Getting Real About HQ2

The much-hyped HQ2 sweepstakes has finally come to a close, but many in the winning cities aren’t feeling so triumphant. Two major metros, New York and DC, will play host to the currently-Seattle-based tech behemoth’s newest nerve centers. Here at the upper end of the Northeast Corridor, Amazon’s announced Queens-based plans have come with a great deal of controversy, with local politicos and opinion makers alike voicing real concerns about effects-economic, social, and more-of this new development.  

As a New Yorker who follows the tech scene closely, I’ve heard a lot about HQ2 that doesn’t quite sit right with me. In the interest of lending a street-level perspective to the proceedings, here are 3 facts about the deal that are getting lost in the clamor.

 

Over 12,000 non-tech jobs will be created

Fears of a new Amazon-bolstered NYC tech elite were fed by the reported 25,000 new jobs that the company expects to create with HQ2. In truth, only half of those jobs (still an admittedly large number) will be in tech-influenced positions where salaries can hit the higher six figures. The other half will be in the same support positions you’d find at any large organization: administrative, custodial, and other jobs that can better draw on the diverse talent pool of Queens and the rest of the city. Don’t forget, too, that the city’s minimum wage will be hitting $15/hour by the end of 2018. It seems likely that working New Yorkers of all ages and levels of experience will have a chance to find new professional fulfillment in HQ2.

 

In a city of 8 million, 25,000 is a drop in the bucket

25,000 open jobs is a big number to see on paper, but in a city as big as New York, 25,000 is a pittance. It’s likely that the vast majority of us who don’t normally pass through LIC will see no changes whatsoever. Even if every single job is taken by someone who currently doesn’t live here, that’s hardly an invasion. The announced number is about the equivalent of the enrollment of the city’s six biggest high schools (there are over 120 in Queens alone). Do we stress every year about new graduates flooding the city? This is New York, not Cedar Rapids. We’ve benefitted from a constant influx of talented and smart people since the 1600s, and HQ2’s changes will amount to just one more round of newcomers.

 

Long Island City will change, but that’s nothing new

Make no mistake, if the majority of Amazon-inspired arrivals choose to take up residence close to their new place of employment, Long Island City will see the brunt of the cultural changes. But for a neighborhood that was little more than a courthouse and a few commercial strips (and one lonely skyscraper) only a couple decades ago, Amazon’s move is the cherry on top of a long process of evolution. Few neighborhoods have exploded in popularity like LIC in the past decade-plus, and this was underway well before Bezos and company set their sights on the locale. A tech campus is perhaps befitting the scores of new bars, restaurants and other hotspots in this part of town.

Any worries about Amazon affecting culture ought to be assuaged by the fact that this city always has and always will be changing, tech companies or no tech companies. It’s the people, not the corporations, that make New York City what it is, and I know I’m not alone in saying that no company is big enough to change the Big Apple itself.

By |2019-05-30T19:12:15+00:00December 12th, 2018|Current Events, Technology|

The Tech That Predicted Hurricane Florence

This past September, as Hurricane Florence bore down on the Atlantic coastline, researchers and forecasters were more prepared than ever before to deal with the daunting effects of the upcoming storm. While these destructive forces of nature will never be truly neutralized, cutting-edge observation systems have made predicting their effects, and making people safer, easier than ever. That’s not to say it’s a simple task.

While today’s satellites can predict typical weather conditions fairly accurately, patterns of hurricanes making their way over the ocean are a bit more complicated. Predicting a hurricane’s path is tricky, which is why scientists work hard to gather as much data as possible from each major storm to better predict the next one.

Over the past few decades, however, weather forecasters have been able to rely on the combination of satellite technology, advanced radar systems, and well-designed hurricane aircraft to bring about a clearer picture of hurricane and tropical storm behavior than ever thought possible. Today’s technologies allow researchers and forecasters to track a hurricane’s path and predict its size and force with a remarkably high degree of accuracy.

