We’ll come back to this at length. For now, just some basic arithmetic.
This is the city of Fox’s new spec fic show, Almost Human.
From WIRED – Software is Reorganizing the World:
Machine translation of signs, text, and speech brings down language barriers and facilitates ever more cross-cultural meetings of like minds. Immersive headsets, input devices, and telepresence robots further collapse space and time, allowing us to instantly be alongside others on the other side of the globe. Mobile technology makes us ever more mobile, increasingly permitting not just easier movement around a home base but permanent international relocation.
Technology is thus enabling arbitrary numbers of people from around the world to assemble in remote locations, without interrupting their ability to work or communicate with existing networks. In this sense, the future of technology is not really location-based apps; it is about making location completely unimportant.
But could everything really become that mobile, that portable? What about transportation, infrastructure, food, shelter, the clothes on our backs?
Consider transportation first: Car ownership is already declining, and the combination of Uber, Lyft, their public-transportation analogs, and new shareable car fleets will greatly reduce traffic and emissions. On-demand rental will ultimately become more convenient than the burden of outright ownership, especially in an autonomous car world, and will make us vastly more mobile as a result. And many more things can be transported on-demand once we have the on-demand car.
With respect to infrastructure, projects from neighborhood pothole repairs to bridge changes are being crowdfunded or driven through private-public sector partnerships (in fact, entrepreneurs built roads for most of American history). And with autonomous cars coming, technologists are going to need to reinvent roads again. Google’s Vannevar is moving construction to the cloud, much of shipping logistics and the supply chain is going there as well, and robots can already build small buildings and operate autonomous mines. The net result is that both core infrastructure and many of the mechanisms for building and funding it are becoming computerized, and thus deployable in new locations.
And from the road we turn our eyes to the sky: next up will be a carbon-friendly computerized infrastructure for safer air traffic control, to guide the emerging fleets of drones doing everything from photography to surveying to delivery.
As for the physical items used in daily life — the present, let alone the future, is already a time where everything from food to shelter to clothing to transportation to your very wallet and keychain can be accessed on demand from your mobile phone, in more cities every day.
So when it comes to the constraints on mobility imposed by the physical world, the rule is simple: when goods themselves can’t be digitized, our interface to them will be.
The benefits of such high mobility are much more than convenience to the people who supply these goods. For example, with online food ordering, an owner of a small restaurant is finally able to prepare meals in batch, order ingredients in bulk, and reach repeat customers without wasting valuable, limited resources in guesswork. With the advent of mobile microtasks, we are seeing the emergence of new digital assembly line jobs that offer greater flexibility, less risk of injury, and hourly wages comparable in some cases to those of new hires at GM. And with autonomous mines, workers can extract needed minerals without risking black lung disease.
This is why location is becoming so much less important: technology is enabling us to access everything we need from our mobile phone, to find our true communities in the cloud, and to easily travel to assemble these communities in person. Taken together, we are rapidly approaching a future characterized by a totally new phenomenon, the reverse diaspora: one that starts out internationally distributed, finds each other online, and ends up physically concentrated.
What might these reverse diasporas be like? As a people whose primary bond is through the internet, many of their properties would not fit our pre-existing mental models. Unlike rugged individualists, these emigrants would be moving within or between nation states to become part of a community, not to strike out on their own. Unlike would-be revolutionaries, those migrating in this fashion would be doing so out of humility in their ability to change existing political systems. And unlike so-called secessionists, the specific site of physical concentration would be a matter of convenience, not passion; the geography incidental and not worth fighting over.
Today, one of the first and largest international reverse diasporas has assembled in Silicon Valley, drawn by the internet to the cloud capital of technology; in fact, an incredible 64% of the Valley’s scientists and engineers hail from outside the U.S., with 43.9% of its technology companies founded by emigrants.
But the geocenter of this cloud formation is only positioned over Silicon Valley for historical reasons, as the semiconductor manufacturing that was made easier by the temperate clime of the South Bay has long since moved away. Nothing today binds technologists to the soil besides other people. In this sense Silicon Valley is nothing special; it is best conceptualized as just the most common (x,y) coordinates of a set of highly mobile nodes in a social network whose true existence is in the cloud.
And this global technology cloud truly stretches over the whole earth, touching down at various locales both in the U.S. — at Sendgrid in Boulder, Tumblr in New York, Rackspace in Austin, Snapchat in L.A., Zipcar in Boston, Opscode in Seattle — and outside it — at Skype in Estonia, Tencent in Shenzhen, Soundcloud in Germany, Flipkart in India, Spotify in Sweden, Line in Tokyo, and Waze in Israel. Cultural connections forming between people in this cloud are becoming stronger than the connections between their geographic neighbors. Palo Alto’s Accel invests in India’s Flipkart, Estonia’s Skype is folded into Seattle’s Microsoft, Israel’s Waze is merged into Mountain View’s Google, and the SoundCloud engineer on a laptop in Berlin builds a deeper relationship with the VC in New York than the nearby Bavarian bank.
Today, the geocenter of the global technology cloud is still hovering over Silicon Valley. But in a world where technology is making location increasingly less important, tomorrow the reverse diaspora may well assemble somewhere else.
There are more than 400 homeless men and women who live in Palo Alto, according to a 2010 estimate, and as many as 50 of them currently find refuge in their cars. If they don’t find other accommodations or leave town in the next six months when the law goes fully into effect, they could face six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Palo Alto first considered banning people from dwelling in vehicles in 2011, but opted instead to try to mimic a program used in other cities where homeless residents can park and sleep at local churches. That plan failed to take hold in Palo Alto, Sheyner notes, “after staff failed to find participants in the local faith-based community.”
Even before Monday’s vote, Palo Alto had developed a reputation for cruel treatment of its homeless residents. In 1997, the city passed a “sit-lie” law, which prohibits people from sitting or lying down on downtown sidewalks. The ordinance effectively outlaws homeless people from asking for donations or even spending time downtown; as a result, homeless residents are pushed even further to the margin of society.
Many cities in the Bay Area have already outlawed sleeping in one’s car.
A future heading in two, interconnected, directions. Look at the city again above. Do you see the shiny buildings and infrastructure, or the wall?