Listed below are the key technology trends impacting the city growth engines theme, as identified by GlobalData.

Digital technologies help companies understand consumer purchasing patterns and offer personalised products.

Risks and opportunities of artificial intelligence (AI)

AI and machine learning (ML) adoption will bring both risks and opportunities for smart cities, but few are ready for the societal impact of either technology. A study conducted by the Oliver Wyman Forum analysed 105 cities worldwide using four criteria including the quality of their planning and preparation for the impact of AI; the ability to execute on that preparation; the quality of talent and education; and the city’s overall momentum.

The forum examined 250 city vision and planning documents and found that most cities do not address major societal changes driven by AI and other technologies. They focus on smart city developments and opportunities, but ignore or downplay risks. No major city was sufficiently prepared for AI’s disruptive potential. Singapore was rated the best prepared in terms of understanding the risks associated with AI, followed by London, New York, San Francisco, and Paris.

Surveillance technology

A report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace found that at least 75 countries around the world, from the US to Brazil, Germany, India, and Singapore, are now using AI tools, including computer vision, to monitor citizens’ activities. Huawei’s technology is most used, by 50 countries, with IBM’s used by 11 nations. There is a strong possibility of a backlash against smart city technology if citizens believe a surveillance culture is being implemented, using the threat of crime or terrorism as an excuse.

Work surveillance technology is another issue that has caused deep concerns, particularly as many people work from home during the Covid-19 pandemic. Camera monitoring has been used by some companies to ensure employees remain at their desks during working hours, while keystroke monitoring has also led to unease about online tracking. Governments will be expected to assess what modern workers’ rights should look like in a new world of work, as hybrid patterns between office-based and remote locations are expected to become the norm.

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Robotic adoption is quickly spreading throughout the consumer goods sector. The overwhelming majority of large consumer goods companies have implemented some level of robotics within their supply chain. Companies are having to continually evolve to match the speed of adoption within their product space.

The push towards industry 4.0, which describes ongoing automation of traditional manufacturing and industrial practices, using modern smart technology is a strategic priority for the majority of companies within the next decade. The push towards greater adoption of robotic technology has been driven by the very largest consumer sector companies.

Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR)

One of the most compelling use cases for VR and AR is ecommerce and ambient commerce. IKEA, for example, has experimented with AR headsets that allow customers to take the furniture from its catalogue and place it in front of them in their room to see what it looks like. Other retailers are experimenting with VR apps, which can take their customers on a tour of their stores, while H&M is using AR in its voice interactive mirror at its flagship Times Square store in New York.

AR will be hugely disruptive because AR glasses with voice activation and AI will displace the smartphone as the consumer’s main user digital interface. All the leading technology companies are expected to increase investment in this space, with Microsoft, Apple, Google, Sony, Samsung, Facebook, HTC and Huawei all improving their offerings.

This is an edited extract from the City Growth Engines in Consumer – Thematic Research report produced by GlobalData Thematic Research.