The World’s First Smart City: A Smarter Way to Live

The race is on to create the world’s first smart city. But will it live up to the hype?

How do you create a smart city? There are competing ideas floating about, but the most straightforward route involves filling a single home with Internet of Things-enabled devices, and then scale that up to millions of homes. Add to that the public smart services and utilities that are made possible through government investments in infrastructure, while collecting and processing large amounts of data about the individual and the society for the purpose of continuous improvement. Voila—you’ve created a smart city.

In our region, two decades of e-government initiatives, a world-class infrastructure and a reputation for being a global innovation center are enabling Dubai to create smart strategies for every aspect of its resident’s lives.

The emirate is pursuing strategies under the banners of Smart Economy, Smart Living, Smart Governance, Smart Environment, Smart People and Smart Mobility. But what does it actually mean in practice? Perhaps some clues lie in recent achievements such as Dubai’s experiments with self-driving cars, automated ports, delivery drones and social robots. This is part of the Smart Transportation strategy that aims to automate 25 percent of its transport system by 2030.

Globally, Microsoft has a smart city initiative called CityNext, with the stated aim to develop and foster urban innovation. For example, it’s currently working with MasterCard in two cities to give mayors, policy makers and urban planners more insight into the root causes of urban challenges—like major infrastructure investments, adverse weather and traffic incidents—and better strategies on how to solve them.

Google is getting in on the game, with report that it is building a secret smart city on Toronto’s waterfront. Very little is known about this project, carried out by a Google-affiliated company called Sidewalk Labs, which will develop a 12-acre area.

These Google and Microsoft examples tell you everything you need to know about the business potential of smart cities. It seems to be big tech’s next big payday.

In fact, International Data Corporation, a marketing consultancy, is predicting that worldwide spending on these sorts of initiatives will reach $80 billion this year, growing to $135 billion by 2021.

Meanwhile, apart from the perceived benefits, there are voices warning about misplaced over-enthusiasm prior to dealing with real-life issues, such as security and privacy experts.

Is the definition of a smart city one that invades our privacy and turns every individual into a data profile? Will smart cities be more vulnerable to hackers who could bring transport systems to a halt or meddle with traffic causing crashes? Clearly, regulatory and legal standards will have to be implemented along the way to achieve the smart city vision.

Then there’s the matter of how such lofty ambitions can be disconnected from the hard realities of the wider world that these cities exist in. Do smart cities, for example, help solve climate change? If not, and this is a bit of a bleak view, there won’t even be cities to be designated smart or dumb.

That’s why the concept of being “smart” is incorporating sustainability, safety, equity and collaboration into the urban equation. For technology to smartly solve our life issues, it should only be a means to that end.