How AI Will Help Build Better Cities

A “smart city,” as we think of it now, is not a singular, centrally controlled entity but a whole collection of intelligently designed machines and functions. Essential aspects of city life like traffic flow, energy distribution, and pedestrian behavior will one day be monitored, understood, and acted upon by smart machines with the goal of improving the way we live. AI has already transformed so many aspects of city life, and one day it may guide an even greater proportion of municipal functions. Here’s a look at just a few of the ways this will happen.

Traffic

Even in a public transportation haven like New York or Chicago, traffic congestion is a major issue. AI can provide a major boost to the work of city engineers, making a drive through the city less of a hassle and reducing the overall time spent on the road. AI can collect and analyze traffic data as it’s happening, and eventually even provide routing solutions for autonomous vehicles.

Not only that, this info can give drivers real-time information on open parking, making the desperate search for a spot downtown a thing of the past. Smart traffic signals that observe and analyze vehicle flow data can keep drivers moving without wasting time at automated red lights. With full integration with self-driving cars, it’s not a stretch to imagine a daily commute happening with little to no input from drivers.

Power

As cities grow, the need for power increases exponentially. One of the most consistent challenges of city management is ensuring that every citizen has their energy needs met, and while green solutions have already made an impact in reducing waste, AI can take the next step in bringing our cities closer to fully self-sufficient energy.

Our power grid is aching for a modern overhaul, and one may just be in store, thanks to smart grid initiatives to bring AI to the application and distribution of energy. The efficiency of a smart machine means that the power of the future will be delivered with less of the waste and redundancy that marks our present grid. The U.S. Department of Energy agrees with the potential of such technology, having made the development of a smart grid an official directive in 2010.

Safety

Artificial intelligence can not only make driving safer, but also improve conditions on the sidewalks and alleyways as well. The city of the future looks to be not only more efficient, but safer as well.

In its best form, AI will allow city officials to better monitor neighborhoods and districts whose problems have historically flown under the radar. Police departments nationwide have already adapted ShotSpotter technology to better crack down on gun crime, with promising results for holistic, community-based solutions to the issues facing urban communities.

While concerns about privacy are valid and important, video surveillance with the proper protocols in place could give police a huge boost in fighting street crime with the help of AI. While such tech is still in its nascent stages, one day in the far-off future police will use intelligent analysis to spot suspicious behavior that may indicate a violent crime about to happen, or follow a suspect through crowds in the city streets. Crack AI researchers are already on the case.

 

If all this talk of AI-infused cities sounds like science fiction, it isn’t. In fact, we in the U.S. have got some catching up to do. Earlier this year, we saw the first rollout of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba’s Smart City platform outside of their native country, as Kuala Lumpur introduced their adoption of the AI data-analysis program. While this smart city mostly makes use of the tech for operational tasks like transportation, such a commitment to this forward-thinking tech indicates a future where big cities will welcome AI assistance with open arms.

Cities are often described as the best implementation of America’s melting pot. A huge variety of people, with disparate origins, interests and dreams, all coming together around one principle: that we work better together than apart. Our cities of the future will likely fulfill that promise better and more efficiently than ever imagined, thanks to improvements in efficiency and safety enabled by AI.

By |2020-02-11T16:52:49+00:00May 16th, 2018|Technology|

The Tech That’s Bringing Broadway Into the 21st Century

For an entertaining time that’s essentially NYC, you can do no better than a show on Broadway. While many other pre-internet forms of entertainment fall by the wayside, the Broadway box office is thriving, with the 2016-17 season (running from May to May) the highest grossing year Manhattan’s Theater District has ever experienced. Robust ticket prices account for some of these high receipts, but how is it that the oldest performance art of them all, stage acting, is able to continually draw huge crowds in our technology-influenced age?

The answer is simple: with their own takes on cutting-edge technology. Today’s Broadway productions incorporate modern tech in a number of ways: from advanced production values to the scripts themselves, to all-new methods of delivery. Broadway audiences have always demanded the best in showmanship and craft and thanks to new technology, modern shows are able to deliver both in droves.

On Stage

The music and choreography, as always, is top-notch, but a growing number of shows are now boosted by an infusion of high-tech stagecraft. When adapting a blockbuster film whose audiences arrive with memories of CGI-laden animation in their heads, the stakes are higher than usual. Big budget crowd favorites like Aladdin and Frozen moved from the silver screen to the Great White Way seamlessly thanks to custom designed special effects. With audience attention at a premium thanks to all the distractions at our fingertips, the premier shows of Broadway have brought in tech experts to create an unmissable experience that can’t be replicated anywhere else.

