Building Sustainable Smart Cities with the Power of AI

Recap of the S4S Café meets Transforming Cities Debate

A city in the palm of your hand; AI is offering us new ways of improving and controlling urban development and management. But do we make urban AI sustainable? And which challenges come along with incorporating urban AI? On March 23, 2023, the Grand Café of the Vening Meinesz building hosted a joint event of Science for Sustainability and Transforming Cities. Four speakers explored the integration, opportunities, and issues of urban AI, discussing the challenges of incorporating AI while ensuring sustainability.

Sustainable mobility in smart cities 

The event opened with Marco Pellegrino's presentation on sustainable mobility solutions in smart cities. In his project, in collaboration with the municipality of The Hague and part of the AI & Sustainability Lab, he works on simulating future scenarios for infrastructure. Specifically, he investigates the implementation of dynamic buses as a form of public transport by combining so-called agent-based models with geographic information systems to simulate and predict the behaviour of the residents in the area. AI is used as a tool for decision-making, representing the residents and enabling the testing of sustainable solutions in simulated environments.

Integrating sustainable urban AI

The work of Pellegrino goes to show that increasingly often autonomous decision-making is included in urban management. Nanna Verhoeff and Michiel de Lange discussed the issues that come with integrating AI into urban management, highlighting the importance of making AI sustainable. Urban AI can create the illusion of complete control, of having a city in the palm of your hand but it can also have flaws such as racism in self-driving car technology and the commercialization of space. Urban AI tends to be invisible, which is why Verhoeff and de Lange stress the importance of citizen participation in the discussion and co-designing of AI, approaching sustainable AI from an interdisciplinary point of view that includes social and environmental justice

Only when we collaborate can we think about more responsible and sustainable AI

Hybrid urban environments

Luke Hespanhol discussed the current state of human-computer interactions, arguing that the field is in crisis due to the increasing integration of technology in our lives. There is no simple interface between humans and technology anymore.

The field of human-computer interactions is in a crisis

Boundaries have become fuzzy, where do the human end and technology start? Technologies have become pervasive in smart cities, blurring the boundaries between humans and technology. Hespanhol suggested environment-centred design and technology implementation for ecological mediation but also noted the high carbon footprint of current AI. To incorporate AI into a sustainable debate, environmental offset issues must be addressed first.

The event provided valuable insights into the challenges and opportunities of urban AI for sustainability. Collaboration, citizen participation, and interdisciplinary approaches are crucial for designing and implementing sustainable urban AI.