Special issue on Urban AI: Understanding the Emerging Role of Artificial Intelligence in Smart Cities

We invite contributions to a Special Issue on Urban AI, to be published by AI & Society – the Journal of Culture, Knowledge and Communication (Springer) https://www.springer.com/journal/146.

There is a major push towards integrating Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies into urban environments, and consequently, as part of urban spaces, places and lives. This phenomenon, which can be referred to as urban AI (Luusua & Ylipulli 2020), is deeply connected with previous technological continua in cities. This is true especially of the Smart City agenda, which has sought to incorporate digital technologies into cities in general, and Big Data, which is crucial to the functioning of AI systems. However, the autonomy, adaptability and applicability of AI systems increase the potential agency of these non-human technologies in cities to an unforeseen extent.

This emerging phenomenon, then, raises many questions regarding AI as part of urban environments, including how these systems will affect both our lived experience of cities and city-making itself. In order to rise up to this challenge, there is an urgent need for a concerted effort to investigate urban AI as an interdisciplinary research theme, to scrutinize the intersections of AI and people’s lives, and the ethical and political dimensions of urban AI around the world. Urban AI can be expected to affect the dynamism between urban, rural and suburban areas as well as regions, and the global competition between cities and states. Finally, it is important to bring forth applicable theories, methods and connected research themes from various fields in order to grasp the phenomenon fully.

Special Issue Themes

This Special Issue of AI & Society (AI&S) will expand critical scholarly research by introducing and examining the novel topic of Urban AI, thus identifying a major new societal issue intertwined with data and its use. 

The aim of this Special Issue is to curate and present state-of-the-art work on urban AI and societies. Topics and themes will include:

  • Theoretical considerations: e.g., utilising key theoretical concepts from various fields to critically analyse urban AI, and inform their design, development, deployment, and assessment.
  • Case studies: empirical works that explore the way AI affects urban, suburban and rural areas, and the dynamism between them from the point of view of human experience, design, policy and planning.
  • Design-based explorations: Urban AI design processes and implementations in real-world settings.
  • Methods and approaches: presenting various approaches of researching AI in cities from multidisciplinary perspectives.
  • Thematic issues: e.g. critical analyses of urban AI implementations; ethical dilemmas of AI in urban spaces and places; AI bias and fairness in built environments; creating transparency and trust in urban AI systems; power structures and urban AI; aesthetics of AI and built environments; Big Data, data privacy and surveillance in cities; the Smart City agenda and AI; human centered AI in built environments; identifying use cases and users of urban AIs; consequences of AI’s on urban, suburban and rural life and/or infrastructures; safety and security with urban AI; emerging geographies of AI; AI and world city dynamics; sustainability and AI; and so forth.

How the Special Issue relates to the current research

Currently, the development of AI is booming, and as a result, there is a major push towards integrating these technologies into cities. Different types of autonomous and self-learning systems are integrated into contemporary computing systems; and as computing systems in general are now a part of urban lives and urban places and spaces, we argue that these existing urban technologies act as a gateway for the introduction of AI technologies, especially in cities (Luusua & Ylipulli, 2020; Luusua 2016). These developments are also connected with the Smart City agenda, which specifically aims to integrate more and more digital technology into urban environments (Hollands, 2008; Aurigi & DeCindio, 2008; Foth, 2018; Kitchin, 2019).

The twin phenomena of urbanization and digitalization have enabled the rapid expansion of urban AI technologies into urban spaces, places and lives. Thus, they may be found everywhere: in mobile, personal or infrastructural computing. Importantly, they have already made their way into commercial end-user applications, such as personal assistant applications (Siri), (semi)autonomous vehicles (Tesla’s autopilot and various manufacturers’ parking-assistant systems), and increasingly into everyday homes (Amazon Alexa, Google Home). Contemporary travel practices are fundamentally informed by AI. Without adaptive and autonomous algorithms, we would not take the routes we now often take via car, air, rail or even by foot and bicycle; we would not use the accommodation services we use when we get there; and, we might not even visit the places that we do visit without online sites’ recommendations (Foth, 2016). In short, urban AI technologies mold our experiences of the environment in a manner never seen before. They also rearrange our society in more subtle ways, through AI led analysis of data gained through urban mobility systems, online geographical information systems (GIS), and urban closed circuit television (CCTV) systems equipped with face-recognition (Graham, 2005; Smith 2020).

