Photo caption: MIT Professor, Carlo Ratti in conversation with Alison van Diggelen at the Future Cities Conference, Jesus College, Cambridge on July 18, 2017.
On Monday, I joined the BBC’s Roger Hearing and Delhi journalist Madhavan Narayanan to discuss future cities and the role of technology in making them more efficient and sustainable. Listen to the podcast at the BBC’s Business Matters (Future Cities segment starts at 26:34)
Or listen to the audio clip below:
Here’s a transcript of our conversation (edited for length and clarity):
BBC Host, Roger Hearing: Alison, you’ve been having an interesting time recently. You’ve been looking at the concept of Future Cities, in fact you’ve been over in Europe I believe? Give me a picture of what you’ve been doing and what you’ve been hearing.
Alison van Diggelen: I was back at Cambridge University, in England last week, exploring the role of technology in shaping our future cities. The Cambridge Future Cities Conference assembled experts from academia, policy making and business to explore the challenges and opportunities facing cities. I interviewed Professor Carlo Ratti. He’s Director of the “Senseable City” Lab at MIT. “Senseable” as in sensors. He and his team are adding sensors to everything from trash to taxis to discover patterns, inefficiencies and opportunities to reinvent future cities, and make them greener and more sustainable. His team collaborated with Uber to test the feasibility of car-sharing and the Uberpool in New York. They found that in theory, everyone could travel on demand with just one-fifth (20%) of the number of cars in use today. He calls it the future mobility web.
Prof. Carlo Ratti: If you think about the future you can imagine something that we started calling a mobility web. A mobility web means the potential to know in real-time all the potential for transportation in the city both for people and parcels. Think about what happens today, you need to open one app, then another app…Imagine if all of them were combined… Then you can do something similar to what you do today with Kayak or Expedia, you can scan all your options – it’s like a mobile web that can radically change the way we look at mobility both for people and for goods.
Roger Hearing: Madhavan, you’re in Delhi. Can you imagine that kind of thing working in a city like Delhi? Would you be able to take transport to the point where you could be aware where every car or bus or lorry is at any given moment?
Madhavan Narayanan: Let me take a cynical view of what these guys at Stanford etc. do…I call them the Marie Antoinettes of our time. “Let them have high tech” is the new “let them eat cake.” Tech innovations have to be much more culturally sensitive and pragmatic for things to come on fast. People are not trying to reduce the carbon footprint here…people are trying to save money. High techies need to hire more sociologists and anthropologists and instead of talking to each other in an echo chamber of technologists. It will catch on in a zig-zag way…We do not need California idealism, we need Asian pragmatism.
Roger Hearing: Do you take that point on board Alison?
Alison van Diggelen: Absolutely. One of the refrains people heard at the conference was: let’s get out of our silos here: use this multi-disciplinary approach. We need collaboration, we need to think about different cultures and communities. In America 42 hours a year are lost due to traffic congestion(per commuter) and I imagine it’s even worse in Delhi. There’s a huge holy grail shining out there…we can drive towards that; there are huge gains to be made. The technology is there, we just need to implement it.
Roger Hearing: California has adopted new things very easily and quickly. Is it a place where people are already beginning to put in place the things you were talking about in Cambridge?
Alison van Diggelen: Yes, it’s definitely being experimented with. There is a project with driverless cars coming to the city of San Jose. They’re talking with ten different driverless car companies. These demo projects, these pilot projects are really important to understand how future cities can be more efficient and more sustainable.
Roger Hearing: At the back of everyones’ minds, when they think about integrated public transportsystems, future cities, smart cities is:What happens if someone hacks in? At this event, you did tackle the issue of security?
Alison van Diggelen: We did indeed. The answer is layers of security. The technologists need to outsmart these hackers who have nefarious aims. I spoke to Professor Ratti about this and he framed the importance of security in memorable and stark terms…
Prof. Carlo Ratti: With some of these technologies we can really have cities that are more sustainable, they’re more sociable as well, but we need to look at at least two issues – one is the possibility of hacking. We all know what happens if a virus crashes our computer, but usually nobody dies. But what if that was a driverless car? So how to make sure our cities cannot be crashed? The other is what happens to the data that is generated by the Internet of Things. We’re making a digital copy of our physical space, our physical cities – then it’s very important who has access to the data, what for, and that’s one of the big conversations of our time.
