Don't say AVs will be safer than humans (there's no evidence)

Issue 124

Hey urbanists,

There might not be essays for the next few weeks as I finish up my Master’s thesis (unless there’s something I must talk about), but I still have a great issue this week.

I love the featured piece on why it’s wrong for people to outright claim that AVs will be safer than human drivers when there’s no evidence to back it. I also have to recommend Hubert Horan’s take on Uber’s latest numbers and the stories on the CIA secretly selling encryption devices, Ring not making neighborhoods safer, more Airbnb scams, how ride-hailing is bad for cities, UAE’s Masdar City, why a GND that benefits working people in the near term is essential, and the European Union backing highly polluting industries.

Have a great week!


🚗🤦 Jason Torchinsky is fed up with autonomous-vehicle boosters claiming it’s a fact that the tech will be better than human drivers. There’s no evidence to back it up, and he explains anyone with a shred of knowledge about computers knows they’re far from infallible.

[T]here’s plenty of issues an AV won’t have to deal with that humans do: being distracted by your phone or having to pee, road rage or uncontrolled horniness or fatigue or hunger or any number of other biological urges and issues that can afflict any of us. 

But AVs will have their own issues, because they’re stupid machines that can only react and branch off decision trees based on how they’re programmed, and the chaos and uncertainty of the real world can throw any number of baffling situations to them that a human wouldn’t even worry about for a moment.

Tech dystopia

🔥💰 Hubert Horan responds to the news that Uber lost $8.5 billion in 2019. Taking into account the impacts of sales of several international divisions and IPO-related compensation, “Uber has clearly failed to improve the profitability of its business over the last four years. […] Revenue growth in Uber’s core ‘Rides’ business continues to slow down. […] And Uber acknowledges all its newer business have much lower profit potential than ‘Rides’, so the relatively faster growth of these lower margin businesses is undoubtedly contributing to the deteriorating overall profit picture.”

👁🇺🇸🇩🇪 As the United States warns about using Huawei for telecommunications networks, a Washington Post report reveals Crypto AG, a Swiss firm that “became a dominant maker of encryption devices for decades […] selling equipment to more than 120 countries well into the 21st century […] was secretly owned by the CIA in a highly classified partnership with West German intelligence.” A CIA report concluded it was “the intelligence coup of the century. Foreign governments were paying good money to the U.S. and West Germany for the privilege of having their most secret communications read by at least two (and possibly as many as five or six) foreign countries.”

🇺🇸👩‍⚖️ A judge in California has denied the injunction filed by Uber and other gig economy companies against AB5, the bill that would make contractors at those companies employees, “citing that AB5 does not specifically target gig work companies in particular, nor does it prevent contractors from doing whatever kind of work they want to do. Most convincingly, Judge Gee upends Uber’s have-it-both-ways strategy of arguing (publicly) that the new standard under AB5 would not be applicable to its drivers while (privately, in court) claiming such a law impairs their existing contracts with those drivers.”

👁👮‍♂️ Ring claims it makes neighborhoods safer, but an investigation by NBC News found “there is little concrete evidence to support the claim.” Rather, “the ease with which the public can share Ring videos means officers spend time reviewing clips of non-criminal issues such as racoons and petty disagreements between neighbors. Others noted that the flood of footage generated by Ring cameras rarely led to positive identifications of suspects, let alone arrests.” The article notes that “Ring’s rise also comes at a time when reports of property crimes, including package theft and burglaries, are already in steep decline across the United States.”

🇺🇸💰 U.S. Federal Trade Commission ordered Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, and Alphabet to disclose ten years of documents about their acquisitions to determine whether they’re engaged in anticompetitive behavior

🇺🇸👨‍⚖️ A $10-billion Pentagon contract awarded to Microsoft has been halted after Amazon sued arguing Donald Trump’s dislike of Jeff Bezos influenced the process

👁📧 Edison, a popular email app, scrapes users emails to sell them products — but many users didn’t know

Critical urbanism

🇬🇧🇺🇸 “[I]n London, where Airbnb enforces an annual 90-day limit on all ‘entire homes’ listed on its platform, scammers have made a mockery of lax enforcement both by regulators and Airbnb itself, by turning entire new-build apartment blocks into de facto hotels designed for the short-term rental market. And the problem is far worse than anyone realises.” Across the pond, it’s also become more litigious by suing jurisdictions that try to enforce rules that would limit short-term rentals.

🇺🇸🌇 “[C]limate gentrification has become a rallying cry for activists in Miami neighborhoods such as Little Haiti (which is 7 to 14 feet above sea level), Liberty City (the backdrop of the film Moonlight), and Allapattah, traditionally disinvested areas with large populations of black and Latino residents which also happen to be on higher ground.”