Thus, urban AI applications can now arguably be said to orchestrate cities and regions to an increasing extent. Utilising the terminology of Ray Oldenburg (1989), we can see that AI has permeated all manner of urban places: first places, second places and third places; i.e., homes, workplaces, and public urban places, respectively. We can add a fourth place, travel spaces, to this list. Urban technologies in general turn these localities into hybrid places (Gordon & de Souza e Silva, 2011), where urban experiences and governance are digitally augmented and mediated (Luusua 2016; Aurigi & DeCindio 2008). Furthermore, we can understand these hybrid cities also as landscapes for producing and harvesting Big Data (Ylipulli et al., 2019; Zuboff 2019), serving as a part of neo-liberal smart city planning agendas (Cardullo & Kitchin, 2019). Through the integration of human-like capabilities relating to decision making and learning, much is being added to the agency of urban technology systems through AI. AI is deeply intertwined materially, economically and experientially with these existing technological trajectories. The development of AI is also raising many ethical issues (Boström & Yudkowsky, 2014; Boström 2014), and as AI applications are developed further, these become intertwined with questions of city-making ethics, namely, who has the right to design and live in cities (Harvey, 2003). As urbanization and digitalization propel each other forward, these phenomena become deeply entangled.

Guest Editors

Dr Aale Luusua, University of Oulu, Finland, aale.luusua@oulu.fi
Dr Johanna Ylipulli, Aalto University, Finland, johanna.ylipulli@aalto.fi
Prof. Marcus Foth, Queensland University of Technology, Australia, m.foth@qut.edu.au
Prof. Alessandro Aurigi, Plymouth University, UK, alex.aurigi@plymouth.ac.uk

Important Dates

Abstract submission:     31st January 2021
Manuscript submission:   30th April 2021
Notifications:                   30th June 2021
Revised papers due:         31st July 2021

Contribution Types

We welcome contributions across the following formats:

  • Original​ papers (max 10k words): substantial contribution, theory, method, application. Contributions may be experimental, based on case studies, or conceptual discussions of how AI systems affect organisations, society and humans. Original papers will be double blind peer-reviewed by two reviewers and the editorial team.
  • Network Research papers (max 10k words): substantial contributions to theoretical and methodological foundations within societal domains. These will be multi-authored papers that include a summary of the contribution of each author to the paper. Network Research papers will be double blind peer-reviewed by two reviewers and the editorial team.   
  • Open Forum​ papers (max 8k words): research in progress, ideas paper. Contributions may come from researchers, practitioners and others interested in the topics of the special issue. Contributions might be, but not limited to, discussion papers, literature reviews, case studies, working papers, features, and articles on emerging research. Papers published in the open forum target a broad audience i.e. academics, designers as well as the average reader. Open Forum contributions will be double blind peer-reviewed by two reviewers and the editorial team.
  • Student​ papers (max 6k words): research in progress. Contributions may come from post-graduate students and Ph.D. students interested in the topics of the special issue. For articles that are based primarily on the student’s dissertation or thesis, it is recommended that the student is usually listed as principal author. Papers are double blind peer-reviewed by one reviewer and the editorial team.
  • Curmudgeon​ papers (max 1k words): short opinionated column on trends in technology, science and society, commenting on issues of concern to the research community and wider society. Whilst the drive for artificial intelligence promotes potential benefits to wider society, it also raises deep concerns of existential risk, thereby highlighting the need for an ongoing conversation between technology and society. At the core of Curmudgeon concern is the question: What are the political-philosophical concepts regarding the present sphere of AI technology? Curmudgeon articles will be reviewed by the Journal editors.

Submission Formatting 

You can find more information about formatting under the section "Submission guidelines" https://www.springer.com/journal/146. For inquiries and to submit your abstract and manuscript, please contact aale.luusua@oulu.fi with the subject "AI&S Special issue on Urban AI".


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