Continue listening to hear our discussion:
What is Mark Kleinman at the Greater London Authority (GLA) doing to accelerate the adoption of technology in London?
Why does Madhavan Narayanan think we need a SWOT approach to privacy and security in future cities?
Find out more about Future Cities
The Future Cities Conference in Cambridge assembled some of the brightest minds in urbanism and land economy today. Find out more about their research and projects here:
Donald Trump has his share of critics, but which form of criticism is more effective? Today, we contrast the subtle rebuke of Donald Trump by Pope Francis with that of Vicente Fox (the 55th President of Mexico) who recently delivered the F-bomb twice. You guessed it, we were discussing Trump’s proposed border wall with Mexico.
Although Pope Francis was full of smiles today as he met with Donald Trump at the Vatican, the Pope delivered a subtle rebuke by gifting him a copy of his Encyclical on Climate Change. It delivers a call to action on climate change and rebukes “the denial” of skeptics. Pope Francis sparred with Candidate Trump during the 2016 election campaign, and even then, his rebuke was loaded but polite.
“A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not the gospel,” Pope Francis in Mexico, February 2016
By contrast, when I met the 55th President of Mexico, Vicente Fox, he wasn’t nearly so polite or subtle.
“Sr. Trump can build as many walls as he wants, as high and as beautiful, as modern and technological, but he has to know, very clear: that Mexico and me, we’re not paying for that fuckin’ wall. We will never pay for that fuckin’ wall.” Vicente Fox, Mexico’s 55th President, April 2017
Here’s a transcript of our conversation and my report (edited for length and clarity):
The BBC’s Fergus Nicoll: We’re going to talk about ‘The Wall’ here on Business Matters…Conspicuously has not appeared inDonald Trump’s prospective spending bill. Today’s perspective comes from south of the border because Alison has been talking with a former President of Mexico who has some feisty views on the subject. Alison take it away…
Alison van Diggelen: Vicente Fox was the President of Mexico between 2000 and 2006. He was in Silicon Valley recently and I had the opportunity to talk with him about the border wall and immigration. He’s a fierce critic of President Trump and he sees himself as ‘a shadow cabinet.’ He feels his job is to call Donald Trump out on what he calls ‘his mistakes and crazy policy errors.’ He calls Trump’s proposed wall with Mexico ‘a racist monument.’ Here’s the clip…
Vicente Fox: Sr. Trump can build as many walls as he wants, as high and as beautiful, as modern and technological, but he has to build it on U.S. territory and he has to know, very clear: that Mexico and me, we’re not paying for that fuckin’ wall. We will never pay for that fuckin’ wall.
Alison van Diggelen: And those who want to take part in building it…do you have a message for them?
Vicente Fox: If they are Mexican corporations, they will automatically become traitors to our beliefs, traitors to our roots, traitors to our nation…
Like Trump, Fox was an outsider and a businessman before becoming President. He talked later (with Gloria Duffy) about the business perspective of being President:
Vicente Fox: Moving from the corporate world where you are the boss, it’s your word that counts and you instruct what has to be done and people follow or they’re going to be fired. So when you think you can do that in politics, you’re committing the worst mistake in your life. It’s a totally different world.
In the world of politics you have checks and balances, you have to be convincing, your vision has to be shared by your followers. You represent the people so you have to go along with people…you don’t discriminate, you take everybody as a human being with the same rights and opportunities.
Bonus Material (this interview segment didn’t make the final cut):
Alison van Diggelen: And those who want to take part in building it…do you have a message for them?
Vicente Fox: …Those greedy companies in the US that are moving fast to present their projects, I tell them:
Don’t lose your money…that guy doesn’t have the money to pay for it and US Congress will never approve building a wall which is a waste of money. US citizens are not willing to pay with their taxes for that waste of money. Everybody will agree: those $35Billion that this guy wants to disperse should be much better used in investing then to create jobs in North America, in Mexico, and Central America…
To attend the problem of migration, you have to go to the roots, not to the final outcome of migration. The problem can be solved where it originated. Mexico, U.S. and Canada, we can go create the jobs, opportunities in Central America…With $35Billion you can create 10 million direct jobs for Central Americans. So then they don’t have to migrate to the US. I’m sure they prefer their tacos, their moles (guacamole etc), and jalapeños than hot dogs and burgers they’ll come to eat here.
