Are we ready for a Cognitive City? – If you believe the media, all councils are looking to turn their cities into the “Smart” variety but whilst this model is not a new one, in most cases it remains something of an aspiration rather than a reality and the genuine number of truly connected cities is relatively small.
However, in a society where technological change is often encouraged with the enthusiasm of amphetamine addiction, any pause for thought is seen as regressive, so we’re already elevating the concept and introducing the topic of “Cognitive Cities” to the conversation. Even as a tech enthusiast it feels like we’ve started the race when the track is still being tarmacked!
So, what is a cognitive city and how does it differ from the “Smart” version that has been regularly peddled to us over the last decade? Well, in its simplest form, a cognitive city expands the concept of the smart city with the aspect of cognition, referring to an environment that uses advanced technologies and data-driven systems to improve the quality of life for its residents, enhances sustainability, and optimises urban operations to create more efficient, connected, and responsive places to live.
No longer the exclusive domain of Sci-Fi movies, this style of living, particularly for those of us in major cities, is and will continue to be more prevalent over the coming decade. The narrative is that being better-connected means we’ll be better informed and have more time to live productive lives. Of course, we were promised that utopia with the introduction of email and the Internet but if anything, they appear to consume even more of our time and have arguably accelerated the decline of the work/life balance. If you can be connected 24/7 then the expectation is that you will be.
Despite my opening scepticism, it’s far from all bad and there are mechanisms in place that will lead to cognitive cities being more intuitive and responsive to both collective and individual needs. Take parking for instance. Traditional parking systems often lead to congestion and wasted time as drivers search for available parking spaces. By using smart sensors, cities can optimise parking management and enhance the parking experience. One of the biggest challenges for any driver – outside of traffic and roadworks – is finding a space. Imagine the number of “congestion headaches” that could be prevented by this simple technology step.
In this example, sensors are installed in individual parking spaces or streetlights to detect the occupancy status of each parking spot. The sensors can detect whether a parking space is vacant or occupied and relay this information to a centralised control system. The control system then processes and analyses the data to provide real-time information to drivers about available parking spaces in specific areas.
This information can be made accessible to drivers through various means, such as mobile apps, digital signage, or navigation systems. Drivers can quickly find parking spots, reducing traffic congestion and carbon emissions associated with circling around for parking. Additionally, the city can optimize parking enforcement and management operations based on data collected from the sensors.
Another example is networks and data analytics, all of which are employed to gather and analyse vast amounts of information from various sources, such as infrastructure, transportation systems, public services, and citizen interactions. This data is then utilised to optimise resource allocation, enhance service delivery, and make informed decisions for urban planning and management.
At this point, I must jump in like the proverbial “party pooper” just to remind anyone living in cities like London (although to most of you, this will already be painfully obvious) that we are still some way off this impressive aspiration. But we are getting there. We just need to be sure that when this technology is finally unified, it is for the benefit of people rather than big business or political ideology. It’s never usually the technology we should fear, just the intentions of those who are seeking it to deploy it.
It’s also important to note that the implementation of cognitive cities varies across different regions and cities, as the specific technologies and initiatives adopted depend on local priorities, resources, and challenges.
While they have the potential to bring numerous benefits, there are some concerns and objections raised by people regarding their implementation too. These may include issues related to data privacy, security vulnerabilities, unequal access to technology, and the risk of overreliance on technology. Additionally, these projects require significant investments in infrastructure, technological systems, and workforce training.
Inevitably, when a business invests it is always only to gain a more significant return. Each of us should be vigilant and honest about what this technology promises to deliver and how much we feel it is important to our lives. Take no one else’s word on the matter. Research and investigate for yourself so you properly understand the proposal. If you’re offered the world’s fastest car but can never drive above 70mph, you have to ask yourself why you’d buy it. We’ve already sold our “data souls” to the technology giants in exchange for mobile music and streaming on the move. Before we fully prostrate at the altar of the future and surrender the last of our freedoms, let’s check the fine print on those contracts.
Once we hit that button there will be no going back.
Key features of a Cognitive City may include:
Intelligent infrastructure: As mentioned, this can include transportation systems, energy grids, and public facilities, all of which can be equipped with sensors and connected devices to collect real-time data. This enables efficient resource management, predictive maintenance, and optimised utilisation.
Data-driven decision-making: The city leverages data analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms to process and analyse the collected data. This information is used to make data-driven decisions for urban planning, emergency response, and resource allocation.
Sustainable initiatives: Cognitive Cities prioritise sustainability by employing smart energy grids, renewable energy sources, and efficient resource management. The use of data and technology enables optimization of energy consumption, waste management, and environmental monitoring.
Enhanced public services: By utilising technology and data, in turn, can provide better public services to their residents. This may include smart healthcare systems, real-time monitoring of air quality and safety, and improved citizen engagement through digital platforms.
Citizen participation and engagement: By providing digital platforms for feedback, information sharing, and involvement in decision-making processes, citizens could be involved. This promotes a sense of community and empowers citizens to contribute to urban development.