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October 9, 2017

Training Consumers for Technology

I saw a first the other day at the local Safeway.

No, not the self-service scanner technology.  It’s been in place for several years and was recently expanded.  But for the first time, I saw a line-up to use the machines while, at the same, the clerk at the express line was waiting for customers.
Now, maybe people didn’t realize she was free.  But maybe, more and more, people prefer to use the machines and scan for themselves.  Maybe we’re being that well trained.

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September 28, 2017

This is interesting for several reasons:

Ever seen a sanitation department use language like that?
It’s a pro-active approach to problem-solving.
And it presumes that since mobile phones and apps are the primary way we connect, there is the technology in place to do so.
 

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Scott Gilmore writes in Macleans about companies returning manufacturing operations to North America (“re-shoring”). And bringing their robots with them.
He discusses jobs, and then moves on to larger topics about employment itself.

Automation has been changing human labour ever since the huge migration of farm workers to cities following the introduction of the tractors, combines and harvesters that replaced farm labour.
Historically, new types of demand and related new job types have emerged, with successful transitions going to those who become life-long-learners.
But automation marches on, faster and faster, with little end in sight, and no regard for the colour of your collar. Mr. Gilmore discusses truck drivers’ fragile future. It is becoming clear that certain semi-professional jobs are under siege, such as writing routine media stories (e.g. market and sports reports), legal research and preparation of simple legal documents. Even some professional fields such as diagnosing ailments will (at least) change with the introduction of automated assistants.
It seems that job market disruptions will only spread and increase, leaving problems for educators and policy-makers.    And when the factories come home, not many jobs will come with them.

Says Mr. Gilmore:
But the real driver behind re-shoring is automation. A robot in Mississauga, Ont., costs just as much as a robot in Shenzhen. And that is the bad news. Manufacturers are moving robotic jobs, not human ones, back to North American shores.
The bad news doesn’t end there. This rise in automation has only just begun and is going to change far more than the manufacturing sector. With the growth of machine learning and artificial intelligence, job losses will not be limited to assembly lines. The service industry, office administration, computer programming, and many other sectors are all on the cusp of automation.

Tesla’s Fremont Model S factory:

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Or:  there’s gold in them-thar smartphones.
Vancouver tech company “PayByPhone” has a new owner – Volkswagen Financial Services AG. Thanks to Tyler Orton at Business In Vancouver for the tip.
A 2001 startup, the company’s service is now used by approx. 2M people in Vancouver, at over 13,000 parking meters.  Worldwide, PayByPhone has 12.5M users and handles around $300M in payments per year. Paris alone uses the service on 155,000 parking spaces.

Motor vehicle operators can use it to pay tolls on the Port Mann Bridge.

From TechCrunch:   “It is important to make the distinction that it is Volkswagen Financial Services (VWFS) who acquired us, and they have a charter to focus on general mobility services,” said PayByPhone CEO Kush Parikh in an email interview. “Outside of being the largest parking payment provider, the key asset we bring to the table is the relationship we have via our flagship mobile applications with our users. The mobile relationship is a one to one relationship that can extend into a myriad of additional services.”
. . . .  The company already has a program in London where license plates are coordinated with a user account when the car arrives in a lot, and then the user is charged for her parking time when she leaves. “[This] can quite easily be extended into the autonomous vehicle movement,” Kush said.
PayByPhone’s expansion hasn’t been hindered so much by its ability to scale as by an entrenched parking industry “that continues to hold on to archaic cash and credit card based systems, which are very capital intensive,” as Kush put it. PayByPhone does expect that VWFS’s investment will help the company expand into new countries.
Kush noted that while the company will be focused on making parking payments as seamless as possible, they do have an eye on the future. “Parking is a great way to attract users where their identities can be used for a myriad of additional services, including movement around cities (aka smart cities) and distributing our service into any application, such as mapping and travel applications.”

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From The Guardian:

The automated city: do we still need humans to run public services?

From driverless buses to an AI council worker called Amelia, municipal services are becoming increasingly automated. But what does that mean for the future of our cities – and the jobs market?
Scientific advances and new technologies often enable dramatic improvements in public services and urban life, eradicating some jobs while creating new types of employment. But the next chapter of urban automation might be more profound than any previous one. In fact, it’s already begun.
“Smart cities” offer a seductive vision of a world where everything runs as smoothly as the latest iPhone. Need a parking space? An app will tell you where one’s available, and notify you (and your friendly neighbourhood parking inspector) when your time is up. It’s the kind of technology many cities are trialling, embedding sensors in streetlights, curbs and buildings to monitor parking, traffic and air pollution – even crime. …
Still, it’s easy to guess where old municipal jobs might vanish. In London, driverless buses that can run bumper-to-bumper would make the new Routemaster seem as antiquated as a Morris Minor – and potentially supplant London’s 22,500 bus drivers. …
In October 2014, Transport for London (TfL) also unveiled 250 “driverless” tube trains which should come into service from 2022.  … Initially the new trains will still have drivers, though in the longer-term they may be redeployed as “train captains”, performing a similar role to attendants on DLR trains.
 

