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.
When we did eventually connect on the ISDN line, I had about 30 seconds to share my thoughts, so I just had to cut to the chase. As it turned out, my remarks were echoed by President Obama, just seconds later. How validating is that?
Here’s a transcript of this segment, edited for length and clarity”
BBC Host, Roger Hearing: Alison, are you with us? We were about to pass on to the news headlines, but I must get your thoughts on the debate last night…where do you think it all leaves the election?
Alison van Diggelen: I think Donald Trump is basically threatening anarchy. He’s just whipping up his supporters and they’re face down in his Kool-Aid. It’s very dangerous. He’s a dangerous candidate and he’s stirring up division and xenophobia.
Roger Hearing: It looks as if the election – some say now – is almost in the bag for Hillary. We’ll see if that actually happens. It’s still almost three weeks to go. Let’s get up to date with the latest headlines with Eileen McEwan
Ilene McEwan: President Obama has described claims by Donald Trump that the US Election is being rigged as dangerous and corrosive to democracy. Mr Obama accused the Republican candidate of sewing the seeds of doubt about the legitimacy of the election without a shred of evidence of electoral fraud….
Live from Las Vegas
To hear an excellent report about the debate – and the Brexit angle – by the BBC’s North American Editor, Jon Sopel, listen to the podcast at 27:00
Are we going to Mars to be useful?
We also discussed the case for space exploration, Elon Musk’s mission to Mars and the technical breakthroughs that the public and private race to space has produced. Listen at 47:00
NB: As with all my BBC Dialogues and Reports at Fresh Dialogues, the copyright of this audio report remains with the BBC.
Last night, I had the pleasure of meeting the talented and influential author, Michael Lewis. You probably know he wrote Moneyball, The Big Short and The Blind Side and has been compared favorably to literary genius, Tom Wolfe. Lewis revealed that he’s almost finished a prequel to his huge bestseller, Moneyball and it will be published in December 2016. Although his publishing schedule precluded him from accepting an in-depth interview with me last night, he did agree to one in December. So, not a strike out, just a delay in play.
Details of the prequel are under tight wraps, but I did learn this: it’s been eight years in the making, and he’s completed about 45,000 words (about 150 pages). He’ll send his trusty editor at Norton the remaining chunks every six weeks and is on schedule for a September completion. He says “once it’s on track, it’s like a freight train.”
The topic? It’s about sports (possibly just football) and analyzes the distribution of pay across teams. As with most of his books, it’s a character driven story, featuring people who surprised him and are in a situation that forces them to reveal their true character. The only other clue he shared was that he had access to the “brain trust” of the San Francisco 49ers.
On The Big Short Movie: Lewis described it as “a relief” to see how good the movie was and praised the talent and craftsmanship of the production team. He called out Christian Bale for his exceptional performance as Michael Burry, the Silicon Valley financial whiz, whose character “led us through the jungle of complexity.” Lewis explained that Bale spent a day with Burry and was able to channel his breathing and his awkward mannerisms with incredible accuracy throughout the movie.
Lewis also praised the straight to camera moments, especially Margot Robbie in the bathtub and lamented the production limitations of being a mere writer. He didn’t feel ownership of the movie as he’d sold the rights, and didn’t sit on the set since he considered it “a pointless exercise.” He was, however, involved in promoting the movie with the cast and says they’re really “not that good looking,” with the exception of (gorgeous) Brad Pitt. In Lewis’s opinion, their star appeal is more to do with their force of personality and talent. He added, “I’m not a good judge of male beauty.” That got a huge laugh from the audience.
On Politics: Lewis considers Donald Trump a bully and that the race would now be between Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, if Trump hadn’t bullied him so hard during the early Republican debates. He thinks that Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders wouldn’t be candidates today without the financial crisis of 2008 and mass outrage that followed, with the widespread feeling that the financial system is rigged. He asks: “Is this the beginning of something or the end of something?”
