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Tomorrowland: How Silicon Valley Shapes Our Future

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Thomas Schulz reports in Der Spiegel:

The word on the street is that Travis Kalanick, founder and CEO of Uber, can be an asshole. He publicly insults the competition, mocks his own customers on Twitter and believes that politicians are incompetent. A top company executive even went so far as to suggest that journalists be spied on and Kalanick himself has said that it is as easy for him to seduce women as it is for others to call a taxi. In response to unhappy Uber drivers protesting poor pay, Kalanick predicted that they would soon be replaced by computers anyway.

Since December, Uber has been valued at $41 billion, not much less than Germany’s largest financial institution, Deutsche Bank. It only took the company five years to spread from San Francisco to more than 260 cities in over 50 countries around the world. Every month, the company adds another couple of countries and a handful of cities to its portfolio.

Uber is a good — no, a great — product. Essentially carpooling at the push of a button, it is an extremely simple service and one whose implementation is technically brilliant and easy to use. In most parts of the world, Uber is not only cheaper than any taxi service on offer, but also better. The company says that 50,000 new drivers join Uber each month.

The fact that the boss isn’t particularly nice shouldn’t really matter that much, but things aren’t quite that easy in this case. The company, after all, is a mirror image of its founder: aggressive, ruthless and overly ambitious.

After Portland, Oregon, banned the ride-sharing company from operating in the city late last year, Kalanick launched the service there anyway. The head of the local bureau of transportation was furious. “They think they can just come in here and flagrantly violate the law?” he asked. “This is really amazing. Apparently they believe they’re gods.”

There has been similar resistance in many other cities around the world, including in Germany, where Uber simply ignored court orders. For Kalanick, though, such skirmishes are small frays in a much larger war for supremacy. His “vision,” as he calls it, sees Uber becoming a kind of global transportation service that will ultimately allow city dwellers to eschew owning a car. He sees it transforming into a mobility giant that doesn’t just take people from place to place, but also goods — at the click of a button and at the lowest price available. Ideally with a driverless vehicle.

But Uber isn’t the only company with ambitions of taking over the world. That’s how they all think: Google and Facebook, Apple and Airbnb — all the digital giants along with the myriad smaller companies in their wake.

Their goal is never a niche market; it’s always the entire world. But far from being driven by delusional fantasies, their objectives are often realistic, made possible by a potent cocktail unique in economic history: globalization combined with digitalization.

The technological advances made in the last decade have been breathtaking, but it is likely still just the beginning. The growth of new technologies, after all, has been exponential rather than linear, with ever larger advances coming at an increasingly rapid rate. It is like a gigantic avalanche that begins as a tiny snowball at the top of the mountain.

San Jose, CA, Silicon ValleyZoom

Corbis

San Jose, CA, Silicon Valley

The iPhone only made its appearance seven years ago, but most of us no longer remember what the world was like before. Driverless cars were considered to be a crazy fantasy not long ago, but today nobody is particularly amazed by them. All the world’s knowledge condensed into a digital map and easily accessible? Normal. The fact that algorithms in the US control some 70 percent of all trading on the stock market? Crazy, to be sure. But normal craziness.

Dozens of companies are trying to figure out how to use drones for commercial use, be it for deliveries, data collection or other purposes. Huge armies of engineers are chasing after the holy grail of artificial intelligence. And the advances keep coming. Machines that can learn, intelligent robots: We have begun overtaking science fiction.

The phenomenon is still misunderstood, first and foremost by policymakers. It appears they have not yet decided whether to dive in and create a usable policy framework for the future or to stand aside as others create a global revolution. After all, what we are witnessing is not just the triumph of a particular technology. And it is not just an economic phenomenon. It isn’t about “the Internet” or “the social networks,” nor is it about intelligence services and Edward Snowden or the question as to what Google is doing with our data. It isn’t about the huge numbers of newspapers that are going broke nor is it about jobs being replaced by software. It’s not about a messaging service being worth €19 billion ($21.1 billion) or the fact that 20-year-olds are launching entire new industries.

We are witnessing nothing less than a societal transformation that ultimately nobody will be able to avoid. It is the kind of sea change that can only be compared with 19th century industrialization, but it is happening much faster this time. Just as the change from hand work to mass production dramatically changed our society over 100 years ago, the digital revolution isn’t just altering specific sectors of the economy, it is changing the way we think and live.

This time, though, the transformation is different. This time, it is being driven by just a few hundred people. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 March 2015 at 9:32 am

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