A ‘world first’: driverless minibus in Lyon Jarmo Eskelinen, chief innovation and technology office at Future Cities Catapult, argues future transport networks will react faster to emergency situations. “At the moment they adapt based on the reaction speed of people, and their reaction speed is often very slow. In future this will be automated so that they respond in near real-time, stopping transport flows to the emergency zone.”
Could cities even become self-repairing? Leeds University is leading a £4.2m project to create a fleet of robot repair workers that can spot infrastructure problems before they become disruptive – including drones that perch on lampposts to change bulbs, automated machines that fix potholes without digging up half the road, and robots that live in utility pipes and patch cracks. Professor Phil Purnell, who leads the school of civil engineering research team at Leeds University, likens these machines to a city’s “white blood cells”, repairing damage before it requires a major intervention.
He says putting road workers out of work is absolutely not the objective of the exercise. “What we need is the people who are doing tasks that are fairly dull and don’t need much skill freed up to attack the real infrastructure problems, of which there are hundreds upon hundreds that we’re burying our heads in the sand about.”
If dull tasks are the target of automation, then many back-office council roles are susceptible. Spurred on by the austerity mantra of “doing more with less”, councils are beginning to apply robotic process automation, which mimics human interaction with computer systems, to repetitive tasks such as signing people up for council tax direct debit payments. In theory this should free up staff for more demanding strategic work. Machines do the boring data entry tasks, which they generally perform faster and more accurately than human beings. And human beings use their time, empathy and creativity to improve frontline services. …
Robinson says that, while artificially intelligent chatbots could have a role to play in some areas of public service delivery: “I think we overlook the value of a quality personal relationship between two people at our peril, because it’s based on life experience, which is something that technology will never have – certainly not current generations of technology, and not for many decades to come.”
But whether everyone can be “upskilled” to carry out more fulfilling work, and how many staff will actually be needed as robots take on more routine tasks, remains to be seen. Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne’s influential 2013 paper The Future of Employment: How Susceptible are Jobs to Computerisation?, estimates that 47% of US jobs are “at risk” of being automated in the next 20 years. Another report by Deloitte found that in London, 29% of admin and support services jobs, and a whopping 72% of transport and storage roles, are at “high risk” of automation. Read more »

PT is pleased to post this notice from Clark Lim, the principal of Acuere Consulting and an instructor in the SFU Next Generation Transportation certificate:

BC Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists (APEGBC) asked me to hold a seminar on transportation planning.  I’ve framed the topic across the transport vertical from governance and policy, to road user psychology, data/analytics and eventually technology.
Although it is held by the engineer association, I suggested it be open to anyone, including elected officials as technology will increasing become an impact to planning and governing.  In fact, I’m hoping software engineers come out as I believe they will increasingly be more significant than planners.

 
Engineers, planners, and decision makers need to understand the complex, dynamic, and industry/domain-spanning issues that will challenge urban transportation systems over the coming decades. The session will cover fundamentals across the “transportation vertical” from data and analytics to policy and governance, the latest planning methods, techniques and tools, and the increasing impact of advanced technologies to the planning status quo.

Details and registration here. Read more »

From Business in Vancouver:

A survey of more than 1,000 Insurance Corporation of BC (ICBC) customers found that half of them are unlikely to buy a self-driving car if autonomous vehicles go on sale in B.C., while 30% are not interested at all in a fully automated vehicle. …
The ICBC survey found 87% of respondents had heard a lot or some about the technology and a slim majority (53%) believe that self-driving cars would make B.C. roads safer.
“Few consumers trust self-driving cars completely when it comes to getting them safely to their destination,” said the report, indicating 12% of respondents said they trust the technology completely, while 16% do not trust it at all.
Half the respondents said drawbacks included safety consequences of equipment or system failure and 45% were concerned about legal liability if a self-driving car crashed.
Hacking (29%) and tracking of locations and destinations (14%) were other concerns.
The report does not indicate whether any of the respondents had ridden in a self-driving car, but it did include a section on “emotion felt when riding in a self-driving vehicle.” Anxious (28%) and powerless (15%) were the most popular emotions.
Full story here.
 
Gord Price: In addition to the emotional concerns, the respondents are rightfully concerned about system failure and liability – and those, more than consumer response, are the reasons why these advanced technologies will change our fundamental relationship with the car.
Why bother actually owning a car if you have to be responsible for maintaining it, particularly when any failure might result in your death or a staggering liability in the event you injure or kill someone else?  Why not, instead, leave the maintenance and liability up to a fleet manager like a car-sharing firm from which you purchase a mobility package?
The technology will initially be expensive – and quickly obsolete.  Another reason not to commit to personal ownership.
But what happens when people no longer have that same emotional connection to the car as we do now, where the vehicle is a reflection of our status and personality?  As with a cell-phone communications package, we will love the service a transportation package provides, but with no particular attachment to the always-changing hardware itself.
And once that emotional bond is broken, it also means government has a different relationship with the vehicle too – or more particularly to the citizen-driver.  When it comes to taxation and regulation, government will be dealing with service providers, not drivers.  The end-user may not even be aware of what the taxation component is, just as today with the cell phone.
That changing relationship may be a more significant change than the technology which makes it possible.

