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MKAI Inclusive Forum: Beyond Smart Cities; the Future of Digital Citizenship

Forum Objective:

At this month’s Inclusive Forum, MKAI will examine ‘digital citizenship’ and how this term could be used as a means of embodying; digital inclusion, human connection, and means of contribution in our urban areas throughout the world. Whilst the idea of putting the word ‘smart’ before every noun might have been useful for creating hype and investment, it is an inadequate way to think about our cities of the future. We don’t want or need ‘smart’ cities, we need cities that use data and digital as means of increasing opportunity, equality, real innovation and sustainability.

Our objective is to discover whether the development and focus on smart cities have made the integration and participation of the individual within this system difficult. Can we look beyond smart cities to enable citizens to fully engage socially and with the government’s institutions in the broader political and societal processes?

In the words of Dr. Jeffrey Funk:

“What is interesting about current visions of urban sensing networks and the use that could be made of the #data they produced is how far away they are from more human-centered concepts of a smart city. Earlier versions were not marked by large-scale data extraction to increase revenue streams through everything from parking and shopping to health care and utility monitoring, they were formed by a belief that pervasive and aware #technologies would somehow, someday, release us from the drudgery of labor.”

Questions to be raised:

Specifically, we will ask our esteemed invited contributors three questions: 

  • Becoming smarter suggests growing the scope of our thinking, but on the contrary, have smart cities reduced the scope and potential of humans?
  • How have imposed technologies failed us in our cities? 
  • Looking ahead what is the role of technologies to create digital citizens that can contribute meaningfully to the places that they live?
  • How is the role of technology in cities different around the world? What are the cultural factors?

Forum Abstract:

Beyond the era of ‘Smart Cities’.

Over the past two decades, Smart Cities have tended to drive toward a centralised approach to data and institutional efficiency based on personal data profiling. However, when used for big and social data management, the downside of centralised platforms is that it strengthens the dominance of existing incumbent actors, suffocating innovation and allowing citizens less and less control over the data. 

To put it another way, ‘smart cities is all too frequently about making civic authorities’ operations more efficient, with little choice, agency, or negotiability for the average citizen. It’s about making everyone’s refuse collection more efficient, traffic flows smoother, and predictive policing more accurate, not about finding good places to meet up with friends, figuring out what kind of ‘active travel’ approach would suit each citizen, or figuring out how their work or activity is (or isn’t) leading to better health or a better life. 

Like the film I, Daniel Blake vividly showed, around 10% of adults in Glasgow cannot use an alphanumeric keyboard, let alone a web-based benefits agency. Furthermore, the issue of smart cities is skewed toward urban life; it tends to overlook the application of its ideas to rural areas and the interconnectedness of urban and rural areas.

Forum Outcomes:

Our intended outcome is to give attendees an understanding of how there is a need to look beyond the current smart city concept toward inclusive digital citizenship. We will conceptualise how smart digital platforms can help municipal management to meaningfully engage its citizens in a respectful debate about the present and future of the city so that they can feel included in the process. Finally what methods and tools are needed to shape and communicate public policy better and increase trust in the local authorities.

Forum Agenda: 

Keynote: The future of digital citizenship in our cities

Panel 1 – The rise and fall of the smart city

Panel 2 – Digital participation around the world, how can we do better? 

Forum Attendance:

MKAI events are inclusive. Our expert speakers are carefully selected for their ability to make the subject approachable and understandable. MKAI aims to help all people improve their AI-fluency and understanding of this domain. This forum is especially relevant for policymakers, Governmental leaders and corporate decision-makers.

Forum Speakers and Contributors:

  • Alice Higiro – Smart Cities Project Director at The Ministry of ICT and Innovation, Rwanda
  • Yining Zhao, Junior Professional Officer at International Telecommunication Union
  • Raghu Pandey, Leading expert in Digital Citizenship & Internet Maturity education
  • Ana 安娜 Ramirez (She/her) – Infrastructure Consultant Eng. AT&T
  • Ravit Dotan, PhD (She/Her) – AI Ethics Practitioner, Researcher, and Advisor

September 22 @ 5:00 pm - 7:00 pm