21st century cities: A is for Artificial Intelligence

Yesterday, I introduced a January series: the ABC’s of 21st Century Cities. Today’s the first letter A.


What does the term artificial intelligence (AI) make you think of? How about singularity? These innovations represent a holy grail for many technologists. An exclusive institution called the Singularity Universityoffers an intensive summer grad program. The teachers and staff rank among the best thinkers in the world, including some of my friends and colleagues. In their first few years of operation, they have shined a bright spotlight on the idea of super-human intelligence.

What is AI?

AI is generally defined as machines that are smarter than human intelligence. The Turing Test, the primary bellwether, simply asks a computer to conduct a conversation without the human knowing she/he is talking to a computer. In urban terms, an AI system perceives its environment and responds to successfully complete a particular job.

For cities, the most intriguing are networks of machines that aggregate data, respond, and adapt without our intervention. The machines seem self-aware and learn, the technological singularity . Machines surpass our ability to understand or control them.

Ray Kurzweil believes that by 2020 or so, computers will reach human brain capacity and by 2045, they will self-invent, no longer dependent on our creativity or intervention.


The Singularity University identifies three tracks divided into specializations: technology (robotics, nanotech, computers, biotech, and medicine/neuroscience), resources (futures, law, finance), and application (space and energy). Technology and innovation, the engine of business, are the heart of AI.

Should we fear super-intelligent self-improving machines the size of a city?

Do you remember HAL9000, the computer in Arthur C. Clark’s Space Odyssey and the film 2001 Space Odyssey? The fear of AI is the human fear of all machines: they will own us. Collective super-intelligence the size of a city will be the most potent weapon and/or collaborative experience ever invented.In Zuboff’s In The Age of the Smart Machine, she analyzes the qualitative differences we experienced when we moved from a society of artisans to button pushers.We are particularly clumsy at seeing the long-term consequences of innovations.

  •     It’s possible that machines will supply ideas, but that we will still be the makers, even more than we are today, through co-creating and DIY. Six billion brains will still be the largest form of intelligence on earth. Technology weaves that collective capacity even more tightly.
  •     We trade our freedoms and privacy every day for access to something else. A few voices will try to protect our sovereign rights but they will go largely unheard because we are only being protected from ourselves.

Will AI control transportation?



Computers already control our traffic systems. We drive our cars over a buried sensor and it switches the traffic signal. Or a set of sensors time our highway progress and notifies other drivers of travel times. Are they AI? Not really. That’s fairly simple analysis of historic behavior not anticipating or adapting. Airplanes and trains have long been controlled by autopilot computers. Google, Stanford, and MIT have road tested autonomic driving, or self-driving robotic cars. Our cars are already robots in terms of automation. Computers are rapidly making cars smarter and better drivers than us from self-parking to crash avoidance. Frankly, based on 40k US deaths/year, we desperately need their help.

  •     Cars are well on their way to becoming one big swarm more concerned with each other than with us.
  •     Eventually, rather than competing modes of transportation, light rail, buses and cars may have more in common than not.
  •     Mobility freedom is not only control but also access, representation in decisions, and choice.

Big brother may not be the power company; it may be you and me.If we are generating and capturing energy to share and sell others, the AI/smart grid becomes our partner, the tool for a new source of income. However, if we are at the mercy of power company electricity, we can look forward to brown outs and black outs. At the rate of new technology adoption, power loads just keep rising. Appliances and computers may not run during peak hours. And worse – you will know when your neighbor is hogging power and vice versa.

  •     Will we be shamed into energy conservation? Or we will simply be controlled through rations.
  •     Control and privacy are forefront in a world of limited shared resources and AI. How data gathered thru AI is revealed is up to our collective agreements.
  •     More energy efficient buildings, better batteries, low energy use appliances will eventually reduce our power needs.
  •     Real time urban data will be gathered from people, buildings, and things to create useful knowledge about how we use cities that will inform design and user decisions.

AI Design Build

At long last, design and construction are becoming data-rich. Next they will become self-improving, then self-assembling, and finally self-designing. Yet self-expression is a human talent, not a computerized algorithm. Creativity as well as the relationships, communication, and decision-making require humans.

