main Street going to look like in three years?'” ESITL plans to continue researching the SDG progress and technology use of cities as the pandemic ends. He offers some predictions in the meantime: Remote work will continue, he says, and that affects cities in numerous ways, ranging from transportation to the environment. “One of the lessons learned from the pandemic was that there are ways to run a city with less of a carbon footprint.” As COVID-19 eases, he adds, “I think there’s more of a social awareness that we have to be better at keeping people and the planet healthy and safe.”

The study found that cities have been making strides in meeting their SDG goals. “I wasn’t expecting that so many cities were already embracing SDGs,” Celi admits. “But I was happy to see the correlation between technology and the SDGs.” As efforts build to meet sustainability demands, the research indicated that the most successful deployment consists of a collaborative effort. City governments benefit from working with partners ranging from businesses, associations and universities to other cities, federal agencies and multilateral organizations. “We need to work together to find the solution. And through the enlightened use of technology, we can help make the world a better place.”

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