News Center

The Cautionary Tale Of George Hotz And The Self-Driving Car

by Mike Montgomery

George Hotz is one of the best-known hackers in America. At just 17 years old, he was the first person to unlock an iPhone so it could be used by multiple carriers. He cracked the security on the PS3 and was sued by Sony. The two settled out of court with Hotz promising he would never again tinker with Sony security.

After years of angering corporations, Hotz decided to go legit, trading in his black hat for a white one, signifying his status as a newly minted good guy. He worked for both Facebook and Google before starting his own company Comma.ai, last year. At this year’s TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco, he unveiled the company’s first product — the Comma One, a $999 box that could help make Honda Civics and some Acuras almost self-driving cars.

But then, last week, any excitement Hotz’s announcement had created disappeared because of some regulatory intervention. All it took was one sharply worded letter from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for Hotz to pack up his toys and go home. The letter, which Hotz posted here, said that the NHTSA needed to ensure that the device didn’t have a “safety-related defect” that might put drivers in danger.

In a series of tweets, Hotz said: “Would much rather spend my life building amazing technology than dealing with regulators and lawyers. It isn’t worth it. The comma one [sic] is canceled. Comma.ai will be exploring other markets and products. Hello from Shenzhen, China.”

But Hotz’s story isn’t about a new product being regulated to death; it’s about entrepreneurs who fail to take the realities of our government into account when they start to build their companies. Certainly, the NHTSA was simply doing its job ensuring public safety, and perhaps the agency could have communicated its concerns in gentler way rather than Napstering the potentially revolutionary device. But had Hotz gone into this with a team that understood the regulatory environment, this axle-breaking speed bump could have been avoided.

Read the full article here.

Why Election Technology Is Stuck In The Stone Age

by Mike Montgomery

In the past, technology firm Democracy Live has used a cloud-based platform to send ballots to U.S. military and overseas citizens around the world. Submariners, ambassadors in Paris and scientists working in an Antarctic lab are among those who have cast their votes using this electronic ballot.

But they are the outliers. We can buy movie tickets, order cars and even pay our taxes online, but for most of us, voting is a distinctly analog experience. We walk into a polling place and have our names penciled off by hand in a giant ledger before entering a booth with our paper ballot and pen or ink blotter.

So when will we see the era of online voting? The short and quick answer: no time soon.

“Voters are satisfied in the way they cast their ballots,” says Eric Jaye of consulting firm Storefront Political Media. “They prefer the security of a paper ballot and have worked to ensure even when the vote is cast technologically, there is a paper record.”

Democracy Live President Bryan Finney points out that most stateside voters (eight out of 10) this election will be marking their choices on paper or using an electric machine that creates a paper trail, even though that can actually cost more than if the states were to upgrade their voting to an online system.

That’s because security is still paramount. As we saw with the recent hack that took out Twitter, Netflix and other sites by exploiting the Internet of Things, there are real issues around online security, and until they are addressed, government officials are understandably wary of trusting something as important as an election to the internet.

Read the full article here.

Anti-Airbnb law will line the pockets of big hotel owners

by Mike Montgomery

Gov. Andrew Cuomo made a huge mistake Oct. 21 when he signed into law a bill that restricts home sharing in New York. The new law will hurt homeowners and visitors and only help a group that doesn’t need any: the hotel industry.

The law allows for fines of up to $7,500 on anyone advertising a home rental available for fewer than 30 nights when the owner is not present. Thousands of people in New York who have been making extra money by renting out rooms (or their entire home) will suddenly be denied an important source of income.

The governor and his cronies claim that the law is being imposed to protect affordable housing, but this argument is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Everyone loves affordable housing, and who wouldn’t want to protect it? But the real aim of this bill is to give a big, sloppy kiss to the hotel industry.

And the industry’s delight was palpable. Hotel owners could barely contain their glee when they heard the news. Mike Barnello, the CEO of LaSalle Hotel Properties, which owns (among others) the Park Central, the Roger and Gild Hall near Wall Street, openly admitted that the bill will help him raise room prices.

On a recent earnings call he told investors that the new law should be a “big boost in the arm for the business … certainly in terms of the pricing.”

Helping hotel owners raise room rates while cutting off home sharing options to all socioeconomic classes will have a negative ripple effect on local economies. Our research has found that for every dollar spent at a hotel, 60% leaves the state and goes to corporate headquarters, many of which reside outside of the United States. But for every dollar spent on a home share, 87% stays in the community.

That means that New York is taking money out of neighborhoods and sending it to multibillion-dollar, multinational corporations with little incentive to reinvest in the communities in which they operate. It’s also going to force visitors to spend more on their hotel rooms, which means they’ll have less money to spend on things like shopping, shows and dining.

And let’s remember New York is more than just New York City. The new law means that a couple in upstate New York counting on home sharing to earn some extra money from tourists coming to see the fall foliage, suddenly face a massive fine just for listing their home. New York City might not be in desperate need of revenue that stays in the community, but other cities and towns are. They shouldn’t be penalized in this egregious way.

Read the full article here.

