The Rise of Smart Cities, From NYC to Tel Aviv

Apr 6, 2017   |   Ross Dakin, Senior Advisor, Technology & Civic Innovation, Microsoft

Israel is a global leader in technology and innovation, giving rise to companies like Waze and Mobileye (acquired last week by Intel for $15B).

Last month I had the pleasure of joining 1,500+ participants in Tel Aviv at iNNOVEX2017, Israel’s premier conference on technology and innovation, at which I met with a number of impressive Israeli startups and gave a presentation on smart cities:

Slides:

Because much has been said about smart cities, I focused my presentation on three truths:

  1. The decentralization of Silicon Valley is causal to the rise of smart cities;
  2. “Smart cities” means many things beyond drones and self-driving cars;
  3. Technology is not the challenge.

Decentralization is good.

Once upon a time, you had to be in Silicon Valley to work in technology.

That is changing domestically and around the world, as resource access is increasingly democratized:

 

Number of venture-capital deals, 2012
The 12 Cities at the Forefront of Global Tech – Savills World Research, Feb 2015

This shift in regional affinity is also contributing to a shift in demographic.

It wasn’t long ago that many technologists looked like this:

Credit: http://readwrite.com/2014/05/02/soma-street-style-hbo-silicon-valley/

That stereotype is rapidly dissolving, as technologists increasingly look like this:

Credit: Gaza Sky Geeks
Credit: The Kemach Foundation in Israel
Members of the White House science, technology, and digital service organizations in 2015.

This growing diversity and decentralization lead to increased access to opportunity and reduced implicit bias in technology. As it relates to smart cities, this also means that technologists are no longer concentrated in Silicon Valley, but are located all across the country and thus more attuned to the needs of their users, resulting in services being designed with (not for) local residents. This intimate familiarity is critical to the success of smart cities, as:

  • what works in Omaha may not work with the hills and seismic activity of San Francisco;
  • what works with the single-story homes and 900+ miles of highway in Los Angeles may not work with the tall buildings and city streets of Manhattan;
  • what works with the Internet connectivity of Kenya (86% coverage of 4 Mbps broadband) may not work with the digital infrastructure of Uganda (12% coverage), despite sharing a border and having roughly similar populations.

It’s not all about drones.

“Smart cities” often elicits thoughts of autonomous vehicles: self-driving cars, delivery drones, etc.

In fact, the most impactful aspects of a city becoming “smarter” are much more fundamental to the fabric of society:

When we expand the scope of what constitutes smart cities, we ensure the application of technology in the most meaningful ways.

Technology is not the challenge.

While recent advances in technologies like machine learning, artificial intelligence, computer vision, etc. have enabled various aspects of smart cities, many of the largest hurdles to adoption are not technological in nature.

Many policy implications exist:

Ethical considerations also exist:

Further resources

There is a lot of activity around smart cities, including an interesting talk by FCC CIO David Bray at SXSW last month and various Smart City Expo events planned for 2017 globally.

Finally, don’t miss Smart Cities NYC ‘17 coming up this May 3–6 in New York!

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