ICT has been used to drive innovation across different industries in modern times, and has thus emerged as a source of alleviation of the challenges faced in the under-developed and developed world, especially around the management of their countries and units of it – cities. As population size is integral in the definition of a city. Thus, the U. S. Census Bureau defines a city, also known as an urban area as one with a population density of approximately 1000 people per square mile. In Alawadhi et al. (2012), the smart city movement that began in the 90’s as the potentials of ICTs (Telecommunications, Internet/Connectivity and Information/ Data Systems) gave rise to the possibility of cities that are digitized in their operations and sustenance. These types of digital cities were utopian concepts of idyllic forms, of what could ultimately be, albeit, not quite, because they are radical.
The requirements for the changes and the requisite adaptation of current city structure and rules in order to advance them into reality were unmet. And until the last few years when the maturity and mainstreaming of these ubiquitous elements began gaining grounds in exponential ways; thanks to the advent of internet of things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI) and the infusion of these technologies into our urban infrastructure and new innovation in products and services like connected cars, electric vehicles, they remained unconnected to our and spaces and the myriads of problems that cities bear. Accordingly; cities, planners, developers, futurist, scientist and technocrats alike. The idea is that ICT will help simplify and eventually nullify the difficulties of urbanization through digitization.
Defining a smart city in a way that encapsulates its attributes and promises is like a pivoting task as many theories struggle with the dangling options of its similitudes. A smart city appears to be both a construct and a concept. It is a phrase that convers a play on word of a type of approach to city planning, preserving the nuances of acculturations and philosophies of city making. It is a concerted effort at infusion of the inventive ingenuity of ICT technologies to transform and invent within urban spaces in way that transcends the creativity of the modern man and his activities on earth over the last 10000 years.
The early settlements of the early man and by consequence the first city, was recorded in the Neolithic era when humans stopped roaming around without defining a settlement. The smart era heralds a new age similar to that of the Neolithic era because; something as significant as the advent of AI and the attendant illuminating effect, albeit, in self-awareness occurred with the early man in this defining age, when he suddenly realized that he could build a home, stay communally and permanently in groups of settlements as a community. The ensuing development of complex social interactions, such as norms, roles, trade and culture were the natural progression of that fundamental shift in his thinking state.
The same with this current civilization where we have functioned and have been inventive in diverse ways, we are at a defining moment in human history and we are at the cusk of a new era of more inventiveness. The modern man is now thinking a lot more about sustainability of the planet and not just about having the abundance of life in narcissistic opulence that characterised the earlier thinking states. There is a ‘more aware’ existence that the ‘haves’ exist because of the exploitation of the ‘have nots’ either directly at the present time or from the increment deficits of intra- and inter-generational inequity over more than a century.
The emergent era of ubiquitous and pervasive internet of things technologies (IoT); Big Data (data that is abundant and dynamic) should bring more enlightenment if we dare to use the knowledge to bolster the wellbeing of everyone indiscriminately. The compelling qualities of these unstructured data is that they are so rich that the best of computing capabilities and artificial intelligence (AI) continue to stagger at the sheer size and value that it promises. What is possible from the infusion of these AI algorithmic and cognitive elements that keeps yielding more and more possibilities from this type of data that keeps on giving is unimaginable and phenomenal in magnitude.
We need to therefore, understand the intricate interwoven dependencies and demands of competing factors that wrestle at one another when businesses who are for profit and consumers who seek an exchange of value clash. We are at that critical point today with the advancement of technologies and business models and rules that focus more on how to use these vast data resources to meet goals that will inadvertently hand immense power of enormous consequences in the hands of those few with prominence and technological superiority.
The modern man, in pre-digital age operates under the laws of cause and effect, and was not pragmatically disposed to proactive detailing of non-priority yet critical decisions that are of far reaching implications when they are not met with pre-emptive efforts and precise solutions. In traditional economics theory and models, we have known that input resources are always limited, of the ‘scarce resources’ mantra but it was denoted in econometric and business terms as though they only apply to the material and human resources input into the process of management, so a lot of efforts were put into project management, resource allocation, marketing and economic modelling and many theories and frameworks emerged.
