Tag Archives: Technology

Bay Area IPO’s Coming to Raise Your Rent

The San Francisco Bay Area seems to be on a housing treadmill. Just as housing inventory started to grow and prices responded accordingly in some areas, tech companies are planning to go public. Airbnb, Lyft, Pintrest, Slack Technologies, and Uber are expected to issue initial public offerings in 2019. This will mean an infusion of cash into the pockets of the many tech workers who own their company’s stock. The logical thing to expect these workers to do is to use the cash to purchase a home. No more growing housing inventory and possible growing housing prices.

IPOs and Housing Prices

Doubt the correlation between IPOs and housing prices? Market Watch has a good article on the subject.

Zillow examined the link between Facebook’s IPO in 2012 and rising home prices across the Bay Area and found that home values rose more quickly in neighborhoods with higher concentrations of Facebook employees after the social network became a publicly-traded company.

Specifically, every 10 Facebook employees living in a given U.S. Census tract at the time of the IPO were associated with an extra 1.6-percentage-points increase in home values over the following year, the report said.

In dollar figures, the median value home in a neighborhood with a high concentration of Facebook workers rose by an extra $20,800 between May 2012 and May 2013.

Business Clusters 

In the Bay Area, companies highly valued by market standards, as well as startups hoping to join the value crowd at some point, are concentrated in close proximity to one another.  They comprise the world-famous Silicon Valley hub. This concentration affords the most return on investment for the companies, for their host government jurisdiction, and for homeowners in the community.

Clusters and cluster strategies cannot be seen as the answer to every economic challenge faced by a community or region. However, they do represent a valuable tool that economic development stakeholders should have at their disposal. A cluster approach may be most useful in helping officials and practitioners to see a community’s economy in a new way—not as a collection of individual firms, but as a system in which interventions can assist companies, industries, and the entire community.  Cluster-Based Economic Development Strategies, International City/County Management Association, March 29, 2012

Business clusters are the in thing, and the Bay Area has jumped on the bandwagon with two feet. But, when cluster advocates say clusters benefit “the entire community,” are they including those folks in the community’s lower and middle-income brackets who rent their homes? Those community residents might be employed by fast-food restaurant, or might be the people educating your kids in neighborhood schools or caring for your toddlers. Chances are they will never get their hands on IPOs, do not own a home, and never will own a home in the Bay Area.  But as prices increase due to the IPO infusion of cash, their rents will go up.  And forget about rent control, since everybody pays for that by way of taxes or prices.

Is There a Line of Defense?

The Bay Area has chosen to engage in an endless tug of war between developers and slow-growth advocates, high-income workers and lower-income workers, landlords and renters, YIMBYs and NYMBYs.  Meanwhile, housing costs are transforming the Bay Area into a poster child for unaffordability.  Maybe it is time for all sectors to give in a little by balancing housing and business spaces in every community.

Progressive Cities: We Have a Problem

San Francisco is one of California’s jewel cities.  Prized not only for its magnificent views, but also for its progressive populace.  There is not a tax the City does not love, or a compassionate deed that is left undone.

Yet, the City’s vistas, cable cars, resident technology giants, multi-million dollar mansions, as well as its busybody Board of Supervisors have taken a back seat in the City’s consciousness to its streets littered with human feces, discarded needles, and homeless misery. San Francisco has 7,499 unsheltered and sheltered individuals, in the streets or in temporary living arrangements. This number is not surprising, since one-quarter of homeless people in the United States live in California, even though Californians make up only 12% of the U.S. population.

Once Far Back In Time and Now

CableCarTurstile

San Francisco was once called “The City That Knows How,” where streets were clean and safe. Those were the days before the immense tragedy of the AIDS epidemic, before liberals took over City Hall, before developers – for profit or not – joined forces with corporate think tanks to redraw the City, before environmentalists hit upon the gold mine of climate change, and before the City’s Department of Public Works had a Poop Patrol or the City’s Department of Health had free injection needles.

Now Downtown, and increasingly the neighborhoods, is a place where one walks gingerly in order not to accidentally step of human faces or on discarded needles. In spite of the talk about placing children’s playgrounds in every neighborhood, parents are cautious least their children are inadvertently injured by drug paraphernalia on the ground.

Why the Descent Into Hades?

