Urban Studies

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A horrifying sign of the times is the peddling of packaged air, sold in bottles so that those with disposable income in badly polluted locales can breathe freely. It sounds like a smog-saturated setting imagined for a dystopic, futuristic novel, or, you know, contemporary China. Considering one of the two major American political parties would like to shutter the EPA and its nominee wants to remove “70 or 80% of the regulations,” we all might want to grab a six-pack if we can afford to.

From 

Would you pay $100 for a whiff of Welsh air?

In some of the world’s most polluted cities, people apparently will: Sales of bottled air from fresh-smelling places are taking off.

An Australian company is hawking six-packs of air bottled in places like Bondi Beach in Sydney or the eucalyptus-covered Blue Mountains. A Canadian firm sells containers of Rocky Mountain breeze as an antidote to smoggy skies (“a shot of nature,” its marketing promises).

Aethaer, a British company, is hoping to turn packaged air into a popular luxury item in fast-growing markets like China. The company sells glass jars holding 580 milliliters (a bit more than a pint) of air from Wales — with a “morning dew feel,” according to its website — for 80 pounds, or $97.

The company’s 28-year-old founder, Leo De Watts, said he hoped buyers would come to regard his product as a collectible, like a “sculpture or a limited-edition print made by an artist.” “Clean air is actually a very rare commodity,” he said.

The market for all kinds of pollution-fighting tools is booming in many smog-choked cities in China, India and Southeast Asia. Innovations abound, including air purifiers that are attached to bicycles and outdoor towers that are meant to suck up smog.

Bottled air is one of the least practical but most talked-about ideas.•

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From the October 23, 1924 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

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Barnesville, Mass. (By the Associated Press) — Excitement which had prevailed with the first announcement that H.T. Opsahi, science teacher in the Barnesville High School, had been arrested and released on $2000 bonds in connection with charges that he used an “electric chair” to punish insubordinate students, had abated today with parents, members of the school board and Opsahi all apparently content to await the outcome of the preliminary hearing next Saturday. …

The use of the “electric chair,” according to Opsahi, was the outcome of a method to “scare” the students who since the beginning of school would not subject themselves to discipline. It was made from a standard office chair to which a high frequency coil had been attached, Opsahl said, and under the most favorable conditions to the transmission of the current, it “would merely cause a tingling sensation to the student being punished.”•

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Buckminster Fuller was right on some vital points even if most of his designs never made a leap from the drawing board. He knew, for instance, that the idea of race was a phony tribal concept steeped in ignorance, wealth inequality was a real threat to democracy and childbirth per family would decline as the infant mortality rate decreased.

The theorist, who certainly realized the delicate balance of our environment, may or may not have been right when he insisted pollution itself was a great resource gone unharvested, a recyclable more or less, but that’s an awfully dangerous assumption. Even if it’s so, our “creation” of these raw materials could extinct the species long before we establish a collection day. Technocracy has its merits, but I wouldn’t want to wager everything on it.

In a smart Aeon essay, Samanth Subramanian wonders about the renewed capital of Fuller’s teachings in this time of climate peril and technological prowess, when those domes Elon Musk dreams of printing on Mars may soon be as needed on Earth. The opening has a great, largely forgotten anecdote about a Vermont town deciding in 1979 to build a Fuller-ish dome around itself to deal with falling temperatures and rising gas prices, before quickly quashing the project. The writer also de-mythologizes much about the Futurist, whose self-promoting prowess was Jobsian long before Jobs was born.

An excerpt:

Fuller wasn’t the first person to dream of domed cities – they’d featured for decades in science fiction, usually as hothouses of dystopia – but as an engineering solution, they feel thoroughly Fullerian. Implicit in their concept is an acknowledgement that human nature is wasteful and unreliable, resistant to fixing itself. Instead, Fuller put his faith in technology as a means to tame the messiness of humankind. ‘I would never try to reform man – that’s much too difficult,’ Fuller told The New Yorker in 1966. Appealing to people to remedy their behaviour was a folly, because they’d simply never do it. Far wiser, Fuller thought, to build technology that circumvents the flaws in human behaviour – that is, ‘to modify the environment in such a way as to get man moving in preferred directions’. Instead of human-led design, he sought design-led humans.

