Why CES is the Right Forum to Talk about City Resilience

Walking through the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) can be overwhelming. Picture rooms the size of football fields filled with new products and gadgets, each one the latest symbol of software and digital technology transforming our consumer lives.

What we see, though, is something different. We see not just a massive trade show, but the potential to transform our lives in cities. We see a way to apply technology to solve the world’s greatest challenges. Throughout CES, we see an opportunity to forge new partnerships: for the technology industry and cities to work together with a focus on resilience – taking on growing megatrends like globalization, urbanization and climate change.

Last week at CES, we were able to have this dialogue. CES’s first-ever resilience-focused track brought together tech and government leaders to explore a range of topics and imagine a more resilient world. It was a way to continue helping public sector leaders and tech companies acquire the insight, tools and structures to more effectively deploy technology – from artificial intelligence to the Internet of Things – that can enhance city resilience like never before.

Our conversations focused, among other things, on how emerging technology can strengthen emergency preparedness, build secure cyber and communications networks, and reinvent mobility systems and utilities; on how closer partnerships between municipal governments and tech companies can leverage data to improve city services; and how tech industry-led advances in big data, the cloud, mobility and applications can help cities optimize infrastructure and start to dramatically improve how it performs.

In what we call the century of cities, we define resilience as the ability to survive disaster. Yet our definition includes more than being able to withstand sudden shocks such as earthquakes, fire or floods. We need to be focused on everyday disasters too. Think of chronic stresses that weaken city systems – or being able to thrive in the face of adversity.

Right now, almost half of the world’s 7.5 billion people live in cities. By 2050, though, cities’ share of the global population will rise to 75 percent of the world’s 10 billion residents. Another way of putting it: By 2050, cities will have as many residents as our world does currently.

Part of the response for cities, then, will be figuring out how to unlock new infrastructure spending (approaching 2050, the World Bank estimates that global infrastructure investment needs will reach $100 trillion). But just as important, a century of cities needs to be a century of innovation. As we grapple not only with rising population and urbanization, but with recurring shocks and stresses increasing in frequency and magnitude, tech companies are a natural partner to help cities build resilience.

Think of a big challenge like how to improve air quality and reduce emissions. City leaders are increasingly pursuing the electrification of mobility as a solution. Yet executing this takes more than incentivizing electric car ownership or investing in new transit vehicles; it requires utilities to work with tech companies to improve the power grid. Cities will need to bride the digital divide in order to build more resilient power systems that can manage more generation, support renewables, and maintain electricity at all times.

Every city will start from a different place on the path to resilience. Yet for any city – even the largest and most populous ones – a key strategy for implementing new technology is to start small: piloting a program in one part of the city, proving that it works, and gradually expanding it citywide.

That progress begins with a conversation, breaking down silos, and – like we’ve been doing at CES – bringing together the right leaders across the public and private sectors to think through problems and arrive at solutions.

The technology is ready. There’s nothing to wait for. With effective partnerships, we can make rapid progress delivering a better world – and more resilient cities – for future generations.