Chicago and Tulsa Mayors Discuss AI and the Future of Work

Two mayors outline the future of work and the impact of innovation and automation on cities.
Group of business partner in office looking for the future. Concept of future of work and artificial intelligence.

Two mayors discussed how they are using artificial intelligence and machine learning to improve their cities and prepare for the workforce of the future at a conference held April 23 in Chicago. The event was hosted by news organization Axios and the United States Conference of Mayors and led by Axios Executive Editor Mike Allen.

Also joining the discussion was Imir Arifi, head of artificial intelligence and machine learning at Health Care Service Corporation. According to Arifi, the main use of AI and machine learning is through historical data to predict future events. In a city, for example, Arifi said AI can be used to predict how many potholes the city will need to fill in a year based on data from previous years. “Almost any process in the world can improve, and AI is the enabler,” he said.

Tulsa, Oklahoma, has recently gained attention for the way it uses data. The city established the Urban Data Pioneers, a program that enables teams of city employees and community members to take a deep dive into questions that can be better understood through data analysis. According to Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum, one of the group’s main findings has been that there is a direct correlation between the number of advanced degrees held by an individual and their per capita income. The results of the study shifted the city’s focus from high school education toward continuous education.

Bynum said Tulsa is lucky that in addition to higher education institutions, they also have businesses that will train their workers for the skills a job requires. He said a major focus of the city is attracting and training the future workforce.

Bynum points to research findings that by 2027, the majority of the workforce will be individual contractors instead of those working for a company. He said Tulsa doesn’t just focus on recruiting businesses, but rather, it acknowledges the creative disruption that’s happening to the workforce. “We’re trying to build the kind of place that attracts young professionals,” he said. In fact, Tulsa has the largest young professional organization in the U.S. — Tulsa Young Professionals.

In Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is using data as part of an effort to modernize government services and make them more personal and directly accessible to residents of the city. He wants to have a more interactive relationship between the city and its residents, he said.

Data is also helping Chicago use more proactive vs. reactive policing methods. Emanuel said they’ve been using algorithms in particularly challenging neighborhoods. Since using the algorithms, the South Side neighborhood of Englewood has decreased shootings by 67 percent.

Emanuel said the most important thing when introducing any technological change to a city is inclusion, making sure that everyone can still feel part of the city. That inclusion applies to education, too. “Our high schools, our elementary schools and our community colleges have to be a part of the economy of tomorrow in giving all kids the tools to succeed,” he said.

In Chicago, if students maintain a B average in high school, they can attend community college for free in the city. Emanuel said that’s an example of an inclusive goal in education. The city recently partnered with Apple to teach students to code, and starting next year, Chicago Public School students will be required to take a coding class to graduate.  “If you think dual language is Spanish and English, I’m telling you, coding is the second language,” he said.

Arifi said there’s a synergy between AI and education, especially for customizing learning programs for individual students. He said AI can be used to make education more effective and improve test scores on an individual level.

“This is not science fiction; this is happening and can be done today,” Arifi said.

Ave Rio is an associate editor at Chief Learning Officer magazine. Comment below or email editor@CLOmedia.com.

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