ay goodbye to the past and live in the future, the modern face of cities as know them is set to be revolutionized, noted panellists in a session on the future of smart cities on the opening day of the 11th Annual Meeting of the New Champions.

“We stand here at a unique period. We are seeing some of the convergent capabilities, this transformation, these capabilities being built,” observed Thaddeus Arroyo, Chief Executive Officer, Business Solutions and International, AT&T, USA. “For the first time, this is moving beyond theoretical paradigms.”

While the term “smart cities” is an amorphous, intangible concept for many, AT&T has developed eight smart, spotlight cities that in the words of Arroyo are “real laboratories for building, not testing” smart technology. These cities utilize smart lighting to reduce consumption – a seemingly small innovation that has paved the way for the introduction of other technological capabilities that measure air, traffic and water quality – and can even detect gun shots.

From ubiquitous connectivity and drones to autonomous vehicles, smart cities are less about creating new technologies than adopting existing capabilities to create safer, and more efficient and resilient urban spaces. “Lots of these solutions are not new. The technology is there; most important is how you bring them together and provide a new business model. You have to look at the end users, the clients, the citizens,” noted Sandra Wu Wen-Hsiu, Chairperson and Chief Executive Officer of Kokusai Kogyo, Japan.

When it comes to smart cities, one challenge is that technology is moving faster than we do. We can’t “future proof”, but we can get engaged in the conversation – one that raises exciting possibilities for the way we might live, and learn in the future, noted Alex Molinaroli, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Johnson Controls, USA.

Take the field of education, where digital systems could be used to reach remote or excluded communities. “Education today is a mind-set that you are going to physically go to school, have your curriculum, do it in a traditional way; but think about educating across boundaries, about education as a life-learning opportunity. It is going to require us to re-evaluate what we accept as education. The technology already exists,” said Molinaroli, a Co-Chair of the Annual Meeting of the New Champions. “But the policies haven’t caught up yet.”

Despite the consensus that smart cities will be predicated on open data – and that without open data a city can’t be smart – there was unanimous agreement that data security is a prevailing concern.

“We have become a cyber society: that is a challenge for government also. Online, you share your information, you pay with your credit card, give Uber your location. Security is a new concept because cyber society identifies every individual,” said Liu Jiren, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Neusoft Corporation, People's Republic of China. “In the physical world, you can check, but what does trust mean in a cyber network?”

Smart cities are an undeniably appealing concept, yet participants also stressed inclusivity moving forward, especially for an ageing population that might be less technologically savvy.

“When you look at the demographics of the people who shop in your bricks and mortar, what we see is a greying society. That group is getting older,” noted Nicholas Allen, Non-Executive Chairman, Link Real Estate Investment Trust (LINK REIT), Hong Kong SAR, “The challenge for me is how to manage those intergenerational markets.”