Video Of The Week: The City As A Digital Platform

Craig Nevill-Manning was Google’s first engineer in NYC, fifteen years ago. Earlier this year he left Google and joined Google-funded Sidewalk Labs as CTO. Sidewalk Labs is an ambitious project, led by former NYC Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff.

This is a video of a Google Tech Talk at Craig gave early this year explaining what Sidewalk Labs is all about.


Comments (Archived):

  1. JimHirshfield

    Very cool talk. Gets you thinking about the future tech and cities.

  2. awaldstein

    This topic is close to my heart and I’ve been watching this org for a bit.So yes, I”m a huge fan of Sync. but I am a bit disappointed in the following areas:-no mention that one of the #1 issues is where city data touches the consumer. Still in the 90s in that respect. Opening that pipe is equal in change to convincing building owners to pay the price to connect to fiber.-you don’t get to no cars by fixing parking to make it easier, you get to no parking issues by getting rid of cars. I understand iterating towards change but it takes a leap and pain to make the largest changes.-imagining the city as a digital platform is how we look at plumbing–and we need to–but the city lives at the intersection of networks and communities both digital and IRL and that metaphor I think drives more forward thinking.So yup, love this but I think this should be driven by vision. I’m sure they have this in spades but I’m not feeling it as I shouldThanks for the post.-

    1. Michael Elling

      Yes much of this is linear extrapolation of current understandings. Plus, some of past thinking has been rationalized to fit current value models (which in Google’s case is to monetize our privacy).For instance electricity not only enabled skyscrapers but really allowed the subway to be fully developed and extended above and below ground. In fact the subway is one of the biggest network effects that made NYC great and in particular what led the renaissance over the past 30 years (especially in downtrodden areas). But Google has conveniently forgotten about this and focuses almost exclusively on the car.So the real question, which is neither raised in the prezi nor on this blog is, “what is the business model for a sustainable and generative digital networked society?” Obviously Google is thinking about extending their ad exchange (near) monopoly to all commercial transactions.

  3. Vendita Auto

    Felt/sounded mundane not that I expected a Philip K Dick vision, automated cars sure but people don’t change you ever shared a car with people who pick the nose etc, we are talking surveillance levels in cities at unacceptable levels of of alienation. Crucial to build for mortals not technology.

  4. William Mougayar

    I love cities, but I love the country and nature even more.Cities that have water right at their feet, and mountains above their head are really special.You can have technology anywhere now, but people are meant to be part of a social fabric first, not a technology grid. Let’s not forget that.

    1. Anne Libby

      I agree with you more than you agree with yourself.

    2. awaldstein

      Thinking about your comment today a bit.Obviously your concept of beauty fits Vancouver more than any place I know.But need to say, the most livable, the most neighborhood and cultural rich places I know like NY and Paris and to me, the west side of LA are where I would choose to be. Not physically a picture postcard, but just right all the same.Going to revisit in the next year a handful of places I’ve lived including Vancouver, Seattle, N. Okanagan/Monashees, Sunshine coast and a select few in Europe and Asia to rethink community and networks as they relate to urban life.Thanks for this thought.

      1. William Mougayar

        Yup, was thinking of Vancouver 100% and Beirut too.

        1. awaldstein

          I loved living in Vancouver.

  5. jason wright

    Chromecast is incredibly useful, but at times is also incredibly frustrating. i press play, watch for a while, then press pause to attend to something, then come back to resume watching and the video starts again but at the beginning. tech!30% of NYC homes have no internet access. i thought the ‘free market’ provided. no?why this projected trend of populations continuing to move to cities? doesn’t tech give people the opportunity to choose to not to add to the density and the downsides that come with this? i don’t believe in this prediction at all. i hope i’m not wrong. being saturated by microwave radiation is not appealing. nearly as bad as the unwanted side effect of the automobile revolution, fossil fuel exhaust’s quite a rosy presentation of the future. i don’t completely buy it. it feels a little like soft lobbying by vested commercial interests.

