Using AI to build smart cities of the future
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Using AI to build smart cities of the future

Heavy traffic congestion on Asok Montri Road. AI technology, with traffic simulation algorithms can play a role in increasing traffic flow. 
Heavy traffic congestion on Asok Montri Road. AI technology, with traffic simulation algorithms can play a role in increasing traffic flow. 

Thailand has set itself an ambitious goal as part of Thailand 4.0 — 100 smart cities within two decades to improve the quality of urban life. A National Smart City Committee has already been established to drive this initiative which is envisaged to transform cities like Bangkok, Phuket, Chiang Mai and Khon Kaen into technology hubs.

As Thailand leaps forward in becoming a digital and innovative economy, how can Artificial Intelligence (AI) accelerate the country’s shift to smart cities?

Cities generate huge amounts of data every day, much of which is captured through sensors and camera systems. As the use of sensors, video cameras and advanced data analytics become more prevalent across cities, AI is key to turning this data into actionable insights to optimise services, enhance productivity and help citizens lead better lives.

One such example is Alibaba’s “City Brain” project in Hangzhou, China. Launched in 2016, the City Brain uses camera systems and sensors to collect real-time data on road conditions. Information on traffic flow and even weather conditions which is then analysed by an AI hub, to which manage and regulate traffic signals at over 100 intersections to help cut travelling times for commuters. City Brain is also employing traffic simulation algorithms that model vehicle behaviour and predict traffic flow. This has resulted in improved traffic flow of 11%, resulting in less traffic waiting time and a more seamless travel experience for commuters.

AI’s potential to ease traffic congestion offers tangible benefits for many of Southeast Asia’s rapidly urbanising cities, where crowded roads are an uncomfortable part of daily life for many people. According to transportation intelligence firm Inrix, Thailand topped the list as the most congested country for the second year running, with drivers losing an average of 56 hours in 2017 stuck in peak-time congestion.

The Asian Development Bank estimates that road congestion costs Asian economies an estimated 2% to 5% of gross domestic product (GDP) every year due to lost time and higher transport costs. Integrating AI into current traffic management systems is one way for cities to optimise road conditions and enhance urban transportation planning.

The scene is set for an AI-driven future, and by extension, an AI-enabled workforce. AI and automation are reconfiguring the workplace, reshaping operations, processes, workflows and business models. At the same time, such investments in AI are augmenting employee skills and capabilities, paving the way for a future-ready workforce. For instance, AI can help replace manual and repetitive tasks, freeing up employees for more skilled and meaningful work. In fact, one in five workers engaged in mostly non-routine tasks will rely on AI to do their jobs by 2022, according to recent research by Gartner4.

Customer service is another area poised to be transformed by AI as retailers realise its immense potential in making customer service a more rewarding experience for both customers and store employees. The combination of facial recognition technology and data analytics, for example, helps retailers better understand the profile of their customers, and enables them to delight customers with personalised products and services. Earlier this year, 7-Eleven Thailand announced plans to implement advanced AI technology in all 11,000 of its stores. 7-Eleven Thailand will leverage AI-based facial recognition and behaviour-analysis technologies to improve its loyalty programme, recommend products to customers and analyse in-store traffic and buying patterns.

AI is making it easier for customers to withdraw money from ATMs as well. Since 2015, China Merchants Bank has been offering customers a more secure and convenient option for ATM withdrawals and transactions. Leveraging robust facial recognition technology, the bank enables customers to perform ATM transactions simply by scanning their faces and keying in their PIN numbers. This facial recognition technology ensures day-to-day ATM transactions for customers are easy, quick and secure.

AI technologies don’t just make cities smarter, they keep cities safer too. With AI-powered security systems, law enforcement personnel can be alerted to security threats in real-time, enhancing security management at border checkpoints or large-scale events such as football matches and concerts. Data and insights generated from these AI platforms will enable security agencies to carry out immediate risk assessments and develop a coordinated threat response to keep threats at bay.

Harnessed in the right ways, AI technologies can create vast benefits for society and the economy. Thailand’s AI adoption rate is currently second-highest in Southeast Asia, according to an AI survey in 2018 by IDC Asia/Pacific Enterprise Cognitive. As Smart City and Digital Transformation initiatives become more tightly woven into Thailand’s national agenda, the country is on track to become a thriving hub for AI, and a hotbed of AI opportunities.

Lance Wang, General Manager of Southeast Asia, Hong Kong & Macau, YITU Technology.

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