AI Goes Uptown: A Tour of Smart Cities Around the Globe 

There are as many ways to define a smart city as there are cities on the road to being smart.
From London and Singapore to Seat Pleasant, Maryland, they vary widely. Most share some common characteristics.
Every city wants to be smart about being a great place to live. So, many embrace broad initiatives for connecting their citizens to the latest 5G and fiber optic networks, expanding digital literacy and services.
Most agree that a big part of being smart means using technology to make their cities more self-aware, automated and efficient.
That’s why a smart city is typically a kind of municipal Internet of Things — a network of cameras and sensors that can see, hear and even smell. These sensors, especially video cameras, generate massive amounts of data that can serve many civic purposes like helping traffic flow smoothly.
Cities around the globe are turning to AI to sift through that data in real time for actionable insights. And, increasingly, smart cities build realistic 3D simulations of themselves, digital twins to test out ideas of what they might look like in the future.
“We define a smart city as a place applying advanced technology to improve the quality of life for people who live in it,” said Sokwoo Rhee, who’s worked on more than 200 smart city projects in 25 countries as an associate director for cyber-physical systems innovation in the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology.
U.S., London Issue Smart Cities Guidebooks
At NIST, Rhee oversees work on a guide for building smart cities . Eventually it will include reports on issues and case studies in more than two dozen areas from public safety to water management systems.
Across the pond, London describes its smart city efforts in a 60-page document that details many ambitious goals. Like smart cities from Dubai to San Jose in Silicon Valley, it’s a metro-sized work in progress.
An image from the Smart London guide. “We are far from the ideal at the moment with a multitude of systems and a multitude of vendors making the smart city still somewhat complex and fragmented,” said Andrew Hudson-Smith, who is chair of digital urban systems at The Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis at University College London and sits on a board that oversees London’s smart city efforts.
Living Labs for AI
In a way, smart cities are both kitchen sinks and living labs of technology.
They host everything from air-quality monitoring systems to repositories of data cleared for use in shared AI projects. The London Datastore , for example, already contains more than 700 publicly available datasets.
One market researcher tracks a basket of 13 broad areas that define a smart city from smart streetlights to connected garbage cans. A smart-parking vendor in Stockholm took into account 24 factors — including the number of Wi-Fi hotspots and electric-vehicle...