An automated future? Making our cities more human

Cities of today would be unrecognisable just 10 years ago. But have these changes made our cities better places to live, move, work and play in? And what does the future look like, not only for us but for our children, grandchildren and generations to come?

In the first episode of this new series Emma Nelson, freelance radio and TV presenter and reporter, hosts a conversation between two city experts and tech obsessives, Sandeep Kapoor, Innovation and Growth lead at Arcadis UK, and James O’Malley, technology journalist and former editor at Gizmodo. They tell us why an automated world will work for us as people, no matter how we feel about it. Plus, we look at what the people who shape our cities need to do to make the future human.

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Emma Nelson [00:00:06]
Hello and welcome to Long Story Short. The Future Cities podcast from Arcadis UK in which we explore what lies ahead for our cities and the people who live, move, work and play in them. I'm Emma Nelson and coming up in this episode.

James O'Malley [00:00:23]
I'm optimistic about the future. I think technology could do great things to make cities even more livable.

Sandeep Kapoor [00:00:28]
We can have a system that allows us to just put in a point A to Point B. And, for the technology to source all of that information and provide a single ticket, it could significantly reduce our frustrations.

Emma Nelson [00:00:39]
My guests two city experts and tech obsessives. From Arcadis, Sandeep Kapoor, and the journalist, James O'Malley. They'll tell us why an automated world will work for us as people, no matter how we feel about it.

Citizen [00:00:53]
It makes you feel like you're not as free as you used to be to do things.

Emma Nelson [00:00:58]
Plus, we look at what the people who shape our cities need to do to make the future human. That's all to come on Long Story Short, the Future Cities podcast from Arcadis. And a very warm welcome to the show, Joining me today..

Sandeep Kapoor [00:01:16]
Sandeep Kapoor, I lead innovation and growth for the Business Transformation team at Arcadis.

James O'Malley [00:01:20]
I'm James O'Malley, I'm a technology journalist, previously editor of Gizmodo UK and I've written for a ton of other outlets as well.

Emma Nelson [00:01:27]
You can spend an average day in a city nowadays without talking to a soul. We shop, bank, manage and navigate our way through life simply by swiping a screen. And, all this has happened in the last 10 years. But, has technology made our cities a better place to live. Well we asked a few commuters about how much technology helps them to survive.

Citizen [00:01:50]
It can help to reach a place quickly if you're walking around and you're not sure about where to go. You're now linked to having a mobile phone for everything you do, like Google Maps to reach a place, and then you're lost if you don't have it. Right? And you lose a little bit of your sense of direction.

Citizen [00:02:06]
I can't actually find my way around the city without an iPhone to find out where I'm going. I’m a little dependent I suppose, but otherwise okay.

Citizen [00:02:18]

I just moved here from New Zealand and if I didn't have City Mapper on my phone, I wouldn't be able to get anywhere, so highly dependent. I suppose the more that you think about it it's a little bit concerning. If my phone was to die, I'd probably be a little bit stranded but it's life as modern society I guess.

Emma Nelson [00:02:30]
The acceptance of modern society there. Sandeep, we wouldn't really recognise the cities of a decade ago would we, but what are the common elements to a city?

Sandeep Kapoor [00:02:39]
Cities are about where humans come together. I think where humans come to live, work, play, move and most of all, thrive. Ever since the days of Socrates and Plato in the marketplace, cities have been an engine of innovation. And, even if you look at the great prosperity of London cities of today, like Tokyo or Bangalore, they come from their ability to produce new thinking and bring that to life very quickly. Although it's true that cities also can concentrate societal problems, I actually also think that they’re the world's greatest laboratories for innovation and solutions.

Emma Nelson [00:03:11]
Now this engine of innovation James, has been driven very ferociously by technology in the last ten years hasn't it?

James O'Malley [00:03:18]
Oh absolutely. I mean if you put your mind back 10 years ago, it's almost like a different world. We're only at the start of the smartphone revolution. The iPhone came out in 2007, so a lot has changed since then because now the smartphone is our primary way of interfacing with, let alone the city, but the world. If you look at how just transport has changed that's something I'm particularly nerdy about. But, something like Uber couldn't have existed before this device existed. So even over the last 10 years you can see all these sorts of transformations all enabled by the device which we now carry around and we don't really think about as being a new or dramatically impressive thing.

Emma Nelson [00:03:51]
But this is new isn't it, Sandeep? I think every generation claims that it is on the cutting edge, so how huge a transformation are we witnessing right now?