    1. JLM

      .You are correct that many do not have “in home” Internet access but the public policy brethren who provided computers in libraries provided a service whereby anyone who wants to get a library card can get on the Internet.One of the measures of poverty in the US today is access to technology and the Internet in home. The wealthy have more than 2.5 Internet accessible devices.How many do you have? I have 6.I wonder if coffee shops sell coffee or provide a place with WiFi for laptops. I go to a couple of places in Savannah (The Coffee Fox, The Foxy Loxy – owned by an Austin ex-pat) which I would be willing to pay admittance to just watch the dynamic.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

      1. jason wright

        there’s a fancy coffee shop i walk past regularly. a Caffe Nero. it’s a glass box design. it’s an observational experience that reminds me of when i went to London Zoo as a child, but now feels like a study in anthropology.i have access to 3 at the moment. one is giving up, one is starting to get a little kranky, and this chromebook i’m typing on is really rather good. come October when the choice of the new is clear to see i’ll be updating my selection.i read that in some NYC buildings dividing walls are so thin that residents ought to be able to share a single residential connection by sharing the router’s password. works best if the residents know each other. community spirit.

        1. JLM

          .WiFi networks are getting so powerful that I can access six neighboring houses. One of my neighbors has his WiFi identified as “FBI Surveillance Van No. 4”.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

          1. jason wright

            that’s microwave radiation JLM. i would invest in lead 🙂

      2. Matt Zagaja

        I am told the two biggest providers of Internet to underserved populations is the local library and McDonald’s. Increasingly the issue is that homework requires the Internet, and when you have a library or other public WiFi it’s a nice convenience when a few people stop by once in a while, but when a few hundred school children have to stop in and compete for the public resource every night or they do not pass homework, it’s a different scale of a problem.

    2. Matt Zagaja

      Ask Jeff Immelt at General Electric who moved from the sleepy suburbs of Connecticut to Boston’s seaport district (I like to think he just wanted to follow me north). The short version is cities are where the jobs are increasingly concentrated, which leads to workers concentrating there, which leads to companies moving there to attract the talent (because developing or training your own talent is too hard), and this cycle spurs lots of auxiliary economic activity along with a growing real estate bubble and the introduction of speculators.Remote work might be here, but it’s not the default and certainly not available at a scale that impacts the growth of cities. As real estate prices continue to skyrocket I think this will change. I think self-driving cars, remote work, and things like Amazon drone delivery are a recipe for a future of suburbs.

  6. JLM

    .The most important element of the future is actually not the future — it is what are we going to do with (how are we going to adapt) the past and the present.I remember renovating high rise office buildings (8-15 stories as that was all they could build in the first quarter of the 1900s in the ATX) and adapting them to modern services like air conditioning (I did an adaptive reuse of the first air conditioned office building west of the Mississippi River), modern telephony, more efficient systems (electrical, plumbing, HVAC, fire control, glazing).In the end, I produced a “modern” product for less than half the cost of a new building I built across the street. It had a small floor plate and it appealed to a full floor tenant who would be a small tenant and have to share a floor in the bigger building.There was a market for it.The future works great on a blank canvas. The problem is the current canvas is pretty damn full and will either have to be razed (legitimate strategy as everything has a useful life) or adapted.The future comes in serials and incrementally.The future is expensive and just keeps pushing the poor further and further to the fringe until they become “visitors” and not “dwellers.” Not the end of the world, but it can be seen from there.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

    1. William Mougayar

      “The future is expensive”…I like that line.

      1. JLM

        .”It is always cheaper to live in the past,” said a guy who drives a 1966 Impala convertible.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

        1. William Mougayar

          Agreed, says the guy driving a Diesel, thanks to Rudolph Diesel who invented it in 1890.

      2. jason wright

        my bicycle of choice is a 1989 Raleigh Randonneur in Reynolds steel. bikes of the future are here, and i see that this future is an expensive disappointment.

        1. William Mougayar

          Raleigh was my first kid’s bike

          1. jason wright

            mine too. my grandmother worked for the company and all my bikes came from the staff shop at a deep discount. heaven 🙂

          2. William Mougayar

            Wow. Cool.

          3. LE

            My first was a Schwinn. Schwinn and Raleigh are examples of companies that got upstaged by others when they got a bit lazy as they had a good distribution network I assume and could have very easily gone into different segments (even by adding new brand names like hotel chains do).http://www.mostluxuriouslis…(I don’t know sales figures but brand wise they are probably lagging at least by my limited exposure and knowledge..)

        2. Matt Zagaja

          I have a 2005 Giant TCR C1. My first choice was a Trek but the guy at the shop told me Giant makes some of the best bicycle technology, and when I rode the bicycles side by side the Giant compact frame fit me really well. It still runs like a dream. It weighs 15lbs.

