Vladimir Putin delivers vision for technology at the Moscow Urban Forum

Participants listen to Russia's President Vladimir Putin during a session of Moscow Urban Forum 2018 at the Concert Hall of Zaryadye Park in Moscow, Russia July 18, 2018. Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS  ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. - RC142E176000

It was a surprise during this week’s Moscow Urban Forum when President Vladimir Putin showed up to deliver his vision for technology. I was in attendance at the Forum to discuss my new book, The Future of Work: Robots, AI, and Automation. Digital technology was the theme of the Forum as well as Putin’s remarks.

The Russian president highlighted the importance of urban areas in shaping future development. “Cities produce 80 percent of the world’s GDP,” he noted, and “house half of the world’s population.” He said Russia “needs harmony between technology, the environment, and freedom,” and says technologies provide ways for citizens to propose and implement new digital models.

Technological improvements sometimes require people to “step outside of their comfort zone.” He recalled that several recent urban development projects in Moscow resulted in “harsh criticisms [from city residents] for temporary inconveniences” but people now liked the new Zaryadye Park and pedestrian walkways in the center city. He discussed the success of the recent World Cup games and how much international visitors enjoyed the city. “What guests saw was not artificial and created for show but was genuine,” he claimed.

To further innovation, he proposed a competition among Russian cities. He wants citizens, architects, planners, and tech experts to propose new ideas to remake urban living. “The modern city must be the center of environmental well-being,” he argued, and the government needs the best ideas for technological innovation. His goal is to build the cities of the future and develop projects that help all the people.

There was no mention of Putin’s recent meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump or controversial foreign policy issues. The 15 minute speech was delivered from written remarks and featured no questions from the audience.

Reaction following the speech noted there were few details about how to implement his plan or how to extend digital media innovation beyond Moscow and St. Petersburg. He wants local mayors to come up with specific details. It was also unclear what federal financial support would be provided to support technological innovation.