What Is A “Smart City”? There is no clear definition of what is a smart city and what makes a city smart.  The consensus is that information will be interconnected and will be used to make the cities’ inhabitants’ lives easier.  Infrastructure and services will be built around information available that will increase efficiency, mobility, and quality of life for the community as well as the individual. 

Singapore has called itself a “Smart Nation” for a while now and has a framework for what they are trying to do. Government-built HDB residential buildings will be connected to a central hub for estate operations including networked meters for utilities consumption of each household as part of the Smart Nation Sensor Platform. HealthHub is in development and will provide a “one-stop online health information and services portal”. Barcelona is well-known in the smart cities circles for its use of sensor to monitor and manage traffic across the city, and London Datastore is committed to making its data available  publicly which includes traffic and environmental data. Oslo’s smart street light management network has reduced energy consumption, and has rolled out smart parking and traffic management systems. 

What is clear in all these initiatives is that Data is the key to enabling a smart city, and smart cities will have to harness available data in order to be responsive to inhabitants’ needs in a timely and relevant manner.  This means that data from utilities and public services would have to be joined and commingled with private data from commercial service providers. But what data should be made publicly available to the various private service providers?  Would I want to share my utility bill in order for some company to help me save a couple of dollars a month? What about my current location since a service would have to be useful to me when I need or want it? What about the health records which when combined with a personal health tracker and the weather forecast may help save someone’s life? It seems obvious that the more information the smart city framework has on a person, the more they can personalize the services to the person’s immediate needs.  

These disparate sources of data – from traffic to utilities to health to commercial user data – should remain in silos in order to remain anonymized and protect the privacy of individuals. In order to blend different sources of data, artificial intelligence platforms will be required. Matching private data with publicly available data will require probabilistic matching with machine learning algorithms and deep learning systems.  We are not talking a couple of data sets; we are talking about thousands of data sets that may have terabytes and petabytes of information each. This is why it will become more important than ever that government and industry work together to ensure the privacy and security of data.

For example, the smart cities industry will need to leverage vast computing resources and advanced computing to actively – and in as real-time as possible – call for an ambulance when someone’s Fitbit detected that they have suffered a heat stroke while on a run in MacRitchie Reservoir. The person’s exact location, recent meals, insurance information and medical history and drug allergies will be immediately made available to the EMS personnel in the ambulance and the hospital, and the person’s designated emergency contact will be alerted.

The issues of limitless data and data sources, privacy, and artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms were not foreign to me. Indeed, they are not unfamiliar to most of us in digital advertising as we are dealing with these topics on a daily basis.  Whether it is GDPR, programmatic platforms, audience segmentations, or ad fraud, the digital advertising industry has had to deal with them… right now. Maybe I am living in a bubble, but I think WE are the best suited industry to understand the complexity and help make smart cities a reality sooner rather than later.  Perhaps the only apprehension to the ad industry involvement would be that advertising would be in the very fabric of smart cities and that infamous mall scene from Minority Report would become a reality.

This article was written by Joe Nguyen, Regional Board Member of IAB SEA+India.