Emerging technologies hold the key to sustainable Quantum Cities™

Abu Dhabi is a city in transition. Like many other urban centres around the world, it is seeking to reconcile rapid population growth, increasing complexity, ageing populations, and growing pressure on resources such as transportation, food, energy, health care, education, and opportunity. The NYUAD CITIES Symposium brought together experts from around the world to discuss those challenges and share pioneering research. Swiss Re Institute has partnered with NYUAD's CITIES Center to work towards solutions, supporting Abu Dhabi's 2030 vision.

More than half of the world’s population lives in cities today, up from a third in 1960, and the UN estimates that will rise to around 70% by 2050. As population and wealth further concentrate in cities, understanding urban risks and their interconnectivity becomes critical to ensuring long-term economic, environmental, and societal sustainability.

Swiss Re Institute's Quantum Cities™ initiative explores the risks of interconnected systems, produces insights to guide companies and governments, and offers effective resilience solutions to make cities more livable. This effort is part of our exploratory research portfolio. In this context, Swiss Re Institute is facilitating Public Private Research Partnerships (PPRPs) to solve key challenges society faces, including:

  • Mobility and transportation: From e-scooters, eVTOL (vertical take-off and landing) aircraft and autonomous mobility networks to end-to-end global supply chains
  • Healthy living: Behavioural science and life & health platforms for longer, better lives
  • Climate change and sustainability: Post-disaster urban-resilience platforms for governments and industry to better respond to disasters, e.g. using satellites and drones to better manage first responder resources.
  • Humans and machines: Enhancing humans with supporting technology with machine-intelligence-enabled, digital identity and trust.

The interconnectivity of these risks requires we view them holistically, as a “quantum city”, to identify risk accumulation and dependencies. New technologies and platforms, like machine intelligence, the Internet of Things, Distributed Ledger Technologies (DLTs a.k.a. blockchain), and big data, have the potential to provide risk insights, but also come with challenges. For citizens, companies and governments to safely and efficiently use these technologies and platforms, we need trusted, decentralised, intelligent, scalable networks. TSDNs will transform supply chain management, markets for data, the insurance value chain, and banking. But we need to solve some challenges before these networks can be widely deployed.

Trusted: At a time when data regulations vary so widely across the world, the first step is to establish digital trust. Data management, derived analytics, and algorithmic contracts all require extensive technology architecture to manage digital identity and cultivate digital trust.  These technologies also bring new risks: Algorithmic risk is exacerbated through increased dependence on enterprise software systems. Higher complexity leads to vulnerabilities, from “algorithmic malpractice”, to operational failures and cyber-attacks, which are a key risk due to digitization and interconnectivity.

Decentralized networks: Distributed Ledger Technologies (DLTs) help build trust and make it easier to preserve data privacy as the decision-making is distributed to nodes within a system. Data are encrypted and distributed across network nodes and retained in a way that make the data immutable. They also make systems robust as no central entity can make them vulnerable. However, selecting the right platforms and approaches will depend on the business model and most often implies trade-offs in terms of latencies, transaction times, and resources.

Intelligent: Machines outperform humans at repetitive tasks, like running millions of identical computations, but humans are more adaptive, autonomous, imaginative, robust, and capable of subtle, emotional and social understanding. Ensuring the best use of machines to enhance human performance is a key challenge and opportunity of our times. We need to define what constitutes intelligence - that will determine the tools we develop.

Scalable: Interconnected, global risks require interoperable global solutions. And it all starts with data. Often fragmented datasets do not provide the full picture or ability to develop effective risk-transfer mechanisms. For companies and governments to best manage global risks, we need to spend more time on data ingestion and curation (rather than our current focus on algorithmic practice). Noisy (unrefined) data degrades model performance, creating growing system vulnerabilities as society becomes more digitized.

Finally, business models need to be adapted, new solutions developed, talent upskilled at scale, and platforms delivering advanced visualization and insights developed so as to catalyze a critical mass of participants on these networks.

To solve these various challenges, we need to develop better data services and pilots to test hypotheses and bring solutions to scale. We look at cities as ecological systems that evolve intelligently (not randomly) and robustly (resilient to attacks). Inspired by biology, we look at various pragmatic (good enough) evolutionary paths to build robustness, rather than trying to find the one perfect path (which would make systems fragile).

Working with governments, companies and academia, Swiss Re Institute's Quantum Cities™ provides an integrated, global view on risks and their potential accumulation. We offer a unique platform that can bring incentive compatibility across the different players, (including regulators, brokers, insurers, reinsurers), helping accelerate economic, environmental and social sustainable development. Platforms like NYUAD's CITIES Center are great examples of how Public Private Research Partnerships (PPRPs) can help accelerate the development and adoption of TSDNs, solve technological and research challenges, and build consensus in our quest for intelligent, livable, entangled cities.