In the Script

For all the allure of eye-popping setpieces, the heart of any good show is in making the lives of its characters real. For a contemporary show like Dear Evan Hansen, that means integrating everyday tech into the lives of its teen characters in an honest and organic way. The 2017 Tony Winner for Best Musical plot centers around a viral hashtag that spirals out of control, forcing the title character to reckon with the role the Internet plays in his and countless other teenagers’ lives. It’s a thoughtful take on modernity, one that’s resonated with audiences and critics in a major way.

Into Homes Worldwide

Even for shows with minimal special effects, technological advancements have expanded possibilities for reaching a new audience. 2017 saw the first-ever Internet live stream of a Broadway show, the beloved musical She Loves Me beamed to computers, phones and tablets nationwide for a wallet-friendly $10 price point. Affordability and convenience are two things that we don’t often associate with a trip to the Theater District, so if this development truly catches on, we might see wholesale changes in the way shows are produced and sold.

 

From the stage to the audience, there’s no frontier that changes in tech aren’t touching on the Great White Way. Worries about falling into irrelevance seem to be unfounded when looking at how well this perennial attraction has adapted for the 21st Century.

By |2019-05-30T19:16:37+00:00April 10th, 2018|Technology|

How Amazon Is Redefining the Way Everyone Does Business

When you mention the name Amazon, one of dozens of different ventures may come to mind. Of course, there’s the website that started it all, with convenient two-day shipping and a seemingly infinite selection of goods. Maybe you think of the high-quality content arising from their Prime Video streaming service, or the Amazon Movie studio that’s released films from acclaimed auteurs like Spike Lee and Jim Jarmusch. There might even be an Amazon Echo in your home, connecting you to Amazon during your every waking hour.

Through retail, entertainment, even food, Amazon is quite clearly becoming a driving force in our everyday lives. It’s no secret that the company wields a great deal of influence over the things we buy and watch. But lesser known is just how much one particular division of the company provides the underlying support for all these products plus many others, in ways that carry serious implications not just for the company’s own business and those it hosts, but international relations and more.

Launched in 2002, Amazon Web Services (AWS) offers subscribers a complete online business platform via access to virtual computers and servers upon which they can conduct their day-to-day dealings. Thanks to an incredibly vast array of servers, a massive number of businesses from startups to industry hegemons currently conduct their operations under the Amazon umbrella.

With revenue of $17.4 billion in 2017, AWS has become a major piece of the supercorporation’s plans. Thanks to a roster of over one million clients, Amazon’s Internet dominance now reaches far beyond their retail origins. Customers of the web services range from Netflix to Unilever to the CIA, an impressively diverse set of users. We’re operating in unmapped territory when web-only businesses operate in the same sphere as colossal retail conglomerates and the world’s most powerful intelligence agency. Of course, if such a map does exist, it’s in the sole possession of Bezos and company.

To be clear, Amazon is not the only web giant offering such services. But similar initiatives from Google, Microsoft, and others don’t have nearly the reach that Amazon does, both online and off. Over a third of the entire world’s cloud computing services are handled by AWS, with no indication of slowing down. This means that, as business is increasingly done over the Internet, all roads must pass through Bezos’ domain.

Additionally, competing cloud computing services don’t have the integration with the mass shipping infrastructure that Amazon has built, nor Bezos’ continual expansion that’s been virtually without precedent. Google may be today’s biggest name in web services, but they don’t have a fleet of airplanes. Amazon does. Microsoft doesn’t have nearly 500 nationwide grocery locations with large footprints in virtually every major American city. Amazon does.

Skeptics have pointed out the potentially grave implications of one company holding this amount of power. A lengthy diatribe in The Nation magazine paints a gloomy picture of a world where all businesses must play by Amazon’s rules in order to function at all. If AWS continues to grow the way it has already through 15 years of existence, there’s no telling what the end result may be and whether new regulations will come into being to reign in the company’s ambitions.

Whether these predictions will come true or not, it’s undeniable that as the Internet is the staging area for more and more of everyday commerce, Amazon is poised to be the dominant force in that sphere and all touched by it for years to come.

By |2019-05-30T19:17:20+00:00March 20th, 2018|Technology|

How Well Do Sci-Fi Movies Predict New York City’s Future?

“Truth is stranger than fiction.” One would think Mark Twain’s famous rule would apply to New York City as much, if not more than, any place else in the world. But when it comes to science fiction, oddly it doesn’t.

