Good morning, Madam Chair and members of the committee. Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you this morning.
A new set of technologies, including pervasive and ubiquitous connectivity, real-time sensors, precise location services, autonomous systems, and digital manufacturing are going to help transform life in our cities and our communities. We carry many of these technologies in our pocket or purse every day. The ready availability of sophisticated mobile computers, which we casually refer to as phones, means that we have unprecedented access to data about our individual behaviour and our interaction with our community, and an instantaneous ability to communicate with the services and infrastructure around us.
At Alphabet, which is the umbrella company that owns Google and a number of other companies you're familiar with, we recognize that these technologies will make cities more responsive, equitable, innovative, and livable. But that will only happen in collaboration with the communities themselves.
Let me give you a quick snapshot of how Google and our parent company, Alphabet, are working to improve, through technology, how we all live. There are obstacles to making sure that the integration of technology and cities truly offers opportunities for social and economic growth for all citizens. Many disadvantaged groups within cities lack cheap and easy access to the Internet. That's why we're working with governments in Toronto, New York, and across India to deliver Wi-Fi access to underserved communities.
But we recognize that Google alone cannot address the challenges facing our cities. We have to work with urban planners, social policy specialists, community activists, architects, and others if we're going to understand the complex dynamics of our cities. Dan Doctoroff, a former deputy mayor of New York City and the founder of Sidewalk Labs, an Alphabet company, has described the complexity of the challenge that faces communities and governments alike. He wrote:
Whatever we do, we know the world doesn’t need another plan that falls into the same trap as previous ones: treating the city as a high-tech island rather than a place that reflects the personality of its local population.... There are no magical fixes to tough urban problems. Anything we try will require lots of discussion, refinement, and adaptation. Responsible innovation at the city scale requires self-reflection and a willingness to make adjustments based on local feedback.
I assume you are all familiar with our Street View mapping vehicles. We have collected data that informs Google's detailed maps of almost every community in Canada. Using these mapping vehicles, we have worked with local groups to begin pilot projects to help collect information about air quality and pollution in cities across the United States. We've deployed environmental sensor networks to build detailed maps of air pollution. We've worked with the Environmental Defense Fund to build similar maps to identify the ebb and flow of methane leaks in some cities. Our shared goal with these groups is to help build useful and detailed maps of these pollutants and share them with citizens and government who can then work to address these environmental challenges.
In the United States, we launched Project Sunroof, which uses satellite imagery to help homeowners not only estimate the benefits of installing solar panels on their roofs, but connect them with nearby installers and estimates the cost of that installation.
More importantly for this committee, what ambitious goals should we set for a smart city? Let's remember that the conversation around urban development is shaped by century-old technologies: grids of streets and alleys, water and sewer infrastructure laid decades ago, and Internet service that still relies on telephone and cable access points. Commuters need data that gives them the most efficient and fastest routes to their destination. For a bicyclist, this means the safest route down streets with dedicated lanes. For a community organizer, this may mean detailed data about admission rates at health clinics, or a real-time database of volunteers responding to a crisis.
What investments do cities have to make in real-time monitoring? How do they develop services that help their citizens understand how traditional infrastructure is dealing with contemporary pressures, in the process making themselves more accountable but also surfacing data that can support an argument for different infrastructure investment decisions?
How does a city become more adaptable? How can data help cities become more flexible and inform infrastructure investments that encourage alternative transportation, efficient energy use, and other innovations? As I've suggested, the development of smart cities requires careful planning, a phase of integrated experimentation, and then collaborative implementation.
As we tackle city- and community-wide challenges the best strategy may actually be to identify specific districts where technology and community can work together to identify targeted strategies, specific data collection frameworks, and implement ongoing assessments. At Google we feel it's a data-driven approach that sets ambitious goals with demonstrable results in partnership with communities.