The essence of sustainable development was external to the knowledge dispensed in management schools and theories and academia and research must pay attention. As the world is held in suspense of this immense power and the imminent dangers it portends in the hands of any one tech-giant, or a handful of them, these industries are converging together creating rules and structures that is obfuscating the tenets of moral and intentional activities of good. The AI for Good Conference is held annually in Geneva to explore these issues. Increasingly we are seeing the tech giants, stumbling when asked to explain some of their data profiteering practices.
While it could have been enough for cities to plan an infusion of technologies to enable existing services in their cities, but the fact remains that there may be the need for a complete overhaul of the status quo because infrastructure like the roads, highways and the building codes developed during the first industrial (1IR) and second industrial revolutions (2IR) are going to become largely irrelevant, when the new connected transportation systems and autonomous vehicle models and revolutionary mobility options for the future cities arrive to replace them.
So, fundamentally, the infrastructures are going to be replaced with new ones with new codes and business rules and cities are dependent on these technology innovators, the different protocols, standards and regulatory bodies as well as academia for help with these fundamental shift required to move from the respective ‘As Is’ state of these cities to the expected “To Be’ states. The importance of regulation, standards and emergent rules and structures is becoming evident in the exploitative and inconsiderate stance that the technology industries have taken in this transformation process.
Traditionally, technology insurgencies have been about hyper-competition and monopolistic stances spurred on by the need for market leaders to defend their turf against competing brands, like in the Microsoft vs. Netscape saga and the ensuing anti-trust infringement lawsuits. Today, technology companies have a new focus and that is the stance to use technologies to control their users and consumers by the unparalleled power in Big Data and AI. These companies are using this to solidify their respective positions in permeating the world with a determined permanence of ubiquitous technologies that are fundamentally designed to control everything about urban environments through the iniquitous business models and data profiteering models. Traditional city planners have no clue as to the ramifications of these threats to the resilience and sustainability of their cities in the hands and proliferation of ‘Deep Tech’.
Misuse of users’ privacy and abuse of data that has been shown possible has been devastating to the fabric of our society and our civilization in a way that is unfathomable as moral and ethical beings of the highest class of the species in the eco-system.
What the technology companies have been perpetrating with the influence and power that they have as developers and suppliers of technologies powering these nascent environments of ubiquity are threateningly precarious to the safety and happiness of the human race and we need to work out ways that these technologies can be built without fundamental principles and rights of people being traded away at the cross roads of these inventions.
This era is similar to that time when the economies of the Western world started transcending with innovations but with very little in terms of intelligence from the limited data available during that dispensation. This era, wherein for the first time, there was a lot of momentum for advancement but with very little data capabilities for intelligence they were flying blind, without the salience in sustainability driven models for those early industries, like manufacturing and electrical engineering where they had gained mastery.
The vast amount of data and technologies enabling these capabilities today has helped in capturing the essence of a sustainability-driven production process and consumption culture, which is tantamount to having the basic essence of sustaining and preserving the irreplaceable planet. The requisite knowledge to avert derailment of this type of focus and planning is required in the development of innovation and inventions in emergent fields, such as in the information technology infrastructure that cities are working to put up and the algorithmic data structures that is being used in the business rules and architecture of our technological backbone.
But that is only one side of the coin. The tech giants are not the only one in magnifying display of disdain for the corporate responsibility ideals that the UN had been clamouring for since the first Bruntland report in 1987. One of such show of infamy was recently unveiled by Coca-Cola for the world to see at the Davos Conference in January, 2020, where the representative of the global company dropped the shocker of the decade. It stated unequivocally that despite the company’s contribution to the crisis of plastic pollution crippling the biodiversity of life and sustenance of the eco-system balance in our oceans, it will not stop producing its beverages in plastic bottles. According to the report, the findings of their private research company- Piplsay- informed them that “that is what consumers really want, “because…it reseals and it is lightweight””.
On social media, a few people and entities raised alarm about this development. It is concerning that a global company like Coca-Cola got to the point where profit over became a discerning choice and its voice in the ongoing saga of climate change impact and action ascends over the choice for posterity.
 Such technologies that are deep and their effects are not obvious and may stay latent and become permanently woven and undetachable from smart city fundamental structures posing future problems.
Shade Adepeju-Joseph, MA MS FCIM PMP
Industry Analyst, Resilience Thinking Media Institute