Following in the wake of manufacturing, construction is being automated. First with material deliveries, then tools, and finally with self-constructing buildings. Experiments with robots have reached demonstration levels. Consumer goods distribution centers have hesitated on robot investment because they have peak seasons and the robots sit idle otherwise. Construction operates project by project to maintain a steady workflow, only slowing for economic cycles. Without too much trouble, a city will be self-constructing, particularly useful for infrastructure and repetitive projects.

  •     Without human intervention and oversight, cities will become dull and cookie cutter. Our job will be to alter the cities before we learn to hate them. We require imperfection to love a place.
  •     A full accounting of all materials and resources in a region will enable local distributions, recycling, adapting, and re-allocating of supplies and scheduling maintenance.
  •     Dominating those asset allocations will make or break various urban areas. Urban negotiations open a whole new field.

Will AI cities like us, be our friend?

The self-aware, self-improving, sentient city will adopt the patterns of the existing city. Machines are purely rational. Humans are intuitive, emotional, and imperfect plus we are culturally determined. A machine can only copy or replicate these characteristics, which might be flawless. That’s the problem with the conversant computer. It does not know how to improvise, make errors, be human.

We love our houses, favorite shops, parks, even our cars. These attachments will become exponentially deeper. They will remember key dates and react on cue. They will know our habits and when we break routine. If your house can talk to you, play scrabble, fix you meals, layout your clothes, wake you up, start the coffee, prepare your shower, order the groceries, complete your reports, and sing you to sleep, will you believe it cares for you?

  •     We will need retraining on the meaning of artificial.
  •     Will we ever be able to move? Will we strip the house-friend of its knowledge and mourn its death?
  •     Will AI computers strive for self-preservation? And to self-replicate? Will they hoard or aggressively acquire materials to create their projects?
  •     Will they share our most precious secrets? Doesn’t Facebook do it every single day? We won’t need to report our sins; the shaman and tax officer and probably your mom, daughter, enemies, and neighbors will already know.

The city’s brain

As we build swarms of self-improving intelligent machines, we will need a meta-AI to monitor and coordinate. That’s HAL9000. Will we be able to control it? I rather doubt it. Furthermore, how safe will that concentrated power be? Imagine the cyber attacks and security threats when so much power is held by one entity.

  •     When all the machines are hooked together as an army of super-intelligent computers, are they controllable?
  •     Moreover, will we become part of the super-intelligence? Notice that Singularity U includes neuroscience. Later, we will look at transhumanism and our active participation in collective intelligence.

Cities will be smart. They will be more beautiful, more exquisitely made in parts and more assembled ad hoc in other parts. More resourceful and more transparently knowable. Unlike today’s “dumb cities” that sit like the dead materials that they are, future cities will be alive in a Biomimicry sense, evolving, learning, and growing. The caveat is huge. A city as a functioning extension of the people may be the most intoxicating experience we can imagine. The most creative and potentially invasive intelligent computers will work in partnership with people. We have to be able to let go, opt out. Increasingly, it will be impossible unless we demand it.

Tomorrow, B is for Backward.

Images: Robotic construction in NYC on ArchDaily, Ford Sync Destination Eco-navigation system and New Songdo in Fast Co, automated road trains on Crunchgear, PlanIT Masterplan, Geminoid robot.


  1. A. T. says:

    I’ve been thinking about something like a road train for some time (as I’m sure many people have.) Now, if we were able to replace pavement with a magnetic strip or other technology that delivered the necessary navigational AI along designated paths, and the vehicles could stay on this minimalistic track by hovering over it 4 meters off the ground or so, the impact of roads on the environment, it would seem, would be reduced, as flora and fauna could utilize the ground without our needing to modify the landscape as dramatically as roads do now. In areas with dense population, this would allow more pedestrian use of space.Admittedly, there would be a lot to work out to implement such a scenario, and I am no scientist, but I suspect that the technology to do it is less far-fetched than many people would think. In the light of growing populations and reduced environmental resources, should this not also be a consideration in transportation innovations?

