we do take decissions, or we don’t?

In the advent of an efficient global network of transportation and ubiquitous communications, we have experienced an unprecedented explosion of abundance and choice. My father remembers, as he was living in Spain under Franco, that little more than one paper and two TV channels were all what was. The offer of products and services was neither more diverse than that.
But for all these possibilities, we often have a very narrow field of choice. Be that we cannot cope with such diversity or that external circumstances dwindle our choices. We often find ourselves like canoeing down a river: rather following the stream, with but little drifts left or right.

Recently I decided to grow a beard and soon came the point when I had to buy a beard trimmer. It is in such cases—when I have to reach out of my usual market scope—that I realise how difficult it is to choose. When you do not even know if such things are still sold in brick-and-mortar shops and naively start navigating the Internet. Which, to start with, means navigating the subset of internet within the bubble of influence of Amazon. It wasn’t without will that I found a local maker—in these days this would extend to mean anywhere within my country. Yet if I wouldn’t have made a point of it, I would have ended buying a product from Panasonic, Samsung or similar makers that populate the most search results.

At last I still slipped in my awareness and ended up buying the thing through an internet shop, although finding a retailer in my neighborhood was two clicks away. I am sorry, dear retailer. I regret it now. I hope you are still there the next time I need something. And I regret the most if any part of my money ended at Amazon. That devouring monstrosity of a company who owns the majority of office space in Seattle.

It is startling how narrow the choice of a car becomes for the average—and not so average—german. Or what choices we realistically have when we want to buy a new smartphone in a market dominated by two or three companies that stand like palm trees in a desert—here the desertification was of the making of those companies though. How difficult is to find local groceries, or better said, how easy has become to find groceries that, despite their short age, have seen more of the world that we will probably see in our lives.

There is a danger in the comfort of not exercising will when we buy products. Slowly but constantly we are giving power to a few individuals, who despite not being elected politicians, they are amassing more factual power by the day. Every product we buy has become a small ballot. And those ballots we still call ballots, are only damning our best people, our politicians we entrust our future, to play a x-iteration of Doom: a dark dungeon plagued with powerful villains and no real chance of success. Hence it should not surprise us when one day not too far, we have to question if democracy, as we know it since Greece invented it long ago, is still workable. Or maybe we have to understand that in Democracy 2.0 every purchase is a ballot.

We are already seeing this coming.

cities meeting the AI behind the steering wheel

We face a lengthy journey of thirty years until technology will be able to guarantee autonomous driving at SAE level 5 (no steering wheel, no pedals). This forecast set by Chris Urmson is as of today probably an accepted source at large in this matter. 

We recently witnessed a feat that was projected for a decade in the future, and yet it is now history: the defeat of man vs. AI in a game of go.

Even if we may very soon reach level 4 (human may be required to take control), still the ultimate challenge for AI on the road is the complexity of the urban landscape, mostly of its dwellers. This will likely limit the scope of autonomy in vehicles in the next decades. Or… maybe this is precisely the fact that will spur the speed of evolution… Harken to me now!

Will people still want to take the steering wheel to drive the last bit of their journey deep into the city? Or will they prefer to stop at a park-and-ride and do the last bit in the subway. Or on foot.

Could it as well be that cities and autonomous vehicle AI will meet at a near point in time and in convenience, such as traffic being funneled throughout only a few streets leaving all others free to citizens on foot?

Not even bicycles allowed, on-food isles in cities would be the final dream of urbanists, a paradise in earth for citizens and an utopia that can be real, just by the power of convenience. 

Picture credits: SAE International

non-solution to a non-problem

There wasn’t apparently a problem for this solution. And demagoguery had a great time instead. 

Full-Hybrid cars do not need plugs. And they save a substantial amount on gas and emissions. 

Plug-in full-hybrids neither need plugs. And they save a substantial amount on gas and emissions too. Yet they shine if you plug them.  

So here you have a way to break the egg-and-chicken dilemma of infrastructure. First you legally enforce the exclusive sales of full-hybrid cars. Secondly you legally enforce the exclusive use of plug-in full-hybrids for fleet and company-owned cars. And infrastructure will develop of its very own market demand.

