AI’s Promise and the Paradox of City Governance

The advent of artificial intelligence (AI) and the integration of this technology into various aspects of our daily lives has been nothing short of revolutionary. From voice-controlled assistants like Google’s AI, which can book a dinner reservation, to powerful models like ChatGPT that process vast amounts of data for insights, the capabilities of AI seem endless. And yet, despite these advancements, some cities, like Burbank, appear to lag behind in leveraging these technologies.

The city’s decisions sometimes seem anachronistic in this modern age. For instance, operating a helicopter at $1000 an hour when drones, equipped with AI for tracking, can do similar jobs at a fraction of the cost. Or the practice of mailing out printed newsletters instead of adopting digital communication methods, which are both eco-friendly and cost-effective.

And it is not just about cutting-edge technologies. The recent unveiling of New York City’s high-tech policing devices, including Digidog – a robotic police dog – showcases an attempt to harness technology for civic safety. While the use of such technology has its critics, what cannot be denied is the intent to embrace modern tools to enhance operations. Digidog, as mentioned by NYC Mayor Adams, can be deployed in risky situations, potentially saving human lives. It is a smart way of using technology.

However, the city of Burbank seems to be on a different trajectory. Even with a whopping 10.25% combined sales tax rate, higher than that of Los Angeles, the city’s expenses do not appear to align with modern technological advancements. Instead of investing in technologies that could reduce overheads, the city is seeing a rise in overtime costs. (see: Employee Gross Earnings reports)

Why this disparity in technological adoption? One can argue that each city has its unique challenges and priorities. But when there is evidence of efficient systems available, as evidenced by AI’s strides in various sectors, it is worth questioning the decisions that lead to higher costs for taxpayers.

One might point out that Burbank’s city council’s decision to take $600,000 from the general fund for tenant relocation could be seen as a humane gesture, addressing immediate housing concerns. But could not some of that money be invested in long-term solutions powered by technology? Perhaps an AI-driven system to better manage city resources, track expenditures, or even assist in urban planning? “It is a theft of public funds to hand over relocation assistance to someone from the city’s General Fund. We need those funds to go where they were supposed to go and that is to repair roads, maintain street lights, traffic lights and street signs, and to take care of public safety. We should not be paying taxes to do what local churches and nonprofits are already doing,” said resident Jamila. Jamila argues that the city is involved in far too many programs it should not be involved in.

The conundrum of Burbank’s decision-making highlights the broader theme of governance in the age of technology. As taxpayers, it is only natural to question and demand transparency in how funds are utilized. With AI’s promise of efficiency, reduced costs, and better service delivery, cities that do not evolve risk being left behind.

Burbank’s residents must advocate for a future where technology and civic administration converge for the greater good. For the city to thrive in this era, it must take cues from its AI-pioneering peers and chart a new path forward.

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