Thoughts From the CEO: The Future of Cities, Governance, and Empowered Citizens

Birds eye view of the city on a cloudy day

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

Because Citibeats is in the world of AI and groundbreaking technology, we’re surrounded by facts, numbers, and data. While these are 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 to envision the future of cities, governance, and empowered citizens beyond the facts and figures. What “utopia” does our collective imagination conjure? Our views are aligned with some of the most progressive thinkers and innovators of our time.

The Automation of Society

As the automation of society continues, we like to focus on positive outcomes. We recognize that incredible advancements in the last couple hundred years have made our world safer, healthier, wealthier, and better than ever before.

Many focus on the fear-based belief that automation will take away jobs as machines replace human beings. But if you look at 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 transportation faster, allowing people to allocate their time for 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.”

PER BYLUND, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, OKLAHOMA STATE UNIVERSITY

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

“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.”

PETER DIAMANDIS, COFOUNDER, SINGULARITY UNIVERSITY

Automation can bring us more wealth for humanity—more resources, fewer costs, and less work. All of this frees up quality time. We believe in the concept of a world of abundance.

 

What Does a World of Abundance Look Like?

The “degrowth movement” and the concept of a “guaranteed universal income” are growing in popularity in Europe and within certain academic circles. With this system, all citizens have the right to an unconditional and automatic income that’s sufficient enough to cover basic living expenses. As part of the degrowth movement, people would need less stuff. 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? 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 Dr. Jason Hickel points out, growth is still necessary to achieve better social outcomes, but 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 that matters but sufficiency.

In a sense, this ties to paying it forward. If 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 citizens. Imagine a utopian society working under the cardinal rule: contribution to community = rewards.

The concept of human flourishing goes back to ancient times. “The distinction of a good person is to take pleasure in moral action,” Aristotle wrote. “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 can be large and widespread, or they can be small—like helping an anxious teenager 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?