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Two tech items from the New York Times:

Big City is watching you.
It will do it with camera-equipped drones that inspect municipal power lines and robotic cars that know where people go. Sensor-laden streetlights will change brightness based on danger levels. Technologists and urban planners are working on a major transformation of urban landscapes over the next few decades.Much of it involves the close monitoring of things and people, thanks to digital technology. To the extent that this makes people’s lives easier, the planners say, they will probably like it. But troubling and knotty questions of privacy and control remain. …
One of the biggest changes that will hit a digitally aware city, it is widely agreed, is the seemingly prosaic issue of parking. Space given to parking is expected to shrink by half or more, as self-driving cars and drone deliveries lead an overall shift in connected urban transport. That will change or eliminate acres of urban space occupied by raised and underground parking structures.
Shared vehicles are not parked as much, and with more automation, they will know where parking spaces are available, eliminating the need to drive in search of a space.
“Office complexes won’t need parking lots with twice the footprint of their buildings,” said Sebastian Thrun, who led Google’s self-driving car project in its early days and now runs Udacity, an online learning company. “When we started on self-driving cars, we talked all the time about cutting the number of cars in a city by a factor of three,” or a two-thirds reduction.  …
One reason for confidence in a radically changed future is that much of it is already here. The city’s Uber and Lyft, the Boston-based auto-sharing company Zipcar and things like corporate shuttle buses have shown new ways for urban dwellers to use vehicles. …
One danger of the new city may be the age-old faith that technology makes things better, and more tech is best.
“The danger of big dramatic projects is that they become the equivalent of urban renewal or the kind of sweeping things Robert Moses did for cars in New York that created dysfunction,” said Paul Saffo, a technology forecaster. “The best thing tech could do now is rescue us from the car-centric cities we built after 1930.” 
Full story here.

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As cities grow and concerns about pollution and congestion rise, commuters in urban areas are increasingly turning to apps to compare and combine public and private transportation alternatives. “The shared modes complement public transit, enhancing urban mobility,” said Darnell Grisby, director of policy development and research at the American Public Transportation Association, a trade group based in Washington. …
In March, the American Public Transportation Association released a study that found that shared transit modes were likely to continue to grow. And the more people used them, the more likely they were to also use mass transit. …
Nationwide, mass transit use stalled during the last decade. According to the Census Bureau, 76.5 percent of commuters drove alone, 9.2 percent car-pooled and 5.2 percent used mass transit in 2014, the latest year for which figures were available. In 2005, 77 percent drove alone, 10.7 percent car-pooled and 4.7 percent used public transportation.
Apps hold the promise of altering those percentages by showing passengers how to travel from home to a transit stop and then to their ultimate destination, the so-called first mile-last mile of a commute. …
… the Department of Transportation pledged up to $40 million to one city to help define what it means to be a “smart city,” with innovative technologies including self-driving cars, connected vehicles and smart sensors incorporated into a transportation network. The department chose Columbus, Ohio, from the 78 cities that applied. Columbus will receive an additional $10 million for electric vehicles and to reduce carbon emissions from Vulcan Inc., a company started in Seattle by the philanthropist Paul G. Allen, co-founder of Microsoft.
In other cities, private enterprise is joining forces with transit districts. In March, the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority introduced a one-year, $1.3 million pilot program in conjunction with Bridj, a van ride-hailing service. …
Moovit, a navigation app in a thousand cities worldwide,

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From ULI’s UrbanLand magazine:

 

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  • Takeshi Natsuno, professor at the Keio University school of media and governance, bluntly said that the Japanese government could be wasting its time and money restoring the Tohoku region, which was devastated by an earthquake and tsunami in 2011. The region has been suffering a sharp decline in population since 2000 and Natsuno said it is not worth restoring lost homes; rather, people ought to be compensated to move to more viable areas.
  • He also said the government should cease spending on failing areas. “If the population falls below a certain density, the government should suspend public services,” he said.
  • He also suggested moving low-income households to where they could be accommodated more cheaply.
  • Natsuno’s cure might seem harsh, but Japan’s current population of 126 million is set to fall to 97 million by 2050. Over the same period, the percentage of over-65s in the population will increase to 39 percent from 27 percent.
  • Nakawame was also sharply critical of Osaka’s city planning. “Osaka doesn’t have a future,” he declared. “I sold my house there two years ago.” He argued that the city had failed to develop a unique character by trying to mimic and compete with Tokyo.
  • In order to promote innovation, Japan needs better cities, the panel agreed. Suburban areas need to be revitalized and to host innovation businesses as young creative types cannot afford to live centrally and do not want to commute. “Cities must attract creative and entrepreneurial people,” said Tatematsu.
  • One example of innovation is the introduction of taxi-hailing app Uber to Japan. Masami Takahashi, president of Uber Japan, talked about how it could meet specific challenges for the country. He noted that accidents involving elderly drivers were increasing, even as overall road safety improved, due to the nation’s aging population. In order to assist, Uber is pioneering a project in Kyotango City, Kyoto Prefecture, where the Uber app will be open to a nonprofit volunteer service that drives the elderly around.
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