Sandeep Kapoor [00:04:01]
It's absolutely huge. Smartphones have become the key to the city. Never before have we been able to provide instant information across every sector; transit, traffic, health, government, safety, entertainment to everyone at an instant. And, that is a transformative change in itself. In the last 50 years, actually what technology has done is automated standard processes and so a really good example of that I think is in the maps and G.P.S. field. IWhere if you take the first type of maps that were digitised, actually they were just paper maps on a screen which you moved around. You now look at things like Waze which actually is completely reimagined what a map is and it's all completely centred around the passenger.

Emma Nelson [00:04:48]
This is important isn't it, James? Now, the way that our cities function, wellill we actually control an awful lot of how our cities function day to day, a? And, Sandeep was talking about ways Waze and Google Maps, iIt's in our hands now.

James O'Malley [00:05:02]
Yeah I think the points Sandeep was making about the evolution of maps is fascinating. The next step is going to be augmented reality, in that using that same mapping data but rather than have us look at a map, we're going to be able to hold up our phones, or maybe one day, in the not too distant future, wear some sort of augmented reality glasses. And we'll be able see arrows floating in front of us saying "oh no no, it's down this street" "go down this way" and that will be how we navigate.

Emma Nelson [00:05:24]
How safe is my information?

James O'Malley [00:05:27]
There's two separate issues. So AI is a method of processing data and making predictions based upon statistics, which are being increasingly used for all parts of our lives whether its Google Maps orto using a facial recognition system. The problem with AI is that it can replicate human biases. So for example, if you've got a facial recognition system that's trying to spot criminals, i. If you feed in a bunch of mug shots of existing criminals to try and spot them then that's going to replicate a racial or biases which exist which ordinary humans are capable of. In terms of the actual data security issue, that's an equally challenging topic which is going to be crucial to building the trust which enables all this technology to be used in the future. Everyday we hear new stories now about data breaches, about databases being stolen or our data being accidentally published online. And so, we need to be completely paranoid, rationally paranoid about how it's going to be used.

James O'Malley [00:06:23]
A really perfect example of this trade- off I think is Transport for London. They're going to be switching on a Wi-Fi tracking system on the London underground. So this will be using Wi-Fi beacons in train stations to basically ping your mobile phone so if your mobile phone has Wi-Fi switched on, it will make a log of where your phone has been spotted. And, this data could be amazing for TfL because it will give them all sorts of insights into how people actually travelling on their tube network - it's going to be brilliant! Theat one trade- off though with this is that TfL are going to be having to make a log of all of our mobile phone MAC addresses (these are the unique ID numbers that each phone has). And the problem with this is the tube is the entire nervous system of capital city, so if you live in London you can't avoid travelling on the tube and it's do you want to hand TfL the power to log where everyone goes? I'm pretty okay with it, I don't think I'd do anything too controversial to worry about but that's a really bad argument from which to build a Privacy Policy from! okay.

Emma Nelson [00:07:18]
And Sandeep, working with both the private and the public sector at Arcadis, h. How much is this being addressed seriously? Should we be as paranoid as James suggests?

Sandeep Kapoor [00:07:27]
It's a really fascinating topic where a lot of attention has been focussed. I'd rather use the word 'professionally sceptical' than 'rationally paranoid' but I take the point. I think what we really need to do is shape regulation to standardise that to create a light form of regulation, not overly onerous that we lose the benefit of the technology in the first point because that's a real risk as well. I think the important point here is that we standardise and create codes of practice around data in order to address the absolutely rational and right worries of the public.

Emma Nelson [00:07:56]
How serious are the people that you deal with in terms of embracing any kind of regulation?

Sandeep Kapoor [00:08:00]
I think they're absolutely serious. The difficulty possibly is that technology is moving so fast and the pace of change is very difficult for organisations, including government, to catch up with. It shouldn't be left to one type of organisation to address these on their own. And I think we can all get together and help.

Emma Nelson [00:08:24]
You're listening to Long Story Short, the Future Cities podcast from Arcadis UK. I'm Emma Nelson and with me in the studio are Arcadis' Sandeep Kapoor and the tech journalist, James O'Malley.

Emma Nelson [00:08:37]
So, Sandeep and James, we've talked about the fact that AI is absolutely everywhere, but, what kind of city does all this 'tech' turn us into as people? If I want to go somewhere now, I don't look at any of the buildings, I look down at my screen. And if I want to contact someone, I don't actually talk to them, I either send them a message or I get in touch with them via an app. How does that psychologically change the makeup of a city Sandeep?

