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In a 2021 international survey by Pew Research, 71 percent of respondents said they were somewhat concerned or very concerned about global climate change. With growing environmental concerns, there has been an increased focus on finding innovative solutions.

Artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Behaviors (IoB) are two emerging technologies that have become an integral part of the sustainability conversation — especially regarding their applications in urban development. Let’s explore how AI and IoB can work together to make city living more sustainable.

Benefits for sustainable development

Energy optimization

AI and IoB can be pivotal in how cities monitor, control, and distribute energy. Modern smart grid systems use advanced sensors to collect real-time energy production and consumption data. AI algorithms analyze this data to improve grid efficiency and reliability and minimize waste.

For instance, AI-enabled building management systems with sensors and Internet of Things (IoT) technology automatically adjust lighting, HVAC systems, and other environmental settings based on occupancy, energy demand patterns, and weather forecasts. 

These AI-driven demand-response mechanisms encourage consumers to reduce or shift their electricity usage during peak demand periods to further promote grid stability and energy conservation. With AI and IoB, strategically placed sensors can help cities proactively manage resources, dramatically increasing efficiency and decreasing operational expenses.

Efficient resource allocation

IoB data allows us to understand, predict, and influence human behavior through data analysis. AI-driven IoB applications provide real-time insights and predictive modeling that can help cities adapt to the ever-changing needs of their inhabitants while optimizing resources and reducing waste.

For instance, water management professionals can use AI and IoB to monitor water usage patterns, predict future demand, and adjust water distribution accordingly. This would be a crucial resource for areas prone to droughts or after a severe storm. In another example, waste management professionals can leverage AI and IoB data to assign routes and optimize pick-up schedules according to waste volume levels. 

Cities can also use sensors, IoT devices, and data analytics for real-time environmental data collection, fueling up-to-date insights about factors like air quality, temperature, humidity, and wildlife behaviors.

For instance, AI-powered sensor networks can analyze data on air pollutants and meteorological conditions to provide accurate and timely information to individuals and authorities, empowering residents to make informed decisions about outdoor activities and helping leaders take immediate action to eliminate pollutants.

Additional benefits

Although some applications of AI and IoB seem simple, they can have a major impact, especially when implemented at scale. Benefits of using AI and IoB technology in urban management include:

  • Reduced carbon emissions: Decreased energy consumption leads to reduced emissions and enhances overall environmental sustainability.
  • Improved resource efficiency: Municipalities can maximize budgets and reduce strain on existing infrastructure by streamlining waste management and optimizing utilities like water and electricity.
  • Enhanced urban livability: Sustainable cities provide residents with more efficient services, cleaner air, and improved quality of life.

Challenges and considerations

Widespread adoption of AI and IoB technologies will make cities safer, healthier, and more environmentally sustainable, but there are challenges and limitations when it comes to implementation. Conversations about AI and IoB are fraught with legitimate concerns related to data privacy, cybersecurity, bias, and equitable access. 

“A sustainable city is a perfect example of a complex sociotechnical system, meaning the performance of the technical aspects of the system influences and is influenced by the dynamics of human behavior,” explains Kendall Giles, collegiate assistant professor and instructor in the Master of Information Technology program at Virginia Tech. 

“As such, and especially because of the many opportunities for AI and IoB applications, such as to help plan greener cities, use power more efficiently, reduce air pollution, and manage water effectively, it will be critical for technical leaders to understand the importance of AI due diligence and risk management to help mitigate unintended consequences of AI system designs and implementations.”

To grow their technical knowledge and ensure success in sustainable development efforts, some leaders pursue graduate certification in Cybersecurity Management or Business Data Analytics.

Exploring endless opportunities

Resource efficiency, energy optimization, and environmental monitoring are just the tip of the iceberg regarding opportunities for leveraging AI and IoB to make cities more sustainable. As technology advances, business, and municipal leaders will continue to discover more ways to harness the power of connected technology and behavioral data to make a positive environmental impact.

Please visit Virginia Tech's online Master of Information Technology site to learn about the degree program and to discover more about the intersection of AI and IoB. With a diverse and dynamic curriculum, distinguished faculty, and a strong industry network, the VT-MIT program offers a pathway to career success in the digital age.