But it never happened. Perhaps the trail of money would tell why. Who would benefit of such course of action? Patent holders perhaps? For sure the health of us all. But our health is sometimes difficult to monetize. In the short term. 

a history of the end of the world in one blog post

(Cheers to Julian Barnes)

the world is an arch carrying all lifestock (woodworms) around the oceans. For ages woodworms have fed in the arch, at once source and sustain of life. Science and Technology boosted their numbers to a point were the structural integrity of the arch started to be compromised. Yet this process of accelerated consumption was not seen by most of the maggots.

Here we have two overseer-maggots in the upper deck. They are suntaned and healty with an unapologethic idiotic smile in their faces:

– Boss, I have read in the news that the hull lands under the waterline are drawning. Scientists say that the hull is receding to water faster and faster.

– Have you seen water around here? those are fake news: A conspiracy of scientists and journalists meant to divert our attention from the important matters: namely to keep all maggots fed and happy like in the old good days, and hence myself as boss.

A few miles further, irretrievably, the arch sunk leaving a despondent trail of death. The basin of the ocean bearing evidence that something called woodworms ever existed, evolved, and self-anihilated in an explosion of gluttony.

combinations that never were

For thousands of years, species lived in earth exposed to what nature and evolution did bring to the plate. So many combinations of atoms into molecules populated this planet. Until humankind learned to handle those pesky atoms and started exploring new combinations.

Unimaginable sorts of materials, chemicals, and even living entities started to come out of our laboratories. Combinations than never were, now are.

We only do not know how our bodies, and most importantly our brains work. And how those new combinations will react with our organs. Yet the pace of technological advances and new combinations of atoms that become part of our world grows every day at always faster rate.

We have learned to fear radioactivity, yet radioactivity has been present in our world since the very beginning. We even believe we feel uneasy in the neighborhood of a nuclear power plant. At the same time we embrace new materials, chemicals and drugs. We sit for hours in vehicles made of large bits of plastic that exhude organic components in the air, we use ever more effective pesticides and ingest ever newer drugs with the hope they will make us feel better.

At last all ends up entering our bodies. And the bodies of those other few species that we have not yet wiped out.

the United Cities of the World

Looking at the accounts of the referendum and elections in 2016 in UK and the USA, you can observe clear indications of the poignant division of vote between populations in large cities and populations in the countryside. Not a new behaviour, but due to the significant global impact of these two instances I come to think that the time to tackle this situation is now due.

Considering that dwellers of large cities around the globe seem to have more in common than with each of their countrymen, a possible political development where cities bundle in a (UCW) United Cities of the World state of sorts seems not far fetched. In this scheme, country boundaries would be drawn around cities and not around countries and airports bridging large cities would not any more be international but domestic airports.

Incidentally we see an emergence in the significance of Mayors of large cities as being more autonomous, having more political impact and possibilities to cater to their citizens that national presidents have with their countrymen.

With these premises in mind, it strikes me that the governance of an hypothetical UCW ought to be more effective and more coherent than the governance of the USA or the EU. Ultimately, would enable a parting from partisanship and the raise of a government that executes closer to its citizens.

Such a new world order would mean a new division of wealth and infrastructure. We may come quickly to the impression that this would create a new global over wealthy state and let a near bankrupt countryside behind. Yet this does not necessarily have to be the outcome. Cities need all goods be imported from the countryside, but also need to sell high value products and services to those people outside the boundaries of the UCW.

Is it perhaps henceforth the next empire in earth one made of dwellers of large cities, with a common English language, a common libertarian and democratic ideology, and a mingling of all races and backgrounds? Distributed all over the world but all being a single ‘us’.

a very apartment of mine

that moves with me.

Cities have understood that it makes no sense to have people criss-crossing them because they found a place to live at the farthest point they found a place to work.

Cities have erected frames of residential buildings, where apartment modules are trucked there and docked. Frames clustered around and between commercial, transport, and industrial hubs.