Winooski’s grand dome never went into construction. By the end of 1980, after the election of Ronald Reagan as president and a summer of stormy criticism over the cost and visual impact of the project, the mood had shifted. But Fuller, who had first advanced the idea of a domed city in 1959, continued to champion it until his death in 1983. ‘The way consumption curves are going in many of our big cities, it is clear that we are running out of energy,’ he wrote. ‘It is important for our government to know if there are better ways of enclosing space in terms of material, time, and energy.’ The most ambitious of his urban lids was the dome he wanted to lower over midtown Manhattan, a mile high and two miles in diameter. As well as a perfect climate, Fuller said, the dome could protect New Yorkers against the worst effects of a nuclear bomb going off nearby.

In the great flux of postwar United States, Fuller was convinced that the world was marshalling its resources poorly and unsustainably, and that change was a burning imperative. The world finds itself again passing through a Fullerian moment – a phase of political, environmental and technological upheaval that is both unsettling and exhilarating. Within this frame, Fuller’s life and ideas – the sound ones but also those that were tedious or absurd – ring with a new resonance.•


Fuller introduces the Dymaxion House in 1929.

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From the May 11, 1910 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

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In 1789, Benjamin Franklin identified death and taxes as the only things we can be certain of. It wasn’t a completely original quote, but it seemed a permanent truth, with no one betting against the continued presence of graveyards and other shovel-ready projects. Some Futurists would like to make a liar of the most famous kite flier, delivering to our doorsteps a-mortality and post-scarcity, like a couple of pizzas lowered gently by a drone.

On the economic side of things, Transhumanist Presidential candidate, Zoltan Istvan, not a fan of tariffs, recently found a kindred soul in visionary Venus Project architect and theorist Jacque Fresco, who even at 100 years old still hopes to radically remake our cash-and-ownership economy into a resource-based one.

In a Vice “Motherboard” piece, Istvan argues that Fresco’s far-out ideas, which would not only eliminate taxes but also currency, may be the best means to preventing violent upheaval should the robots devour all the jobs. An excerpt:

Over the next 20 years, I see automation taking nearly all jobs, and I doubt capitalism will survive that. As a result, I advocate for beginning the process of eliminating taxes and doling out a universal basic income—one that swallows welfare, Social Security, and all health services. Otherwise, I see inequality dramatically growing and an even larger befuddled welfare system than we have now. When robots take all the jobs, I also see civil strife and revolution occurring if corporations and the government don’t give back enough to society.

For me, the most important aspect of the future is to actually get there, and I worry that without giving something to unemployed humans, a dystopic society of violence and chaos will come about. The last thing America—and the scientific community—needs is a civil war.

Some experts have predicted that fully automated luxury communism is the way to go, and it’s a term increasingly being thrown around. Basically, it argues that humans should be pampered by technology, and to do so, communism should finally become the dominant economic system. Fresco doesn’t buy this.

He thinks that if we could just get rid of money and ownership, most of the humanity’s problems would disappear. And he claims only a resource-based economy—an idea he said he’s been working on since he was 13 years old—could do this.

The resource-based economy goes like this: In the future robots will do all the jobs (including creating new robots and fixing broken one). Now, imagine the world is like a public library, where you can borrow any book you want but never own it. Fresco wants all enterprise like this, whether it’s groceries, new tech, gasoline, or alcohol. He wants everything free and eventually provided to us by robots, software, and automation.•

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From the November 25, 1936 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

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Before the village became global, husband-and-wife explorers Carveth and Zetta Wells used new media and old-fashioned derring-do to make the world a little smaller.