Unfortunately, no one agrees on the cause of the City’s descent; therefore, remedies are irrelevant and ineffective. The laundry list of culprits is varied:

* High-income technology workers that bid up housing costs and displace lower-income residents.

* Out-of-towners attracted by relatively balmy weather that allow for outdoor living, generous public assistance, a permissive population, and free injection needles.

* A welfare-homeless cabal that profits from the homeless trade. Think social workers, non-profit organizations, shelter operators, food banks.

* Legislators that seem to work to attract and keep the homeless. For example, the City is working hard to establish “safe-injection sites,” where homeless addicts can shoot up under the supervision of medical professionals. Another example, the City’s Mayor has proposed legislation that would forcefully place homeless individuals who cannot take care of themselves into conservatorships administered by the City’s Public Guardian. Once plugged into a conservatorship, no legal escape from the City is possible without a Court order.

From the Experts

The health implications of the mounting trash are stark. Discarded needles may be contaminated with diseases like Hepatitis B and C and HIV, infectious disease scientist Lee Riley told NBC Bay Area back in February. Dried feces, he added, can release viruses into the air … Riley, a University of California, Berkeley scientist who has researched the effects of extreme poverty on the health of some of the poorest groups in the world, said the contamination in San Francisco was “much greater than [in] communities in Brazil or Kenya or India.”  Newsweek 08/02/18

Mohammed Nuru, the director of San Francisco Public Works, told Boston’s NPR-affiliated WBUR station the waste is tied to the San Francisco’s high rates of homelessness. People often live in tents with little access to sanitation facilities or trash collection, he said … “Our city has been a magnet for providing services, and you know a large number of the people we see on our streets are not necessarily from San Francisco,” Nuru told WBUR. “They’re coming from surrounding counties and in some cases even from across state lines.”  Newsweek 08/02/18

San Francisco has a ‘Poop Patrol’ to deal with its feces problem, and workers make more than $184,000 a year in salary and benefits.  Business Insider 08/24/18

The main reason that so many people in San Francisco, and other cities like Los Angeles, are living on the streets is that the cost of housing over the past two decades has vastly exceeded the amount of income that people earn making minimum-wage jobs or bring in from modest pensions, disability, or welfare … Before Reagan took office and destroyed the American safety net, and San Francisco decided to be the West Coast Manhattan, you could live on SSI or a low-wage job and still pay rent in this town. When that changed, people who were formerly housed became homeless.  San Francisco Tenants Union 06/07/18

Bad and Beautiful

As one approaches the City for the first time as a tourist, a convention attendee, or a prospective resident, one might notice two breathtakingly beautiful bridges, as well as an ugly as sin structure visible for miles from all parts of the City. The dichotomy is made readily clear.

January Should be MTC Awareness Month

The San Francisco Bay Area is ground zero for tech companies, astronomical housing costs, and homelessness.  Those who are priced out of the housing market or their own homes often blame the influx of high-earning techies into the Bay Area particularly within the last 5 years or so.  Few are aware of the powerful trio micromanaging Bay Area residents’ lives, and how in-spite enormous power, the trio has not been successful in making the Bay Area “affordable.”  To the contrary, the trio might have made matters worse.

The trio in question consists of Plan Bay Area, the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG), and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC).  Enabled by California’s state legislators, the MTC and ABAG determine how much land will be available for building homes (not much:  about 90% of the Bay Area is “protected” from development in one way or another), how many people must be accommodated within each county (too many according to those who prefer tranquility over GDP growth), how dense cities and counties need to be (pretty dense:  remember the 90% under protection?), and how many residents must have access to subsidized housing.  All the plans, mandates, and ever-intensifying goals are spelled out in Plan Bay Area.

The lion’s share of the trio’s power rests in the hands of one MTC Executive Director and 21 opaquely-selected MTC Commissioners.  MTC’s Executive Director will retire at the end of February 2019, and MTC is searching for a replacement.  Commissioner’s term expires in the middle of February 2019, and cities/counties must select new ones or re-appoints old ones.

Given MTC’s enormous power, its significant effect on the lives of Bay Area residents, and the opportunity for activism presented by MTC’s changing of its guard in February, the Nine-County Coalition — an organization dedicated to fighting the growth of entities run by unelected bureaucrats — has decided to unilaterally declare January 2019 “MTC Awareness Month.” 