The internet is full of articles about sci-fi movies that accurately predict the future, technologically and otherwise. Often, the future happens on the west coast—Los Angeles is particularly popular, according to multiple listicles devoted to the topic of movies that predict technology accurately. Although, oft-cited in the top 10 of the list, Minority Report, released in 2002, is actually set in Washington, D.C., in 2054 A.D.

But, even if some of the technology—like virtual reality, voice-interactive computers, and frighteningly personalized advertising—does exist today, when it comes to predicting New York City’s actual future status, the movies, for the most part, fail spectacularly. This science fiction is definitely stranger than any true thing about New York.

The original 1968 Planet of the Apes is set on a planet approximately 2,300 years in the future where man is pre-lingual and apes are the dominant, advanced, species. Four astronauts crash land on the planet (one is dead already) and are captured by the apes. After more than their fair share of anguish, torture and surreal moments, one astronaut, Taylor (played by Charlton Heston) escapes, follows the shoreline and sees the remains of the Statue of Liberty. So the “planet” is really New York City, more than two thousand years after a nuclear holocaust.

While it’s only 2017, and not 3978 A.D., at this point there’s no sign of an all-out nuclear holocaust and if we look at the painful and horrific example of Hiroshima, cities can recover from a nuclear bomb without humankind reverting to cave days. So, no, planet Planet of the Apes is not future New York City.

In 2022 (yes, that’s in five years) 40 million people will live in NYC, in dilapidated housing or on the streets, according to the 1973 sci-fi classic, Soylent Green. The premise is that the 20th century’s industrialization would lead to overcrowding, pollution, and global warming due to the greenhouse effect. Most of the population would survive on rations produced by the Soylent Corporation, the latest being Soylent Green, a green wafer advertised to contain “high-energy plankton” from the World Ocean.

Now, there is a homeless population in New York City, and New Yorkers do love their green foods and supplements (there is even a company called Soylent which creates powdered and liquid food substitutes.) At the same time, global warming is widely accepted as actual, scientific, fact. But in five years, will all New Yorkers rely on wafers that are actually made out of human corpses? Doubtful, exceptionally doubtful.

Movies from the 80s didn’t show a New York that fared much better. In 1981, Escape From New York predicted that Manhattan, in 1997, would be one giant maximum security prison following a war with the Soviet Union. By actual-1997 the Soviet Union had collapsed, and New York had not morphed into a prison. Also, thus far, no Presidents have been kidnapped and left in the hands of criminals in Manhattan.

The Fifth Element, released in 1997, certainly depicts New York City traffic, and taxicabs, in a relatively authentic way. In 2263 will we have cabs that fly? It’s more than possible, according to this New York Times article from April 2017.

The ability for a New York City lab to reconstruct a humanoid woman from the severed hand of an alien race? Even knowing that it’s mandatory to do so in order to save the universe, it still seems unlikely that our biotech (or casual hobnobbing with aliens) will have progressed that far in 146 years. Then again, 150 years ago who would have predicted that it would be possible, today, to bioprint human tissue?

The 2004 film, The Day After Tomorrow, does an admirable job flooding and then freezing New York City. But, it’s set in 2004 and while we did have the coldest January since 1977 that year, and summer brought hurricanes Ivan and Jeanne, the city survived both admirably. Also, the main branch of the New York City Public Library is an excellent place to weather any storm.

One more scenario that didn’t happen: I Am Legend. Great movie, but Will Smith has not actually turned out to be the only fully human survivor of a viral plague that swept the city in 2009. Between the anti-vaxers and the prevalence of viruses, it could, still, happen — maybe. But it hasn’t.

Which sci-fi movie, then, does get it right about New York City? In my opinion, that honor goes to The Adjustment Bureau.

The movie, starring Matt Damon as ambitious politician David Norris and Emily Blunt as beautiful contemporary ballet dancer Elise Sellas, hit theaters in 2011. It was set in present-day New York but in an alternate reality (discovered by Norris) in which the men of The Adjustment Bureau have a “plan” for each person.

The central question posed by the film is do we control our fate, or does fate control us?

It’s New York City, and no New Yorker—Norris included—is going to put up with predestination. The two characters fall in love and, despite the odds (presented by the agents of Fate itself) at the end of the movie they are together. Love conquers all. (Except, of course, subway delays.)

By |2019-05-30T19:17:51+00:00March 20th, 2018|Technology|

The Ethics of Bitcoin: Is the Cryptocurrency Better for Banking?