Up Close and Personal Data Collection

Accurately predicting the path and potential damage of a storm requires some truly up close and personal data collection that’d be far too dangerous for a human to conduct in person. To get the most valuable information available, researchers have a secret weapon about the size of a paper towel roll: the dropsonde. Dropsondes are designed by Vaisala, a company based out of Louisville, Colorado. These appropriately named devices are dropped out of high-altitude planes, directly into the hurricane to gather and send data about the storm to pilots and research labs.

Originally developed by the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, these tools, formally the Airborne Vertical Atmospheric Profiling System (AVAPS™) debuted in 1997 for operational weather forecasting and atmospheric research efforts.

Dubbed by the National Science Foundation ‘workhorses in hurricane forecasting’ dropsondes can withstand extreme hurricane conditions to provide accurate, useful data. Each dropsonde is relatively lightweight and loaded with sensors. They’re small and efficiently designed, capable of capturing data twice per second in the harshest conditions imaginable.

Released from airplanes straight into the storm, dropsondes fall to the ground quickly, making every second of data collection extremely precious. Developers attach a small parachute to each unit — slowing down the drop rate so the devices can accurately measure temperature, humidity, wind speeds, and other important data points. Back at the research center, scientists can extrapolate all the data to formulate detailed projections, adding to a body of knowledge that will one day predict hurricanes the way we can today forecast a sunny afternoon.

Tracking the Hurricane in real time

During Hurricane Florence, research scientists at NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory were even able to launch high-tech weather balloons into the middle of the hurricane to capture data. Sensors inside the balloon helped scientists monitor Hurricane Florence as it made its way to the shore and transitioned from a hurricane to a tropical depression. This type of technology helps data scientists analyze various conditions before, during, and after the hurricane, track the hurricane’s path, and make accurate estimates and assumptions when building models.

The National Hurricane Center has a formal process in place for forecasting all types of tropical cyclone activity in the Atlantic and Pacific around North America and are responsible for communicating their forecasts every six hours. They use everything from satellites, aircraft, ships, buoys, radar devices, and land-based tools to track hurricanes and predict their paths as accurately as possible. Once a hurricane looks like it will make landfall and is identified as a real threat, it’s closely monitored by the U.S. Air Force and NOAA hurricane craft.

While the storms themselves can’t be stopped, high-tech data collection and analysis can greatly reduce the risk presented by each new storm, and influence building and city planning practices to further protect residents from these incredibly powerful weather systems. This high-tech development, perfected over time, will one day make hurricanes like Florence a much less daunting event. That’s an evolution worth applauding.

By |2019-05-30T19:13:00+00:00October 4th, 2018|Technology|

How Do New York City’s Bookstores Stay in Business in the 21st Century?

With Amazon eating up a growing share of book sales, and the worlds of music and movies going digital, it seemed like it was only a matter of time until local booksellers went the way of the Automat. The convenience and unmatchable selection of online shopping, at Bezos’ store, in particular, was thought to be a death knell for the traditional bookselling model. While it’s true that many bookstores, both corporate chains, and local favorites, have fallen by the wayside, the independent bookseller is far from disappeared.

For devotees of brick-and-mortar bookshops, the current scene is highly encouraging. There’s reason to be optimistic for the next generation of readers in the five boroughs. For a variety of reasons, new and old independent bookstores have been surviving and thriving in this new economy. These are three of them, each with their own qualities to stand out in a crowded marketplace.

 

Know Your Audience – Printed Matter

Funded by a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting contemporary art, Printed Matter has existed in New York since 1977, moving from TriBeCa to SoHo to their current home on 11th Avenue in Chelsea. Managed by an artist’s foundation, Printed Matter is credited with popularizing art books as a whole, making the printed page a viable medium for unique artistic expression and not just pictures of paintings.

