Editorial: Technology should be used to disrupt New York City government for good

There are three ways to achieve this: by embracing the positive aspects of disruption in government that technology can support, by increasing connectivity within government, and by optimizing urban systems to better serve citizens.

Over the past two and a half decades, new technologies have radically changed city life, from shared mobility and micromobility to food delivery and improved social networks. The tech private sector has fearlessly embraced the disruption, often with negative impacts on quality of life (increased congestion due to roaming carpool vehicles, sidewalks overrun with electric scooters, quiet apartment buildings rented as hotels). Local government, however, can learn from the benefits of the disruption.

As many of us experienced during the Covid-19 pandemic, digital offers powerful communication tools. Connectivity and networks help make big cities great, but their power can be lost in government, where many agencies have neither the incentives nor the tools to connect with each other.

Today, the city spends at least $ 1 billion on technology itself, with much of the money going to outside suppliers and contractors. While there are many inefficiencies in the way our government communicates internally, the tech industry has taught us that inefficiencies can be opportunities. There is no better opportunity than to connect city agencies using the digital communication and optimization tools already ubiquitous in the private sector.

Optimization, another technological term adopted by the industry, involves the creation of products that deliver breakthrough efficiencies through the deployment of new digital technologies. We need the government to bring that sensitivity to public services. The approach can be applied to everything from how we deliver public benefits and provide safer streets, to how we collect trash and support small businesses.

In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, there was a time when government, philanthropy and the private sector came together with a common mission of reconstruction and recovery. It was a rare moment of convergence. Today, in the midst of a pandemic, we are living another moment of convergence. We must harness the incredible power of the tech industry with the will of the people to optimize government and protect and improve the lives of all New Yorkers.

Michel samuelian is the founding director of Cornell Tech’s Urban Tech Hub.


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