The microphone- and camera-ready couple were lecturers and media personalities in between jaunts to exotic locales, with Zetta even hosting a weekly NBC show in 1946-47, in which she introduced 16mm home movies of their travels. It was an intoxicating time of visiting boat builders living inside volcanoes, watching fish climb trees and chaperoning Raffles the Mynah bird to an appearance on You Bet Your Life.

Below are two Brooklyn Daily Eagle articles about the peripatetic pair and the aforementioned 1957 video of Groucho Marx getting the business from a boid.


From July 18, 1929.

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From August 12, 1945,

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At the 6:50 mark.

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From the September 19, 1934 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

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The “Sacred School of the White Brotherhood” sounds like an offshoot of the Ku Klux Klan, but it was actually a 1920s cult–perhaps a “pagan love cult”–dedicated to racial peace, among other things, that had branches in several American cities.

The organization ran afoul of the law when it was said to have endeavored to “breed a Superman” with the help of a Berkeley coed and a 15-year-old boy. The pre-hippie hangout located in Oakland was raided in ’27 on the orders of District Attorney Earl Warren, with officers arriving before a baby could be made.

Of course, a very public scandal ensued, especially since numerous civic and business leaders were said to be among the members. Gertrude Wright, the so-called “High Priestess” whose bungalow doubled as cult headquarters was among those who fled to Mexico to escape a possible jail sentence. An article about the brouhaha appeared in the March 12, 1927 Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

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Forgive the people of China for their lack of fealty to reality after a dizzying 25 years of transformation. The breakneck pace of urbanization and industrialization must have often seemed shockingly otherworldly, and the same could be said of problems attendant to the big switch: the world’s highest cancer rates and worst air pollution. Maybe some citizens need a break from their vertiginous world.

Or perhaps China is leading the world in early adoption of VR technologies more practical reasons. The real estate boom on the mainland and the new money that allows Chinese people to buy overseas has popularized the use of Virtual Reality goggles that allow potential buyers to “take a tour” of a property from afar–or one yet to be built–normalizing the professional use of the tool. This utilization of the technology may provide the country with a foundational advantage in future uses of VR. That’s a possibility, though an early lead can disappear in a hurry as gadgets become cheaper and better.

From the Economist:

In the West the interest in VR has mainly focused on consumer applications like gaming. By contrast, in China business applications are an immediate and profitable avenue for growth. Property developers like Vanke are using VR to peddle expensive properties that are overseas or not yet built, and architects are using it in design. Education is another promising field. NetDragon, a Chinese software firm that attracted attention when it acquired Britain’s Promethean World, an online education outfit, for some $100m last year, is testing how VR software and hardware can be used in mainland schools (one idea is that headsets could tell when children are tilting their heads, indicating boredom, meaning a change of subject or teaching method is required).

Companies specialising in VR are spending a great deal of time examining the growth in China’s market. In addition to the quick adoption by Chinese businesses, this is for two other reasons to do with the consumer side, reckons Huang Zhuang, founder of China’s Nao Chuan Yue, a startup VR outfit. First, mainlanders are enthusiastic early adopters of whizzy technologies, even if the early versions are somewhat imperfect. Second, China leads the world in the use of the mobile internet. Mr Huang is convinced that the majority of users in future will access VR via their web-connected smartphones, not via goggles attached to personal computers or self-contained devices.

In other countries, including America, it is difficult for people to try out VR technology, notes Ryan Wang of Outpost Capital, a Californian venture-capital firm with investments in the sector. They have to fork out $1,000 or more to experience high-end VR. That means there is as yet no clear, affordable path for American consumers to adopt the technology, says Mr Wang.

China, on the other hand, already has a full infrastructure in place for consumers to try it out.•

From the August 12, 1894 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

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Don’t know if Uber is driving city dwellers to move to suburbia or if ridesharing is simply there to convenience those squeezed out of urban areas by rising costs. Globalization has meant, among other things, increased competition for square feet in popular cities from non-locals, which has helped drive real-estate prices sky high. That’s true in New York, of course, but also in less-obvious locales like Vancouver. Exacerbating matters, Airbnb enables landlords (if illegally) another avenue to collect rent sans leases, elevating prices in the thinned-out stock of residences available to longer-term tenants. 

