Meet the Ethical Smart City: Helsinki
- By Lachlan Colquhoun
- December 04, 2023
Helsinki regularly appears in the top ranking of the world’s “most liveable cities", and that is due to the innovative approach of the City's residents, private companies, universities and government to embracing new ideas.
Now, the City of Helsinki seeks to lead the way in using data and AI and aims to show the way for other cities worldwide.
Helsinki has implemented AI in several ways. There is a 24-hour customer service channel for Helsinki City Information to improve the accessibility of customer service and experience.
A chatbot has been created for the City's social services, healthcare and rescue services division.
There is also a 24-hour rental apartment search chatbot, a parking chatbox and an electronic contact channel introduced by the City’s financial management service.
Key to Helsinki's approach is a bedrock of ethics, and the City has established eight ethical principles for using data and artificial intelligence (AI) to promote sustainable digital development.
The ethical principles being applied by the City are:
- Fairness and non-discrimination
- Accountability and trust
- Human oversight over AI
By establishing these ethical principles, the City aims to minimize the ethical risks related to data and AI use.
In practice, using the ethical principles means applying them to the City's AI-based services, which harness machine learning for predictive applications.
The City's approach also includes an AI register, which lists the AI applications used in Helsinki on the government website.
Through the register, citizens can get acquainted with quick overviews of the City's AI systems or examine more detailed information based on their interests.
They can also give feedback and participate in building more human-centred AI applications in their City.
Just the beginning
The steps Helsinki has taken so far only hint at the potential smart city applications for AI. The ethical principles will be a guide as it explores other applications in areas such as security, maintenance, and the overarching areas of sustainability encompassing waste management, transport and pollution management.
Security is an application area where ethics need to be closely considered.
Security cameras with AI can analyze footage in real-time and report it to relevant authorities. It can also help identify people from their clothes, allowing the technology to find suspects rapidly.
“Through the establishment of these ethical principles, the city aims to minimize the ethical risks related to the use of data and artificial intelligence.”
To improve maintenance, AI has a predictive ability to schedule repairs so assets do not degrade. This is cost-effective, has a utility dividend to the community and enhances safety.
In one example, RoadBotics—a Michelin company—has developed an AI technology that analyses road imagery and lets cities know when and where repairs must occur.
For pollution, AI and machine learning technology can analyze pollutants and predict future pollution levels, allowing city authorities to make decisions in advance, which can limit the effect.
Smart cities also use AI in waste management to track recycling and identify what can be recycled. In Sydney, Australia, AI-powered robots sort rubbish and clean areas such as lakes and rivers.
Australian company BINGO Industries has received its first AI spotter prototype, ROBINGO, to take over high-risk tasks usually carried out by recycling centre spotters.
The robot is equipped with cameras to identify dangerous materials on the tipping floor, and its accuracy will be greater than the human eye due to its advanced technology.
The robot creates a 3D scan of a waste pile using three cameras – one infrared camera to detect temperature, one camera to see depth and another normal camera that provides colour.
The technology enables identifying material types to prevent any hazardous materials from entering the recycling process safely.
Back in Helsinki, AI is also being used to optimize the City's network of pipes used for natural gas to power central heating systems.
Heat is transmitted from central sources through insulated pipes to warm individual buildings, but these pipes deteriorate over time and can leak, creating outages.
Helsinki city grid operator Suur-Savon Sähkö Oy has partnered with an AI laboratory to develop a data-driven asset optimization service for the citywide pipe networks, leveraging digital twinning technology to deliver a single view of the pipeline system.
The AI lab aggregates data on heating and water supply and the condition of the assets.
Resolving Helsinki's central heating system challenges started with a data-centric approach, weaving artificial intelligence and digital twin technology into its infrastructure operations to bring energy savings and water security to the City.
These applications combining data, the IoT and AI will become more common in Helsinki as the City builds its new credentials as an AI exemplar, and public-facing infrastructure and service delivery will be implemented through the ethical framework.
With its commitment to AI and its ethical use, Helsinki is well positioned as it strives to be one of the world's most liveable cities and one of its smartest.
Image credit: iStockphoto/Diego Coppola