Deep learning; geek nostalgia; Google’s Pixel phone; and why seeking ‘uncomfortably exciting’ opportunities can bring success.
Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialoguessat down withGoogle’s Dave Burke, an Irishman, who has risen quickly through the ranks. He leads the Android team, with responsibility for the device and developer ecosystem; and Google’s Pixel phone. How did he succeed so fast, and what qualities does he seek when hiring for his growing team?
I interviewed Burke this month for a BBC World Service report exploring Irish identity and success in Silicon Valley. We had a lively and wide ranging conversation full of insights for tech geeks and entrepreneurs alike, so I’m posting the uncut interview for your listening pleasure.
“It’s his ability to intuit a bold vision for the future, and then be comfortable in the abstract and yet push tenaciously forward over multiple years. Successful mathematicians need a similar personality – they have an intuition that a solution exists but initially have no concrete certainty on how to prove it and have to persist, sometimes over decades. Einstein’s story of deriving his theory of general relativity is a good example. This personality trait attracts other smart people… For Elon, the ‘contagious confidence’ extends out to his customers, i.e. many are willing to pay a high premium for a Tesla car and don’t seem to worry about the future viability of this fledgling startup, simply because have confidence in the founder.”Dave Burke, Google
Here’s are some highlights of our conversation:
On the secrets of Burke’s success @00:20
“Seek out challenges that are uncomfortably exciting…there’s always a risk of failure, but if you succeed, you could make a huge impact.”
Why he’s so excited about deep learning @19:23
“The big hot area is deep learning, using neural networks….applying lots of data. You can make machines do incredible things…The potential for deep learning and for AI to make our lives easier is very exciting.”
On Google’s Pixel phone @27:15
“Software pushes the hardware and hardware pushes the software. To advance the operating system, you need to have them working really closely together. It allows Google to have its own product. If you’re a Google user, this is the ideal phone for you.”
On rumors of a new Pixel phone this year @27:54
“I can neither confirm nor deny rumors. Technology moves very fast, the cadence…Typically every year, you try to do something new and exciting…we are very busy, working on a lot of stuff… The reviews have been great…but I see the potential for so much more, in terms of innovation, product quality.”
We also discussed Burke’s “geek nostalgia” for the BBC Micro computer by Acorn (the precursor to ARM); the gravitational pull of Silicon Valley; the three questions you need to ask to discover if someone is “really Irish”; and flying robotic lemonade stands!
Look out for more “Fresh Dialogues Uncut” featuring Elon Musk, Arianna Huffington, Charlie Rose and Patagonia’s Yvon Chouinard.
It’s been a stellar year at Fresh Dialogues. Here are our top ten green interviews: from Tesla’s Elon Musk to Google’s Rick Needham. Most are exclusive Fresh Dialogues interviews, but some were special assignments for NPR’s KQED, The Computer History Museum, The Commonwealth Club and The Churchill Club (2013).
1.Elon Musk on burning oil, climate change and electric vehicles
“It’s the world’s dumbest experiment. We’re playing Russian roulette and as each year goes by we’re loading more rounds in the chamber. It’s not wise… We know we have to get to a sustainable means of transportation, no matter what.” Tesla CEO, Elon Musk. Read more/ see video
“I want to see a standard that could bring this country back to international prominence in terms of leaning in to a low carbon green growth strategy, so that we can dramatically change the way we produce and consume energy and lead the world.”Gavin Newsom, Lt. Governor of California. Read more/ see video
7. Steven Chu on climate change deniers
“I’d put them in the same category as people who said, in the 60′s and 70′s, that you haven’t proved to me that smoking causes cancer. This is a real issue. We have to do something about it!” Former Energy Secretary, Steven Chu. Read more/see video
8. GM’s Pam Fletcher on electric vehicle adoption
“We need a lot of customers excited about great products. I want to keep people focused on all the good things that moving to electrified transportation can do for customers and for the country.” GM’s Chief of Electrified Vehicles, Pam Fletcher. Read more/ see video
9. Laurie Yoler on why Tesla is succeeding, despite the odds
“You know you’re on to something good when everyone you talk to is a naysayer. It takes a huge amount of courage and tenacity to continue going forth.” Qualcomm executive and founding board member of Tesla Motors, Laurie Yoler. Read more/see video at 11:20
10. Rick Needham on self driving cars, car sharing and Google’s electric car fleet
“It’s not just the car that’s underutilized; it’s the infrastructure, the roads…There’s an enormous opportunity…on the environmental side, on the human safety side, on utilization of infrastructure side.” Google’s Rick Needham. Read more/see video
SolarCity’s CEO Lyndon Rive sat down with Fresh Dialogues last week to share details of the solar company’s business model, rapid growth, and ultimate goal of being the world’s largest energy provider. Yes indeed: this 35 year-old entrepreneur from South Africa anticipates no less than world domination.
