Almost all cities are currently looking into or have already taken steps to become safe cities. A few have even begun making the transition to becoming smart cities. The next stage in this urban evolution is the so-called “cognitive” city. Even though the concept of cognitive cities is still in its infancy stage, at the end of our recent 3-part series, we identified two key ingredients: advanced data analytics of large volumes and multiple types of data, and an adaptability which drives resiliency and continuous improvement. Although the advent of truly cognitive cities is well into the future, when they arrive, we’ll be able to distinguish them from both safe and smart cities:

safe city is one which ensures the safety and security of its residents through seeing and understanding. In such a city, the focus is naturally on surveillance and situation management as the main objectives, with advanced information and communications technology (ICT) as the principal means to those ends.
smart city video surveillance
Smart cities, on the other hand, aim for more than just safety and security but improved city operations as well. By augmenting the data gathered from their ICT technologies with data coming from citizens, better insights and actionable intelligence are produced. Technology is still the principal tool, but in smart cities, the use of technology extends to making information flow horizontally (citizen to citizen, civic group to civic group, citizen to system, etc.) instead of just vertically (from citizen to city operations or emergency response center).
Finally, cognitive cities aim to keep their citizens engaged and contributing to the gathering of the relevant data and the extraction of insights necessary to not only improve security, safety, and city operations but also to more generally improve the lives of the city’s residents. This more ambitious goal includes civic participation, building a sense of community and belonging, and improving the health of its citizens.

How Cognition Occurs in a Cognitive City

cognition process in a cognitive city
The key to a cognitive city is city-wide cognition of the underlying need, rather than the leveraging of a specific tech or platform. Meaning, to be able and rapidly adopt technologies and practices, thus giving the city a natural protection against vendor lock-in. Smart cities, by contrast, tend to approach ICT as just another utility, like water and sewage, electricity, or garbage collection, which are often operated as regulated monopolies, with long contract periods and expensive financial and legal hurdles in place that prevent adopting another service provider or utility.
Cognitive cities, therefore, are much better positioned to thrive in the face of significant challenges like clean water scarcity, climate change, and providing functional and efficient mass transportation at mega-city scales.
Cognitive cities hold the promise of being more resilient than other urban areas which haven’t made that transition.
In our next post, we’ll take a closer look at how a cognitive city of the future serves its citizens, examine new challenges, and offer an interim view or where we are currently in terms of cognitive cities becoming a reality.