  2. BarryMorgan says:

    Hi Cindy,You are coming out of the gate at warp speed here… Very Cool.This sentence caught my mind: ” If your house can talk to you, play scrabble, fix you meals, layout your clothes, wake you up, start the coffee, prepare your shower, order the groceries, complete your reports, and sing you to sleep, will you believe it cares for you?”The question made me think about how we perceive the limits of artificial intelligence. If a human were doing all of the things, that you mentioned, for us we would call it caring but somehow a machine caring for us seems alien. This may be the other side of the coin as far as machines being able to achieve sentience. Will they get there, with our help, before we truly believe they are capable of being there? Will they become self aware, realize our prejudices and point them out to us? Really interesting stuff, all of it, and it is both scary and thrilling…Thanks, as always, for a great post.-b

  3. Cindy Frewen Wuellner, phd, faia says:

    Hi Barry, yeah, its all possible eventually. a study gave ppl a robot to live w/ and boom, they fell in love w/ them. First thing in the morning, “hello, robot, how ya doing?” we are prone to caring, arent we? A Japanese inventor makes the most lifelike robots too, those will really test us. and it happens gradually. A breakthru here, another there, and pretty soon, yr talking to a machine lk its yr brother. then the machine starts correcting you?? rutrow, that options coming out! give me the ‘yes cindy’ bot… ;-) Most ai will just be in the background, sensing, doing things, making life easier. Except when they break. more machines, more headaches. like nano-coatings will just recoat and change w/ weather conditions, absorb and distribute energy, collect and send data. We’ll just install and forget abt it. Doubt if we fall in love w/ smart paint, yes?? thanks for reading, yeah, cool.

  4. Cindy Frewen Wuellner, phd, faia says:

    A.T. – yes, that’s almost Jetson world, isn’t it? hovering transportation. I’m in favor of anything that reduces roads, their constant maintenance which is sucking up resources in all the developed countries, esp US, and reducing harm to the environment. has to have a fail-safe so no one falls 4 meters to the ground when things go wrong, yes? ouch. and no littering please, I’m walking/riding my bike down here! heh. I agree, its more of a design problem once the science gets resolved. Many old futures drawn in the early and mid 20th century had stacked transportation modes. The only place that’s true so far is w/ subways. thanks for reading and for sharing your ideas, v inventive.

  5. Jandira Feijó says:
  6. buy kamagra says:

    If you wish for to take a good deal from this paragraph then you have to apply such
    methods to your won blog.

  7. I’d like to thank you for the efforts you’ve put in writing this blog.
    I am hoping to see the same high-grade content by you in the future as well.

    In fact, your creative writing abilities has inspired me to
    get my very own website now ;)

  8. I loved as much as you’ll receive carried out right here.
    The sketch is tasteful, your authored subject matter stylish.
    nonetheless, you command get got an edginess over that you wish
    be delivering the following. unwell unquestionably come more
    formerly again as exactly the same nearly a lot often inside case you shield
    this increase.

  9. Very good article. I certainly love this website. Thanks!

  10. Does your website have a contact page? I’m having a tough
    time locating it but, I’d like to shoot you an e-mail. I’ve got
    some ideas for your blog you might be interested in hearing.
    Either way, great website and I look forward to seeing it develop over time.

  11. Wow, fantastic blog layout! How long have you been blogging
    for? you make blogging look easy. The overall look of your website is wonderful, as well as the content!

  12. Definitely imagine that which you said. Your favorite justification seemed to be on the web the
    easiest thing to consider of. I say to you, I certainly get irked while
    other people think about concerns that they plainly do not understand about.

    You managed to hit the nail upon the top and outlined out the entire thing without having side effect , folks could take a signal.
    Will likely be again to get more. Thank you

  13. Gilberto says:

    Today, I went to the beach front with my children.
    I found a sea shell and gave it to my 4 year old daughter and said
    “You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear.” She placed the shell
    to her ear and screamed. There was a hermit crab inside and it pinched her ear.
    She never wants to go back! LoL I know this is entirely off topic but I had to tell

  14. Hi there! I just wish to offer you a huge thumbs up for the great info you have here on this post.
    I am coming back to your website for more soon.

  15. Today, I went to the beachfront with my kids.
    I found a sea shell and gave it to my 4 year old daughter and said “You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear.”
    She put the shell to her ear and screamed. There was a hermit crab inside and it pinched her ear.
    She never wants to go back! LoL I know this is completely off topic but I had to tell someone!