If you’re anything like me, you’re equal parts fascinated and befuddled by the evolving world of cryptocurrency, and Bitcoin in particular.

For those of us used to paper and plastic, the idea of a decentralized, digital payment can seem pretty pie in the sky. But many are quick to call it the currency of the future, and if the buzz is any indication, it could be. According to Realtime Bitcoin there are more than 16.5 million Bitcoins in circulation. The current exchange rate is one Bitcoin to US $3,917.83. That puts the total amount in circulation at almost US $65 trillion.

Created sometime between 2008 and 2009, Bitcoin only took off in 2013 when it hit an all-time high––at the time––of US$1,100. Over the next few years, the price fluctuated. Recently, however, the virtual coin has garnered resurgent interest, skyrocketing to an all-time high of US $4,522.13 in August.

But what caused the newfound appreciation for the cryptocurrency? And what concerns should we have regarding the ethics of Bitcoin? Technology that seems amazing often poses ethical quandaries we need to engage with, as I’ve talked about in regards to AI.

Here’s a look at the current state of Bitcoin and what it means for banking, both today and in the future.

Bitcoin’s Surge

There are a few clear reasons for the recent surge in Bitcoin stock. First, its blockchain technology has been of special interest to some major players in finance. Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, and JP Morgan believe that this technology may improve the trading of loans, securities, and derivatives.

Second, Japan and China have begun to embrace the cryptocurrency. In April, regulators in Japan introduced certain rules to integrate Bitcoin into the regular banking system (rather than peg it as an outlaw currency). This change has caused many investors to swap their Yen for Bitcoin.

In addition, Chinese authorities who have been critical of Bitcoin in the past have recently gained more tolerance for the currency. This has made Bitcoin-related investments in the region far less risky and far more attractive.

Thanks to these developments, Bitcoin has taken a step forward in legitimacy. People will be less likely to hold it for speculative purposes and start buying actual things with it.

But this begs an important question: Will Bitcoin, blockchain, and other cryptocurrencies bring us to a more ethical level of banking? Or will the challenges of these new systems create an equally murky financial system?

A Case for Bitcoin

Trust plays a key role in finance today. But what if we eliminated the need for trust in conducting business transactions? A successful transaction would be guaranteed, no matter who you were dealing with.

Garrick Hileman, an economic historian at the London School of Economics and University of Cambridge, points out, “A big part of the problem with Lehman Brothers in 2008 came from counterparty risk and the fact that settlement could not be counted on.”

With the advent of blockchain technology and smart contracts (computer programs set to execute a transaction once certain criteria are met), it could be possible to take trust out of the equation entirely. Transactions are conducted on the basis of guarantee because collateral is posted instead of withheld. Potentially, this could avoid a Lehman situation in the future.

Bitcoin also offers the advantage of cutting costs. Right now, banks put a lot of money into the transaction process. Part of the reason is that much of banking is still done manually and saturated with paperwork. This occupies both time and resources. With an automated system, verified by blockchain technology and smart contracts, we would save billions in capital, conduct transactions more quickly, and achieve it at zero marginal cost.

While the engineering behind this technology is still not yet ready to be rolled out for use in banks and other financial institutions, the promises of automated settlements, a higher level of transparency, and an overall reduction of overheads promise a more stable financial sector.

The Challenges

Cryptocurrency doesn’t come without its challenges. Though it has its proponents, some go as far as to call it “evil”. And this isn’t without reason. Those who argue against cryptocurrency have posed concerns on the anonymity of how transactions are conducted. Case in point: Bitcoin has long been associated with shady business transactions and entities such as Silk Road (which was shut down late 2014).

This anonymity, they say, allows the currency to be used for criminal activity in ways that other currencies cannot. It could be argued that this actually encourages unethical transactions.

However, it’s important to note that the anonymity isn’t absolute. Transactions conducted using Bitcoin are made public on the blockchain. That means that parties involved can be found linked to their Bitcoin addresses, although they are often difficult to find. A good example of this is the Silk Road founder, Ross Ulbricht. We were ultimately able to break the anonymity and discover his identity, but it took both time and resources.

In short, we don’t want to create a lawless market. That means there need to be additional measures put in place to ensure that the government, the technology, and the banks are in close contact. We must protect the ethics of cryptocurrency.

What it all means

Finance often falls into ethically questionable territory. That’s why banking needs an ethical solution that’s available to all parties, that is affordable and verifiable, so that there is accountability across the board.

