The rise of the self-driving car will free up huge chunks of downtown real estate now dedicated to parking for other, better uses: parks and green belts, housing and shops. Clive Thompson paints this future portrait in Mother Jones.
Millennials love downtowns and don’t love cars nearly as much as previous generations. As autonomous vehicle tech matures, we’re going to need a lot fewer cars, we’re going to use them more efficiently, and we’re going to need a lot less room to park. A full switch to self-driving vehicles could reduce urban parking needs by 90 percent.
The cost of parking is usually borne as a public subsidy, so governments will save money, too. Real estate, construction, and retail businesses will benefit from the new “infill” opportunities. Auto ownership will lose its status as a pillar of personal identity. The new vehicles will be electric, so the environment will benefit, too.
Everybody wins — it’s an awfully attractive picture! But we still have to figure out how to get there from here, and avoid the nightmare scenario in which we move farther away from one another, commutes get longer, and while the robots drive we bury our heads in our phones.
Slack Isn’t Your Friend — It’s the Panopticon
Welcome to “the Slacklash.” Everyone’s favorite workplace chat app is facing new criticism that it’s not only a time-suck but an engine of employer oversight. Sure, Slack makes team communication really easy to search. But, warns Jacob Silverman in The Baffler, “if the little guy can find anything in the archive, so can his risk-mitigating boss.”
Silverman sees Slack as promoting “workplace surveillance, the numbing pursuit of efficiency, the collapsed divide between work and private life, the accumulation of small tasks and notifications that seem to impede the work day rather than advance it.” He also reminds those of us besotted with Slack that we shouldn’t count on keeping our Slack channels private.
What happens when your company’s Slack transcripts fall into the hands of someone who doesn’t like you and posts them to Wikileaks? After this year’s election, that one won’t stay hypothetical for long.
What Do Founders Think?
First Round surveyed 700 startup founders and asked them whether we’re in a bubble. 57 percent said yes — which is a lot, but down from 73 percent last year.
These founders are an optimistic lot: Nearly one in 5 of them believes their companies will become billion-dollar “unicorns.” Their priorities are hiring talent and finding customers. Diversity is low on the list, which isn’t surprising in itself and may help explain why 61 percent say that their board is all-male. Yet somehow they predict that the tech industry will achieve diversity that matches the U.S. population by 2030 (an average of their predictions). How that will happen without someone making it a priority is unclear.
Also: They think bitcoin and bots are overhyped, but agtech and biotech deserve more hoopla. And their most admired industry leader is Elon Musk.
How We Got to Increasing Returns
In 1996, W. Brian Arthur, an economist at the Santa Fe Institute, published a paper titled “Increasing Returns and the New World of Business” in the Harvard Business Review. At the cusp of the internet era, Arthur introduced a whole lot of people to the idea of network effects, positive feedback, and lock-in, as Rick Tetzeli recounts (Fast Company). Here’s a key passage from Arthur’s paper:
“If a product or a company or a technology — one of many competing in a market — gets ahead by chance or clever strategy, increasing returns can magnify this advantage, and the product or company or technology can go on to lock in the market. More than causing products to become standards, increasing returns cause businesses to work differently, and they stand many of our notions of how business operates on their head.”
This process was at work then with Microsoft and Intel; more recently, with Google and Facebook; and again right now with Uber and Airbnb. Speaking with Tetzeli today, Arthur reminds us not to forget the downside of an increasing-returns economy: A winner-take-all competition means there’s a tiny number of victors and a boatload of losers. He also reveals that the original article may have had some extra oomph thanks to a careful line-editing by Arthur’s friend, the novelist Cormac McCarthy.
What Happens When Tech Becomes Self-Aware?
Yesterday we told you about the launch of the Economic Security Project, a $10 million effort to study the concept of a universal basic income. In NewCo Shift, editor-in-chief John Battelle explains the thinking and motivation behind the project. Tech leaders have finally become self-aware enough to realize that their creations are reshaping the world, and are turning their attention to fixing things that tech has broken. The nature of work and the breakdown of traditional employment look like a good place to start that effort.