Data and AI keys to smart city progress: Huawei

Alaa Elshimy, Huawei Middle East, smart city
Alaa Elshimy, Huawei Middle East

Alaa ElShimy, Huawei Middle East MD and VP of Enterprise Business, discusses the pivotal role of data and artificial intelligence in the upcoming fourth phase of smart city development.

The MENA region’s population growth is one of the highest globally, and today’s urban environments are under pressure to accommodate more people in smarter ways. This means more than just providing adequate housing. A growing city must take into account the extra pressure on utilities, roads and transport, and other facilities. One recent report notes that the total value of active infrastructure projects in the GCC alone has reached a staggering $1.14 trillion in 2019.

During this historic period of infrastructure planning, it is crucial that such investments are intelligent investments primed for a digital world. Ambitious plans like the Dubai Autonomous Transportation Strategy—aimed at converting 25 percent of mobility means into driverless mobility means by 2030—are setting a clear vision for both the public and private sectors.

Driven by these government visions, several cities in the region are now entering what we call the fourth phase of smart city development. Artificial Intelligence (AI) in particular is going to underscore many of the changes we see during this phase.

But before examining that, one must recognise that the development of smart cities is characterised by an evolution, not a revolution. To date there have been three distinct phases of the smart city evolution.

In phase 1.0, e-Government services enabled residents and organisations to access information and services online. In phase 2.0, citizens embraced mobile Internet applications to manage their government affairs but also more of their social activities. In phase 3.0, there was a real escalation in the deployment of the Internet of Things (IoT), soon to be managed over high-speed 5G broadband networks in several GCC countries.

This powerful combination of technologies allows cities to get to the heart of phase 4.0—mass data mining enabled by AI. This mining allows municipalities to converge their own data, public data on the Internet, and IoT data from millions of urban devices. Mass data mining also enables city planners to mirror the physical world by creating a ‘digital twin’ based this vast quantity of information.

However, the immediate challenge to this phase 4.0 development is the relationship between a city’s data systems. Organisations have traditionally built their own siloed applications—from surveillance cameras to smart lighting or traffic sensors. The limitations of these silos are now being reached.

Connecting systems through AI

Artificial Intelligence is a core component of the Middle East’s move into the smart city 4.0 phase.

For the first time, a single, all-scenario AI platform is now being made available to a wide diversity of vertical industries; giving governments and enterprises the ability to quickly deploy AI across their public cloud services, private clouds, in edge computing, across industrial IoT devices, and directly to consumer devices—what we refer to as ‘cloud-pipe-device’ synergy. This integration of various AI form factors overcomes the challenge of fragmented, siloed systems faced in the smart city 3.0 phase.

This convergence is a historic step change. Gone are the days of piecing together bespoke AI systems, niche software, and then trying to push that “intelligence” onto IoT devices. Again, this is evident in mass data mining. A new breed of heterogeneous, AI-native databases are already becoming the infrastructure of choice for financial services, telecoms, government, and other industries worldwide.

Similar to how a person’s nervous system detects and reacts to changes in its environment, connecting a city’s infrastructure using AI will help them to sense, process and deliver informed decisions that improve the environment for its inhabitants. These smart city ‘nervous systems’ can now leverage full-stack, all-scenario AI portfolios across all elements of the ICT ecosystem. Ultimately, these platforms will integrate digital urban resources such as IoT, big data, geographic information, video, and integrated communications to enable better data sharing, business collaboration, and agile development.

In fact, the connection between smart city 4.0, data mining, and all-scenario AI was recently in focus at the region’s first Ai Everything Summit this spring. Having helped more than 160 cities in over 40 countries and regions implement smart city projects, it’s clear to us that data—and the management of it—is quickly becoming the fourth utility of cities today, and that AI will play a pivotal role in making this utility accessible to all.

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