On the other hand, the structure of cryptocurrencies and the blockchain technology allows for scalable ethical banking. This would be achieved by first combining the digital efficiency of the currency and the scalability of computers and networks. Existing rules and regulations would ensure that the consumer is adequately protected.

We’ll just have to wait and see on which side the Bitcoin lands.

By |2020-02-11T16:45:11+00:00March 12th, 2018|Culture, Current Events, Technology|

How Amazon is Redefining How Everyone Does Business

When you mention the name Amazon, one of dozens of different ventures may come to mind. Of course, there’s the website that started it all, with convenient two-day shipping and a seemingly infinite selection of goods. Maybe you think of the high-quality content arising from their Prime Video streaming service, or the Amazon Movie studio that’s released films from acclaimed auteurs like Spike Lee and Jim Jarmusch. There might even be an Amazon Echo in your home, connecting you to Amazon during your every waking hour.

Through retail, entertainment, even food, Amazon is quite clearly becoming a driving force in our everyday lives. It’s no secret that the company wields a great deal of influence over the things we buy and watch. But lesser known is just how much one particular division of the company provides the underlying support for all these products plus many others, in ways that carry serious implications not just for the company’s own business and those it hosts, but international relations and more.

Launched in 2002, Amazon Web Services (AWS) offers subscribers a complete online business platform via access to virtual computers and servers upon which they can conduct their day-to-day dealings. Thanks to an incredibly vast array of servers, a massive number of businesses from startups to industry hegemons currently conduct their operations under the Amazon umbrella.

With revenue of $17.4 billion in 2017, AWS has become a major piece of the supercorporation’s plans. Thanks to a roster of over one million clients, Amazon’s Internet dominance now reaches far beyond their retail origins. Customers of the web services range from Netflix to Unilever to the CIA, an impressively diverse set of users. We’re operating in unmapped territory when web-only businesses operate in the same sphere as colossal retail conglomerates and the world’s most powerful intelligence agency. Of course, if such a map does exist, it’s in the sole possession of Bezos and company.

To be clear, Amazon is not the only web giant offering such services. But similar initiatives from Google, Microsoft, and others don’t have nearly the reach that Amazon does, both online and off. Over a third of the entire world’s cloud computing services are handled by AWS, with no indication of slowing down. This means that, as business is increasingly done over the Internet, all roads must pass through Bezos’ domain.

Additionally, competing cloud computing services don’t have the integration with the mass shipping infrastructure that Amazon has built, nor Bezos’ continual expansion that’s been virtually without precedent. Google may be today’s biggest name in web services, but they don’t have a fleet of airplanes. Amazon does. Microsoft doesn’t have nearly 500 nationwide grocery locations with large footprints in virtually every major American city. Amazon does.

Skeptics have pointed out the potentially grave implications of one company holding this amount of power. A lengthy diatribe in The Nation magazine paints a gloomy picture of a world where all businesses must play by Amazon’s rules in order to function at all. If AWS continues to grow the way it has already through 15 years of existence, there’s no telling what the end result may be and whether new regulations will come into being to reign in the company’s ambitions.

Whether these predictions will come true or not, it’s undeniable that as the Internet is the staging area for more and more of everyday commerce, Amazon is poised to be the dominant force in that sphere and all touched by it for years to come.

By |2019-05-30T19:18:15+00:00February 24th, 2018|Technology|

The Era of EVs Is Closer Than You Think

Electric vehicles (EVs) have been around for more than a century, but have only been recently adopted as the vehicle of the future. Their rise comes as more people become conscientious about the devastating effects of fuel emissions and seeking out alternative fuel sources.

Electric cars were introduced to the world more than 100 years ago when British inventor Robert Anderson developed the first electric carriage. However, Henry Ford’s Model T introduced in 1908 soon made gasoline-powered cars more affordable for the average household, eliminating the need for electric vehicles significantly.

Today, gasoline prices continue to rise and fall and America has become dependent on foreign imports for fuel. Still, more people are aware of the effects of pollution and their carbon footprint and interest in electric vehicles is beginning to increase. According to a 2013 report from Navigant Research, electric vehicles account for more than 3 percent of new vehicle sales and are expected to increase to nearly 7 percent worldwide by 2020.

Americans now have an even better incentive to buy an electric vehicle — a kickback from the state for going green with an EV. The State of New York recently announced it will offer $2,000 to residents who choose an eco-friendly car. New York State’s Drive Clean Rebate for Electric Cars program provides up to $2,000 if you purchase an EV or a plug-in hybrid vehicle. If this purchase also ends up qualifying for a federal credit, you could save up to $7,500 on your purchase. The rebate is good for more than 30 car models and is a point-of-sale rebate — you would take $2,000 off the sticker price at the dealer for instant savings.