      3. Michael Elling

        The future is TOTALLY INEXPENSIVE. It has to be, in order to deal with rapid obsolescence. I know that sounds counter-intuitive.Digital means 3 things:-automation (lower cost by making processes repeatable and more easily done in software; which obsolesces in seconds)-repurposing (affording higher revenue and greater demand segmentation)-combination (creating entirely new ecosystems through (re)combinations of apps and content)All these means greater revenue opportunity over costs that can be widely distributed over larger base.Therefore unit cost should be very low. We don’t see that with our access networks today. The spread between retail and true economic cost for gig access is 100-1000x and growing 20-30% annually.

        1. JLM

          .In ATX, with Grande Communications, I pay substantially LESS today for 1 gig than I paid for 100 mbps five years ago. In both nominal and real terms the cost of Internet access, even at high speeds, is coming down not going up.[In addition, they have replaced my fiber optic connection from at the edge of the house and have run it to the router in my office. No cost to me. This increases the speed of the actual service as the cable inside the house was not fiber optic.]I also get a $10/month loyal customer discount lowering my cost even more.This is clearly the result of competition.As a commodity, this is not unusual.In general, the future is going to be expensive until the competition makes it less expensive.The power of competition is always the consumer’s friend.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

    2. jason wright

      the bright future is always compromised by events of the past.

    3. sigmaalgebra

      The news is that central London is getting so expensive that all but very wealthy people are having to move out.Good for them: I wouldn’t want to live in central London anyway! On the British Isles, get away from London and there’re likely a lot of nice locations, often with water (they are islands), maybe toward Scotland or Ireland or maybe just to the SW and the Channel.Then there are the girls! From the pictures I’ve seen, there are a lot of really pretty girls on the British Isles! E.g., I can’t forget Lady Di, her hair and spectacular figure and especially her smile — too bad her father didn’t warn her she was marrying a genuine idiot from a sick family!And in long history, the British have done a lot of spectacular stuff — there are likely some smart people there.

    4. Michael Elling

      Yup! See my earlier comment on growth of digital divide. Few (most on this blog) have not really understood what’s necessary for SUSTAINABLE and GENERATIVE (inter) networked effects. This is a blog that believes in winner takes all. That’s simply not sustainable in a digital networked society where value AND costs have to be shared.That only happens through inter-network/actor settlements, which are anathema to the net neutrality folks. And those settlements need to be “balanced” by a centralized body. Time to pull out Plato’s Republic, cause they were debating these socio-economic network effects 2000+ years ago.

  7. sigmaalgebra

    Gee, Google, oops, Alphabet, has a lot of extra money, and the Side Walk Labs people have a lot of extra time without much idea what to do with it. From the beginning, the video was pretty bad, but when they got to “paths, edges, …” I gave up.The biggest thing about digital and cities is that digital makes cities less important and lets people get the heck out of and then away from cities! People can get back to grass, trees, and at least some wildlife.A place with no field mice, ground hogs, chipmunks, squirrels, skunks, racoons, foxes, deer, songbirds, owls, crows, falcons, etc. is no place for a good life for humans either!First place we lived in NY was on a hill in Pawling. The kitchen window looked over a porch, and along the porch were some bushes. So, the deer wanted to munch on the bushes and were smart enough to see that the easy way to do that was to stand on the porch. So, standing at the kitchen sink and looking out the kitchen window, a few feet away were deer on the porch munching on the bushes! Try to find that in NYC!There was a lot of land around the house but no grass to mow! So, there were lots of trees, bushes, and rocks, especially rocks.Yes, our kitty cat would bring back gifts for us, 1-3 mice on the porch!In the video, the early history was ironic: ASAP, Bell Labs, IBM product development, IBM Research, and the Manhattan Project got the heck OUT of NYC.

  8. pointsnfigures

    I know some very capable guys in Chicago investing in this sort of tech. Great guys and if you have tech like this, they would be awesome investors.

  9. Vendita Auto

    Just noted this ? Interesting test bed…

  10. kenberger

    Berlin is a real hotbed of transportation technologies, and I’m really enjoying spending time meeting with cool startups around Europe in this field.Deutsche Bahn (German railway system) has an amazing accelerator that’s already launched usable and great products and services. Kayak has a tech center here. They recently had a pitch session that was fantastic, especially because the companies were from all over (not just Germany):

  11. Michael Elling

    Let’s see. Which silo will lord over which city? If it is up to Google (and the rest of AGFA and Silicon Valley) we’ll have a feudal digital future.