Sandeep Kapoor [00:09:02]
The real danger around the 'sSmart cCity' or the 'tTech Ccity' of the future is actually, it's tech led and that's not the answer to improving quality of life in a city which is what Arcadis' mission is. I think it's all about understanding the pain points of citizens or the desires of citizens and aligning tech solutions around that and using tech to solve those problems. If you do that, I think we can create a city that has huge amounts of opportunity as a consequence of tech. So, using that in the right way, which is solving human problems and desires, I think could be hugely powerful and create lots of benefit - environmental, social cohesion, cost of living, prevent crime, citizen engagement, all of those things.

Emma Nelson [00:09:44]
The words that Sandeep was just using there James things like "pain" and "desire". As a tech journalist, how often do you use that in your vocabulary?

James O'Malley [00:09:52]
Jeff Bezos, the Founder of Amazon, once said "he doesn't know what people will want in the future but he knows they're going to want things to be cheaper and they're going to want them quicker" so regardless of what the actual technological solution is, whether it's drones or vans or whatever, he knows that Amazon's ultimate goal are those two things. And in the same way, I think we can think about cities and the problems they face. And those challenges in those sorts of ways we know what the goal is. It's then figuring out the best route to do that.

James O'Malley [00:10:18]
All thisese technology we talk about and their great potential for it for solving these problems. It can be misused. The one 'go to' example I keep thinking of is to look at China and what it's building in what's called a social credit system. The idea is each citizen will have a score which will be used to evaluate how good a citizen they are. And the idea is eventually, if you J walkjaywalk you could lose some of your social credit, or if you take the bins out, maybe you could gain some social credits. It's just a way of managing behaviour in a detailed and enumerated way. And I think that that has slightly terrifying potential.

Emma Nelson [00:10:55]
We're on the cusp of an awful lot of this with AI, but how much is tech managing our behaviour already in a city?

Sandeep Kapoor [00:11:03]
I think responding to our behaviour, understanding our behaviour and then providing solutions around that, exists everywhere. There's a lot of conversations around AI in health. Artificial Intelligence can be used within the home. Connecting your wearables, like Fitbit, in a smart toilet where it checks your urine to then determine as an early warning system, for example, if you're at risk of any condition or illness. I think that what you just asked there actually is a really good example of where thether regulation is to be so we don't go into the space of using it to manage behaviour and rather use it as a way to address and understand human pain points and desires and manage the resources in the systems within the city around that to help use technology to address them in a positive way.

Emma Nelson [00:11:49]
You're listening to Long Story Short, the Future Cities podcast from Arcadis UK. I'm Emma Nelson, with me in the studio are Sandeep Kapoor and James Malley. Let's look at the public sector now. James, is there anyone designing tech with people in mind rather than the other way around where tech leads the way?

James O'Malley [00:12:06]
GOVov. UK, which is the government's central website for doing things, they've redesigned how government works over the last decade or so. Rather than sighting starting from the point of "we've got this new technology called the Internet and we've got mobile phones let’s just they just put all of our ministries and all of our departments on there". They're instead starting from a user centre point of view and they're asking the question of what would a user want to know, how would they want to interact. If a citizen of Britain wants to renew their driving licence, they don't need to know whether they need to go to the driving licencinge in agency, the DV essayDVSA, or the Ministry of Transport. They just know, I want to renew my driving licence and it's about then using the technology to build a service which gets through all of that and goes in at the level of answering that question and doing that for all of the many many different questions.

Sandeep Kapoor [00:12:53]
In the snippets earlier we heard a member of the public talk about City Mapper. Technically that's all an aspect of what we call Mobility as a Service. Mobility as a Service is exactly the same idea of user centricity around transport. So, rather than us having to go on holiday, order our taxi, understand the timings of a taxi, schedule our flights at the right time, get the tickets, then on the other side, understand what coaches are available, get off the bus stop, get a taxi back to the accommodation that we're staying at. Actually, what we really care about is getting from A to B. We don't care about all the different tickets or the different price points and scheduling that all ourselves. If we can have a system that allows us to just put in a point A and Point B and for the technology to source all of our information and provide a single ticket, it could significantly reduce our frustrations.

Emma Nelson [00:13:44]
That requires the bringing together of lots and lots of different sectors. How possible do you think that is James?