Just Vote No joins them in their effort to make the voting public aware of MTC, its track record, and its obscurely-picked Commissioners.

Pictured below is MTC’s latest effort: the Bay Area’s multibillion-dollar Transbay Center, which opened with much fanfare August 2018, and closed for structural failures six weeks later.

transbay terminal opening 3

The Great Social Media Purge of 2018!

Vulture 8Media users that do not follow today’s prescribed line of thinking are feeling the pain. Outliers big and small are squawking loudly and persistently about curtailed “reach” of posts, invisible tweets, and shadow banning. Seems that The Powers that Be have devised a most effective way to help silence any differing views.

The Decline of America

Such media efforts are only the latest developments aiding in the nation’s covert decline – a decline evidenced by a gargantuan and growing national debt, decimation of our manufacturing base, rise of the 1% accompanied by decline of the middle class and explosive growth of the dependent class.

Why would this media tantrum rank right up there with the biggies, such as the tax-and-spend mentality that led to the gargantuan debt, that led to the need for near-zero interest rates to enable debt payments, that led to easy borrowing, that led to breezy acquisitions on borrowed money, that led to monopolies.

The reason is that the media tantrum is 1) the result of powerful monopolies, and 2) monopolies demand obedience.

Obedience creates an echo chamber into which we plebeians must fit. Inhabitants of echo chambers do not think; they regurgitate. They do not create; they copy. They do not question; they accept. They are good at following orders.

Rise of the Monopolists

Conversely, monopolists do not follow, but lead. Take for example, Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal and early investor in Facebook. There is no question that Mr. Thiel’s innovations in several industrial and financial sectors have greatly benefited people. Most of us have made good use of PayPal or aspire to own an electric car, and businesses benefit from the data integration provided by Palantir. However, in spite of his obvious intellect, Mr. Thiel’s view of monopolies seems self serving. Here is an excerpt from an article discussing Peter Thiel’s book Three Cheers for Creative Monopolies.

PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel advocates the benefits of creative monopoly. That’s a company that is “so good at what it does that no other firm can offer a close substitute.” They give customers more choices “by adding entirely new categories of abundance to the world.

He goes on to say, “All happy companies are different: Each one earns a monopoly by solving a unique problem. All failed companies are the same: They failed to escape competition.” He suggests entrepreneurs focus on “What valuable company is nobody building?”  The Balance, May 2018

A monopoly is a monopoly, creative or not, since causes and effects are the same no matter what one calls a monopoly. Today, the cause is barrels full of cash generated by cheap borrowing that enable vertical and horizontal acquisitions. The effect is concentration of products and services in a few gigantic companies, regulated or unregulated.

Sure the giants in their field offer consumers “choices,” as Peter Thiel says. But to what extent? You don’t like the way Facebook is treating you? Go to the competition! Oh wait, there isn’t any.

There Once Was the Model T

Ford Model T 2 - CopyOne might say that when Henry Ford perfected the assembly lines that produced the Model T, a car that dominated the market for its relative affordability and simplicity, his company earned the distinction of being so good that no other firm offered a close substitute. With the mass-produced Model T, the company also added an entirely new category of abundance to the world.

However, like today’s media giants, the Ford Motor Company had a strange way of offering consumer choices. Henry Ford famously said,

Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black.

So, General Motors, who up until then catered to the moneyed class, started to make affordable cars that were not black, and had bells and whistles that the utilitarian Model T eschewed.

Good lesson on how to thwart a company’s dominance in a market!

It’s Their House

Private companies, including those that provide media services, should be free to run their businesses as they see fit. It’s their house.

It is up to consumers to do their due diligence so they understand what they are purchasing and how they are paying in one form or another for the products and services they buy. The cost might be a tacit agreement to tow the prescribed line of thinking. Or the cost might be sharing all your needs, wants, preferences, and ideals so you can be efficiently placed in the appropriate marketing and cultural category.

It is also up to consumers, as well as voters, to make choices. Some consumers now suffering from the whims of media might be tempted to clamor for government regulation, thereby exchanging one master for another.

Miracles do happen, and perhaps once enough consumers of media, especially social media, complain about their dissenting opinions being scrubbed from view, media companies will see the error of their ways and be inclusive (a favorite term of progressives). But if that miracle does not happen….

Be Creative!