It’s a very good question indeed. He even alluded to a dystopian future where fame rules supreme and the Kardashians become viable leaders of the modern world. A true horror indeed.
Lewis doesn’t like to make predictions, but when pushed, he admits that he thinks Trump will get the Republican nomination and he’ll lose spectacularly to Hillary because “he does dumb things.”
On the Panama Papers: Lewis thinks the biggest leak of the century won’t have big reverberations in the US. He added, “You can go to Delaware to hide money…wait for the Delaware Papers!”
On Upcoming Projects: Lewis isworking on a screenplay pilot re Wall Street in the 20’s; a book on President Obama that explores how leaders make decisions (based on the fabulously insightful Vanity Fair profile); and a book for kids about money: how to make it, use it, and the “social power of money.”
Do check back here in December for my interview with Michael Lewis!
Many thanks to Celebrity Forum founder, Dick Henning for the kind invitation backstage.
Dan Akerson, CEO of General Motors spoke with Fresh Dialogues last night in San Francisco about the five week suspension of Chevy Volt production; the future of what he described as GM’s “statement car” and his surprisingly candid views on climate change.
Arguing that GM matches production to inventory, he said, “It’s foolhardy to produce beyond demand.” As of February 2012, Volt inventory was 6,300 units, enough to last at least 5 months at current sales volumes. Last month 1,023 Volts were sold, up from 603 units in January, making the 2012 goal of 45,000 sales appear a huge stretch. Akerson complained about the media’s laser focus on the Chevy Volt. Despite it being less than half of one percent of GM’s annual car production, it gets all the attention. He noted that no one batted an eye when production of the Chevy Cruze (GM’s top selling car) was halted for two weeks.
So what’s the future of the Volt? A spring relaunch will feature new generation Volts, with improved emissions levels, which now qualify for HOV lane stickers in California – a key factor, since one in four Volts are sold in the Golden State. He believes that this will help stimulate demand and quoted a recent study that found the average commuter saves 36 minutes a day by using carpools. Time is money. But is it worth $40,000? He confirmed that small shipments of the new Volt had already been made and the car will be available soon in California showrooms.
Akerson also described the new ad campaign which will be, in his words “more interesting.”
And the facts about Global Warming? Fresh Dialogues had to ask.
“We’re doing the right thing for the company at the right time. We will leave it up to the consumer how they interpret that.” Akerson said.
But his position on climate change is clear. During a Commonwealth Club interview, he confessed that he “believes” in Global Warming, adding “Several GM executives say ‘you don’t say that in public.’ Well, this may surprise you but my underwear doesn’t have GM stamped on it…I am an individual and I do have my own convictions.”
Good to know.
Here’s the amusing video segment from the Commonwealth Club
Read transcripts, see photos and check out our ARCHIVES featuring exclusive interviews with Tom Friedman, Paul Krugman, Vinod Khosla and many more green experts and visionaries…
One day after Steven Chu defends his department’s handling of the DoE loan guarantee to Solyndra, we look at the impact of Solyndra on the venture capital industry. In this exclusive interview, Andrew Chung, the newest member of the Khosla Ventures investment team, shares his views on the Post Solyndra era. Will the failure of Solyndra have a significant impact on cleantech investment? How does Chung respond to critics who say that cleantech investment is a disaster?
“Downstream, there are other investors who are a bit more skittish about investing in following rounds…”
“In the past twelve months, we have three companies that have gone public and generated over $1.1B in profits for the firm. ..It’s possible to make money in cleantech and drive a lot of change and drive significant returns.”
“It’s still relatively early…we are in the second inning of an extra inning game, in the development of this industry.”
“(At Khosla Ventures) we continue to be incredibly excited about the cleantech opportunity…we just raised a $1.1B fund, half of it is going to be in cleantech.”
Check back soon for more highlights from our interview with Chung:
On America’s comparative advantage vis a vis China
On what we can learn from China’s cleantech policies