Digital Society
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Digital Society

Library Student Team: Reflections on Smart Cities and Employability topics

This podcast is part of the UCIL Digital Society course from the University of Manchester running in 2021/22 semester 2. The stories it relates to are hosted on Medium and concern the Smart cities and Employability topics.

In this podcast the Library Student Team reflect on your comments so far.


Week 7 + 8: Smart cities and Reflecting on your employability

ST1: Hi everyone, I’m George from the Library Student Team

ST2: and my name is Raghav, a member of the Library Student Team as well. Welcome back to the DigiSoc podcast! The past two weeks we explored the cities and lives of the future. In ‘Smart Cities’, we considered how technology impacts where we live, work and play. Additionally, we reflected on the course as a whole and discussed our own place in the future of work.

ST1: To discuss how we might live and work in the future, we reflected on the main drivers using the Future work skills 2020 report. These drivers included extreme longevity, the rise of smart machines and systems as we had previously discussed in the internet of things; the globally connected world; a new media environment and computational power of computers as well as the increasingly more complex structuring of organisations. We discussed how these factors will continue to drastically change how our future will look like. We applied this thinking to a sense of place.

ST2: So what is a smart city? We’ve looked at some possible definitions, some define a “smart city” as one that enhances the quality and performance of urban services. We asked you ‘what you think is the essence of a smart city, and how is it different from a non-smart city?’ Your responses mention how smart cities “rely on technology to provide its services”. We thought smart cities are assumed to provide a good quality of life with efficient services, though that is not always the case.

ST1:We then looked at smart cities 1.0, such as Songdo in South Korea, which are technology driven but have a troubling relationship between city and citizen. Smart cities 2.0 are technology enabled cities that are driven by both local government and citizens. The example of Rio de Janeiro is used to illustrate the potential challenges these cities may face, such as concerns and apprehensions towards 24/7 CCTV operations and motion sensors operating across the landscape of the city.

ST2: A significant challenge that smart cities must overcome is “The digital divide” across homes and generations of varying socio-economic groups. Not everyone has the same access to technology, and many are hesitant to rely on it. We prompted you with the question “How could we reduce the digital divide and ensure everyone benefits from the smart city?” Your contributions were interesting and creative. One of the responses proposed **“focusing on activities beneficial for groups that are not widely targeted now” and may be of focus on “the decision-making process of where to implement technologies”** However, the response recognized that this could be“problematic because of the different interests” within the process of smart city development. Also, it may prove difficult to radically change the current processes, “which may encourage research in some areas at the expense of others’’.

ST1:In the world of the future, many will have to come to terms with the use of automation and AI, especially as the technological gap mentioned earlier becomes more prominent in the process. This has implications for our employment horizons. We asked you how prepared you feel for a career in an age of automation. The divide was that 41% of you felt reasonably well prepared, whereas 31% felt somewhat unprepared with 14% feeling very unprepared. We were positively surprised by how many of you felt prepared for the future.

ST2: We explored questions surrounding how AI will impact the world of work. As we discussed in the Internet of Things, one major threat people fear regarding AI and work is that AI will take most jobs. According to the 2017 McKinsey Global Institute report, ⅓ of jobs will disappear by 2030. A common argument in response is that AI will also create work. According to the Pew Research Center, who collated the views of 1,896 people about whether AI would have created more jobs than displaced by 2025, there was no consensus in the wider public about this issue as 48% were pessimistic and 52% were optimistic.

ST1: Some reports argued that AI will mostly displace routine and mundane work such as stocking shelves or labelling. We reflected on the importance of being human to certain jobs. Some people argued that jobs that require empathy, creativity, decision-making or critical thinking will not be taken over by AI. As we saw in previous modules such as the Chatbot module, these lines can often blur as AI is also being developed to have empathy or even mirror facial expressions. It is important to note that specific cases where AI might be used and is already being used has empathetic consequences, which the algorithms themselves cannot feel. Every day, people are being guided by algorithms to determine their own echo chambers on the internet. We discussed the example of Moxi, the robot nurse assistant, who does menial tasks so that nurses can spend more time connecting with patients. It made us think: to what extent will Moxi develop in the future?

ST2: ‘The rebound effect’ is important to consider in the discussions of the disruptive side to issues such as smart cities and AI in the workplace. The convenience of smart cities may continue having an adverse effect on saving energy and resources, and at times neglecting citizen-city relationships. Automation may have a possible rebound effect, increasing super commuting, or increasing pollution rather than decreasing it. These problems add to the argument that it may not be ‘technology’ that makes cities smart.

ST1: Smart cities 3.0 has the potential to overcome these obstacles with citizen co-creation. Smart Cities Library summed it up pretty nicely with a tweet that said, “A city is smart because the technology it uses is #accessible and purposefully #inclusive”. Current approaches to smart cities need to address the issue of the rebound effect, and eradicate poverty, reduce unemployment and health issues currently prevalent in cities across different levels. This type of citizen co-engagement can also be applied to the future of AI and the workplace. In the Internet of Things, we discussed how the displacement of jobs might be a positive chance to reconsider our relationship with work and whether we need to work at all. This sounded almost science fiction to us, so we took a closer look at a nearer point in time.

ST2: We discussed how we could prepare ourselves for the future of work. one key element of this is developing your transferable skills, which are skills that can be applied to a myriad of contexts. We asked you to give us an example of the transferrable skills you have developed throughout the Digital Society. Many of you mentioned the ‘critical thinking and more informal writing styles’ that you have learnt about. Additionally, some of you mentioned ‘ideation development’. We were very happy to see that the digital society helped you develop skills which you will find useful in the future.

ST1: We asked you to consider all we’ve uncovered about smart cities in a poll to see if you feel positively toward them. An overwhelming 81% answered with ‘Yes’, 10% voted ‘maybe’ and another 10% voted ‘unsure’ Interestingly, none of you voted ‘No’. Perhaps you recognize that these problems can be overcome or perhaps you have faith in the potential of Smart cities 3.0, and future research.

ST2: We asked you, “How could smart city tech benefit a location that you are familiar with? One student shared that they, ”come from a city where smart gadgets have already been introduced, with parking by creating an application gathering data from many parking spaces or facilitating traveling by a real-time map of public transportation including the characteristics of the vehicle, which helps disabled people.”. The student recognized that these smart gadgets, “could be extended to energetics because, in the city, there are many opportunities to generate electricity from renewables and distribute it between buildings and industry according to current needs”. On a similar note, another student shared their experience with parking and said that, “it would be good to have an app or some sort of system to tell us exactly where there are free places to park, saving both time and petrol”. Many of you shared your experiences and it was a great experience to read them!

ST1: Finally, we reflected on the course as a whole. Many of you enjoyed the smart cities, internet of things and engagement modules. It was important to you to explore ‘accessibility issues, and ensuring that people aren’t left behind’. The digital engagement module piqued your interest as it is ‘so relevant today being aware of how the way we present ourselves online and the things we say can impact our future’. Some of you really enjoyed the Chatbots topic as the ‘creativity and intelligence of the technology were quite impressive’. The Internet of Things module was popular as it seemed ‘very pertinent to (your) everyday life’.

Thank you for engaging with these topics! We hope you continue to persevere in your studies and we look forward to reading your contributions for the upcoming topics



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