Must you settle for being dependent on media, especially social media? How about creating your own mailing lists, reaching out to like-minded people and groups, supporting the endeavors of like-minded people in exchange for their support?

Might participating in the rise of creative alternative means of communication be a better choice than continuing to send out invisible tweets and posts?

Bloggers Beware Part II – 20 Proposals to Regulate the Internet

Mark Warner 2 - Copy
Mark Warner

U.S. Senator Mark Warner appears to be on a mission to “nationalize” the Internet, the result of which no doubt will be restriction of content, stifling of innovation, and scarce improvements in data protection or consumer privacy. The gentleman from Virginia has published a white paper called Potential Policy Proposals for Regulation of Social Media and Technology Firms.

Liberty-leaning folks will not even need to read the 23 pages of proposals; they will only need to read the word “regulation” on the title of a paper dealing with platforms on which people express their thoughts, political leanings, religious beliefs, or business strategies.

Were Senator Warner’s white paper an isolated case of regulating free expression, there would be less cause for concern that is warranted in the wake of other legislation curbing the actions of websites, social media, bloggers, and others who express themselves on-line. This Just Vote No Blog recently wrote about California Senate Bill 1424 which aims to establish a Social Media Advisory Group “to study the problem of the spread of false information through Internet-based social media platforms, and draft a model strategic plan for Internet-based social media platforms to use to mitigate this problem.” Will your blog or post be declared “false information” because the powers that be did not like what you said?

The words “regulation” and “Internet” should not even be in the same sentence, since proposals such as these can only bring unfortunate consequences to our freedoms, as well as to our economic well being.

Find a Crisis and Exploit It

Kaiser Industries built a lot of roads and homes in California. Its pink cement-mixing trucks painted with the slogan “Find a Need and Fill It” were part of the state’s lore. Those were the 1950s, when industrialist/innovator Henry Kaiser found a need for homes, roads and factories, and filled that need by building them – with government’s blessings.

Today, it seems the dominant slogan is not the entrepreneurs’ find a need and fill it, but government’s find a crisis and exploit it. Instead of letting industrialists and innovators like Henry Kaiser produce the goods and services consumers want, government focuses on finding crises (or manufacturing them) and using these crises to tie the hands of producers and expand its reach.

Senator Warner’s 20 proposals to regulate the Internet serve as examples. Here is an excerpt from his white paper:

In the course of investigating Russia’s unprecedented interference in the 2016 election, the extent to which many technologies have been exploited – and their providers caught repeatedly flat-footed – has been unmistakable. More than illuminating the capacity of these technologies to be exploited by bad actors, the revelations of the last year have revealed the dark underbelly of the entire ecosystem. The speed with which these products have grown and come to dominated nearly every aspect of our social, political and economic lives has in many ways obscured the shortcomings of their creators in anticipating the harmful effects of their use. Government has failed to adapt and has been incapable or unwilling to adequately address the impacts of these trends on privacy, competition, and public discourse.

Before we even examine the 20 proposals, we might note the arrogance contained in the paragraph above:

* “Unprecedented interference in the 2016 election?” Hardly. Interference in the form of influence, spying and other strategies has happened several times in the past. A famous example of interference is Britain’s campaign to discredit Charles Lindbergh, leader of the “America First” movement of the 1940s, in an attempt to obtain military help from the U.S. in WWII.

* “Dark underbelly?” Perhaps Senator Warner could consider focusing on draining some swamps in Washington DC, rather than worry about Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook having a dark underbelly.

* “Anticipating harmful effects?” How good has been government in anticipating the harmful effects of its policies? How is the good old War on Drugs working for you and your family, especially if you happen to live in a poor neighborhood?

* “Government has failed to adapt” is always Newspeak for not yet passing more and more laws.

As noted in Senator Warner’s introduction to his proposals quoted above, the proposals purport to protect consumers and defend “our Democratic Institutions.” However, all “protection,” whether from government, the Mafia, or from zealous family members comes at a price. The price consumers must pay if they accept the “security” offered by proposals such as that of Senator Warner is loss of liberty. To protect one’s liberty one must make the effort to remain informed and exercise critical thinking. We must understand the products and services we use, and choose them wisely. We must not depend on “protectors” who most likely have their own agenda. This Just Vote No Blog wrote about that on our post Smart Cities – Your Life in a Fish Bowl.

