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19 ways AI is changing London

We take a deep dive into the myriad ways artificial intelligence is changing our city

Written by
Isabelle Aron
Grace Goslin

Are robots really taking over the world? Maybe. They’re definitely changing the city we live in. As the Barbican launches its ‘AI: More than Human’ exhibition, which explores creative and scientific change, we’re looking at the ways artificial intelligence is making London life easier. Did you know the technology is already being used by TfL and Citymapper to help us get around? Or that hospitals are using it to make sure Londoners turn up for appointments and the police have robots on hand to work out where crimes might happen? London’s even home to an AI football coach, an AI cocktail maker and, er, an AI bin. Find out more...

It’s helping make music

It’s helping make music

Writer’s block? The bots are here to help. Like Auto-Tune on steroids, Moorgate-based company Jukedeck is an AI music generator. It works by learning chords and notes, then figures out which combinations work well together to create the ultimate banger. Songs generated by Jukedeck have been performed live by K-Pop stars such as Spica.

It’s cleaning up London’s air

It’s no secret that our city’s got a serious pollution problem, with 9,000 Londoners dying from poor air quality every year. The Alan Turing Institute hopes to change that with its citywide sensors that use algorithms and data to measure pollution levels. The research will inform government policy and hopefully help London breathe easier.


Citymapper uses it to plot you efficient routes

Remember life before Citymapper? Us neither. The transport app uses AI to learn from its users, helping you get where you want to go as quickly as possible (and without changing tube lines five times). If a route is popular with users, the app learns to put that at the top of the list – because while AI is clever, there are some factors it might miss, which humans wouldn’t. That means every time you use the app, you’re basically helping the robot get even better at getting us from A to B.

Hospitals are using it to work out if you’ll miss an appointment

Hospitals are using it to work out if you’ll miss an appointment

Flaky? University College Hospital has its (virtual) eyes on you. Using records from 22,000 MRI scan appointments, its team created an algorithm that identified 90 percent of no-shows. They’re planning to roll out the system more widely, so patients the robot thinks won’t show up will get a phone call to check they’re coming (from a human, not a robot – it’s not that advanced yet).


It’s tackling inequality

What can you tell from a photo of a street? Quite a lot, actually. Imperial College London has been working on a way to use images from Google Street View to detect social and economic inequality. The AI was trained using more than 500,000 images from 156,581 postcodes in London, along with stats on income, health, crime, housing and living environment. Tests show it was best at identifying income and living environment. Maybe a picture is worth a thousand words.

It’s coaching a London football team

Could your five-a-side team use help on tactics? AI could be the answer. This year, non-league football team Wingate & Finchley FC started using an AI coach to improve performance. They’re not ditching their human coach, but the robot will help make decisions. It even provides inspirational quotes.


It’s making driverless cars a reality

Autonomous forms of transport aren’t completely new in London. The DLR rolls along without a driver every day. But self-driving cars are fairly new on the transport scene. A company called Gateway ran trials of driverless vehicles in Greenwich last year, ferrying people around the peninsula for up to 2km. The cars aren’t a permanent fixture in the city yet but Gateway expects that they will be mixing with regular traffic within a decade.

It’s helping doctors diagnose illnesses

Can a robot tell if you’re sick? That’s what Moorfields Eye Hospital set out to find when it teamed up with Google’s King’s Cross-based AI unit DeepMind. The trial used AI technology to look at the scans doctors use to diagnose eye conditions. It was able to recognise 50 common eye problems and had a 94.5 percent success rate when it came to identifying what was wrong.


It’s changing the way we play games

Combining two huge areas of tech growth – AI and VR (virtual reality), researchers at Goldsmiths University are developing digital AI actors to star in a ‘Peaky Blinders’ VR game in spring 2020. The characters respond to the player’s signals as well as changes in the environment, so it’s totally interactive. Gamers, hold on to your baker boy caps!

It’s changing the way artists create art

It’s changing the way artists create art

You don’t have to go near a paintbrush to make brilliant art any more. If you want proof, look no further than ‘Hito Steyerl: Power Plants’, an exhibition at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery right now. Steyerl’s work explores the relationship between, art, the digital world, capitalism and artificial intelligence. In the show, she uses AI to predict what lies ahead, with screens filled with videos of moving flowers and plants from a nearby park – except it’s a vision set 0.04 seconds in the future. Wild.