  16. DanaDStubson says:

    Hi would you mind sharing which blog platform
    you’re using? I’m planning to begin my blog in the near future but
    I’m developing a hard time deciding between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal.
    The key reason why I ask is simply because your design seems different
    then most blogs and I’m seeking something unique. P.S My apologies for getting off-topic however i were required to ask!

  17. LynnaBLuhnow says:

    Truly no matter if someone doesn’t understand following that its up to other viewers that they
    may help, so here it occurs.

  18. GilEKendzior says:

    Do you have a spam problem on this website; I also am a blogger, and
    I was wanting to know your situation; we have created
    some nice practices and we are looking to swap solutions with other folks, please shoot me an email if

  19. HaroldRKubat says:

    I at all times utilized to read article in news papers however right now
    when i am an end user of web therefore from now I am using net for posts, due to web.

  20. MarcusGZosel says:

    It’s perfect time for you to make a couple of plans for the near future and
    it really is time for you to be at liberty. I’ve learn this publish of course, if I
    may just I want to suggest you some attention-grabbing
    issues or tips. Maybe you can write subsequent articles regarding
    this informative article. I want to read more issues about it!

  21. RussJGittler says:

    What a material of un-ambiguity and preserveness of valuable knowledge
    on the topic of unpredicted feelings.

  22. GlendaKPicon says:

    My partner and I stumbled right here by way of a different website
    and thought I might check things out. I love a few things i see so i am just following you.
    Look ahead to finding out about your internet page yet again.

  23. JesseGMinden says:

    Hi all, here every person is sharing these kinds of knowledge, therefore it’s good to read this web
    site, and I used to visit this web site everyday.

  24. JustinRSyrop says:

    Every weekend i used to check out see this website, because i want enjoyment, since this
    this website conations in reality fastidious funny stuff too.

  25. InesRBrimage says:

    Hi there! I really wished to ask if you possess issues with hackers?
    My last blog (wordpress) was hacked and I wound up losing several months
    of work on account of no data backup. Do you have any solutions to prevent hackers?

  26. BevHOviedo says:

    Write more, thats all I have to mention. Literally, it appears as if you trusted the video to produce your
    point. You clearly really know what youre referring to, why waste your intelligence on just posting videos in your blog
    when you may be giving us something enlightening to see?

  27. BlairDCole says:

    I get pleasure from, lead to I discovered exactly what I used to be taking a look for.
    You’ve ended my 4 day long hunt! God Bless you man. Have a nice day.


  28. AlenaVMcgoey says:

    After going over a few the articles on the blog, I truly appreciate your manner of blogging.
    I book marked it to my bookmark site list and you will be checking back soon. Kindly
    visit my web site too and say how you feel.

  29. BernaVRosian says:

    I’ve been browsing online more than three hours today, yet I never found any interesting article like yours.
    It’s pretty worth enough for me personally. Personally, if all webmasters and bloggers made
    good content when you did, the web will probably be considerably more useful than before.

  30. IselaMFanner says:

    After looking over several of the blog articles on your web site, I really like your
    technique of writing your blog. I book-marked it to my bookmark website list and are checking back in the future.

    Please go to my website too and tell me your emotions.

  31. MarcieZBathe says:

    When someone writes an article he/she keeps the plan of any user in the/her brain that how
    a user can understand it. So that’s why this paragraph is amazing.

  32. JeanieKRival says:

    I’m not sure why but this blog is loading very slow for me.
    Is anyone else having this issue or is it a issue on my end?
    I’ll check back later on and see if the problem still exists.

  33. YukXBressman says:

    Hi! I just wished to ask if you possess problems with hackers?
    My last blog (wordpress) was hacked and i also ended up
    losing a few weeks of effort as a result of no backup. Have you got any methods to
    prevent hackers?

  34. ArlieBHero says:

    Fantastic beat ! I want to apprentice when you amend your
    site, how can i subscribe for a blog site? The account helped me
    a acceptable deal. I had been tiny bit acquainted of the your broadcast provided bright clear concept

  35. MarionXMajic says:

    Appreciating the time and energy you put into your blog and in depth information you
    present. It’s nice to come across a blog every once in a while that isn’t the same
    outdated rehashed material. Excellent read! I’ve saved your site and I’m
    including your RSS feeds to my Google account.