Highlights of the 20 Proposals

These are what this Just Vote No Blog considers highlights of the 20 Proposals:

* Determine origins of posts and/or accounts to prevent bad actors from assuming false identities and influencing political debate.

* Identify inauthentic accounts to prevent spread of disinformation that pose a threat to our democratic process and undermine the integrity of digital markets.

* Make platforms liable for state-law torts (defamation, false light, public disclosure of private facts) for failure to take down deep fake or other manipulated audio/video content.

* Propose legislation that guarantees that platforms above a certain size provide independent, public interest researchers with access to anonymized activity data in order to measure and audit social trends on platforms that could help inform action by regulators in Congress.

* Require disclosures for online political advertisements in order to prevent targeted political ads sponsored by foreign advertisers. Require that platforms make all reasonable efforts to ensure that foreign individuals and entities are not purchasing political ads.

* Establish a Public Initiative for Media Literacy funded by the federal government and primarily administered by state and local educational institutions.  Building media literacy from an early age would help build long-term resilience to foreign manipulation of our democracy.

* Deem as information fiduciaries certain types of online service providers – including search engines, social networks, ISPs, and cloud computing providers – because of the extent of user dependence on them, as well as the extent to which they are entrusted with sensitive information.

* Endow the FTC with privacy rule making authority, so as to enable it to respond to changes in technology and business practices, as well as increase its funding.

* Adopt GDPR-like legislation. One major tenant of the GDPR (that the US could or could not adopt) is the potential of high penalties for non-compliance in which a company or organization can be fined.

* Determine that dark patters — user interfaces that have been intentionally designed to sway users towards taking actions they would otherwise not take under effective, informed consent — are unfair and deceptive trade practices. To address this, FTC could be given rule-making authority to ensure that the law keeps pace with business practices.

* Set mandatory federal standards for platform algorithms to be auditable, so that outputs of algorithms are evaluated for efficacy/fairness and potential hidden bias.

* Pass a bill requiring data transparency, such that free platforms provide users with an annual estimate of what their data was worth to the platform, which would provide significant price transparency, educate consumers on the true value of their data, and potentially attracting new competitors.  Data transparency would also assist antitrust enforcement agencies like the FTC and DOJ.

* Pass legislation that could define thresholds such as user base size, market share, or level of dependence of wider ecosystems, beyond which certain core functions/platforms/apps would constitute essential facilities, requiring a platform to provide third party access on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory terms and prevent platforms from engaging in self-dealing or preferential conduct.

Does Anyone Actually Read Terms of Use?

Senator Warner’s 20 Proposals to Regulate the Internet might bring to mind prescription drug ads and their interminable laundry list of side effects. Have all the regulations imposed on drug companies prompted patients to consume less drugs or become more aware of side effects such as addictions? Have all the regulations lowered drug prices? Senator Warner’s 20 Proposals would most likely have the same result as the required listing of side effects.

However, more serious than ineffectiveness are the consequences. The proposals listed above lean towards the following outcomes:

* On-line social media platforms that host content, such as Facebook or Google Plus, will become liable for what is posted. This liability will transform social media’s function, increase the costs of operating a platform, discourage new entrants due to high costs and the threat of liability, subject platforms to the whims of powers that be bent on surpresing opposition, and is open ended. Will liability apply to content management systems such as WordPress or Joomla? Will e-mail clients such as Thunderbird or Apple Mail be liable for the content of e-newsletters, meeting announcements, or communication between group members?

* One of the proposals is the establishment of a Public Initiative for Media Literacy, funded by the federal government and primarily administered by state and local educational institutions, to build media literacy from an early age that would “help build long-term resilience to foreign manipulation of our democracy.” Perhaps the real concern here should be the manipulation of our children’s minds? How about just teaching our kids to think critically instead?

* Mandatory standards for auditable platform algorithms sounds more like killing the golden goose of innovative proprietary code than protecting consumers or defending our Democratic institutions. How far will “auditable” go? How can proprietary code be proprietary when it in essence becomes open source?

* One of the 20 Proposals is to declare the Internet an essential facility. We as a People need to decide what we want the Internet to be: 1) a host for information of all types, ideas, random thoughts, beliefs, as well as a leveler of playing fields where a user with little financial wherewithal can start a future multi-billion dollar company from his/her dorm room; or 2) do we want the Internet to be just another regulated utility.