Police are using it to solve crimes (kind of)

The Met Police has had mixed results using AI. In 2016 and 2017 it used facial-recognition technology at Notting Hill Carnival. Embarrassingly, the robot in question was wrong 98 percent of the time in 2017. Naturally, it hasn’t been used there since. Now, the Met is using AI to predict where crimes might happen. The police feed an algorithm with previously recorded crime data and it churns out maps of the places where incidents might happen in the future. The result? Those areas are targeted by IRL police officers. (The organisation might be advanced, but we’re a long way off robots in blue uniforms just yet.)

It’s helping you to relax

We all need someone to talk to from time to time and Wysa (the emotionally intelligent chat bot) will give you a big, virtual hug via your smartphone. The app offers you personalised self-help techniques, from life-coaching to mindfulness and CBT. The app is in the funding stages of a trial with London South Bank University, which would explore the use of AI as a wellbeing tool for students. The app is basically AI that’s been programmed to grasp emotions. Comforting or a bit terrifying? You decide.


It’s cutting down flight delays at Heathrow

There’s nothing like two hours of sitting on the runway at the airport to put a dampener on your holiday vibe. But AI technology being trialled at Heathrow could make that a thing of the past. The airport’s 87-metre high control tower can lose visibility in bad weather, even when it’s clear on the runway. The answer? Install super-high-definition cameras which feed into an AI system at the bottom of the tower, and can feed back on whether it’s safe to fly. How’s that for some blue sky-thinking?

AI-powered robots could be making you cocktails

Long queues at the bar could be a thing of the past thanks to Makr Shakr, the ‘robotic bar system’. The cocktail-making robot can create concoctions from more than 150 different spirits and whip up around 80 drinks an hour. You order your drinks via the Makr Shakr app and then let the robot do its thing. Intrigued? You can see it in action at the Barbican, where it’ll be serving up cocktails at the bar to coincide with the ‘AI: More Than Human’ exhibition. The company behind it is currently using AI to develop algorithms to help it get even speedier at shaking up cocktails, as well as using data to self-learn so it can suggest new drink ideas to users. Ours is a New Fashioned. Cheers!

It helps your takeaway get to you faster

It helps your takeaway get to you faster

Ordering a pizza from your bed after a big night out? AI is making sure your carb-fest gets delivered before the hangover pangs really kick in. Deliveroo uses an algorithm based on predictive technology which works out the most efficient way of distributing orders, depending on where the restaurants, riders and customers are. The clever tech has helped reduce the average delivery time by nearly 20 percent in Britain. The algorithm even has a name: Frank. It’s named after Danny DeVito’s character in the sitcom ‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’. So you can thank Frank for your next late-night fried chicken fix.

It’s offering travel advice...

Want to know what’s up with the Overground or where your bus is on diversion to? Talk to TfL’s chatbot. Launched in 2017, it’s powered by AI and integrated into Facebook Messenger. The travel-savvy robot can fill you in on bus arrivals, the status of a route, service updates on the entire network and send you maps. In the future, TfL also plans to use AI to help manage congestion at major road junctions and on busy tube platforms. All we need now is a robot that can sort out the temperature of the Central line.


...and helping you cross the road

It’s not just big tech companies that are using AI – it’s pretty handy for town planning, too. City Hall uses machine-learning to understand traffic flows and tweak signalling if necessary, giving pedestrians more time to cross the roads and reducing traffic delays. Neat!

It’s helping fight food waste

London start-up Winnow Solutions has created a nifty way to tackle food waste in the hospitality industry: an AI bin. Yes, really. Using a camera and smart scales, it scans what’s being chucked away and learns to recognise what it is. It then tots up the weight and cost of the food wasted. It’s already in action at Ikea, which cut food waste by 32 percent in its first year. No more discarded meatballs, hooray!


And finally, it’s helping Londoners write poetry

You know that game you played as a kid where everyone writes one sentence of a story? This is a bit like that, but with AI. As part of the Barbican’s ‘AI: More Than Human’ exhibition, artist and designer Es Devlin has created ‘PoemPortraits’, which combines art, poetry and machine-learning. Visitors will be able to ‘donate’ a word to the installation – it’ll then be used in a two-line poem produced by an algorithm that’s been primed with 20 million words of verse. At the end of the exhibition, it will create a collective poem from everyone’s contributions. Word up!

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