New York is joining more than 75 percent of the United States that are providing some type of state-level discount for reducing fuel emissions and investing in a hybrid or electric vehicle.

Are we entering the era of EVs? State and federal government entities are taking the lead on promoting the value of electric vehicles and providing incentives to stimulate sales. Plug In America, a non-profit organization, founded National Drive Electric Week in 2010 and advocates the use of plug-in cars, trucks, and sport utility vehicles. The organization points out that EVs provide better performance efficiency and since electricity prices are more stable than gasoline prices, drivers don’t have to stress too much about fluctuations in fuel costs. Plug In America also highlights the benefits of improved air quality because of fewer emissions, the convenience of skipping trips to the gas stations and worrying about oil changes, and the benefit of bringing money back to U.S. soil by reducing our dependence on imported oil.

This past year, economists noted the electric-car boom underway which has left many major oil companies concerned about potential losses as demand for oil-based fuel drops. In April 2017, Total Chief Energy Economist Joel Cause shared his forecast and insights at the Bloomberg New Energy Finance Conference in New York, stating that EVs are expected to make up 15 to 30 percent of new vehicles by 2030 which equates to more than 20 million sales of new cars.

Americans are already making the shift to electric vehicles at a steady rate; sales of EVs soared in 2016 with a total of 159,139 vehicles sold, including the Tesla Model S and Model X, Chevrolet Volt, and the Nissan Leaf. According to Forbes, sales of EVs in the United States have grown at a 32% compound annual growth rate in the past four years and we saw a 41$ global increase in sales in 2016 alone with 777,497 electric vehicles sold.

As battery prices drop and electric cars become more affordable, we may soon see a significant shift in car buying trends and an array of eco-friendly vehicle options making their way to dealerships. The traditional internal combustion engine will be slowly replaced by more efficient, low-maintenance electric vehicles available in all classes.

Demand for electric vehicles is the rise as more people adopt eco-friendly purchasing habits. As a result, we may see more gasoline-powered vehicles being replaced at even higher rates in the next few decades along with a steady disappearance of gas stations. Local governments will need to install charging stations across the city or town and electric vehicle owners will become more dependent on refueling their car from a power supply at home.

This shift could be a turning point for the history of the American consumer and for consumerism at a global level as the world becomes less reliant on foreign fuel: a less musical, and more literal form of electric slide.

By |2019-05-30T19:18:53+00:00January 19th, 2018|Technology|

Tech’s Growing Role in the Wake of Natural Disasters

Technology has brought us countless conveniences. Order an Uber with a few clicks. Tell Alexa you want a pizza. Let Google Assistant direct you to the nearest coffee shop.

All that’s nice, isn’t it? But tech can (and is) doing much more important things.

One crucial achievement technological tools have given us is the ability to respond to natural disasters more quickly and effectively. Indeed, tech has the potential to save countless lives and greatly reduce the damage when nature strikes.

Social media and mobile improve preparedness and response

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina claimed 1,833 victims and caused $108 billion in damages. Many experts argue social media and mobile technology could have saved lives, only if Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms were available like they are today.

Jason Samenow, a meteorologist and weather journalist, attests that, with social media, “messages about how severe the storm was and the importance of preparedness would have permeated society.” Decision-makers, politicians, celebrities and others would’ve been motivated to spread information across their networks and call others to do the same.

Additionally, responders could have accurately identified where help was needed. Timo Luege, a humanitarian communications and innovation consultant, wrote in a personal blog post about how FEMA director Michael Brown hadn’t known evacuees were stranded at the New Orleans Convention Center without food and water until news reporters got there. Surely this information could’ve reached FEMA much more quickly with social media — and folks could’ve been saved.

Now, compare this to 2012, when Hurricane Sandy hit. More than 3.2 million Tweets using the hashtag #Sandy were published on the first day. During the height of the storm, people posted 10 pictures of what was happening on Instagram every second. This enabled anyone with a mobile device or internet access to see the latest information, and helped responders work more effectively. Mobile and social media undoubtedly saved lives.

Big data and IoT create predictions and accurate real-time info

Big — and open — data and the internet of things (IoT) showed its power to be used for good during Hurricane Harvey in 2017. Thanks to gauges that had been installed inside Harris County’s intricate bayou system, which is used to collect and drain water, residents and rescuers could see in real time where flooding was most severe. FEMA and other responders were then able to quickly mobilize resources to help areas in danger.

