Artificial Intelligence and Future Cities

This paper examines existing and emerging use cases of Artificial Intelligence for cities, and identifies key challenges and risks.

Digital technologies—aimed at improving the delivery of urban services, optimising resource use, and facilitating better interactions between citizens and governments—are increasingly becoming central to new models of urban development, both in India and elsewhere across the globe. Even as the use of AI is believed to be beneficial for cities with oft-repeated narratives of efficiency, optimisation and progress, challenges and risks posed by the problematic use of AI could have negative outcomes for societal well-being. What kind of societal values and norms are being imagined in these cities of the future?

This paper is a diagnostic exploration of the likely impact of the use of AI for cities, and is based on inputs from the AI and Future Cities policy lab as well as desk research. It provides an overview of emerging use cases of AI in Indian cities, followed by a discussion of the challenges and risks associated with the development of AI-based solutions, and their deployment in Indian cities.

Key findings:

  • Much of the development of AI-based technologies in cities rests on the availability of reliable and structured datasets. While there is an imagination of abundance and magnitude associated with data in emerging narratives of India as a data-rich country, existing inequities signal several gaps in existing data sets.
  • Widespread deployment of AI-based surveillance tools pose privacy risks and can lead to self-censorship and regulation of behaviour in cities.
  • The deployment of AI-based solutions in Indian cities presents the challenge of ensuring that access to applications, and gains arising from the use of AI-based solutions are equitably distributed.
  • The increasing involvement of private corporations in building smart city infrastructure may give them considerable control over the hardware, software, and data involved in city operations, which could bring long-term technology lock-ins and path dependencies for cities. The high costs of developing AI-based technologies may also create a tradeoff between access and profit-generation for private corporations.
  • The creation of networked infrastructure could enhance efficiencies in cities, but a networked system also becomes vulnerable to cyber attacks at multiple touch points. Equally concerning is the risk of cascading failures in large-scale interconnected cyber-physical systems.


AI & Society


Zaheb Ahmad

Zaheb is a Research Fellow at Tandem Research where he leads the Sustainability Transitions programme. His work focuses on governance and social dimensions of transitions in the environmental sector. His Master’s thesis explores the domestic environmental regime in response to global environmental frameworks, and evaluates the effects of the Clean Development Mechanism on communities in India. Zaheb holds an LL.M with specialisation in Environmental Law from the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law, and B.L.S, LL.B from Government Law College, University of Mumbai.

Angelina Chamuah

Angelina Chamuah is a Research Fellow at Tandem Research. Her current work is focused on understanding regulatory frameworks for emerging technologies in India.She is interested in studying the development of emerging technologies and the complex entanglements between technology and society. Her M.Phil. research is centered on human-machine interactions in the context of social robotics and engages with questions of design and agency in the building of affective relationalities between humans and social robots. She has an M.A and M.Phil. in Sociology from Delhi School of Economics and a B.A (H) in Sociology from Miranda House, New Delhi.


Angelina Chamuah & Harsh Ghildiyal

AI and Education in India