Comma.ai is a startup that set out to build autonomous driving tech for hackers and hobbyists. In October, when regulators sent stern warnings to founder George Hotz — known for his exploits cracking iPhones and PlayStations — he shut down the announced product. But now he’s reviving it as an open-source effort (The Verge).
Yesterday, the code for self-driving software called Open Pilot, along with plans for complementary hardware called Comma Neo, went up on Github. Like so many open source projects, this one doesn’t provide a finished product; it’s more a framework for makers to build on. Right now, Comma’s tech works only with selected models of Acura and Honda vehicles — and only at certain speeds. At the start, at least, it will take a special kind of open-source true believer to turn the wheel over to collaboratively developed software. But longer term, Hotz says he’s laying the foundation for a kind of Android for self-driving cars.
To do that, Comma’s open-source code will have to spark the excitement of outside contributors, and that remains to be seen. Here’s what we can say now: No matter how complex today’s tech gets, sooner or later someone will create an open source version and release it into the wild. Autonomous vehicles, machine learning, VR, robotics: Nothing is immune, and everything is subject to being commoditized. For people hoping to turn a profit on proprietary breakthroughs, that’s scary. For everyone else, there’s the thrill in unleashing the unpredictability and passion that you get on an open platform. The future will be so much more interesting — and fertile.
Democracy Is So Last Year
Global faith in democracy is plunging, Harvard researchers have found (Quartz). Who is most estranged from “the worst form of government, except for all the others”? Millennials — those normally idealistic, principle-driven young people, who are way less likely than their elders to agree with the notion that it’s “essential to live in a democracy.” 26 percent of US millennials agree that “Choosing leaders through free elections is ‘unimportant’” (compared with 14 percent of baby boomers).
Some, no doubt, are disillusioned by the dashing of Obama-era hopes. Others are betting that autocratic leaders are more likely to “get things done” fixing the country’s ills. Still others no longer trust government, business, or any other institution to improve their lives. Any way you cut it, the decline in democratic spirit is troubling; “The warning signs are flashing red,” the Harvard study’s co-author, Yascha Mounk, told The New York Times. But also: These numbers mean that three-quarters of millennials, and even more of the rest of the population, still say democracy matters. So maybe we’re not done with it yet.
Bridgewater’s Radical Transparency Has Limits
Bridgewater Associates, the largest hedge fund in the world, has reached a labor settlement with employees over the terms of its employment agreements, which had been challenged by the National Labor Relations Board (The New York Times). That’s about the extent of what you’re going to learn about this story: Although Bridgewater preaches “radical transparency” inside its gates, the agreement, like most such settlements in U.S. business, is going to stay secret.
Bridgewater’s commitment to transparency is unusual, and company founder Ray Dalio’s statement of principles has inspired a lot of people in business (though critics have also found it cult-like). Too bad its exhortation to “be extremely open” ends at the parking lot.
Rebuilding Cities From the Network Up
A year ago, Bloomberg veteran Daniel Doctoroff took the lead at Sidewalk Labs, Google/Alphabet’s project to “accelerate the process of urban innovation.” Since then, Doctoroff writes in a progress report (Sidewalk Talk/Medium), Sidewalk has modeled what kind of impact you could make by reimagining cities “from the internet up.” The conclusion: You could cut the cost of living by 14 percent, save residents an hour a day, cut greenhouse-gas emissions by up to 2/3, and more.
That all sounds pretty great. Doctoroff also writes about an intellectual schism his team discovered in the course of its research, one he calls the “technologist/urbanist divide.” Tech people like to start from first principles and “leapfrog slow change”; urbanists cherish the resilience of organically evolved systems and resist master-plan hubris. These two world-views clash quite a bit. Where technologists and urbanists find common ground is in the concept of the city as an open platform for innovation. Sidewalk’s labs and prototypes for housing, health care, and government management will be worth keeping an eye on.
Blockchain Will Back New Senegal Currency
Senegal will be the second African nation, after Tunisia, to build a national currency based on blockchain technology, the cryptographic system that underlies Bitcoin and similar projects (Iafrikan). The country’s new digital currency, eCFA, is a project of Banque Régionale de Marchés (BRM) and eCurrency Mint Limited.
To some degree, the developers of financial technology are using Africa as a lab because there are fewer rules — but there’s also a more urgent need. As with the spread of mobile telephony, which took off in a developing world that lacked communications networks, innovative fintech may take hold first in places where the existing financial infrastructure is underdeveloped.