  36. Q1z66h It?s actually a great and helpful piece of info. I am satisfied that you shared this useful info with us. Please keep us informed like this. Thank you for sharing.

  37. ClayPMilks says:

    Hi everyone, it’s my first visit at this site, and piece of writing is actually fruitful in support of me, keep up posting such
    articles or reviews.

  38. EddyOFriddle says:

    I’ve been browsing online a lot more than 2 hours today, yet I never found any interesting article
    like yours. It’s pretty worth enough to me. In my view, if all webmasters
    and bloggers made good content when you did, the web will be far more useful than before.

  39. LeslieYHymas says:

    Hello are using WordPress for your blog platform?
    I’m new to the blog world but I’m trying to get started and create my
    own. Do you need any html coding knowledge to make your own blog?
    Any help would be greatly appreciated!

  40. OdisAStroope says:

    I always spent my thirty minutes to see this webpage’s articles or
    reviews everyday plus a mug of coffee.

  41. EnochCWung says:

    Hi could you mind stating which blog platform you’re working together with?
    I’m planning to get started on my very own blog soon but
    I’m using a tough time selecting between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal.
    The reason I ask is simply because your layout seems different then most blogs and I’m
    looking for something completely unique.
    P.S Apologies for being off-topic however i needed to ask!

  42. BoPEspindola says:

    hi!,I like your writing very a great deal! share we
    keep up a correspondence more about your article
    on AOL? I require a specialist with this area to eliminate my
    problem. Maybe that is you! Getting a look ahead to peer you.

  43. RicoODouthit says:

    I visited several sites however the audio quality for
    audio songs current at the website is really wonderful.

  44. CarylLDoward says:

    Hello can you mind stating which blog platform you’re using?
    I’m going to get started on my very own blog in the near future but I’m possessing a hard time choosing
    between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal.
    The main reason I ask is because your layout seems different then most blogs and I’m trying to find something unique.
    P.S Sorry for getting off-topic having said that
    i had to ask!

  45. JayXAflalo says:

    This website truly has all of the information I needed
    concerning this subject and didn’t know who to ask.

  46. DewittMNusom says:

    Everyone loves what you guys are generally up too. Such clever
    work and coverage! Keep up the very good works guys I’ve included you
    guys to my own blogroll.

  47. KipESkillern says:

    Hey! I understand this is kind of off topic having said that i was wondering should you knew where I
    could locate a captcha plugin for my comment form? I’m utilizing the same blog platform as yours and I’m having difficulty finding one?
    Thanks a lot!

  48. SagePBoehm says:

    Hello! I’m at work browsing your blog from my new iphone 3gs!
    Just wanted to say I love reading through your blog and look forward to
    all your posts! Keep up the fantastic work!

  49. That is a great tip especially to those new to the blogosphere.
    Brief but very accurate information… Appreciate your sharing this
    one. A must read article!

  50. Thanks in favor of sharing such a nice thought, piece of writing is good, thats why i have read it fully

  51. First off I want to say wonderful blog! I had a quick question in which I’d like to ask if
    you don’t mind. I was curious to find out how you center yourself
    and clear your thoughts before writing. I have had a tough time clearing my thoughts in getting my thoughts out.
    I truly do take pleasure in writing however it just seems like the first 10 to
    15 minutes are wasted just trying to figure out how to begin. Any recommendations or tips?
    Thank you!

  52. I will immediately grasp your rss feed as I can’t to find your e-mail subscription link or
    newsletter service. Do you have any? Kindly let me understand in order that I could subscribe.


  53. Ulrich says:

    Due to the fact of its recognition and functions, YouTube can be a useful marketing channel for

  54. Carissa says:

    Right here is the right web site for everyone who hopes to find out about this topic.
    You understand a whole lot its almost hard to argue with you
    (not that I really would want to…HaHa).
    You definitely put a brand new spin on a subject that’s been written about for years.
    Wonderful stuff, just wonderful!

  55. minecraft says:

    Helpful info. Fortunate me I discovered your web site by chance, and I am surprised why
    this twist of fate didn’t took place in advance! I bookmarked it.

Speak Your Mind