  12. JLM

    .Fiber optic is a game changer. I write this on a 1 gig connection and it is smoking fast. How much will this cost?Who is going to own it and who are the ISPs?JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

  13. LE

    for what can be described as quasi-legal private surveillance cameras.Thoust have backup for the tin foil comment?In any case from the article:Under the 20-year agreement, MAW will be paid about $500,000 to install fiber-optic cable and transmitters throughout the city.Sound cheap. I wonder what they have budgeted for upkeep and maintenance over the 20 years.

  14. LE

    The city contracted with MAW Communications Inc. of Reading to build and maintain the system, which officials announced Wednesday.

  15. Matt Zagaja

    Where I am we have a group of folk that call themselves Team Fiber. Incumbent ISPs seem unwilling to create it in many if not most places. Seems like it is local government (and Google/Verizon in some places) that is nudging the world forward. Lots of regulatory jujitsu going on:

  16. Michael Elling

    And how to make it universal? So much that we have forgotten from the 20th century. The current model is busted. The digital divide between those who have and can access gig is growing, not declining.

  17. William Mougayar

    We’re doomed. Yup.

  18. jason wright

    Then shoot me immediately.

  19. JLM

    .Don’t get the “growing” element of your comment.ATX started with one provider and now has 6. Maybe 8. Google Fiber was the first public announcement but Grande Communication beat them by a couple of years.The provision of 1 gig fiber optic requires the presence of actual fiber optic cable so while there may be some parts of town that have a single provider, I can pick from more than 4.It is growing not declining. So, I don’t get your meaning.I am an Internet snob. When I “speedtest” my service, I sometimes only get 600 mbps for short periods of time. That is still smoking fast.Having said that, I will gladly pay for the faster service.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

  20. Michael Elling

    Yes. You can afford it. But 60-70% of the population really can’t when you look at the wireless and wired costs of access. Everyone should have access to gig (they really only need solid 2-way 100mbs) for <$30-40/month. That’s an absolute way of looking at it.When we provide “internet essentials” we provide it for <10mbs. That’s unfortunate; if not criminal when we look at Telecom Acts of 1934 and 1996. The greatest network effects is when gig access becomes ubiquitous.Then, in terms of technology which is improving 30-40% annually, we’re not seeing even the high-end services keeping up with that improvement. That’s a relative way of looking at it. That’s why Comcast et al are trying to bottleneck Netflix at their peering points (closer to the core) than allow Netflix’ mighty scale to drive competition out to the edge.The problem is the vertical integration of the edge access providers and the lack of settlements east-west (between networks or actors) and north-south between apps and infrastructure.Both are considered contraventions of net neutrality, which is a totally conjured up and contrived term (not supported by any major theory or application, which is why it is so unstable) from the early 2000s because we started killing off equal access with lawsuits for DSL resale post TA96 and then completely killed it off in 2005 with Brand-X. The competition you are referring to is isolated because of unique aspects of ATX and only seen in a few other markets.Look at what the incumbents are trying to do with pole attachments in places like Nashville, Portland, etc.. to prevent newcomers with fiber. Maybe Savannah. Dunno, but civilized place where one can carry an open container of beer on the streets. Best of luck finding gig.

  21. JLM

    .Still not getting your point. You said the gap was growing when, in fact, there is more 1 gig service than ever before, so, how is the gap growing?Is it possible you’re in error as to that assertion?You seem to be looking for an argument but I’m just questioning the factual premise of your comment.The rest of your rant about how Internet access, in general, is just so much baloney. Internet access is, clearly, increasing. It is a regulated free market service and people are going to have to pay for it.The notion that Internet access is some other utility than, say, electricity, water, sewer, cable TV, is silly. Nobody is getting free electricity — why are they supposed to get Internet service at some “right to access” subsidized pricing?Would it be overly obvious to agree with you that all competition is local and only seen in the markets that actually support and reward such competition?For years, there was no Internet in Steamboat Springs, CO and now there is. Very good service but it came a lot after it came to ATX. Market driven, no doubt.As to Savannah, believe me I am worried about it and have already been working on the problem. There is only one provider of 1 gig and it’s a governmental entity.The march of civilization is, indeed, measured by the cutting edge of where one can carry an open container of beer. In that context, I am substantially and hopelessly behind the march of modernity.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

