It’s 2025, and 800,000 tons of used high strength steel is coming up for auction.
The steel made up the Keystone XL pipeline, finally completed in 2019, two years after the project launched with great fanfare after approval by the Trump administration. The pipeline was built at a cost of about $7 billion, bringing oil from the Canadian tar sands to the US, with a pit stop in the town of Baker, Montana, to pick up US crude from the Bakken formation. At its peak, it carried over 500,000 barrels a day for processing at refineries in Texas and Louisiana.
It is a warm autumn morning, and I am walking through downtown Mountain View, California, when I see it. A small vehicle that looks like a cross between a golf cart and a Jetsonesque bubble-topped spaceship glides to a stop at an intersection. Someone is sitting in the passenger seat, but no one seems to be sitting in the driver seat. How odd, I think. And then I realize I am looking at a Google car. The technology giant is headquartered in Mountain View, and the company is road-testing its diminutive autonomous cars there.
This is my first encounter with a fully autonomous vehicle on a public road in an unstructured setting.
In the aftermath of President Trump’s order for a new immigration ban, the American Civil Liberties Union won a flood of online contributions — $24 million over a weekend, six times its usual annual take from online donors (Fast Company). Tech CEOs and wealthy Silicon Valley investors made impromptu offers to match individual donations, game companies put pop-up suggestions in front of players, and app-based services like Lyft pledged direct support.
Now the ACLU has to figure out how to use that windfall effectively, and it’s taking up an offer from Y Combinator to join the high-profile startup accelerator’s Winter 2017 class (TechCrunch). The ACLU has been around nearly a century, has a long history of defending individual civil rights, and operates at national scale. It’s anything but a startup. The idea is that the nonprofit will be able to network with Silicon Valley execs, thinkers, and engineers and put its war-chest to more effective use, particularly when it comes to building better technology to sustain its new momentum and connect with supporters.
Ford is electrifying its most popular vehicles to make them even more capable, productive and fun to drive.
Happy New Year!
As we kick off 2017, at Ford, we’re also looking further into the future. The era of more affordable electrified vehicles is dawning, and we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make people’s lives better by changing the way the world moves.
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.
“Platform” used to mean things like: A railway station waiting area. A soapbox from which one addressed the world. Or a set of positions and policies that a political organization embraced. In the NewCo universe, it means something different — but what, exactly? Paul Ford (Track Changes) takes a stab at defining the word as it has evolved in the tech-internet-sharing economy.
In Ford’s formulation, a platform is any system that handles transactions: financial transactions like buying and selling stuff, communications transactions like sending an email or a text, data transactions like saving an image or tracking an ad. When platforms work well, they lower the individual cost of these transactions the more people use them.
Rules for the driverless road. Federal regulators have finally issued long-awaited guidelines for self-driving cars, including a 15-point safety standard (The New York Times). The manufacturers and services kickstarting this industry have advocated a set of national rules to pre-empt a state-by-state patch quilt. Safety advocates have been eager to keep the government a step ahead of companies that are rushing to test-drive new systems without waiting for regulations. The new guidelines are work-in-progress vague, but they do provide guidance for how autonomous driving systems should handle failures and protect passengers in a crash — and they ask the states to agree on one set of rules rather than 50. Is this approach tough or lax? Dueling headlines suggest the jury’s out: TheTimes has “Self-driving cars gain powerful ally: the government,” but in The Washington Post, it’s “Federal officials plan aggressive approach to driverless cars.” Of course, any regulation is only as strong as the intent of the people responsible for enforcing it. Right now, the Obama administration sounds pretty fired up about the self-driven future. Next year? Stay tuned to the polls. Whatever happens, the rise of autonomous vehicles will mean we need to rethink the whole notion of a DMV (The Atlantic) — as we figure out how, exactly, a piece of software gets its driver’s license.
Liberalism is so last century. Britain may be a lap or two ahead of the U.S. in crossing the threshold of what a commentator in The Guardian calls “the post-liberal age.” In approving its massive new Hinkley Point nuclear plant, the U.K. government insisted that it would retain a share in the project and apply a national security test to ownership of the plant (and similar assets). These conditions aren’t unusual or outrageous — but they do run counter to the strain of laissez-faire neoliberalism that has dominated Western governments since the 1980s. Meanwhile, social liberalism’s credos of tolerance and inclusion are being tested, if not broken, under the pressure of terrorist attacks and fear of radical Islamism. It’s hardly time to write an obituary for liberalism — the term means too many different things and has deep roots in so many policies and institutions. But we are clearly beginning to leave one era behind without knowing just what we’ll find in the next one.
Look, ma, no hands! What Ford’s driverless plan means. Tuesday, Ford announced it’s hitting the accelerator on a self-driving car program and aims to roll out a fleet of autonomous vehicles by 2021. (CEO Mark Fields details the plan in NewCo Shift.) Ford’s news connects three big trends in the NewCo world. First trend: Driverless cars are coming, faster than many thought, and they’re going to uproot lots of assumptions about how our businesses, cities, and lives run. Ford aims to leap straight to self-driving cars — no steering wheels, no pedals — rather than incrementally refine driver-assistance systems. The first vehicles Ford envisions will be costly, so it plans to sell to ride-hailing and sharing services initially, individuals later. (GM is a partner/investor in Lyft, but Ford has no such alliance — yet.) Second trend: Big industrial transitions like this are making BigCos like Ford return to first principles and think the way they did when they were smaller and younger. Ford CEO Mark Fields says its autonomous vehicle will have “as big an impact on society as Ford’s moving assembly line did a hundred years ago.” He frames Ford’s new plan as a refresh of the company’s populist, autos-for-everyman heritage. Ford is also increasing its Silicon Valley presence and investing in tech firms (like Velodyne, which makes distance sensors that use “lidar,” or light radar) to accelerate its self-driving program. Third trend: Ford’s move, like so much else that’s happening in business today, will speed up the handoff of decisions from people to algorithms. At the end of this road, the code that runs your car won’t only be picking routes — it will be making life-or-death choices. For a preview of that world, read up on MIT’s “moral machine” (Quartz) — a thought-experiment project that asks people how driverless cars should prioritize human lives when the cars’ brakes fail.
War is hell, and climate is war. World War III is here, and it’s not a shooting war with a foreign enemy — it’s humanity’s fight against climate change. That military language isn’t just a metaphor, writes activist-author Bill McKibben (The New Republic): The planet’s carbon-driven warming is seizing territory and causing casualties as swiftly and mercilessly as a hostile army would, and if we’re going to have any hope of stopping it, we need to launch an effort as vast, and as unified, as the one that, last century, saved the world from Hitler. What would a climate-focused version of the Second World War’s mobilization and Manhattan Project look like? Stanford researchers offer one vision (pdf). We have the technology; we need the will. The good news is, we’ve mounted this kind of all-out effort before — and it works.