Smart cities: Moving into the future with AI

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has become ubiquitous over the last decade, and it is here to stay. Be it boosting the productivity of industries like retail, finance, healthcare, and logistics, or making day-to-day activities a little easier through solutions like smart home devices, it does seem that AI has had a positive impact on human life. It could even save lives.

For instance, object-detection software and satellite imagery helped rescuers identify worst-hit areas in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, so that resources can be deployed swiftly to those in need. In Africa, algorithms have helped reduce poaching in wildlife parks by predicting poaching risk levels in different areas of a wildlife reserve. In Denmark, voice-recognition programs are used in emergency calls to detect whether callers are experiencing strokes and cardiac arrest, so that responders can ask the right questions which can allow them to identify highly acute cases.

However, amid all this positivity, there is an insidious side to AI. Some concerns that have surfaced include privacy violations, racial discrimination, accidents, and even manipulation of political systems.

So, what does the public really think of AI?

Black Dot Research carried out a survey to explore Singaporeans’ awareness and perceptions of AI, and what they think the future potential for AI is. The survey compiled answers from 122 respondents, comprising a mix of ages, genders, ethnicities and education backgrounds to represent the Singapore population.

MORE THAN JUST ROBOTS?

An overwhelming majority of respondents (95%) said they know what AI is, but would not call themselves experts on the various types of AI technologies like Virtual Reality (VR), Bots, Machine Learning, Internet of Things (IOT) and Augmented Reality (AR). More than half (64%) said they have heard of these concepts but do not really know much about them.

The survey also found that “robots” was the first word the respondents thought of when asked about AI. This is likely due to the popularity of some of the most iconic and instantly recognisable portrayals of intelligent machines on popular media, such as in the Terminator film franchise and most recently, the androids in the Westworld TV series. After all, many (68%) had formed their overall impression of AI from sources such as the internet, social media, TV, films, and the news.

TECHNOLOGY GENERATING RETURNS…

Survey results also indicate the respondents believe AI technologies can boost productivity and improve the general well-being of individuals. Many approve using AI to fight crime (51%), while nearly half think favourably of technologies that can assist the elderly in carrying out physical and social activities (48%), as well as voice recognition software that can understand and respond to human speech (48%).

…BUT WITH LOOMING RISKS

However, the survey reflected some uneasiness with AI. For example, respondents view driverless vehicles that can adapt to traffic and road conditions (35%) and military robots with the ability to make crucial defensive decisions autonomously (25%) as risks rather than benefits.

An illustration of this pushback against such technologies can be seen in the way viewers of popular of popular sci-fi TV show Black Mirror reacted to a dog-like robot that operates seemingly on its own agenda. It shows the potential of how currently existing technologies, such as drones may bring about destruction of their owners.

TECH AND THE CITY

Smartphones have become the key to major cities like Singapore. Millions can instantly access information on public transportation, traffic, health services, safety alerts, and community news. Carpooling apps (76%)  like Grab and Gojek, real-time transit info apps like CityMapper and My Transport SG (74%) , and car navigation apps (67%) are popular with the respondents. Many (80%) also downloaded food delivery apps (80%) on their phones, especially during the circuit breaker period, as consumers increasingly migrated to digital channels for maximum convenience.

Additionally, 59% of respondents said smart-city apps that gather data like traffic conditions and bus arrivals can vastly improve their quality of life by cutting down waiting time and boosting convenience.

CITIZEN-CENTRIC SOLUTIONS

The government has also moved many of its services online. It seems like Singaporeans are embracing the change – 89% of survey respondents indicated their preference to transact and interact with the government through e-services and social media platforms.

DELIVERING REAL VALUE

Most respondents (84%) say they are happy to use products and services that use AI if these make their lives easier. The most important factor is reliability – almost half of our respondents (43%) believe that these products and services must be able to deliver what they promised to provide, prioritising this way above speed (16%) and transparency (10%).

BUSINESSES ON THE DIGITAL FRONTIER

We also asked respondents to rank their level of comfort with industries that use AI to extract online activities, in order to create tailored customer experiences. 70% said they were comfortable with online retail platforms tracking recent purchases and shopping habits. Around two-thirds (64%) welcome AI solutions in telecommunications services that suggest customised offers on mobile contracts. Many (65%) were also comfortable with technology being used in the healthcare industry, as well as in banking (63%).

THE FUTURE IS SCALING

Although the potential in AI may be significant, there are concerns that digital adoption could threaten job security as automation takes over more and more tasks. Other issues like whether or not automation can widen economic gaps might also emerge.

While we’re definitely on the path towards the digitization of more processes, automation is a process that requires more time and fine-tuning.

For example, in the retail industry, while there are certain processes that can be (and already are being) automated, there are also aspects that cannot be replaced by machines. An example of this is customer service, which requires a staff to sense human emotions accurately in order to suggest the best recommendations, or to handle conflicts.

In addition to the quality and safety risks arising from more automated processes, there is some speculation that it will take some time before we see a significant amount of work being outsourced to AI on a sustained basis.

AI is becoming an invaluable part of the human-development toolkit. But if its potential to do good around is to be fully realized, stakeholders should be swept up in the hype, and focus on overcoming the looming obstacles that could derail mass adoption and deployment of AI around the world.

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