“A smart city is defined as the continuous implementation of human wisdom to city governance and development. It is about the human-centric development of a city through the integration of new technologies and new ideas.”
Searching ‘smart city’ on the Internet returns hundreds of different definitions. Most of these describe a smart city in terms of the technology that is used, such as Artificial Intelligence. But these definitions are short-sighted. What happens in the future as new technologies are developed? Do we have to change our definition again and again as new technologies are created?
Smart cities are not about technology. The definition must be in terms of the way in which a city is managed. I see a smart city as the continuous implementation of human wisdom to city governance and development. It is about the human-centric development of a city through the integration of new technologies and new ideas. It is about new ways of management to enable people to live better lives in cities.
To understand the importance of smart cities we need to consider government responsibilities in China and in the western world. Their decisions and actions are quite different.
For example, the mayor of a city like London is not directly responsible for the economic and cultural development of the city. Economic development in western countries is driven by market powers. But the mayor of a city like Shanghai has responsibility for the development of everything. Different official duties lead to different decisions.
Furthermore, the population in China is huge. Guangdong province has a population of around 90 million people. However, when you take into account people who come into the province to work, the number of people grows to more than 110 million. It is the government’s responsibility to support their education, medical care and housing needs by creating adequate conditions in Guangdong.
The population has grown but the government is still the same size. This means that to manage the increased demand, the Chinese government must adopt new ways like smart cities to provide the necessary support. So, for the Chinese government, it is not whether or not to use new smart city technologies, they have to. Therefore, we are seeing the very fast development of smart cities in China.
While there is not one key technology for smart cities, communications, especially critical communications networks, are among the most important. 5G will provide better and quicker communications, but also create new threats. Take autonomous cars driving the streets. What happens if the communications fails or is attacked? It could be catastrophic.
Information security is a critical issue. The European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a good example for the rest of the world on how to prevent the abuse of people’s data. In China, the government pays close attention to privacy. Information protection is a national and business security challenge and we need to see more examples of how to protect data.
Extending data protection policies is very difficult. When I buy something online, I provide my credit card number, but is it safe? On the one hand I worry about my data security, but I also want the convenience of not having to go a physical shop.
The collection of more online data brings real security risks to both government and society. If this data is misused there could be great damage to society, perhaps even the loss of a city’s utility supplies. There will always be risk. We need time to understand fully what can be done and cannot be done, it is still early days.
It is interesting to see how new technology can have a great impact on the progress of society. Even in ancient times, new inventions brought different influences.
The same technology can bring about different results in different civilisations. A good example today is electronic payment. In the west, people are familiar with credit cards, so the adoption of electronic payment technology has not brought about a huge change. In China though, we have seen astonishing growth in its use, with more than 0.6 billion users and more than 170 billion Yuen worth of electronic transactions being made daily, just on Wechat pay.
In China people have found that ecommerce brings a new level of fairness and convenience to their lives. Previously, people in rural areas and cities could not easily share in a common market – now they get the same price and quality.
Each year, 11th November is Alibaba’s Singles’ Day, a popular shopping day in China similar to Black Friday in the west. It is the world’s biggest online shopping event. In 2013, turnover during the day was 4.7 billion US dollars and 24% of transactions were made over mobile. In 2018, it was 31.9 billion US dollars. In 2018, 93.6% of transactions were made over mobile, nearly quadruple that in 2013, showing how people have switched from PC to mobile. Moreover, in 2018, 60.3% mobile pay transactions were through fingerprint identification and facial identification. Biological identification payment is coming.
The Internet has brought about enormous change. In the past, productivity depended on human resources. But in the digital age, data, networks, cloud, bandwidth, storage and other technologies are also becoming very important for productivity. The Chinese government is being forced to understand that data networks are a fundamental influence on productivity. If we don’t pay attention to this, we will lose opportunities.
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The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Airbus.
Mr Chen Dongping, former executive director general of Social Development Committee of Shenzhen Municipality, now serves as president of Shenzhen Big Data Research Institute of Smart City and chairman of Beijing International Artificial Intelligence Research Institute. He has deep theory research and practice in smart city, E-government and public service construction, and has published several academic articles in those fields.
Shenzhen Big Data Research Institute of Smart City is a non-profit organisation in Big Data and Smart City research, conducted by several universities and leading enterprises. The research institute creates a fair Industry-Academic Research platform for Big Data research via integrating data resources from government and society, gathering intellectual resources from the government, enterprises, research institutes and universities. By using global leading Big Data technologies and methods to support advanced academic researches, the institute possesses top professionals in this field and is able to offer consulting services and technical support for Smart City projects, as well as governance improvement of government, social innovation and start-ups.
Mr Chen Dongping, President of Shenzhen Big Data Research Institute of Smart City, and Chair of Beijing International Artificial Intelligence Research Institute