Life After Robots: The Jobs Report

The giddy technology boosters of Wired magazine can't wait for our robotic future, when we will give thanks to the robots for taking our old jobs away so that we can do more interesting and better paying work: "Wow, now that robots are doing my old job, my new job is much more fun and pays more!"

Unfortunately, this optimistic wish-thinking shows an embarrassing ignorance of economic history, including recent history.

Can Computers Compose a Hit Music Single?

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Computers can beat us at chess. They can beat us at Jeopardy-style trivia. They can out-calculate us and make fewer mistakes on rote problems.

Can computers write better music? What would it take for them to compose a #1 hit music single?

For ideas, I finally got around to reading Raymond Kurzweil's book The Singularity Is Near, a touchstone of futuristic thinking.

Cities of the Future

Well-heeled liberals tend to assume that everyone should live in cities, and the world would be a better place for all. People would consume less energy for transportation and temperature control. They'd get more exercise from walking and taking public transit, extending their lives. Quaint Jane Jacobs-style neighborhoods would improve people's daily routines with friendly local businesses and amenities.

All of that could well be true. But here's why it might go a different way.

A Modest Proposal for Silicon Valley Housing

A modest proposal to fix the Bay Area housing crunch: Fill in the southern part of San Francisco Bay with landfill and build a 21st century city of earthquake resistant glass.

All of the land from the Dumbarton Bridge south could be converted from salt marshes and foul smelling sludge to a glorious city of the future. That could solve the housing shortage and bring prices back to earth, simultaneously allowing Silicon Valley to expand and grow still more.

It's no secret that Silicon Valley has the highest real estate prices in the US. The reasons are many, including high salaries, pleasant climate, beautiful geography, jobs -- and a dire lack of houses.

Yes, Silicon Valley real estate prices are the highest in the nation for many reasons. And all of them could go away if governments just let developers build enough more, and limited the ability of existing property owners to block what other people can do on their own land.

Local communities exercise near veto rights over development near them, and city planners and developers find it difficult to win many small battles over tiny plots of land. Broad expanses of land abound in the ridge of hills and mountains between the bay and the ocean. But those are widely considered beautiful, and it's near inconceivable that such stunning parkland will be developed anytime soon.

Meanwhile, the southern part of the bay is not generally considered beautiful. It's filled with famously smelly salt marshes that serve only modest ecological value. Their benefits could readily be offset with eco-friendly preservation somewhere else.

Even better, the water comes within walking distance of Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Cisco and Tesla. It's a prime location, much more so than San Francisco, so many miles further north, away from the high tech center of the Bay Area.

A new city, literally in the bay, would provide expansion area and take pressure off of housing prices. Better yet, an inchoate city would allow the vaunted technology visionaries of Silicon Valley to experiment in urban design, engineering the public transit, housing, and earthquake resistance of the future, supporting their own high tech economy and showing an example for the world.

And no human infants need be eaten or sold.

Why not? Please share your reasons.

Related posts:
Silicon Valley Housing Crunch
Building Foundations for Innovation in China


Real and Virtual Violence

As the US contemplates a military strike against Syria, it's easy to lament the violent state of the world. But real-world violence has declined remarkably, as detailed in Steven Pinker's book.

Instead, violence has become virtual -- moving into video games and movies, like the summer's blockbusters. Previously, I argued that (virtual) violence has actually increased with technology, because it's far easier and less risky to kill video game villains than to pick a real physical fight.

Where's the Money in Big Data?

So asks NY Times writer James Glanz in his recent article, "Is Big Data an Economic Big Dud?"

The short answer to his question is no. Now for the slightly longer answer.

Silicon Valley Housing Crunch

Rents and real estate prices have gone crazy in Silicon Valley and San Francisco. What's going on? Is it sustainable or a high tech bubble all over again?