Although Rive was tight lipped about the impending IPO expected in Q3 this year, he referred to the $280M investment from Google last year and said, “Our expectation is that companies like Google and other Fortune companies start making similar investments.”
“In order to monetize the full benefits of the solar system you need a large tax paying company. .. might as well use that tax bill to motivate the growth of the renewable industry…” he added. “We are approaching hundreds of Fortune 100 and 1000 companies…and will continually be raising funds, potentially in perpetuity.”
SolarCity is targeting companies that can benefit handsomely from the 30% Federal Business Tax Credit for solar investments. Although Rive wouldn’t name names, Apple Inc. springs to mind immediately. Record profits and enormous tax base? Check. Recently inclined to alternative energy investments? Check. In case you missed it, Apple recently invested in a massive 4.8 megawatt fuel cell development using Bloom Energy technology. Watch this space. We’ll keep you updated.
SolarCity’s innovative model offers a range of solar options. Customers can buy systems outright or pay zero down and lease or purchase the power the system produces. Large investments from partners like Google allow the company to make solar affordable and continue growing rapidly. Rive described the company’s business model thus: “(We) install solar systems for free, so we need capital to pay for that, and take a long term revenue stream on the electricity that we sell. So, as fast as we grow, that’s the business model that we’re in.”
A former NASA advisor who developed technologies to sustain life on Mars, this earnest scientist is now harnessing his visionary skills and a large team of engineers to solve the energy crisis. His ambitious goal? To revolutionize the energy industry, just like cell phones revolutionized the communications industry. His team is developing high efficiency fuel cells to provide a globaldistributed system of electricity supply at low cost and a low (and ultimately zero) carbon footprint. Clients include Google, eBay, Fedex and Walmart. Not too shabby.
Even before opening his doors to 60 Minutes, KR agreed to discuss Bloom Energy’s progress in this exclusive and detailed Fresh Dialogues interview, recorded in 2009. To read the interview transcript click here
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Why is energy the focus of KR Sridhar’s mission?
“Energy is a passport to a better living. For the rest of the world that doesn’t have access to power, to electricity; to give them that is empowering them to a better life. If your solution works and you make it affordable and you distribute it all over the world, then you have definitely changed the world….You give power to the people.”
What’s in the Bloom Box?
“It takes the chemical energy from the fuel and converts that to electrons with no in between conversion. So you are changing your currency only once. It’s an electro-chemical reaction..like a battery…but the big difference is it’s a power generator so you keep supplying the fuel in and you’ll keep getting the electrons out – most importantly without combustion. It’s a one step conversion… high efficiency…you burn less fuel – less greenhouse gases -and eliminate all the combustion related polluting gases.”
What’s the link with transportation?
“Transportation can potentially go in two directions in the future. One is a hydrogen infrastructure for the car, the other one is an electrical infrastructure for the car…plug-in hybrids…Our device can either produce the electricity that’ll charge the car or provide you hydrogen if the transportation becomes hydrogen based. So we’ve sort of become the gas station for the transportation industry.”
There are still many unanswered questions about Bloom Energy, but here are some more clues.
To check out more Fresh Dialogues VIDEO interview segments click here and check for other Fresh Dialogues video interview segments with lots more PRODUCT AND BUSINESS PLAN DETAIL about Bloom Energy.