Ecosystems: The Foundation of Smarter Cities (and a Digital World)

Neil Sahota Blog

 Like death and taxes, change is a certainty- and we live in a time of rapid change driven by technology. It’s no wonder that we often dream of the wonders the future may hold for us, particularly as a society and in the cities we live in. Take, for example, the Back to the Future movies. Released in the mid-1980s, they tried to predict what the world would be like thirty years into the future. While not every prediction was accurate, many things (and some of them quite surprising) did indeed come true.

Today, we’re still trying to predict what the future will be like, but it’s incredibly difficult to wonder what cities will be like ten years from now. Imagine being back in 2008 right now. Could you have a predicted a world where things like Uber, Airbnb, robotic grape pickers, machines that create movie trailers or AI lawyers existed –  or where androids were granted citizenships?

Returning to 2018, we have the same challenge in predicting what the world will be like in 2028, but we can help make great strides in advancing such a future. We have places like Hangzhou China developing the Future Sci-Tech City and Saudi Arabia’s NEOM project to build a digital, smarter city that will be 218 times larger than San Francisco. We have a unique opportunity to leverage emerging technology such as AI, blockchain, cyber security, the Internet of Things (IoT), and Virtual Reality to improve public services and fulfill the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We have a chance to not just predict the future but to guide its creation.

If we want to build successful smarter cities and create the future, we need to focus on constructing ecosystems. Historically, there’s been a lot of reliance on traditional organic growth, but this really drives benefits created in a “one-off”, slow pace. With an ecosystem model, we can build large scale (for example, city-wide) solutions and accelerate the pace of positive changes and the fulfillment of the SDGs. Ecosystems provide the community of end-to-end resources and expertise in a central location that gives people extraordinary access to opportunities they could never get on their own.

Let’s consider Hangzhou’s Future Sci-Tech City, and, in particular, its AI Town component.

Their goal is to help incubate over one thousand AI startup companies in their ecosystem. This is more than just providing office space and some subsidies. Through great planning, AI Town has incorporated education and knowledge sharing opportunities, access to capital through venture capital partnerships, networking and strategy partnership connections through events and common space, and work and life balance through community building. In fact, every aspect in the design of AI Town (including things like stores and public transportation) has been focused around building and facilitating the AI ecosystem.

As we move forward, we’ll always try to predict the future. However, to drive real, sustainable change at a smarter city level, we need to develop ecosystems. We need to look at examples like AI Town and NEMO to understand the value we can create at a macro level and commit to building such models. This will be a key element for discussion in the Artificial Intelligence: impact and ownership session at ITU Telecom World 2018 in Durban this September. Because if we truly want to build smarter cities, create a better world, and fulfill the SDGs, we need to drive and guide change by creating ecosystems.

About the Author
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Neil Sahota

Neil Sahota is an IBM Master Inventor and World Wide Business Development Leader in the IBM Watson Group. With over 15+ years ofexperience in business, he works with Global Fortune 500 clients, government organizations, and high growth business partners to ideate next generation products/solutions powered by Watson. Parts of Neil’s responsibilities include identifying target markets, developing business cases, and creating the market launch strategy. Prior to this role, he was a Thought Leader Consultant and Practice Leader in IBM Global Business Services where he was responsible for the sales and delivery of complex consulting engagements spanning business strategy, new product development, revenue optimization, process improvement, and business and system integration. His work experience spans multiple industries including healthcare, life sciences, retail, travel and transportation, energy and utilities, automotive, telecommunications, media/communication, and government.