  22. Michael Elling

    “You said the gap was growing”: gig is marketing/PR noise. Folks need reliable 10-20mbs/person synchronous for $20-30/month. People don’t need 1 gig for 99% of what they do now or for the foreseeable future; not even you need it. So why pay for it? Yet rates go up instead of down. Have you looked at the price tiers? service providers just want $50-100 per household to make a return for their inefficient vertical business models. Below that, there isn’t a whole lot of good service or choice. That’s the gap. But I’m not the only one saying it. Many others are as well. Only I know the real cost/price can be driven below $20 and I’m working on that.Telecom networks, unlike other utilities, are 2-way. Yet a monopoly will only build to the average, not marginal demand. So rarely is more than 70% built to; which actually decreases their overall value. But they don’t care cause they’re making more money than G-d. Just look in the past (and even today) at all the non-democratic countries and even the democratic ones without “universal service” requirements.3 important events wrt universal service: -Kingsbury commitment and its BS about universal service. -1934 Telecoms Act actually mandating universal service-The divestiture decree of 1982 (vertical separation of MaBell to introduce WAN/IXC competition) that introduced equal access and the beginning of the end for universal service.TA96, like the term net neutrality, was a farce. Didn’t address internet, broadband, cable, wireless, issues of interoperability and universal access, etc… As a result, there is no universal service requirement for broadband and the current regime of subsidies is completely messed up and ineffective.Competition is in fact not local. That’s where govt steps in for rights of way issues: wires, poles and frequencies. These can all be considered “public goods” and the government should figure out the most efficient way for service providers to use these public RoW for everyone’s benefit.Competition happens most easily at the core. That’s why edge ISPs try to push demarc between core (WAN) and edge (MAN) as close to the core as possible. Go back to Kingsbury. It is right there: 50 mile exclusion zone. Why? Wireless could have brought the WAN (long-distance competition) much closer to the edge. We could have something like MCI providing competition by the 1920s in most markets. The world may well have been a very different place as competitive communicaiton (information) networks would have advanced more rapidly.Even today, across 60-70% of the population there are just 2 providers; and one provides really bad service.Having said that, we have seen with part 15 (aka wifi) shared access spectrum that with minimal government intervention we created an ecosystem that accounts for 70-80% of all internet access today.By making the networks more open and interconnected all the way out to the edge, we can make access 90% cheaper and narrow the digital divide between those who have and don’t have access to basic, high-speed internet access.

  23. JLM

    .Why do I have such a strong feeling that you’re just blowing smoke up my ass? Big time.The utterance is pretty damn simple — 1 gig availability and usage is growing not declining. More people are buying it. More ISPs are offering it.Your assertion that is not what people need? Fine. Has nothing to do with the availability or acceptance or my comment/question.The rest of what you write is not really germane to the subject.The market will sort out what people want to pay for.That’s the way markets work.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

  24. Michael Elling

    60-70% of population do not have the competition that you have in your upper quintile demographic markets. That’s not even addressing the 30% that simply cannot afford more than $30/month.In every discussion on networks and access you rave about gig and your wifi in your car. It’s really nice that you can afford that, but the reality is with “real” competition everyone could afford it. Moreover, if everyone could afford it, imagine what the IoT and actual 2-way HD video conferencing impact there would be on the economy.

  25. JLM

    .No doubt that competition has not reached every corner of the US. That is also a characteristic of competition — it comes to the “best” markets first and spreads from there.My neighborhood was one of the first to have 1 gig in ATX. There is a reason why.There will always be those who cannot afford something.Have I ever mentioned WiFi in my car? Funny, as I drive a truck or a 1966 Impala convertible most of the time. No WiFi. Maybe I was talking about my son’s vehicle?JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

  26. Michael Elling

    60-70% is a lot of corners.Not sure which vehicle you were referring to, but you’ve clearly talked about how great it was on several occasions. I say this because it’s really laughable at how they’re ripping you (or whomever) off.Sorry, but your knowledge of networks and pricing is limited. So don’t talk about how great things are when only a small percent can really afford it; even when it is important for 100% to have that access.That’s what the discussion of the City As A Digital Platform should have been about, and why I raised the universal service issue to begin with.

  27. JLM

    .Great comment, Mike. Really thoughtful.I doubt I’ve ever mentioned anything about having WiFi in any of my vehicles as I, actually, don’t. I may have made a comment about my son’s vehicle, who, in fact, does.Mike, my knowledge of everything is limited. No big surprise there, friend.But, I suspect I will continue to talk about those things I know something about and even hazard an opinion about those I may not. That’s the way comments work.. And, as to your suggesting otherwise, well you know where you can put that.The market also thinks it’s “important” to provide services where they can.Great chat. Have a great Labor Day.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…