It is one part of an intelligent society
Intelligent infrastructure takes information from and provides information to users and decision makers, so that they can make decisions that will improve overall wellbeing. For instance, it can tell them to re-route to minimize congestion, or where to reduce activities that are exacerbating air pollution. Not all information exchange will happen digitally and automatically though; some of the richest sources of information will come through feedback collected from citizens whom the infrastructure is intended to serve, rather than from collecting and analyzing more digital data. Decision makers must be in a position to receive and interpret this information and convert it for use by the infrastructure — and users may need “warming up” to start realizing the intended benefits. Without connections to decision makers and users, and making changes that achieve community goals, infrastructure cannot be intelligent. Consider, for example, smart air pollution sensors in China that are simply ignored. The infrastructure should inform and help to create intelligent residents and decision makers, and support a healthy environment in the long term.
It is one part of a network of infrastructure
A single asset may deliver little value on its own. A bridge, for example, may allow a vehicle to pass from one side of the river to another, but if there are other rivers along the vehicle’s journey, then every bridge on the route needs to perform well for the driver to achieve their purpose. Intelligent infrastructure evaluates its performance as part of a network — not only of human-made assets, but also of natural assets that work with it to achieve wellbeing.
For example, clean drinking water could be provided by better designing transportation and land drainage systems, planting more vegetation, and/or providing enhanced treatment. The intelligence is in recognizing the potential contributions of the entire network and identifying the balance that most effectively and efficiently meets community goals. It can help to think first of an infrastructure network, then of a user/decision-maker network, and then of how those two parts interact.
It monitors its own performance and learns
Intelligent infrastructure collects data about its own performance, learns how to perform better throughout its life, and either makes changes itself or provides the imperative for users to change behaviours or decision-makers to change decisions.
It sees, and increases resilience to, future shocks and stresses
Intelligent infrastructure gathers information about future changes in technology, society, climate and resources, and provides information that helps us prepare for — or change the course of — those changes. Importantly, to address the technology component, there is redundancy built in such that power or communications failures do not cause chaos. This means there must be predictive, diagnostic, and action capabilities somewhere in the intelligent society.
It controls and manages itself (almost)
Intelligence is about moving from having no information, to being able to predict outcomes, to having some control over a situation. To move toward greater control, we need greater analytical capacity, better sensors, greater communications capacity (to pull in more data from more sources) and better controls.
It gives more than it takes
The benefits of designing in the “intelligence” outweigh the costs over the asset’s lifecycle. Above all, it improves overall wellbeing, giving more than it takes.