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.

Initiative

AI & Society

Authors

Zaheb Ahmad

Zaheb is a Research Fellow at Tandem Research. His work explores institutions and governance arrangements in India, anchoring people-centred approaches to the environment and data. Zaheb is currently working on setting up an 'urban living lab' in Panaji - an experimental governance approach, established at the boundaries between research, innovation and policy, for urban sustainability transitions 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. His Master’s research deconstructs the functioning of the Environmental Impact Assessment mechanism in India and explores environmental justice implications for impacted communities.

Angelina Chamuah

Angelina Chamuah is a Research Fellow at Tandem Research. Her current work examines the social and ethical implications of AI and other emerging technologies in India. She has been studying the impact of AI in India across different sectors including agriculture, healthcare, policing, and finance. Key to her research are questions of values and interests that drive socio-technological imaginaries of AI and the future of AI governance in India. In addition to AI, her research interests include the role of Big Tech companies in India, politics of data and human-machine interaction. She holds an M.Phil in Sociology and a Masters in Sociology from the Delhi School of Economics, DU.

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