💸📱 Washington, DC is considering a bill to force businesses to accept cash as more have started going cashless. Opponents say digital payments are the future, but 8% of residents don’t have a bank account, meaning cashless businesses exclude them.

🇺🇸 U.S. Senators Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Chris Coons (D-DE) are beginning hearings on changes to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. “The 1998 DMCA attempted to outline how copyright should work on the then-nascent internet, where you could almost freely and infinitely copy a piece of media. But it’s been widely criticized by people with very different stances on intellectual property. Supporters of tougher anti-piracy rules, for instance, argue that its ‘safe harbor’ rules don’t motivate websites to keep pirated content offline. Conversely, internet freedom advocates say its takedown system provides a de facto censorship system for the web.”

🇺🇸🏘 A proposal by councilmember Mike Bonin would have staffers with the City of Los Angeles examine European public housing models and develop plans to import them stateside. He called the housing crisis “a ‘predictable result’ of a system that regards houses as a gold mine ‘rather than as something to live in’.”

🚗🙋 It’s becoming harder to deny the truth about ride-hailing. WSJ has a new piece going in on its negative impact on major cities: “Multiple studies show that Uber and Lyft have pulled people away from buses, subways and walking, and that the apps add to the overall amount of driving in the U.S.”

🇬🇧🚌 British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is promising a ton of money for buses across the country, but “[f]ar from ‘levelling up’ public assets, these announcements don’t even patch over the hole created by ten years of Conservative government. They also fall short of essential climate action.”

🇦🇪🏙 The United Arab Emirates sold Masdar City as a green urban center of the future. The reality isn’t so much to brag about. Its walkable streets have no one to walk them, you need to drive to get there, its centerpiece “personal rapid transit” system was scaled back, and light rail is years away.

❄️🏠 Winter evictions may be banned in Seattle, with some exceptions, after a bill sponsored by socialist councilmember Kshama Sawant passed council. Sawant is also trying to revive a payroll tax on big business to fund affordable housing and homeless support that was repealed in 2018 over opposition from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

🇺🇸🏘 Alissa Walker reflects on why SB 50, the California bill to upzone many areas of the state’s major cities, failed and what the focus must be moving forward

🇬🇧🚄 U.K.’s 330-mile (530-km) HS2 high-speed rail project could cut car travel in the country — but parts of it won’t be completed until as late as 2040. However, the China Railway Construction Corporation says it can build it within five years, at lower costs, and to travel at higher speeds, so talks are ongoing about a possible Chinese role.

🇺🇸🚗 U.S. Department of Justice dropped antitrust case into carmakers who made a deal with California to make cars less polluting than mandated by federal standards

Climate crisis

✊🗳 “The Green New Deal is a wager that more democracy, rather than less, is the way to tackle climate change, even though we don’t have anything like a perfect democracy yet. The premise is that climate action has to be popular if it’s to succeed politically, which means it has to deliver benefits to people now rather than asking them to sacrifice for the benefit of the future. There is no constituency for green austerity.”

🇺🇸🛑 Centrist Democrats, including Pete Buttigieg, are calling for a military response to climate change. “If an ethic of fear and national self-interest—and not justice and solidarity—shapes the U.S. response to climate change, it could unleash a number of frightening actions, in which the U.S. fortresses its borders, protects its military bases and slams the door on those its emissions have harmed.”

🇵🇷🏭 After Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico looked like it might embrace distributed renewable energy, but powerful interests have instead pushed it to invest heavily in natural gas, potentially locking in emissions for decades to come

🐧📉 “The number of chinstrap penguins in some colonies in Western Antarctica has fallen by as much as 77% since they were last surveyed in the 1970s, say scientists studying the impact of climate change on the remote region.”

🇷🇺🇳🇴🛢 Despite the challenges and environmental impacts, Russia and Norway are moving forward with plans to extract Arctic oil

🇪🇺🇮🇪 The E.U. claims to care about the climate, but Sinn Féin’s rise in Ireland could test what matters more: bold climate action or strict fiscal rules that promote austerity

🇳🇿📈 New Zealand’s emissions are poised to rise in 2020, in large part because the government “has virtually no policy to reduce emissions from the transport sector and nothing to reduce emissions from the agriculture sector - nothing regulatory or price-wise. It's hardly surprising that we're not making progress.”

🇪🇺🏭 Despite heralding a European Green Deal, the European Union is backing 32 major gas projects and spending millions of euros to promote meat eating

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