Massimiliano Claps
Max Claps (Research Director, IDC Government Insights)

A city in Finland uses mobile phone data to detect which modes of transportation a person is using. The information is then compiled into a carbon footprint scoring mechanism that can yield discounts for “righteous” citizens.

 A city in Spain is looking at how smart water meter data can help analyze the daily activities of elderly and disabled people to offer personalized services and detect risky behavior. The capability to transform city livability, sustainability, and prosperity through cognitive systems is already here. For many activities, machines surpass what humans can accomplish in speed of data aggregation and analysis, and the precision of insights and recommendations. The more accurate machines become the more they bring about new questions and discussions about ethics in artificial intelligence (AI). Cities are asking themselves and their citizens challenging questions such as:

  • What is AI’s impact on the quality of life of citizens, on jobs, and on social behavior?
  • What values do we want to pursue?
  • What kind of society do we want to create and live in?

IDC predicts that by 2022, 65% of enterprises will task CIOs to transform and modernize governance policies and confront new risks posed by AI, machine learning, and data privacy and ethics. Organizations need to encounter the ethical challenges of AI in relation to business, operations, technology, and people.

Call to Action for City Executives

In a rapidly digitizing public sector, the ethical use of data is a major task. Data that is used in a smart and responsible way enables cities to tackle urban challenges, such as making cities safer, cleaner, healthier, more efficient, and livable. The European Union recently presented new ethics guidelines for trustworthy AI that address the challenges that will affect society as we integrate AI into public sector decision making. According to the EU guidelines, AI systems should respect all applicable laws, regulations, ethical principles, and values, and be robust from a technical and social perspective. On a local level, more and more cities are working on evaluating, testing, and implementing AI solutions by putting citizen’s needs and requirements at the center. Several smart cities across Europe call for the ethical use of data and AI and publish core principles.


Cities must emphasize the importance of values ​​in the discussion about data usage and artificial intelligence. Europe can take a leading role in ethical AI. With its General Data Protection Regulation, Europe has already become the frontrunner in defining how data usage should put the privacy of citizens first. Cities should have clear guidelines and principles around the fair and non-discriminatory nature of predictions, the accuracy of insights, and the intelligibility of algorithms. And they should assess how best to implement those principles by use case. Only then will citizens trust cities to be as ethical as they are smart.

If you want to learn more about our research on this topic or have any questions, please contact Government Insights in Europe


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