WCS 2021 Webinar - Smarter and Greener: Transforming through Technology
22 July 2021 (Thursday), 4.00pm – 5.10pm
- Minister Josephine Teo, Minister for Communications and Information, Minister-in-charge of Smart Nation and Cybersecurity, Singapore
- Yang Zhiping, Vice Mayor of Suzhou
- Prof Carlo Ratti, Professor of Urban Technologies and Planning, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Director, SENSEable City Lab
- Chew Men Leong, President of Urban Solutions, ST Engineering
- Matthias Rebellius, CEO Smart Infrastructure, Siemens AG
- Alice Charles, Project Lead, Cities, Infrastructure and Urban Services, World Economic Forum
Smart Cities are Resilient, Integrated, and Built for the Future
“Every now and then, it’s useful to re-examine our ideas and assumptions of what makes a city smart”, Minister Josephine Teo notes. This is especially important given that technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT) can improve lives, but may also increase vulnerabilities if not implemented well. Government and industry leaders discuss key priorities for positively transforming the future of smart cities: keeping data safe, making technologies green, improving systems, and supporting inclusivity.
Smarter means resilient: governments must leverage technologies judiciously
In the face of an increasingly unpredictable future, “digital solutions can add a dimension of speed and responsiveness to the city and give it a level of agility to adapt and adjust,” said Minister Josephine Teo. Responding to COVID-19, the Singapore government’s engineers used a short timeframe of four days to devise an app called SupplyAlly to support the mass distribution of masks to the public, and the government reached out to youths through a TikTok game which weaves in bite-sized vaccination-related facts to encourage vaccination. Mr Yang Zhiping, Vice Mayor of Suzhou, shared how his city learned from Singapore in launching citizen-centric technologies like the Suzhou Dao, which offers a range of public-facing services digitally. Mr Chew Men Leong from ST Engineering also urged governments to expand their collaboration with industries, suggesting that cities’ mindsets should “change from one of seeing smart city solutions providers as vendors, to one of [seeing them as] long-term strategic partners.”
Furthermore, Mr Yang emphasized governments’ responsibility to introduce legal frameworks to keep up with and regulate the implications of new technologies, highlighting a data security law which will be implemented in China in September of this year, and pushing for a new approach to prevent app developers from misusing personal data. Mr Matthias Rebellius from Siemens similarly underlined that “data privacy and cybersecurity is the foundation of digitalisation, and it will not work without it.”
Smarter means integrated: technologies need to be truly green
Beyond the need to use and regulate technologies, Minister Teo further emphasized that smart cities must take an integrated approach to managing limited resources, underlining the pressing importance of green solutions in facing the global threat of climate change and building cities’ resilience.
For technologies to be truly green, Mr Rebellius shared that Siemens’s aim to connect an “all-electric world” only makes sense if that electric power is generated mostly out of renewable energy. He noted however that around “80% of the global production of energy comes from fossil fuels” today, urging the need to aim for 80% renewable energy instead. Minister Teo suggested one such way to augment green energy usage: vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology. Singapore Power Group is trialling the use of electric vehicle batteries to double as storage for the city’s electrical grid, to allow better utilisation of intermittent solar power.
Smarter means building for the future: cities need digital infrastructure
In preparing smart cities to face the future, Prof Carlo Ratti from SENSEable City Lab highlighted that the most successful solutions tend to emerge from combining digital and physical infrastructure, such as through contact tracing apps that surfaced worldwide in response to COVID-19. Mr Chew likewise emphasized the potential in today’s “explosion” of increasing digital bandwidth, noting how IoT sensors can contribute to better system optimisation in city planning, such as through smart water grids that reduce leakage. As another example of system optimisation, Minister Teo mentioned the Punggol Digital District, which has a smart “operating system” that connects and inter-operationalises component smart systems.
Digital infrastructures also work towards a better future for cities as they are more cost-effective. Responding to the session’s audience poll, which identified budget constraints as the top challenge for mobilising technologies to drive change, Prof Ratti highlighted that investments in digital infrastructures often provide better returns per dollar than physical infrastructure. Mr Chew seconded this statement, underlining how digital infrastructures can provide a high-level cognition of city trends, a new level of efficiency, and lower carbon footprints.
Building inclusive smart cities for the future
As cities build for the future, they must tackle the challenge of adopting technology inclusively, so that no one is left behind. Moderator Ms Alice Charles noted how some cities allocate spaces to allow for technological demonstrations, for citizens to better understand and trust how these technologies are applied. This helps policymakers to design the acceleration of technology adoption with citizens’ needs in mind. Prof Ratti further urged the need for transparency and citizen participation in understanding and shaping technologies. From his experience in designing a facial recognition system that gave citizens the agency to opt out, he highlighted that allowing citizens to see the value of digitalisation and shape it from the bottom-up is the best way to ensure inclusivity.
As a city leader, Mr Yang shared how governments can support technologies both through encouraging the development of new IoT and AI solutions, and by aiding existing communities to speed up their digital transitions. This means that some digitally provided citizen services must often also be paired with physical kiosks to help seniors access them. Accordingly, Suzhou implemented technologies that include a senior-friendly interface with larger fonts to ensure fair service provision, reminding us that as we build for resilient, integrated, smart cities for the future, we must make sure that new digital solutions also become tools of inclusiveness.