Even before a natural disaster hits, technology can save lives by pinpointing what areas will be hit hardest and identifying the best evacuation routes. This data gives rescuers actionable insights about how to best allocate and deploy resources as well.

For instance, NASA and NOAA, along with municipalities, are now utilizing sensor data, satellite imagery, and other surveillance to give first responders and volunteers valuable information into potential problems — before they happen. As more data is collected and mined, machine learning algorithms will continually improve. And that will improve the effectiveness of all rescue operations during natural disasters.

This is truly a noteworthy development. Everyone must be aware of how technology can aid us during natural disasters. As Chris Wilder, an IoT expert, says, “Although the severity of the disasters might increase, the loss of life has been greatly reduced by improvements in communications and the distribution of information.”

Autonomous technology delivers supplies, finds survivors, and assesses damage

Victims in the midst of natural disasters require food, water, clothes, medical equipment, life jackets, and other supplies to survive. In both rural and urban areas, it can be difficult to reach everyone. New technologies not only help us locate where people in need are, but also actually deliver life-saving supplies.

Unmanned aerial vehicles (that is, drones) can serve an especially important role during natural disasters, specifically when survivors are cut off from evacuation routes. For example, in China, the National Earthquake Response Support Service is using drones to find survivors, deliver food and supplies, and coordinate rescue attempts.

In the aftermath of disasters, drones provide assistance as well. Once Hurricane Irma in 2017 had passed, drones flew over areas in Florida, assessing the damage to buildings, roads, tunnels, bridges, and more. This has made relief efforts more effective, rebuilding more efficient, and insurance claims less time-consuming.

Beyond autonomous vehicles, boats, and aircraft, even autonomous balloons are proving to be very helpful when natural disasters strike. When Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico so hard in late 2017, Google’s Project Loon sent balloons to the island, and beamed internet connectivity to more than 100,000 people.

Technology: The Key to Drastically Improving Disaster Response

I’ve been amazed by how we’ve come together during natural disasters. Major advancements in technology, especially social media, mobile, and AI, have equipped us with tools to do an even better job. We must be sure to use these tools to the fullest extent when a hurricane, tornado, earthquake, or other disaster hits. It’s the key to saving lives.

By |2018-01-02T20:36:18+00:00January 2nd, 2018|Culture, Current Events, Technology, Urban Planning|

For Seniors and Disabled People, Adaptive Technology Helps at Home

Seniors and disabled people have specific living space challenges. Luckily, technology makes things easier.

When it comes to safety and accessibility, not all homes are created equal. In fact, a recent New York Times article highlights the difficulties of “aging in place.” The article states that less than 4 percent of the U.S. housing market has the three most important accessibility features. In order for older or disabled people to move, safely, around their living spaces they need entrances without steps, single-floor living, and wide hallways and doorways that can accommodate wheelchairs.

How many New Yorkers need to adapt their homes in order actually live there? Data shows that there are more than a million people, over the age of 65, living in New York City. According to a report by the Center for Independence of the Disabled, New York, “In New York City, there are 889,219 individuals with disabilities; that is, 11.0 percent of the population.”

Together, that means there are nearly 2 million New Yorkers that may need to adapt their homes in order to engage in standard activities of daily living. Both populations experience barriers, physical and communications-related, that the young and able-bodied don’t face, but that’s where New York grit and determination, combined with technology, come into play.

Because, whether the challenge is a senior’s desire to stay in their home, or a physical disability, adaptive technology is making things just a bit more user-friendly for people at all ages and stages of physicality.

The first place to consider adaptive technology is literally at the front door. Entering and leaving a home, or apartment, is a daily activity for most. Ideally, a door entry system with a keypad or hands free access should be installed at a height that’s convenient, usually about three-feet. Caretakers and family members can also have fobs, or access codes.

Senior safety devices are a growing field. Given that, according to the CDC, about 33 percent of accidents and falls involving people aged 65 and over occur at home, a Personal Emergency Response System, Medical Alert, or Medical Emergency Response System is a very good idea. All systems work easily; the push of a button summons emergency help (police, ambulance, etc.) immediately. The technology has been around for a while and today’s systems have three components. A small radio transmitter in the form of a “help” button carried or worn by the user sends a signal to the console, or base station, connected to the user’s telephone. The console automatically dials the Central Monitoring Station and an emergency response center monitors those calls.

