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AI to boost modernization of urban governance

MEI JIE | 2020-11-18
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

In the AI era, sensor units scattered throughout cities collect information. Through AI algorithm, accurate and intelligently matching service resources will be provided. Photo: FILE

The Party leadership's proposals for formulating the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025) for National Economic and Social Development and the Long-Range Objectives Through the Year 2035, adopted at the fifth plenary session of the 19th CPC Central Committee which closed on Oct. 29, proposed to intensify national strategic strength in science and technology. It proposed to implement a number of forward-looking and strategic major national science and technology projects in the frontline fields of artificial intelligence, quantum information, integrated circuits, life and health, among others. It also proposed to promote deep integration of internet, big data, and AI with all industries.
Today, we are standing on the historically pivotal point where artificial intelligence, virtual reality, quantum computing, and biotechnology are on the verge of key breakthroughs. Successfully grasping this opportunity for strategic development, and building first-adapter advantages to key technologies is of great strategic significance as we transform technological potential energy into a powerful momentum which modernizes urban governance.
Artificial intelligence is an important driver of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and also a great strategic development opportunity. Since it was initiated by the Dartmouth Summer Research Project on Artificial Intelligence in 1956, AI has been changing people's productivity and lives. AI has shaped the global development pattern driven by big data, computing power, and algorithms. Highly efficient individual learning, self-adaptation, and self-invention has brought fast revolution and obvious achievements into the fields of finance, medicine, transportation, industry, and agriculture. PwC estimates that by 2030 AI will increase the global GDP by 14%, equaling to USD 15.7 trillion.
As the main carrier of the modern economy, cities bring together first-class technological talent and industrial environments. Especially in the current new development pattern of "dual circulation" developing and making good use of the AI-centered cutting-edge technologies is important to exploring and improving the effectiveness of urban governance and promoting economic growth. Advanced technologies cannot be separated from good governance. Three logic frameworks need to be discussed in order to increasingly enhance urban governance modernization with AI.
Power logic
As AI is gradually adopted and is increasingly popular, algorithms have played a more obvious role in the urban governance system.
A new power form, the power of algorithms, is produced. In a traditional urban power structure, all decisions of cities can be regarded as the outcome produced by governments, companies, citizens, and social organizations. These subjects produce different influences into the decision-making process based on their interests and preferences. However, AI technology has deeply altered this fixed power pattern. 
One of the important future directions of AI for internal mechanisms is to build distributed and parallel processing systems with an aim to increase the efficiency of the complex computing process through distributed solutions and intermodal information sharing.
The multi-center and high-collaboration characteristics of technology determine that its application in the field of urban governance naturally possesses features of flatness and synergy. The model of mutual dependence, collaboration, and integration between urban public governance entities continues to shape new power structures.
Through the application of specific algorithms, AI collects comprehensive information in all fields relevant to municipalities and integrates them efficiently, forming a complex urban information resource database. To create deeper learning and analysis, AI provides decision-making advice on urban operations, public services, industrial development, future planning and many other areas, constantly improving the level of urban governance modernization. The power of algorithms is gradually integrated into the main body system of urban public governance, and by virtue of its core algorithm advantages and the huge amount of data support it provides, it transforms the traditional urban governance model.
Revolution logic
Entering the post-pandemic period, "new infrastructure" builds a bright path from informatized, intelligent to smart cities in China. AI, as one of the seven major components of new infrastructure, has added strength to urban governance modernization efforts. The facilitation of AI-centered construction of new infrastructure has gradually become a popular concept among many local governments. However, urban governments face the challenge of updating old social governance models which need to shift as the involvement of AI produces new urban application scenarios. In the transformation process, intelligent scenarios would revolutionize and expand urban governance. Relieving new problems induced by the intelligent revolution is an urgent issue for city governments as they use technology to help them integrate into the new situation. AI applications and relevant technologies have shown strong vitality when approaching this type of problem. In the area of urban government services, one-stop government service platforms help achieve "more data flow, and less errands." When constructing resilient infrastructure, cross-media perceptions of environment, climate, and social security help predict the basic social operating risks in cities, and put forward intelligent solutions to prevent risks.
In the AI era, sensor units scattered throughout cities infer the trajectory of individual behaviors and produce cognition. Through intelligent platforms and the "city brain," sensor units provide practical ways to allocate accurate service resources and intelligent matching. Hence, targeted, scientific, and efficient urban governance emerges.
Ethical logic
In his book The Social Control of Technology, David Collingridge questioned our control over technology. 
To respond to Collingridge’s question, AI as an emerging technology must be guided by ethical logic. Even in the era when AI is relatively weak, machines can partially replace human labor in industry, speed along the road assisted by driverless technology, and provide better public services after analyzing information obtained from various urban sources. AI will be broadly utilized in urban fields. As we enter an era when AI is strong, or approach a super AI era, happiness and worries pertaining to technological development will face huge shifts as AI may gradually possess the capacity to think, plan, and solve problems independently, blurring the line between the physical world and natural mankind, and producing complex issues about ethics, legal governance and security. Imbalances in AI empowerment and ethical regulations, and the general trend of combining technology with public rights provokes worries about the gradual disorder of digital governance. Due to these matters, China's national committee for ethics in science and technology and principles of next-generation AI governance emerged, among others.
To optimize AI service and achieve the target of modernization of urban governance, it is necessary to clarify that technology's basic principle is to serve mankind, ensuring that the ethical regulation of AI basically orients towards its good value for subjects, and its benefits to public interests, allowing for flexible governance.
It is worth noting that urban governance, as an important driver of modernization of the national governance system, aims to solve urban problems, coordinate social relations and standardize social order. AI displays instrumental rationality by conforming to the new development concept, and it is rooted in China’s information technology and new urbanization development reality. It aims to solve urban problems and promote urban development, and is regarded as an important instrument to deepen integration of new-generation science and technology with urban development, ultimately realizing the modernization of both the urban governance system and governance capacity.
Under the power logic, AI cultivates and develops emerging urban governance subjects, which paints a beautiful picture for the co-governance of multiple subjects. AI, under the revolution logic, derives new areas of urban governance and supports intelligent urban scenarios. Under the ethical logic, AI continuously corrects technology's possible path deviation based on the moral regulation of basic values such as fairness and justice. These three logics are organically interwoven, jointly committed to creating new forms and models of intelligent, efficient, dynamic, safe, and orderly urban development, and better serving the goal of urban governance modernization.
Mei Jie is from the School of Political Science and Public Administration at East China University of Political Science and Law.