Zoning laws are often blamed for lower-income folks being routed out of cities, but I’ve witnessed segments of NYC build new houses with abandon, without the necessary corresponding infrastructure projects to support the expansion, which can severely limit livability. These new buildings also are not a realistic option in major metropolises for those who aren’t already doing very well financially.

Regardless, it seems presently that some Americans are headed to less-dense places, though it’s not yet clear if that’s a long-term trend, since a significant percentage of us are drawn moth-like to bright lights. Tyler Cowen, who was among the first to announce that average is over (which may be more true in demand than supply), believes Uber and Lyft and the like have played a role in the shift, and he anticipates driverless, when it arrives, will further this reverse migration. Perhaps, but that would signal that people flocked to cities mainly to avoid commuting, which likely has never been the primary attraction of the urban enclave. The economist further feels that drones, VR, the IoT and other new tools will soup up the suburbs, exurbs and rural spots, making them more desirable.

From Cowen’s Bloomberg View column:

Self-driving vehicles are also likely to help the suburbs most. One of the worst things about the suburbs is the commute to the city or to other parts of the suburbs. But what if you could read, text or watch TV – safely — during that commuting time? What if you could tackle your day’s work just as you do on a train or plane? Commuting would seem a lot less painful. As driverless vehicles evolve to accommodate work and leisure uses of the automobile space, pleasure will replace commuting stress. 

What about drones? They too would seem to favor remote areas where it is harder to access useful goods and services. Drones may do more for exurbs and rural areas than for the suburbs, but it seems cities will gain least. Walking or biking to nearby shops is a potential substitute for drone delivery. Rolling sidewalk drones might find it harder to negotiate crowded cities, and cities with a dense network of tall buildings may be less friendly to flying drones. Population density may increase the risk of a drone falling on someone.

Now think about virtual reality. Its advocates claim that it will be used for sex, to simulate travel and to watch sporting events and concerts with an intense 3-D accompaniment. You will be able to do all that in the comfort of your living room or basement. So you won’t need a city for vivid cultural experiences.•

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The end is near, more or less. It depends on how you keep time.

In 1925, a larger-than-usual number of Americans believed the fateful moment had arrived, so they hunkered down and waited for the apocalypse. Others refused to just sit idly by and took their own lives, fearful that a great beam of light was to announce their annihilation. 

The source of these beliefs appear to have been a pair of doomsayers preaching on opposite coasts, Margaret Rowen of the Seventh Day Adventists in California and Robert Reidt of Long Island. The parallel prophecies caused panic until their announced arrivals passed without incident.

Several stories in the February 6, 1925 Brooklyn Daily Eagle marked the madness.

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From the July 31, 1931 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

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A misbegotten Manhattan baby show was staged, appropriately, at Midget Hall, in 1877. There was a little one who barked like a dog, a tyke without hair or nails and many others said to look “hideous.” The special attraction was the “baby who attempted to commit suicide.” It was nearly as shamefully exploitative as an hour of today’s Reality TV. An amazingly insulting eyewitness account of the horror was published in the November 26 edition of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. 

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From the September 28, 1891 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

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Raymond Orterg check presented to Lindbergh.

In 1919, New York City immigrant hotelier and restaurateur Raymond Orteig had an inspiring if dangerous idea to speed up the development of aviation. He established a $25,000 prize to go to the first pilot to complete a successful solo flight between New York and Paris. The businessman received a great return on his investment as numerous aviators individually poured time and resources into the endeavor. The first six attempts ended in failure and death, before Charles Lindbergh collected the check from Orteig, who had flown to Paris for the occasion.

I was reminded of Orteig by a recent Vivek Wadhwa column in the Washington Post which compared him to Peter Diamandis, who 20 years ago established the $10,000,000 X Prize to similarly stimulate space travel. Below is a Brooklyn Daily Eagle feature published a few months after Lindbergh’s 1927 triumph, which told of Orteig’s unlikely rags-to-riches story and how he sparked one of history’s great moments.