A new planned location in the East Village is just one of several art bookstores planned for the neighborhood, proof that this niche is one that inspires visits from devotees in enough numbers to support multiple locations. A retail outlet that knows its audience and even shapes it through thoughtful curation of their offerings can see long life, no matter how much the market churns. Printed Matter proves that customer identity matters.

 

Community Roots – Lit Bar

While this one has yet to open, the story of its origin is emblematic of the new bookstore trend. Barnes and Noble, the nation’s sole remaining major bookstore chain, announced in 2014 that their final Bronx outpost would be closing, leaving the borough of 1.4 million people without one solitary bookstore. Petitions were filed, protests held, but by the end of 2016, the Bronx was bookless.

Enter Noelle Santos. One of the passionate protesters went entrepreneurial to fight the tides, and her store, Lit Bar, a combination wine bar and family-friendly bookstore is slated to open this fall. Modeled on Denver, Colorado’s BookBar with a uniquely NYC twist, Santos’ bookstore will hopefully serve as proof that the Bronx is ready for a new resurgence of bookshops in this century.

 

More than material – Books Are Magic

Author Emma Straub’s Cobble Hill, Brooklyn store has been the toast of the area in the year since it’s opened, serving as the spiritual replacement for long-beloved neighborhood institution Book Court, which closed in 2016 when its owners decided to call it a career.

Straub’s new store wasted no time in making their name known, thanks in large part to a robust social media presence featuring the store’s highly Instagrammable outer mural and a pristinely manicured interior. But it’s not all style and no substance: frequent in-store author appearances and signings as well as sponsorship of larger events (a recent reading featuring Stephen King at St. Ann’s Church downtown drew a capacity crowd) combine with an ever-updated selection allowing Books are Magic to comprehensively serve “New York’s book borough” thoughtfully, pleasing both eyes and minds.

 

These stories may not necessarily be a detailed blueprint for booksellers to navigate today’s market, but they illustrate the fact that unique, independent retailers still have a place in New York City. For any retail outlet, offering the same experience as the place next door isn’t going to cut it in a world where nearly anything can be bought from the comforts of home, and the bookstore scene has adjusted accordingly.

Interestingly, even Amazon runs two brick-and-mortar bookstores in the city, proof that the physical space still has viability for corporate retailers, even if they exist partially to promote online offerings. It seems now that the death of the bookstore was greatly exaggerated. For book lovers of the five boroughs, these and other locations are providing a good reason to get off the couch and head out to get their fix.

By |2019-05-30T19:13:35+00:00September 17th, 2018|Culture|

Taking a Byte Out of Real Estate with Cryptocurrency

Whether it’s a bubble or bona fide, anyone who pays even cursory attention to the financial world can’t deny that bitcoin is a force to be reckoned with. The decentralized digital cryptocurrency, a form of payment comprised of lines of code, entered the mainstream consciousness late in 2017 and has remained a controversial topic.

The currency that’s purely digital whose value rises and falls quite unpredictably has understandably earned many antagonists. But for true believers, bitcoin represents a revolution in money, where power has been wrested from big bankers and into the hands of the people who use it. So what does that mean for real estate, where major, life-changing transactions happen every day?

There’s been a number of quick adapters all over the industry. From the East coast to the west and even across the globe, Bitcoin has come into enthusiastic use for purchasing real estate. To say that these sellers are simply hopping on the newest craze sells a bit short the advantages that bitcoin carries for the property business.

Average people joining the bitcoin revolution enjoy the freedom from financial institutions that cryptocurrency offers. Rather than a credit card where you’re entrusting your money to a network of institutions, crypto is a one-stop shop without third party interests or issuers taking their cut.

This simplicity in moving funds around is a special advantage when purchasing real estate. The ease of movement eliminates the long waiting periods necessary for looping in the banks, lenders, and fee payments that have been part and parcel of real estate transactions for generations. Today’s cutting-edge homebuyer, armed with bitcoin, can close as soon as they find a property they like, as long as they have a seller willing to play ball. Such expediency is an undeniable advantage.