On the other end of the technology spectrum are electronic personal assistants, like the Amazon Echo. “Alexa,” the electronic voice that takes requests from the user, can do everything from reciting the daily news, to setting a timer or alarm (think, medication reminder!) That’s without even considering the 15 thousand (and growing) list of “Skills” that can be added to Alexa’s “to do” list. For instance, Smart Skills allows the user to control lights and thermostats via the voice controlled system Uber and Lyft both have skills that can be enabled, making it easier on people who don’t drive.

(Of course, in New York, there are also cabs and excellent public transportation.)

For anyone who doesn’t want a Medical Alert system, but might need help quickly, The Ask My Buddy skill will send a notification (text, SMS or phone call) to a preselected contact. It’s perfect for emergencies when the phone is out of reach.

The ultimate in technology-that-helps is, of course, robotics. Toyota announced, in July, that it had completed its first in-home trial of the Human Support Robot (HSR.) The meter-high robot successfully helped a 100 percent disabled veteran with basic household tasks like opening doors and picking up a bottle of water.

The video makes it clear that this sort of technological assistance is life-changing.

Technology “gadgets” have the reputation of being novelties, but when those devices are used to help people live better, safer, more independent lives then it’s clear that they are valuable tools and not just toys.

By |2019-05-30T19:21:07+00:00September 19th, 2017|Technology|

4 Urban Planning Influencers and Innovators Worth Knowing

When the City Museum of New York held an exhibition on Manhattan’s layout, they named it the “Greatest Grid” because of the importance of planning in Manhattan’s success. Urban planning as a profession only developed in the 1800s, around the time the Manhattan grid was being set. While now we think of planners as a modern activity, the people who initially shaped cities had different problems and priorities.

In ancient times, cities were located on areas of strategic military importance, commercial interests such as ports, or spiritual centers. Planning the layout wasn’t particularly important, especially for each new leader who wanted to leave their mark. People resisted organization, too. When Rome burned in AD64, a proposal to make streets uniform and planned was turned down by the public.

Urban planning became a respected practice much later. At the first international urban planning conference in 1898, social workers and doctors stressed about overpopulation causing disease to spread, but the focus was mainly on an even more alarming challenge: horse manure from the many carriages in the streets. We’ve come a long way since then.

Here are four major influencers and innovators in the world of urban planning, both past and present.

James Corner and Field Operations

Having achieved fame through the New York City High Line, James Corner has also changed the way people interact with city streets and skylines. Being lifted into the air on the High Line changes our perspective, lets us see in windows, and lets us take a break from the world below. He is a landscape architect and academic, balancing structured human creations with wild nature. Some of this work involves undoing what city planners, and the natural course of a city’s changes, have done before him. In Cleveland, Corner adjusted the town square from a busy traffic center to return it to the original 1796 idea of a public meeting area.

Jane Jacobs

As an activist, Jacobs protested, rioted, was arrested, wrote at Harvard, and moved to Canada. She lived a full life, and wrote The Death and Life of Great American Cities, a book which looks at how a city is made up of neighborhoods and people, not just streets and buildings. Jacobs argued for diversity as a key to safety and success. She pointed out that everyone in a neighborhood lives and acts the same, the streets would be empty at certain hours. If everyone shopped and thought the same, small businesses would never find customers. Her theories about mixed housing are visible in New York’s streets today, where 24hr corner store bodegas are the backbone of some neighborhoods.

Sharon Zukin

As a professor at Brooklyn College, Zukin thinks and writes about New York City. In her book The Cultures of Cities, she looks at urban spaces and whether public space is really open to the public. She examines what culture influences a public space, and considers the role of the private-sector. Zukin also advocates for small businesses in New York versus chain stores, and considers how New York has changed over time and influenced the world by popularizing lofts that were once occupied by artists.

Donald Shoup

On the other coast, Shoup is Distinguished Research Professor in the Department of Urban Planning at UCLA. He also has a lively url for his personal website. His focus is on parking and the major social and economic toll that parking spaces can take on a city. He argues that everyone pays for parking, via increased costs in businesses, housing, and taxes. More importantly, money spent on parking removes funds from public transport, as well as bike and walking infrastructure. His attention to cars has shifted entire city plans from ‘minimum parking requirement’ to ‘maximum parking allowance’ for some developments.

Whether you agree or disagree with these influential planners, they each bring an important perspective on how we exist together in cities.

By |2018-10-31T19:01:53+00:00August 17th, 2017|Culture, Technology, Urban Planning|