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Illustration of Marage’s talking machine from Scientific American.

The practical talking machine invented by Dr. R. Marage in fin de siècle Paris was a sensation for awhile, though it seems to have passed silently into the vortex of technological history.

A member of the French Academy of Medicine, Marage was attempting with his device (photo here) to outdo Thomas Edison and his phonograph, which reliably offered recorded sound, though it was the latter invention that ultimately found a market. It’s only in our time that chatbots and Siri have begun to scratch the surface of machine-conversation potential. While the science behind Marage’s apparatus was immaterial to those innovations, it does remind that the dream of non-human speech long predated Silicon Valley.

An article from the Scientific American touting his achievement was reprinted in the November 3, 1901 Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

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Many within the driverless sector think the technology is only five years from remaking our roads and economies. Perhaps they know enough to be sure of such a bold ETA, or perhaps they’re parked in an echo chamber. Either way, it appears this new tool will enter our lives sooner than later.

Beyond perfecting technology that works in all traffic situations and weather conditions are knotty questions about ethics, legislation, Labor, etc. Excerpts follow from two articles on the topic. 


From Anjana Ahuja’s smart FT piece on the problem of crowdsourcing driverless ethics:

Anyone with a computer and a coffee break can contribute to MIT’s mass experiment, which imagines the brakes failing on a fully autonomous vehicle. The vehicle is packed with passengers, and heading towards pedestrians. The experiment depicts 13 variations of the “trolley problem” — a classic dilemma in ethics that involves deciding who will die under the wheels of a runaway tram.

In MIT’s reformulation, the runaway is a self-driving car that can keep to its path or swerve; both mean death and destruction. The choice can be between passengers and pedestrians, or two sets of pedestrians. Calculating who should perish involves pitting more lives against fewer, young against old, professionals against the homeless, pregnant women against athletes, humans against pets.

At heart, the trolley problem is about deciding who lives, who dies — the kind of judgment that truly autonomous vehicles may eventually make. My “preferences” are revealed afterwards: I mostly save children and sacrifice pets. Pedestrians who are not jaywalking are spared and passengers expended. It is obvious: by choosing to climb into a driverless car, they should shoulder the burden of risk. As for my aversion to swerving, should caution not dictate that driverless cars are generally programmed to follow the road?

It is illuminating — until you see how your preferences stack up against everyone else.•


From Keith Naughton’s Businessweek article on legislating the end of human drivers:

This week, technology industry veterans proposed a ban on human drivers on a 150-mile (241-kilometer) stretch of Interstate 5 from Seattle to Vancouver. Within five years, human driving could be outlawed in congested city centers like London, on college campuses and at airports, said Kristin Schondorf, executive director of automotive transportation at consultant EY.

The first driver-free zones will be well-defined and digitally mapped, giving autonomous cars long-range vision and a 360-degree view of their surroundings, Schondorf said. The I-5 proposal would start with self-driving vehicles using car-pool lanes and expand over a decade to robot rides taking over the road during peak driving times.

“In city centers, you don’t even want non-automated vehicles; they would just ruin the whole point of why you have a smart city,” said Schondorf, a former engineer at Ford Motor Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV. “It makes it a dumb city.”

John Krafcik, head of Google’s self-driving car project, said in an August interview with Bloomberg Businessweek that the tech giant is developing cars without steering wheels and gas or brake pedals because “we need to take the human out of the loop.” Ford Chief Executive Officer Mark Fields echoed that sentiment last month when he said the 113-year-old automaker would begin selling robot taxis with no steering wheel or pedals in 2021.•

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The past isn’t necessarily prologue. Sometimes there’s a clean break from history. The Industrial Age transformed Labor, moving us from an agrarian culture to an urban one, providing new jobs that didn’t previously exist: advertising, marketing, car mechanic, etc. That doesn’t mean the Digital Age will follow suit. Much of manufacturing, construction, driving and other fields will eventually fall, probably sooner than later, and Udacity won’t be able to rapidly transition everyone into a Self-Driving Car Engineer. That type of upskilling can take generations to complete.

