El País - Smart cities’ urge to get smarter in AI governance

"La urgencia de gobernanza de las Ciudades Inteligentes"

This article was originally published by El País magazine in Spain on May 16 coinciding with Meeri Haataja’s participation at the International Conferences of Artificial Intelligence (Fundación Futuro y Formación) in Madrid and Barcelona.

Cities are homes for small societies, ecosystems, that consist of people, urban infrastructure and technology. They represent nearly every part of governance mechanisms of a society, with the advantage of being closer to citizens than any national or federal players. Since cities play a fundamental role in the realisation of smart governance on a grass root level, it comes as no surprise that their strategies on data usage have received criticism and generated broad discussion.

Smart City developments bring challenges that cities are currently not able to tackle. Several international examples have demonstrated how lack of transparency, communication and accountability remain a problem that prevents cities from utilising AI and personal data in a way that would both promote the wellbeing of the citizens as well as functional smart city environments. For example, Toronto’s tech-driven smart city, planned by Google sister company Sidewalk Labs, is one example of an initiative that has raised concerns about the usage, ownership and anonymisation of personal data. Data privacy and lack of transparency have also been under radar in New York, where the city has, despite a lofty transparency goal and dedicated task force, failed to provide, and give access to, sufficient information to its citizens regarding the use of their personal data by different applications.

Smart governance is transparent, and invites the wisdom of the crowds

Establishing transparency is the key for smart cities to drive citizen trust. Transparency enables citizen engagement and increases citizen agency, leading to more trust. Technological development, by itself, will not make a city “smart”, hence cities must take leadership on the creation of urban ecosystems where technology benefits and drives the wellbeing of their citizens. Now it’s the time for smart cities to start acting smarter, with AI transparency and explainability as their key drivers for smart governance.

Read the original article in Spanish here.