Why does urban Artificial Intelligence (AI) matter for urban studies? Developing research directions in urban AI research

Caprotti, Federico; Cugurullo, Federico; Cook, Matthew; Karvonen, Andrew; Marvin, Simon; McGuirk, Pauline and Valdez, Alan-Miguel (2024). Why does urban Artificial Intelligence (AI) matter for urban studies? Developing research directions in urban AI research. Urban Geography (early access).

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/02723638.2024.2329401


New digital technologies and systems are being extensively applied in urban contexts. These technologies and systems include algorithms, robotics, drones, Autonomous Vehicles (AVs) and autonomous systems that can collectively be labelled as Artificial Intelligence (AI). Critical debates have recognized that these various forms of AI do not merely layer onto existing urban infrastructures, forms of management and practices of everyday life. Instead, they have social and material power: they perform work, anticipate and assess risks and opportunities, are aberrant or glitchy, cause accidents, and make new demands on humans as well as the design of cities. And yet, urban scholars have only recently started to engage with research on urban AI and to begin articulating research directions for urban development beyond the current focus on smart cities. To enhance this engagement, this intervention explores three sets of questions: what is distinctive about this novel way of thinking about and doing cities; what are the emerging mutual interdependencies and interrelations between AI and their urban contexts; and what are the consequent challenges and opportunities for urban governance. In closing, we outline research directions shaped around new research questions raised by the emergence of urban AI.

Plain Language Summary

This paper engages with recent debates regarding the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in cities. Forms of AI including algorithms, robots, drones, driverless cars and other urban systems with the ability to make complex decisions without human input. Although advanced technology is already profoundly embedded in cities (for example, in smart cities), this paper provides a critical discussion of the ways in which research on urban AI goes beyond the current focus on smart cities, and identifies the resulting challenges to our current ways of planning and governing cities.

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