Not every job has to vanish. Just enough to make unemployment scarily high to cause social unrest. And those who believe Universal Basic Income is a panacea must beware truly bad versions of such programs, which can end up harming more than helping. 

Radical abundance doesn’t have to be a bad thing, of course. It should be a very good one. But we’ve never managed plenty in America very well, and this level would be on an entirely different scale.

Excerpts from two articles on the topic.


From Giles Wilkes’ Economist review of Ryan Avent’s The Wealth of Humans:

What saves this work from overreach is the insistent return to the problem of abundant human labour. The thesis is rather different from the conventional, Malthusian miserabilism about burgeoning humanity doomed to near-starvation, with demand always outpacing supply. Instead, humanity’s growing technical capabilities will render the supply of what workers produce, be that physical products or useful services, ever more abundant and with less and less labour input needed. At first glance, worrying about such abundance seems odd; how typical that an economist should find something dismal in plenty.

But while this may be right when it is a glut of land, clean water, or anything else that is useful, there is a real problem when it is human labour. For the role work plays in the economy is two-sided, responsible both for what we produce, and providing the rights to what is made. Those rights rely on power, and power in the economic system depends on scarcity. Rob human labour of its scarcity, and its position in the economic hierarchy becomes fragile.

A good deal of the Wealth of Humans is a discussion on what is increasingly responsible for creating value in the modern economy, which Mr Avent correctly identifies as “social capital”: that intangible matrix of values, capabilities and cultures that makes a company or nation great. Superlative businesses and nation states with strong institutions provide a secure means of getting well-paid, satisfying work. But access to the fruits of this social capital is limited, often through the political system. Occupational licensing, for example, prevents too great a supply of workers taking certain protected jobs, and border controls achieve the same at a national level. Exceptional companies learn how to erect barriers around their market. The way landholders limit further development provides a telling illustration: during the San Fransisco tech boom, it was the owners of scarce housing who benefited from all that feverish innovation. Forget inventing the next Facebook, be a landlord instead.

Not everyone can, of course, which is the core problem the book grapples with. Only a few can work at Google, or gain a Singaporean passport, inherit property in London’s Mayfair or sell $20 cheese to Manhattanites. For the rest, there is a downward spiral: in a sentence, technological progress drives labour abundance, this abundance pushes down wages, and every attempt to fight it will encourage further substitution towards alternatives.•


From Duncan Jefferies’ Guardian article “The Automated City“:

Enfield council is going one step further – and her name is Amelia. She’s an “intelligent personal assistant” capable of analysing natural language, understanding the context of conversations, applying logic, resolving problems and even sensing emotions. She’s designed to help residents locate information and complete application forms, as well as simplify some of the council’s internal processes. Anyone can chat to her 24/7 through the council’s website. If she can’t answer something, she’s programmed to call a human colleague and learn from the situation, enabling her to tackle a similar question unaided in future.

Amelia is due to be deployed later this year, and is supposed to be 60% cheaper than a human employee – useful when you’re facing budget cuts of £56m over the next four years. Nevertheless, the council claims it has no plans to get rid of its 50 call centre workers.

The Singaporean government, in partnership with Microsoft, is also planning to roll out intelligent chatbots in several stages: at first they will answer simple factual questions from the public, then help them complete tasks and transactions, before finally responding to personalised queries.

Robinson says that, while artificially intelligent chatbots could have a role to play in some areas of public service delivery: “I think we overlook the value of a quality personal relationship between two people at our peril, because it’s based on life experience, which is something that technology will never have – certainly not current generations of technology, and not for many decades to come.”

But whether everyone can be “upskilled” to carry out more fulfilling work, and how many staff will actually be needed as robots take on more routine tasks, remains to be seen.•

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From the October 13, 1929 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

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As long as the Earth is around, they’ll be those who wrongly argue that it’s flat.

