Jimi Smoot Entrepreneur / Software Engineer

Februburied

Februburied

Yesterday was the last day of February 2019 and last month we got 313 inches of snow in our corner of the Sierra Mountains. It’s an absolutely insane amount of snow. Being snowed in has been a good thing though because it has given me some time to think. This roundup, therefore, will cover a lot so let’s get started.

Thoughts sparked from conversations

I’ve been thinking about a conversation that I had with some of the folks at SFOX over lunch last week. The question we asked was “what will the world look like in 20 years?”

After a few minutes we concluded that the world will probably look more techno dystopian than it does currently. The main drivers being by a bigger gap between the rich and the poor, increasing unemployment, and an economy that changes drastically at least every decade.

What makes a techno dystopia anyway?

I tend to think techno dystopia comes from poor prioritization by society’s engineers. By way of Blade Runner/Altered Carbon/etc Hollywood shows us worlds where the technology exists to improve the quality of life for the masses but this technology isn’t evenly distributed. The technology that is available to everyone is designed for entertainment. The result is a world where people may not have their basic needs met, but have the creature comforts typically reserved for the elite.

I’ll explore one facet of this below in the section about LA real estate.

Discoveries

Interesting reads

High rents create a new class of hidden homeless in Los Angeles

If you wanted proof that we are heading for a techno dystopia look no further than this post. Food, water, and shelter are the base of Maslow’s hierarchy. Megacities like LA are eroding that base by crushing the middle-class to the point of homelessness.

The photo for this post highlights a mom and daughter who are living out of their car. What I found surprising is that the duo had phones.

The first reaction is to think “if she saved the money she spent on a cellphone, she could get an apartment”. What you probably don’t realize, however, is that the cost of cell phone service has dropped 50% since 1997 while the cost of things like housing, child care, and medical services have increased by over 50% for the same time period.

So even if she saved her cellphone money, that wouldn’t be enough to cover the housing increase. It turns out she could also buy a television and be ok because those costs have dropped nearly 90% since 97.

What this all says is that, as a society, we have figured out a way to reduce costs of the wrong things.

See what I mean about priorities?

This could be an indication that a market driven economy won’t work anymore or maybe it’s an indication of something else. I’ve taken a note to explore this some more in another post.

Looking at this data has me worried about a bunch of things but lets talk about the housing problem.

We only really have 3 ways of solving the housing problem.

  1. Raise Incomes: I’m not holding my breath for this option since automation is, in the long term, going to put pressure on wages.
  2. Improve mid range transport: If you could get from Riverside to downtown LA in 15 minutes during rush hour (it’s only 50 miles) and then use urban transport like Bird/Lift/Uber to get around that would make living in Riverside (or anywhere within 50 miles of LA) feasible for folks who are getting priced out. Right now this commute takes 2 hours. This probably wont work though. I’m skeptical that we would be able to get our shit together and build better mid range transport considering our abysmal track record when it comes to infrastructure projects. Our best hope is Elon’s digging project for this one. Or flying cars.
  3. Increase supply: Any college Freshman who has taken Economics 101 will tell you, when demand is high and supply is constrained, prices increase. When you increase supply to meet and exceed demand prices decrease. So I think that increasing supply is probably our best option. Regulation, however, makes it hard to build. I’ve had some crazy ideas to increase supply that may be able to bypass building issues though so lets talk about those.

Cruise ships:

We could move people onto cruise ships or barges and have the ship dock at San Pedro every morning. In the evening the ship picks everyone up and go out to sea where it can avoid building restrictions.

This is probably more cost effective than you think.

The “Carnival Splendour”, for example, cost $672.4 million and can hold 3012 people. So something like this could be crowd funded to the tune of $223k a person –thats cheaper then a condo on the west side. Running and maintaining a boat like this could be expensive, but if you set it up like a cooperative/commune you could reduce crew and maintenance costs by having everyone pitch in. Or just pay a HOA to maintain things. If anyone knows the cost for keeping a ship like this running, I’m all ears and would love to think about this crazy idea more.

Sleeping pods in semi trucks:

As a lower cost option to cruise ships we could just retrofit semi trucks with sleeping quarters. Trucks could pick people up and drive out to less dense areas at night than head back to the cities in the morning and offload people into urban or public transport.

Trucks cost about $150,000 and have a 80,000 lb towing capacity which is more than enough to outfit a trailer with sleeping pods. If you can put 10 people into each trailer the startup cost would be $15k per person. Something like this could definitely be crowd funded. Driver responsibilities could be shared by the community, and, eventually, be automated. Or maybe the community just hires drivers using Uber Freight.

Have any ideas on how to increase housing supply? Drop me a line and let’s talk about it.

THE TRAUMA FLOOR

Imagine if it were your job to sit at a desk all day and look at the worse of the worse content that people post to social media. Well that’s someone’s job and this amazing piece by Casey Newton does a deep dive into the “secret lives of Facebook moderators in America”.

This piece for me was eye opening and had me thinking about the scale of content online and how hard of a problem content moderation must be. Some people think that AI could replace the need for moderators and it could be effective for 99% of the bad content but there. But what about the 1% that it’s not effective for? At scale the error rate ends up still producing a lot of content that needs to be manually filtered.

For example, Facebook has 1.74 billion users. If all of the users posted 1 piece of content a day, and the AI had an error rate of 1% (really good), that would still be 17,400,000 pieces of content that need to be reviewed by a human per day.

So it looks like, for a while, there will always be human moderators who will need to sift through the garbage we post.

Thats it for today. If you liked what you read, please send this to a friend.

Tags: roundup, dystopia, real-estate, and moderation