Buyers hoping for privacy will find exactly what they’re looking for with bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies as well. In an industry where secrecy is often a must for major private transactions, the untraceable, encrypted payment enabled by blockchain technology can give anonymous buyers the complete discretion they desire. Blockchain can also cut down on fraud, so even faceless buyers can be held to the same standard of financial transparency as the rest of us when it comes to spending funds.

Some influential names in real estate proclaim to be intrigued by the Bitcoin craze, but when pressed admit they don’t want to tie their own money into crypto. The risk factor in using a currency that’s more like a commodity is simply too volatile for many, and the potential that bitcoin amounts to another risky bubble has left major financial giants steering clear. So where does that leave the average homebuyer?

For many everyday people, buying a home is enough of a major undertaking without adding in the risk of dealing with such a volatile payment method. In a real estate world prone to bubbles in its own right, mixing bitcoin into the equation may well pile on risk to a situation where buyers and sellers would rather minimize, not multiply, potential hazards.

But for those untimid about riding the ups and downs of this craze wherever it may end up, there are worse things you can do with your money than acquire some valuable real estate. With a growing number of agents and sellers using bitcoin to gain an edge on the competition, you may well end up financing the house of your dreams with money that exists only in computer servers. If the unpredictability of cryptocurrency can be held in check in the future, expect this to truly be the beginning of a transformation in real estate.

By |2020-02-11T16:33:35+00:00September 5th, 2018|Technology|

The Major Problem with New York’s Cyberbullying Bill

The Major Problem With New York’s Cyberbullying Bill

What would you do if you found out your child might face time in juvenile detention for a few mean comments posted online? The question itself seems shocking; parents and non-parents alike would agree that the punishment seems a little extreme. And yet, in early June, the New York State Senate officially put just that into law. Here excerpted, it reads:

“Any person who knowingly engages in a repeated course of cyberbullying of a minor shall be guilty of an unclassified misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not more than one thousand dollars, or by a period of imprisonment not to exceed one year, or by both such fine and imprisonment.”

Despite outlining startling consequences for cyberbullies, the legislation doesn’t specify what offenders would need to do to become criminally liable. Most people get the gist: cyberbullying occurs when one or more people harass or abuse another person using electronic means. But what does that mean from a prosecutor’s standpoint? Is a “repeated course of cyberbullying” two mean texts, four malicious Facebook posts, or an all-out campaign across multiple social platforms? Where do we draw the line — and how do we determine when someone crosses it?

Moreover, the sole point the legislation makes clear — the protection of minors — only raises more questions. It’s simple enough to make a swift and severe judgment call when an adult bullies a minor online, but the situation is less cut-and-dried when both parties are young. Does an accused minor’s age make a difference? Would we prosecute a twelve-year-old with the same severity we would a seventeen-year-old? The answers to these questions remain unanswered.

My aim here isn’t to undermine the legislature’s noble intentions, but simply to point out that this bill’s pervasive vagueness renders it ineffective as a legal deterrent.

In 2014, a similarly unclear anti-cyberbullying law in Albany County fell under scrutiny from the New York State Supreme Court. The published rationale behind limiting the 2014 language argued that the wording was undefined to the point of making it difficult to enforce; a child’s prank call to an adult could constitute — and legally face severe punishment for — cyberbullying. As a result of this case, the current definition for the term includes “only three types of electronic communications sent with the intent to inflict emotional harm on a child: (1) sexually explicit photographs; (2) private or personal sexual information; and (3) false sexual information with no legitimate public, personal or private purpose.” Given that the 2018 bill does not define cyberbullying beyond the referenced text here, it’s unlikely to hold up any more sustainably or effectively than its predecessor.

Now, this definition works well enough in cases where sexually explicit content is a factor — but what if it isn’t? How do we protect the children who have to handle endless texted cruelty, social media hate, and online harassment?