Few did so more vehemently than evangelist Wilbur Glenn Voliva, one of the most famous advocates of Flat Earth theories in America during the first half of the 20th century. In 1906, the preacher gained power over the Christian Catholic Apostolic Church in Zion, Illinois. He turned the community of 6,000 into a multi-pronged industrial concern, taking advantage of the very low wages he paid members of his flock. By the 1920s, Voliva owned one of the most powerful radio stations in the nation from which to preach his anti-science views, a forerunner of the many dicey religious figures to come who would mix mass and media.

While Voliva despised globes, it was the advent of aerial photography (and his own outsize financial improprieties) that dimmed but did not end his career. After all, despite any proof, some still see what they want to see.

Three articles below from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle follow the arc of his notable life.


From June 22, 1924:

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From April 19. 1931:

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From October 12, 1942:

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From the July 17, 1951 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

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William James Sidis amazed the world, and then he disappointed it.

A Harvard student in 1910 at just 11 years old, he was considered the most astounding prodigy of early 20th-century America, a genius of mathematics and much more, reading at two and typing at three, who had been trained methodically and relentlessly from birth by his father, a psychiatrist and professor. It was a lot to live up to. There was a dalliance with radical politics at the end of his teens that threw him off the path to greatness, resulting in a sedition trial. In the aftermath, he quietly disappeared into an undistinguished life.

When it was learned in 1937 that Sidis was living a threadbare existence of no great import, merely a clerk, he was treated to a public accounting which was laced with no small amount of schadenfreude. He sued the New Yorker over an article by Gerald L. Manley and James Thurber (gated) which detailed his failed promise. He was paid $3,000 to settle the case by the magazine’s publishers just prior to his death in 1944.

Three portraits below from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle chart Sidis’ uncommon life.


From March 20, 1910:


From May 5, 1919:

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From July 18, 1944:

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Not that long ago, it was considered bold–foolhardy, even–to predict the arrival of a more technological future 25 years down the road. That was the gambit the Los Angeles Times made in 1988 when it published “L.A. 2013,” a feature that imagined the next-level life of a family of four and their robots.

We may not yet be at the point when “whole epochs will pass, cultures rise and fall, between a telephone call and a reply“–I mean, who talks on the phone anymore?–but it doesn’t require a quarter of a century for the new to shock us now. In the spirit of our age, Alissa Walker of the Curbed LA works from the new report “Urban Mobility in the Digital Age” when imagining the city’s remade transportation system in just five years. Regardless of what Elon Musk promises, I’ll bet the over on autonomous cars arriving in a handful of years, but it will be transformative when it does materialize, and it’ll probably happen sooner than later.

The opening:

It’s 2021, and you’re making your way home from work. You jump off the Expo line (which now travels from Santa Monica to Downtown in 20 minutes flat), and your smartwatch presents you with options for the final two miles to your apartment. You could hop on Metro’s bike share, but you decide on a tiny, self-driving bus that’s waiting nearby. As you board, it calculates a custom route for you and the handful of other passengers, then drops you off at your doorstep in a matter of minutes. You walk through your building’s old parking lot—converted into a vegetable garden a few years ago—and walk inside in time to put your daughter to bed.

That’s the vision for Los Angeles painted in Urban Mobility in the Digital Age, a new report that provides a roadmap for the city’s transportation future. The report, which was shared with Curbed LA and has been posted online, addresses the city’s plan to combine self-driving vehicles (buses included) with on-demand sharing services to create a suite of smarter, more efficient transit options.

But it’s not just the way that we commute that will change, according to the report. Simply being smarter about how Angelenos move from one place to another brings additional benefits: alleviating vehicular congestion, potentially eliminating traffic deaths, and tackling climate change—where transportation is now the fastest-growing contributor to greenhouse gases. And it will also impact the way the city looks, namely by reclaiming the streets and parking lots devoted to the driving and storing of cars that sit motionless 95 percent of the time.

The report is groundbreaking because it makes LA the first U.S. city to specifically address policies around self-driving cars.•

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