As cities grapple with urban growth and climate change placing more people and economic activity in harm’s way, the resilience of critical infrastructures, and of the assets that make up these infrastructures, is coming increasingly under the spotlight. However, this is a complex issue, and not all its dimensions are well understood. This article attempts to explore them.
Cities can be thought of as “systems of systems”, where energy, water, communications, transportation, healthcare, law and order, data, and other physical systems (not to mention social, political and economic systems) interact. From this perspective, many issues arise.
Some countries and cities can identify their critical systems and assets (it is, for example, a Federal requirement for cities to do this in the US), but very few can identify how they are linked to each other. As a result, they have no way to identify and manage the associated inter-dependencies. In many cases, as with the grid failure example, the existence of these linkages may not even be fully understood by all the entities affected, and accordingly come as a highly unwelcome surprise. Achieving critical infrastructure resilience therefore requires investing time and effort to identify and maintain relevant and up-to-date data on these linkages.
A study by the US National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in 2008 found that the impact of routine weather events on the US economy equates annually to about 3.4% of the country’s GDP (about $485 billion). This excludes the impact of extreme weather events that cause damage and disruption – after all, even “ordinary” weather affects supply of and demand for many items, and the propensity of businesses and consumers to buy them. NCAR found that mining and agriculture are particularly sensitive to weather influences, with utilities and retail not far behind.
Many of these, disaster management included, are the focus of smart city innovations. Not surprisingly, therefore, as they seek to improve and optimize these systems, smart cities are beginning to understand the connection between weather and many of their goals. A number of vendors (for example, IBM, Schneider Electric, and others) now offer weather data-driven services focused specifically on smart city interests.
Steven Hawking recently commented that artificial intelligence (AI) would be “either the best thing or the worst thing ever to happen to humanity”. He was referring to the opportunity that AI offers to improve mankind’s situation, set alongside the risks that it also presents. These same competing possibilities apply no less when AI is considered in the context of smart cities and the planet’s growing urbanization. With smart cities, though, this is not just some abstract balance: there is a genuine choice of path to be made as smart cities and AI evolve together. This article explores the choice.