Voice of the month: Hubert Beroche, co-founder of the Urban AI think tank.

Welcome to the « Voice of the Month » series, where we showcase the experiences and insights of leaders in the tech and commercial real estate sectors. Today we’re not talking about shopping areas, but city centres, with a special guest: Hubert Beroche : Hubert Beroche, co-founder of the think tank Urban AI.

After a round-the-world trip to meet 120 experts, Hubert Beroche invites us to take a closer look at his critical view of the intelligent city. In this interview, we explore his background, expertise, and his reflections on the past and future of technology. Without delay, let’s delve into our conversation with Hubert Beroche, our Voice of the Month.

Could you tell us about the birth of Urban AI?

I discovered the subjects of ‘Smart Building’ and ‘Smart Mobility’ during an internship in Gecina‘s Innovation and R&D Department. Following this work experience, I was fascinated by the subject and decided to continue exploring it in greater depth by seeing what was being done in the field. My aim was really to go and meet the ‘Smart Cities’, to see what was being done beyond marketing.

So in 2019 I set off on a world tour of Smart Cities. During this project, I explored 12 smart cities and met over 130 urban AI players! As I went along, meeting people and reading,I have gained a more critical perspective towards the Smart City.. I began to realise the benefits, but also the risks (technosolutionism, rebound effect, algorithmic bias, etc.) of urban technologies.

On my way back from this world tour, I decided to launch Urban AI, a Think Tank that aims to carry out independent and alternative research into Urban Artificial Intelligence!

"Urban AI (...) is an aggregator of atoms enabling international experts and talents to organise themselves around common projects. "

What does Urban AI consist of ?

Urban AI is unique in that it is backed by a growing community of international experts in urban AI (currently more than 140!). Collectively, we’re working on very different projects, but they all have one thing in common: they all focus on urban AI. More specifically, we have three types of action:

– Acculturation: we organise events (face-to-face and online) and produce content to disseminate knowledge and information about Urban Artificial Intelligence.

– Education: we help city stakeholders (both public and private) to better understand and take ownership of Urban Artificial Intelligence?

– Research and Experimentation: We carry out research and experimentation to advance the subject of urban AI, generate new debates and contribute to international discussions on these subjects.

What are the challenges involved in creating a smart city ?

For 10 years, many players have been selling the myth of the “Smart City”. Many projects have tried but failed. There are many reasons for these failures: failure to take account of specific regional characteristics and citizens’ aspirations, ecological aberrations, the use of biased technologies and devices that reinforced urban inequalities, etc.

These successive failures, probably culminating in the abandonment of the Sidewalkb Labs project, have led to a genuine disillusionment with – and even distrust of – urban technologies.


At Urban AI, we don’t blame technology. But we do believe that it should not dictate our behavior, our culture or our relationship with the world. On the contrary, it should respect our social contracts, enrich our heritage, preserve living things… in short, help us to inhabit the world in a sustainable – and poetic – way.

"Communities are the real knowers: they know better than anyone else what they need."

Hubert Beroche, lors d’une table ronde à Euratechnologies

"We are Artificial Intelligence Project Management Assistants".

How does Urban AI intend to resolve these issues with cities ?

We are trying to create value and operate in an ecosystemic way in each of our areas of action and development (acculturation, education, research and experimentation).

For example, we are working with the property developer BNP Real Estate on urban AI acculturation issues. They are also partners in an ‘Emerging Leaders’  education programme to train young leaders with potential in urban AI issues.

We have also worked with the Métropole Européenne de Lille on the subject of social contracts in the age of surveillance technologies, and with Nantes Métropole  and the Métropole Nice Côte d’Azur on the capture of urban data in public spaces and ways of making it more transparent and participative.

Finally, in our research and experimentation area, we have just completed a report with Leonard (Vinci‘s innovation unit) on the Geopolitics of Smart Cities.

The common denominator of these projects is to support city stakeholders so that they can better understand, use and deploy urban AI. Helping them to steer technological innovation, rather than being subjected to it.

"Supporting city stakeholders so that they can better grasp, use and deploy urban AI."

What are Urban AI’s next challenges ?

There’s a lot going on at Urban AI at the start of 2023! We’ve been working for nearly 2 years to consolidate our vision, build our community and co-develop our value with our partners. We’re starting to see the results of this in-depth work blossom, and that’s a real pleasure!

Our next step is to become even more operational. We need to put this research on the ground and move on to experimentation, converting our acculturation and education programmes into concrete projects. In fact, in a few days’ time we’re going to be releasing a project that’s totally along these lines, because it’s highly operational and will be designed to help all those involved in the city to gain a better understanding of what urban AI is, how much it costs, the skills needed, the timeframe for deployment, and so on.

euratechnologies round table

Any final advice for those interested in AI?

Yes: contact us to take part in our afterwork on 16 February at PCA Stream in collaboration with YOUrban , The Swarm Initiative and The Good AI


Hubert Beroche  is the founder of Urban AI , a think tank dedicated to the emerging field of Urban Artificial Intelligence (UAI). He founded the Think Tank after a 6-month world tour during which he explored 12 Smart Cities and met over 130 urban AI players. He is the author of the “Metropolis” newsletter as well as the “URBAN AI and “Cities and AI” reports.

Hubert is also president and co-founder of AI for Tomorrow (a non-profit organisation). AI For Tomorrow is one of the world’s top ten programmes to help AI for Good start-ups grow in 2021.