* Lastly, Senator Warner seems to think his 20 Proposals will improve competition by tying the hands of the big social media companies and supposedly facilitating new entrants. Here are three points to consider:

Successful people make it big by aspiring to be big. They do not enter a market that highly regulates bigness just because they are little, since they do not intend to remain little.

Successful people do not need government legislation, rather they avail themselves of government policies. For example, when government (because of its gargantuan national debt) keeps interest rates ridiculously low, smart people borrow loads of money, offer stockholders of competitors good prices, and sail into near-monopoly positions.

Remember WordPerfect and Quatro Pro, or MySpace? These guys dominated the word processing, spreadsheet, and social media markets respectively. But then came Word Office Suite and Facebook. So, big companies can be replaced by smarter and nimbler ones.

As the Wall Street Journal says in its article Warner’s Plan to Ruin the Internet,
“Mr. Warner has flexed his congressional muscles and made a point. Now he can go away.”  We concur.

Housing Affordability & Smart Cities

A little conspiracy theory is good for helping us question the status quo.  The greater the number of people telling us something is so great, the faster we should start asking  who, what, why, and who benefits.  Compact, supposedly “sustainable” cities are being promoted by planners not only as wonderful places in which we all want to live, but also solutions to astronomically expensive housing.  If such dense cities are also “smart cities,” all the better.  We invite you to ask, “Really?”

….more and more it’s becoming apparent that to be modern, to be contemporary, to be cutting edge, buying and owning things is a bug not a feature. Buying and owning things prevents you from monetizing tomorrow, let alone optimizing today.  Ben Pring, Leasing the Future, Huffington Post.

Every digital click, swipe, “like”, buy, comment and search produces a unique virtual identity – something we call a Code Halo™. While Code Halos are important to each of us, they are becoming increasingly vital to the success of every business. A new book from our Center for the Future of Work reveals how organizations can catalyze business with Code Halo thinking.  Cognizant Technologies

We all have a personal responsibility to adapt to changing housing markets. For some, this will require adjusting our savings and spending patterns, our expectations regarding home size, access to ground/yards and distance from work or school. For others, it may require adapting expectations regarding the evolution of our neighborhood character, or the personal equity gains derived from the housing market.  10 Common Ground Principles for Affordable Housing, Smart Cities Dive

To what extent have businesses today bought into the theory that in order to survive in today’s market, they need to track everybody’s every move? Businesses could be content with convincing health-conscious consumers to wear a fitness tracker at all times, or businesses could amass enough political donation power to change the way cities are built in order to facilitate maximum interconnectivity.

For example, California’s Bay Area Silicon Valley is home to technology giants, as well as sophisticated business-led public policy advocacy organizations that aggressively support dense housing in limited spaces. California has taken to heart draconian policies that limits land use, establishes vast protected areas off limits to development, and invests taxpayer money in dense subsidized housing located in “transit corridors.” Also, California, especially the San Francisco Bay Area, experiences a housing market that is totally unaffordable. Therefore, it would seem that land use policies such as Plan Bay Area beg the questions,

* Does limited space on which to build result in higher housing prices, and calls for government-subsidized and government-preferred development?

* Is there a relationship between government-preferred development and political support from dominant technology giants?

* Does proximity facilitate interconnectivity, supposedly so crucial to business success?

* Does the current generation truly see ownership as a “bug not a feature,” or is the generation being sold a bill of goods?

So, just in case voters perceive even a remote relationship between efforts such as Code Halo and how much they are paying for housing, what to do? Simply remember that there is a choice whether to wear a fitness bracelet, vote for “affordable housing” bonds to support narrow housing corridors, or re-elect anyone who has specialized in proposing legislation that removes your control of where or how you live.

Smart Cities: Your Life in a Fish Bowl

Amazon-Dash-Image-Tide 2Smart Cities are a national, state and county goal, for whatever reason anyone can come up with. Here is the reason offered by the U.S. Department of Transportation,

In December 2015, we launched our Smart City Challenge, asking mid-sized cities across America to develop ideas for an integrated, first-of-its-kind smart transportation system that would use data, applications, and technology to help people and goods move more quickly, cheaply, and efficiently.

