I first moved to the Bay area in 1983. I graduated from high school, spent my summer as an exchange student/day laborer in England (long story), then began studies at Berkeley, where I had a Navy scholarship (another long story).
A theme of my writing over the past ten or so years has been the role of data in society. I tend to frame that role anthropologically: How have we adapted to this new element in our society? What tools and social structures have we created in response to its emergence as a currency in our world? How have power structures shifted as a result?
Increasingly, I’ve been worrying a hypothesis: Like a city built over generations without central planning or consideration for much more than fundamental capitalistic values, we’ve architected an ecosystem around data that is not only dysfunctional, it’s possibly antithetical to the core values of democratic society. Houston, it seems, we really do have a problem.
Recent successes in deploying AI point to a crucial challenge the field is facing
I read Martin Wolf’s wonderful essay about the challenges facing government in the light of significant labour displacements. Last week there were two relevant, but distinct, announcements from Babylon Health and OpenAI. I aimed to connect the dots between these in the latest issue of my weekly newsletter Exponential View. (Read the issue | Subscribe)
First, Babylon: the company announced that their AI-based chatbot had performed better than the typical British GP (a GP is a generalist physician rather than a specialist) on the qualifying exams run by the Royal College of General Practitioners. Babylon’s bot scored 81% on a test where humans averaged 72%, although there are some methodology issues. You can read a news story here, and the research paper, which I’ve skimmed, here.
I see a lot of mattresses when I walk around my San Francisco neighborhood of Potrero Hill. I don’t know where they came from, how they got here or who slept on them. When I see a mattress I use the SF311 App to notify the city. Sometimes the mattress can stay in the same location for days, or even weeks, before being carted away by city workers. In the meantime they get moved around, piled with trash and perhaps used again as sleeping places.
Blockchain may play a key role in the next 10 years of electricity
“With the broadcast system, you have one person in one station deciding what gets put out over the airwaves. When you have a distributed network, like the internet, everybody can be a server. There’s no distinction between the broadcaster and the receiver: every computer does both. You can take your home laptop and run a server off of it in the same way that the biggest computers at Google can. There’s no fundamental difference between the computers they have in their server rooms and what you have on your desk.” — Aaron Swartz, cofounder of Reddit
Decentralization eventually comes to every industry.
Instead of being “that one person who made it out,” Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs went back to his hometown to see if he could be the change he wanted to see.
Upon taking office in January 2017, Michael Tubbs became both Stockton’s youngest mayor and the city’s first African-American mayor. He’s also the youngest mayor in the history of the country who represents a city with a population of over 100,000 residents. The changes he is trying to effect are bold, inspiring, and made for a riveting presentation at NewCo Shift Forum earlier this year. Below is his talk and a transcript edited for clarity.
John Battelle: When I heard about our next speaker, I reached out through formal channels, but he called me on his cell phone, which was really cool. “Hey, it’s Michael. What’s up?” I ask, “Mr. Mayor, would you please come and speak at this conference?”
I’m a city dweller. I’m often confronted by used syringes, discarded mattresses and graffitied walls. I yearn for a garden, an Eden, a paradise. I dream of green fields and idyllic forests and see glimpses of Arcadia on the streets of my San Francisco neighborhood, Potrero Hill.
Eric Garcetti, Mayor of Los Angeles, is not pleased with our President — or his own party. His policy successes in LA may lay the foundation for a White House run.
If you want to see the future of our national politics, you’d do well to study Los Angeles, one of the largest cities in the world, and the third largest metropolitan economy after Tokyo and New York. Eric Garcetti, the “melting pot mayor” of Los Angeles joined John Heilemann for a deep dive into policy, technology, and politics at the NewCo Shift Forum this past February. Below is the full 30+ minute interview, plus a transcript edited for clarity.
(video plays prior to conversation) John Heilemann: We were looking for a video to play to introduce Eric Garcetti. First of all, this is probably the biggest crowd you’ve ever spoken to, right?
If you read my blog on the regular, then you already know I’m gaming you with the headline. But, whether you’re a newcomer or a frequent reader, rejoice in this rare respite: for today, we’re not talking urban planning or transportation policy or corporate chicanery.
We’re talking basketball. We love that basketball.
As an enthusiastic cyclist and environmentalist, I’m quick to notice the tragedy of the commons flourishing on the premises of personal transportation, especially in the U.S.
Big cities are going car-free. London’s Mayor Saqid Khan’s newest “London Plan” envisions that 80% of all trips in London will be made by foot, bicycle or public transport by 2041.
Without this shift away from car use, London cannot continue to grow sustainably. […] The design and layout of development should reduce the dominance of cars, and provide permeability to support active travel (public transport, walking and cycling), community interaction and economic vitality.
London is one of a number of major cities committing to the future where getting from point A to point B doesn’t depend on personal cars.