Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Cybercity concept

Def. Cybercity (n). A town or city with high levels of automation and artificial intelligence designed to run and maintain itself autonomously for the benefit of its inhabitants.


The  concept of the self-maintaining city was extensively developed in twentieth century science-fiction [refs]. A typical plot-line features an automated city deserted for thousands or millions of years, which springs back into activity when the protagonists rediscover it.

In the early twenty first century the concept was elaborated into a detailed vision of a cheap 'machine system' which could 'terraform' an extended area of wilderness into a fully-formed and functional city. Visionaries imagined automated-machines digging sewage and communications tunnels, laying down foundations, erecting high-tech solar-powered houses and setting up communications networks, self-driving transport systems and shops without staff. Some thinkers imagined the main application of the cybercity concept to be that of colonizing Mars.

Realism soon set in, however. It became understood that a town or city is a number of different 'machines for living' and that each subsystem had to be treated separately. Indeed, a major issue was systems integration. It was further understood that the act of initial creation, 'breaking the ground', was fundamentally distinct from the demands of ongoing management and maintenance. And even here, full automation was not required.

Contemporary Developments

The modern theory of cybercities envisages an initial act of city-creation, relying on heavy equipment, usually remote-operated, and prefabricated structures. Once the elements of the city are in place and system-integrated, inhabitants can be allocated to their dwellings and can begin their new cybercity life.

The cybercity's management is remotely-operated. Surveillance systems are ubiquitous and a number of drone-like 'effector' systems perform tasks such as repair, transport, personal and medical care, and security. Some of these are fully-automated and operated by on-board AI systems, others are remotely operated from the cybercity control centre (which can be on a different continent), and some are hybrid.

Cybercity Economics

Cybercities deploy some of the most advanced automation and telecommunications systems currently available, and were initially deployed in first-world settings where they had a competitive advantage. The three main drivers were military bases in dangerous theatres, overspill towns in poor or run-down areas and refugee camps. As costs came down, it became possible to deploy cybercities for the first time in countries such as India, Latin America and Africa where they have had a huge impact, particularly in poor rural areas and urban slum-sprawls.

Although costs are born by that fraction of the world population which is both highly-educated and highly-paid, it is generally felt that the tax-burden is manageable, and that all alternatives are worse.

Security Issues

Where most of the inhabitants of a cybercity are relatively uneducated with poor job prospects, there are inevitably issues with gangs, criminality and violence. The cybercity approach to this problem features both carrot and stick. The stick is comprised of ubiquitous surveillance and pro-active security drones capable of apprehending an offender; the carrot features numerous diversions including VR and simulations, sports and leisure centres as well as facilities for clubs and competitions.

Prospects for the Cybercity

As automation continues to increase in capability and decrease in price, it is expected that the remaining human involvement in both building and operating cybercities will continue to decline. At first sight this would appear to create an ever-growing problem of un- and under-employment. However, with a concomitant rise in the sophistication of diversions which are inherently more interesting than work, this problem is generally felt to be manageable.