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BLOG: iCity: The intelligent cities of the future

Girija Pande | July 21, 2011
The iCity represents the meeting point of the real world and digital world.

Last June at the Shanghai Expo, I stood rivetted on a massive screen showing a film in Mandarin, a language I am enthusiastically studying. What caught my attention was the film's vivid approximation of how technology is and will increasingly impact the lives of an increasingly urban world.

The film was a compelling commentary on the way technology will shape how we will live, work, play and learn in an increasingly urban future. An urban landscape where power and water utilities will operate and shut off automatically to conserve and optimise resources; where citizens will take online physics or yoga classes, walls made of high resolution touch screens; where healthcare services will be delivered to patients remotely in their homes - and much more. We will live in the era of the Intelligent City, or iCity.

There are two megatrends that will propel the world to this new iCity paradigm. The first is the explosive population growth in the world, particularly in the developing world that is putting an unprecedented pressure on employment, civic services, utilities, healthcare, education and transportation available in existing cities. The second trend is technology's ever-increasing reach, ability, innovativeness, and economic efficiency. With these factors combined, the tech-centric iCity is an incredibly practical and sensible solution to a major challenge. What we will experience is a next generation of IT architecture driving future cities.

If we examine the population growth and urbanisation data, it is quite apparent that population growth and urbanisation will be a challenge to cities in coming years. In 2000, the global urbanisation rate was 47 percent; in 2008, it was 50 percent; and by 2030, demographers predict that 60 percent of the world population will live in cities. Population will nearly double by 2050, adding roughly one new city to the world a day.

In the developing world, the situation will be even more severe. Ten of the world's 15 largest cities are likely to be in Asia, three in India and eight in China. Many cities in these countries are already groaning under the burden of too many cars, air-conditioners, energy-guzzling factories or too few roads, metro lines, hospitals, jobs and schools. How will these cities cope with the additional burden of migratory labour or newly-minted urbanites that will continue to come from the rural areas? Clearly new cities will have to be built from scratch or old cities drastically remodelled to accommodate the new demands. There will be natural constraints to growth and expansion.

Given these imploding urbanisation challenges, we see that technology will emerge as an enabler to reduce the use of resources and increase efficiency. Notice how physical infrastructure such as roads, factories, schools and hospitals often wear out while technology is increasingly becoming more innovative, creative and intelligent with each passing day. Take the cell phone for example; a few years ago it was just a communication device. Today, the device enables you to pay your bills, take photos, find restaurants, locate friends, withdraw cash, warn you on traffic congestion and plan your route.


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