IP Osgoode presents: AI for the Future of Urban Development – Smart Cities, Transportation and Sustainability (Panel 1 of the Bracing for Impact Conference)

IP Osgoode presents: AI for the Future of Urban Development – Smart Cities, Transportation and Sustainability (Panel 1 of the Bracing for Impact Conference)

Photo by Buda Photography

Jasmine Yu is a Senior Editor and a 2L JD/MBA Candidate at the University of Toronto.

Nancy Chen is an IPilogue Writer and a 2L JD/MBA Candidate at the University of Toronto.

On November 9, IP Osgoode, Reichman University and Microsoft hosted the first in-person Bracing for Impact Conference since 2019. The conference focused on “The Future of AI for Society.” While AI is full of exciting possibilities, real-world application and integration are relatively nascent. Implementing AI technology in society requires complex interdisciplinary engagement between engineers, social scientists, application area experts, policymakers, users, and impacted communities. At the conference, an esteemed lineup of speakers across disciplines discussed the forms that interdisciplinary collaboration could take and how AI can help shape a more just, equitable, healthy, and sustainable future.

This first panel sought to contextualize the promise of AI for the future of urban development and was chaired by Hon. Maurizio Bevilacqua, the Mayor of Vaughan. As an elected Mayor, Hon. Bevilacqua put this panel in the context of AI serving the purpose of improving lives — a goal of the Smart City Task Force of which he and Professor Pina D’Agostino, Founder & Director of IP Osgoode and Bracing for Impact Conference Chair, were a part. The task force identified Smart City opportunities for improving the city through innovation, communication technology, and mobility management — using initiatives to improve road safety, reduce traffic congestion, and encourage residents to participate in active transportation.

Professor Zachary Spicer: Smart Cities – A Unique Challenge

Professor Spicer is an Associate Professor at the School of Public Policy and Administration at York University. He examined Municipal governments’ capacity for Smart City Development and AI adoption, focusing on the constraints of resources, scale, and provincial legislation.

Professor Spicer viewed that while Smart City technology can provide various benefits, such as the opportunity to maximize budgets and create efficiencies, they also bring a host of novel challenges. For instance, in the context of applying AI to transportation, Professor Spicer emphasized the importance of considering the potential skills and engagement gaps when procuring Smart City technology within municipalities in Canada. We must ensure that the relevant personnel must have the necessary understanding, skills and resources related to AI technology and data governance.

Dr. Vera Roberts: Marginalized Communities and AI

Dr. Roberts is the Senior Manager of Research, Consulting and Projects at the Inclusive Design Research Centre (IDRC) of OCAD University. She advocated for people with disabilities, identifying that this marginalized community is often excluded from the AI system development process and therefore inadequately represented. 

Dr. Roberts explained that because AI systems are machines, we tend to view these systems as operating on pure logic and immune to human biases. However, she stresses that we must keep in mind that AI systems learn from human data, which can be flawed. We should shift our focus to examining biases within the actual input data training AI systems and whether they accurately represent marginalized groups. Currently, AI systems are largely trained on data from “normal people,” limiting their applicability to people with disabilities. When data is included on people with disabilities, Dr. Roberts comments that it usually only includes the fact that they are different from the standard population. The IDRC has several ongoing projects, such as We Count, targeting these issues and creating more inclusive AI systems. 

Mr. Keith Hemingway: Bringing AI to Utilities

Keith Hemingway is the Head of Advanced Planning at the Alectra Green Energy & Technology (GRE&T) Centre. In his opinion, the biggest change in the AI space right now is the increased accessibility to data that was previously protected and hidden away. As the utilities industry moves towards e-mobility and the electrification of transit and heating, companies need to turn towards AI for new schemes and frameworks to implement these changes. 

However, the use of AI raises new issues concerning data privacy. For example, to increase efficiency in resolving outages, Mr. Hemingway brings up the possibility of using drones to visually scan pole lines to identify the outage-causing fault. In this scenario, there runs a risk of capturing more footage than necessary – instead of just seeing the faulty insulator, the drone might accidentally capture someone’s backyard, thus infringing that individual’s privacy. Ultimately, it boils down to what exactly constitutes data and how utility companies can balance using AI to improve electrical systems for the public good while respecting data privacy boundaries. 

Professor Guy Seidman: Bracing for the Impact of Autonomous Vehicles

Professor Seidman is a Professor of Law at the Harry Radzyner Law School of Reichman University. He was extremely passionate about the impending arrival of Autonomous Vehicles (AVs), their impacts on our daily lives, and their potential legal ramifications. Professor Seidman recognized that mass electric AV adoption can have benefits such as traffic accident reduction, improved air quality, and freed up urban space from a reduced need for parking spaces (assuming that AVs need not be parked). However, Professor Seidman also identified several barriers to mass AV adoption, including technological feasibility and transition difficulties, wherein different demographics have a differing willingness to trust AVs — the more educated tend to be more accepting of AVs.

Professor Seidman does not anticipate complex legal solutions to questions of accident liability when AVs are involved. Rather, he was optimistic that tort and insurance law will naturally evolve to deal with such issues. He viewed that the more significant discussions revolve around public policy around social and economic ramifications of AV adoption. Finally, Professor Seidman also suggested that we should hesitate to eliminate Traffic Law entirely as AVs become more prevalent, as it is arguably the widest form of legal education. Convincingly, Professor Seidman ended the discussion by concluding that these impending issues must be considered now, so that we are bracing for the impact of incoming AI innovation.