James O'Malley [00:13:50]
I think London actually is a really good example of how this sort of thing can be done. So to look at transport in particular, TfFL (Transport for London) is a fully integrated organisationorganization, w. Which has what they call unified ticketing; if you buy an Oyster card or use your contactless debit card, you can use it on any mode of transport that TfL operates, which is wildly different from the rest of the country. Everywhere else in the country inand my experience is absolutely rubbish. If you look at Manchester, they're trying it but even then because they've got different operators and there's no unified body overseeing things with the authority to force these sorts of integrations, it's all a bit of a mess. Every other city or place I've been to in Britain and we've I've tried to catch a bus - it's just been a nightmare because it involved having to figure out which private operators operating the bus, which app do I need, how do I do the payment? Whereas in London, if you've got a contactless debit card in your pocket, you just tap it against the ticket barrier at the train station and it just works. But, that's only possible - not because of the technology behind it - but it's the boring stuff. The politics and the governance and the organisations behind making it all happen that needs to be brought into line.

Emma Nelson [00:14:57]
So tell us a little bit more about how this Arcadis can harness these different bodies: the private sector, government, local authorities and actually bring them together to make things function a little bit better for us Sandeep.

Sandeep Kapoor [00:15:10]
I genuinely think that's one of the roles of a consultancy, and a consultancy like ourselves Arcadis. The important point is why are we doing that. And why we're doing that is actually to create a sense of collaboration and an ecosystem that can focus on the holistic problem which is what the end user sees. They don't see just a problem in government regulation. They want don’t just to see a problem in transport. They don't see a problem in health. They see it across all of these different services and sectors. And where our Arcadis can play a role in that, is to help facilitate and coordinate those organisations. First, to understand the problem itself. Secondly, to integrate and get the thinking together to help best address the problem using the skill sets and capabilities of different organisations. I genuinely think we're moving to a mode of business that's actually much more about collaboration than just competition for the sake of it. And if you go to the right organisation, with the right vision and the right mission, I think actually you can harness the power of technology in different sectors to address people's problems.

Emma Nelson [00:16:11]
Would you agree that we're now moving towards collaboration as opposed to competition?

James O'Malley [00:16:15]
Yes, it certainly seems that this approach is taking on. I attacked Manchester a few moments ago but they are trying their best. Recently, with the mayor they've established Transport for Greater Manchester, which is aiming to do this sort of thing. So there does seem to be trends in that direction. Especially as people recognise that cities are unique and they face specific challenges. The whole point of a city is that we need to learn to live together, so I guess the collaboration is a natural extension of that.

Emma Nelson [00:16:40]
Look into your crystal ball, 10 years ahead of here. We've got people working collaboratively or do we still have, well I don't know, what do we have?

Sandeep Kapoor [00:16:50]
I never liked to put my stake in the ground from ten years from now because we don't know what will happen. If we ask for problems or desires of the end user and then work out how technology can address that, I think that's a great principle. Secondly, if we can allow organisations to collaborate and not compete, I'll give you a really quick example of bringing that to life. So, Arcadis is currently one of 11 consortium partners in an organisation called OmniCAV, which is actually using artificial intelligence to create a virtual test facility for an connected and autonomous vehicles. And that's a great example where organisations cross-sector are coming together in order to address a problem around safety, which is the end user worry of a new technology which is autonomous vehicles.

Emma Nelson [00:17:33]
James, your final thought on all this.

James O'Malley [00:17:35]
I'm optimistic about the future. I think technology could do great things to make cities even more livable. We all'll get on the tube and get annoyed when it's all full. We all get frustrated when things don't work as they should do. , bBut ultimately we've all got to learn to live together in cities, especially as the world is increasingly urbanisingurbanizing, and technology can do that. But, at the same time, we do need to worry about the privacy side of things. But broadly I think I'm optimistic.

Emma Nelson [00:17:59]
And that brings us to the end of today's show. Sandeep Kapoor and James O'Malley, thank you so much for joining me in the studio. And if you enjoyed that, then still to come we'll be looking at the future of work, we'll examine whether the world is ready for the driverless car and much more besides, so make sure you subscribe. You'll find our podcasts popping up every month at where there'll be lots of extras too,, all to do with the future of our cities. You've been with Long Story Short, the Future Cities podcast from Arcadis UK. I'm Emma Nelson. Goodbye. Thank you very much for listening.

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