These questions are what make the vagueness of Senate Bill S2318A so frustrating. Bullying, both online and in-person, is an epidemic in our schools. A 2016 study conducted by the Cyberbullying Research Center found that a full 34% of students in a nationally-representative sample reported experiencing repeated and intentional harassment and mistreatment via cell phones or other electronic devices. That’s a horrifying number, especially once you consider that kids who experience cyberbullying often struggle with depression, anxiety, and loneliness as a result — typically for long after they leave school. Kids who bully don’t get away scot-free either; many carry the abusive behaviors they develop during school into their adult relationships and fall into substance abuse patterns.

Cyberbullying is a destructive force in today’s schools, and our kids deserve more than a vague half-measure that, despite providing severe consequences, falls short of defining what “cyberbullying” is in the eyes of the law. The intention behind this recent legislation was good-hearted and well-meant, but we can do better.

By |2019-05-30T19:14:38+00:00July 9th, 2018|Current Events|

The Big App Pull: NYC Finally Awash in Free Wireless Internet

New York City’s history may be as deep and as complex as its subway system–but that doesn’t mean we should keep our eyes on the past. Of a stunning 8 million residents, too many New Yorkers have been left behind without reliable internet access. Now, both in the subway tunnels and on the streets, spaces shared in NYC have been linked to the rest of the web-bound world.

After enlisting a private company to install and maintain service last year, the MTA finally delivered on a long-held promise: wiring the entire tunnel-bound section of New York’s subway system with 4G connectivity. As a result, all 279 underground subway stations are equipped to fulfill New Yorkers’ web browsing, apps, calls, and texting needs while they ride the rails.

The same private contractor, Transit Wireless, installed free WiFi, giving straphangers multiple options to stay online during their commute. This move was long overdue, and a welcome change for a mass transit system with a variety of issues that have no quick fix in sight. While trains may not be moving at their highest efficiency, riders will at least have a wealth of activities at hand to get through delays. Both this cell hookup and subway WiFi came online well ahead of schedule, a rare but welcome change of pace from the usual transit timeline.

New Yorkers have their well-earned grievances with the subway system as it stands–but there’s no denying that this new internet-friendliness represents a major upgrade. And it’s not the only way the city has allowed for better internet access, as public high-tech connectivity has expanded above ground. Thanks to the new LinkNYC kiosks around the five boroughs, public WiFi covers an increasing number of our city sidewalks as well.

A 21st century take on the payphone, these kiosks offer free “super fast” WiFi, two USB connections for charging on the go, and a built-in phone to make free calls nationwide. 55-inch HD screens on the sides of these kiosks display NYC fun facts, bus arrival times, subway line updates, and advertisements, the last of which provides funding for the project.

A consortium of contractors referred to as CityBridge are responsible for installing and maintaining the units, with the city receiving 50% of gross revenues in return for the street space. While it’s important to always use caution when connecting to public WiFi, the encrypted connection offered by LinkNYC allows users to browse the web with confidence. With over 7,000 of these kiosks projected citywide by 2024, we can expect a city nearly blanketed by high-speed WiFi. This is no small task when covering over 8 million citizens.

Since the payphone system was installed in the early 1900s, New Yorkers have become accustomed to convenient communication no matter where they turn. Now, with most phone calls perpetually within arms’ reach, these new WiFi deployments offer an appropriately modern convenience with no quarters necessary.

Following this disruptive implementation, New Yorkers are already looking to what’s next. With our streets and subways now awash with WiFi, might public EV charging stations be far behind? Perhaps an AI-inflected solution to the delays plaguing underground transit?

In a city that’s always looking for the next big thing, public WiFi has been well overdue and is thankfully now here. For the next big leap forward, whether above ground or below, there ought to be no limit to our thinking.

By |2019-05-30T19:15:39+00:00June 11th, 2018|Technology|

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|