People purchase an apartment module, with two rooms in the front side with large wall sized glass panes, a toilet, a shower room and a kitchen in the back side. And they docked it wherever they needed to, for the time they needed to.

When they need to move on, they secure their stuff and let the module be undocked and trucked to a new place.

Two modules can be docked together to embody a larger apartment: four rooms, a larger kitchen, two toilets, two shower rooms. Three modules even.

Cities have seen that the bulk of automobiles have disappeared. The streets, taken mostly by bicycle lines, became again a place for people. The air is clean. Birds can be heard overhead. Now and then an electric powered automobile rolls silently along.

It is flawed, I know, but it is a nice dream.

Added: An afterthought of this idea is that being the value of a living place a combination of land value (speculative value) and building value (material value), we would invest in the long term in material value, but we could rent the speculative value.

the collateral of offer and demand

The underlying mechanism of offer and demand certainly brings to society ever better value for less cost. We tap at the ingenuity of entrepreneurs and engineers to reach ever more efficient ways to produce utility, convenience, and comfort.

By its nature, the offer is usually consolidated in the hands of a few groups, where demand is distributed and not organised. Accordingly, the sole driving force of the demand is to receive more (perceived) value for less cost. In response to this behaviour, the offer has a few ways to produce ever more appealing products and services:

  • first by using ingenuity,
  • secondly by creating a higher perceived value of a not so intrinsically valuable good
  • and thirdly by abusing of surrounding environmental elements.

The first way is basically what I would tag as technological progress. The second, marketing excellence and the third pillage: the surroundings are there for the grabs! And often only protected by the integrity of entrepreneurs and engineers, alas not always.

Once ingenuity reach its limits as per the technological and scientific knowledge base of the present time, and products’ perceived value do not let be inflated any longer, it is only logical that entrepreneurs and engineers will find ways to resource to abusing the surroundings. Surroundings being several possible entities: environment, nature, minority groups, neighbours…

Looking at the newspapers we can see, now and then, portrayed cases of such third way. For instance the recent VW emissions issue or the damaging pesticides for bees.

What it is left for us all to consider is how can we exercise our freedom of choice in a way that keeps the pillagers on check. In our role as demand, yet distributed and uncoordinated, we are responsible of our actions and their consequences; Being able to discern within those products and services that trespass to pillage ought to be our ultimate aim.

SUVs race to the bottom

Driving a SUV increases the energy to be absorbed in a collision—normally in detriment of the lighter vehicle. Also increases the emissions. Noise. And especially in cities, uses up more space  even in the worst case damages the infrastructure. Yet it is in cities where the need to refocus on pedestrians and bicycles, as opposite to automobiles, is the most poignant.

The driver of a SUV is, however, not made accountable for all these negative factors. Only there is a light entry barrier in the purchase price to be overcome—for the solace of the car makers.

And if theory of games tells us one thing, it is that this race to the bottom is predictable and expected, as long as accountability is not added to the rules of the game.

Verschlimmbesserung

So many of our attempts to improve things bring unforeseen problems in their wake. The word modestly admits how seldom progress moves in a linear manner.

Alain de Botton, The School of Life

The German minister of transportation has single-handed suddenly approved the introduction of XXL-Lorries in Germany. Likely this will roll-out in the rest of Europe—otherwise it would be meaningless. Officially, the measure is meant to reduce CO2 emissions.

I am returning to the recurrent question whether the language forms our actions. I see no possible end to this action where the environment will be better off. The market of goods transport will quickly rebalance this sudden increase of 30% load per driver and…

the winners will be:

  • Car/Truck-makers
  • Motorway contractors
  • Amazon

the losers will be:

  • the environment
  • all of us who will feel threatened by behemoths on wheels in our cities, towns and roads
  • communities and cities that will have to repair and enlarge junctions, accesses, roads

…under this considerations, I do not understand how this could be a political decision.

A political decision would be then to spur the industry—as opposite to hone the lobbyists—to come up with creative solutions like smaller-than-today-driverless lorries. Or as it is already being researched, trains of lorries with a human driven head lorry and autonomous followers.