Sensors Are at the Heart of Smart Cities

* Builders are developing ways to use smart concrete to make bridges, highways, and buildings laced with carbon fibers able to respond to stress and monitor activity.

This new invention allows construction of smart concrete structures, able to detect even minute changes in the amount of stress inside. This new composite material is able to self-monitor for signs of cracks or stress.

In addition, smart concrete is expected to be used for building facility management, i.e. to weigh each room of a building to monitor the room occupancy in real time, thereby saving money and energy by allowing the lighting, heating, cooling and ventilation of the room to be controlled according to the occupancy level.

* Manufacturers are making smart appliances.

…select Whirlpool® smart appliances now support the Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa, allowing families to control their appliances from anywhere in the house with simple voice commands. So whether in the other room helping with homework or cooking dinner with messy hands, families can care for their loved ones better, faster and smarter.

Technology Companies Are Leading the Way

Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, and Microsoft are the natural candidates in the building of smart cities. They already thrive on collecting and evaluating data. Microsoft is building the city of Belmont in the state  of Arizona.

Belmont (as the town will be called) will feature 80,000 residential units, public schools, and commercial buildings. Everything in the 25,000-acre property will be built around a flexible infrastructure model, which is why many are calling the proposed town a smart city. In many ways, Belmont will be a location where the latest technologies and innovative designs can be tested on a actual community, creating a real-life blueprint for how cities of the future could be run.

The Internet of Things

Thus, in a smart city we reach the pinnacle of The Internet of Things, where all is connected, watched and evaluated.

The Internet of Things really comes together with the connection of sensors and machines. That is to say, the real value that the Internet of Things creates is at the intersection of gathering data and leveraging it. All the information gathered by all the sensors in the world isn’t worth very much if there isn’t an infrastructure in place to analyze it in real time.

Watch for the Downside

Since Biblical times knowing where you live is understanding who you are.

I know thy works, and where thou dwellest (Revelation 2.13)

Now imagine not only knowing where you live, but also where you are at all times via your phone, your appliances, your city. Imagine not only knowing where you are, but also what are you doing or buying. Or do you for a moment think that the information gathered about you is not inventoried, catalogued, evaluated, and used?

Not everyone is happy with smart cities. Critics are concerned about the rise of the tech oligarchy.

The tech oligarchs who already dominate our culture and commerce, manipulate our moods, and shape the behaviors of our children while accumulating capital at a rate unprecedented in at least a century want to fashion our urban future in a way that dramatically extends the reach of the surveillance state already evident in airports and on our phones.

The drive to redesign our cities, however, is not really the end of the agenda of those who Aldous Huxley described as the top of the “scientific caste system.” The oligarchy has also worked to make our homes, our personal space, “connected” to their monitoring and money machines.

Your Life, Your Choice

Do you want maximum convenience because you are so pressed for time? Do you want to keep up with your peers and have the latest tech gadget on the market? Is your desire to help stop climate change high enough for you to actively support housing-dense villages filled with sensors that constantly monitor your use of energy?

If so, then you need to accept your life in a virtual fish bowl, where your actions can be relayed to a cloud server and analyzed for purposes beyond your control. You need to accept the possibility that the information gathered from you might be about you in particular, not just about what everyone does in the aggregate. And you need to accept the risk that in a future you do not at present foresee, someone possessing considerable power may not like what they see in the data gathered from you.

Just Vote No If Big Data Does not Appeal to You

Technology, the Internet, smart phones have increased our productivity, enriched our lives and given us power as individuals to express our thoughts and share our discoveries.  Therefore, it behooves us to ensure that the positive blessings of technology remain friendly towards us.

However, it appears that Big Data might be developing in ways akin to Big Pharma.  Regulation has been suggested for both biggies, but can one really regulate away people’s natural profit motives or the market’s unforgiving forces?  Probably not, or at least not without ushering in tyranny.  If the free and open market demands smart cities, great! However, if they are foisted on an unsuspecting public by interested parties, that’s not so great.

If you are not a supporter of Big Data, you might consider choosing leaders who do not use your tax dollars to subsidize developers of smart cities.  Find out if your city or county leaders are falling all over one another rushing to give technology companies tax breaks, while your small business has none.  Be aware of who wants to change things in your neighborhood, and just vote no on tax proposals sure to be on your ballot to support such changes.