Thoughts from the CEO – The future of cities, governance and empowered citizens

Over the next decade, cities will continue to grow larger and more rapidly. At the same time, new technologies will unlock massive streams of data about cities and their residents. As these forces collide, they will turn every city into a unique civic ecosystem.

At Citibeats, because we’re dealing in the world of AI and groundbreaking technology, we’re surrounded by a lot of facts, numbers and data. And while these are all extremely important and essential components of our mission, we believe that it’s extremely important to harness data for development and inclusion—as a critical cross-sectoral urban issue for the next decade and beyond.

We work daily with the vision of envisioning the future of cities, governance and empowered citizens in an ideal future – beyond the facts and figures.

What “utopia” does our collective imagination conjure?

We’re in alignment with some of the most progressive and, in our opinion, most brilliant thinkers and innovators of our time.

The automation of our society

As the automation of our society continues – and will continue – to grow, we like to focus on the positive outcomes. Instead of the “gloom and doom,” we see every time we read the latest news headline, we recognize the incredible advancements made in the last couple hundred years that have, in fact, made our world safer, healthier, wealthier and better than it’s ever been before.

Many focus on the fear-based belief that automation will take away jobs and salaries with machines replacing human beings. But if you look back throughout history, this simply isn’t true. Machinery made the mining industry more efficient – and more importantly – safer by doing the heavy lifting once dependent on human labor. Automobiles made transport time faster, allowing people to allocate their time to more productive things.

“As automation increases productivity, the common standard of living rises—and with it, the opportunities of laborers to take on more productive roles. Companies flourish when leaders are able to step away from day-to-day operations to take a big-picture view, and laborers produce more value when they can use their skills in more efficient ways.” Oklahoma State University Assistant Professor, Per Bylund

So, yes, on a granular level, people likely lost their jobs. But that led to the development of skills and innovation in other areas. When you look at the big picture, automation isn’t a scary, unknown thing. These perceived “setbacks” are temporary. Humans and society evolve, and they advance.

As stated by Singularity University co-founder and chairman, Peter Diamandis, we agree that “We will soon have the ability to meet and exceed the basic needs of every man, woman, and child on the planet. Abundance for all is within our grasp.”

Automation can only bring us into the creation of more wealth for humanity. More resources, fewer costs, less work – all of this leads to freed up quality time for the human beings that will not need to work to survive. We believe in the concept of a world of abundance.

 What does a world of abundance look like?

Another radical concept growing in popularity in Europe and certain academic circles is the “degrowth movement” and the concept of a “guaranteed universal income.” With this system, all citizens have the right to an unconditional and automatic income that’s sufficient enough to cover basic living costs. As part of the degrowth movement, people, in general, would need less stuff – and with a guaranteed basic income and an increase in free public services – people won’t need to make as much money.

Not needing to make as much money translates into a society that doesn’t need to work as much. Imagine if we only had to work 50% of the time. What would our society be like? And what’s the bonus? The bonus of this is that – instead of flourishing and growing with wealth and material things – we’d undergo “human flourishing.” This means that growth could be associated with solving social problems – like poverty, homelessness, and inequality.

As the London School of Economics, John Hinkel, states, growth is still necessary to achieve high social outcomes but that

 “this does not require endless growth; it requires sufficient growth – in other words, growth up to a point of sufficient income. It’s not growth as such that matters, but sufficiency.”

Under these conditions is when human flourishing thrives the most.

“Human flourishing” in action

This is, in a sense, a pay it forward concept. In a society where people can enjoy a guaranteed quality of life without having to spend all of their time working, individuals can “repay” the kindness through meaningful contributions to other fellow citizens. Imagine a utopian society working under the cardinal rule:

CONTRIBUTION TO COMMUNITY = REWARDS

The concept of human flourishing goes back to the days of Aristotle:

“The distinction of a good person is to take pleasure in moral action. In other words, human flourishing occurs when a person is concurrently doing what he ought to do and doing what he wants to do.”

These contributions to the community – or moral acts – can be large and widespread, or they can be small – like helping an anxious teenager to write a college entrance essay or playing a card game with a lonely elderly person.

But how would we know what those societal needs are – however large or small they may be? And, just as importantly, how do we evaluate the value of our contributions and allocate rewards appropriately?