Smart Companies Like Disney Show Why the FCC Is Wrong on Set-Top Boxes

by Mike Montgomery

t’s hard to see what’s missing at Disney. The giant entertainment company (one of the biggest companies in the world with a $147 billion market cap) already has Lucasfilm, Marvel, Pixar, ABC, ESPN, theme parks, hotels and TV channels galore.

But even Disney, as big and powerful as it is, must make deals with distribution partners such as Comcast, Netflix and Apple to get its movies and TV shows delivered to consumers in the manner they desire. So it wasn’t a huge surprise to many media watchers when Disney CEO Bob Iger announced earlier this month that the company was considering buying Netflix or Twitter in order to have its own distribution platform.

“The biggest thing we’re trying to do now is figure out what technology’s role is in distributing the great content that we have,” Iger told the crowd at the Boston College Chief Executives Club. “It’s one thing to be as fortunate as we are to have [our content] but in today’s world, it’s almost not enough … unless you have access to your consumers.”

Now, Disney may never actually buy either Netflix or Twitter, but the point is that when smart people in the media world are thinking about how to get close to the consumer, they are coming up with creative, market-driven solutions – not by asking the government for favors.

Over the past few years the way we consume entertainment has changed in unimaginable ways. People can watch what they want where they want when they want. Children coming of age today have no concept of a linear TV schedule where you have to be in your living room at a certain time to watch your favorite show. To them the world of TV and movies is just an endless giant living library that can be accessed from almost anywhere.

This kind of creative disruption is healthy for an industry and it’s exciting to see creators and innovators rising to the challenge.

And it’s crucial that this movement not be stopped by the FCC.

Read the full article here.

Why Libertarian Presidential Candidate Gary Johnson Loves The Sharing Economy

Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson would very much like to rent out his New Mexico home on Airbnb, but he can’t because of a restriction in place in his home state.

Johnson says that if elected president, he would encourage more freedom in the sharing economy. “The future is the Uber of everything,” Johnson told CALinnovates Evangelist Kish Rajan. “If elected, count on me to use the bully pulpit to point out how good these things are and to stop with the restrictions.”

In general, Johnson is a big fan of technology. Thanks to social media, he’s spent less money on his presidential run than any candidate in history and is still polling at about 6.5% — not bad for a third-party candidate.

He also understands that for people in the tech industry (among others) immigrants are welcome additions, not a group to fear. Johnson says he would make it as easy as possible for people to come to America with a background check and a Social Security card to ensure they pay taxes.

“We are a country of immigrants,” says Johnson. “We are at a crossroad, and I don’t think we should go the way of protectionism.”

Listen to the full interview below:

 

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Evan Low Looks At Government Through A Millennial Lens

At 33, Assemblyman Evan Low (D-Campbell) is one of the youngest members of the California legislature. A Silicon Valley native, Low sees things slightly differently from his fellow legislators in Sacramento. He views the world as one that is rapidly changing thanks to technology and as a place where government is struggling to keep up.

Before some of his co-workers even knew what Uber was, Low was pushing to get the government to work with the disruptive company instead of fighting back against it. Low sees the possibilities and promise of innovation but he acknowledges there is a tension between how fast technology is moving and how slowly government tends to move.

“We are a capitalist society, we want competition to thrive,” says Low. “But how do we put in place a regulatory framework to make that work?”

These are the kinds of questions Low struggles with in his effort to give back to his community through political service. In a wide-ranging conversation, Low talked with us about the sharing economy, getting more young people involved in politics and whether the state’s balloting system (there are 17 state-wide initiatives up for vote this year) has overwhelmed voters.

Listen to our full interview below:

 

Like what you hear? Subscribe to A Step Ahead on iTunes.

“On A Collision Course With The Future:” Gavin Newsom On Bringing California’s Government Into The 21st Century

As the mayor of San Francisco from 2003 to 2011, Gavin Newsom had a front row seat to the incredible technological innovation that forever changed the U.S. (and global) economy. He remembers Steve Jobs introducing the iPod and thinking it would never replace record stores. He remembers local newspapers scoffing at the idea of Craigslist, which went on to decimate the newspaper advertising business.

Now, as lieutenant governor, Newsom is doing what he can to make sure that the government of the state of California is keeping up with that rapid change. It’s not an easy task.

“Government in California is on the cutting edge of 1973,” Newsom told CALinnovates’ Kish Rajan during a recent talk in San Francisco.

In order to evolve, the state government needs to reflect the changes we are seeing in today’s culture. Newsom tried for years to reform the taxi industry and then Uber did it with a simple app. Newsom acknowledges that there’s no going back. Now government has to strap in and prepare for the ride.

“Every one of us has an obligation when we get up in the morning to ask ourselves, ‘What is the world we’re living in,’” said Newsom. “A guy or a gal on a white horse is not going to come along and save the day for us.”

Listen to the full interview below:

 

Like what you hear? Subscribe to A Step Ahead on iTunes.

The Future Of Health Care Is In Data Analytics

by Mike Montgomery

Every minute of the day, eCare21, a remote patient-monitoring system, collects thousands of pieces of health data about more than 1,000 senior citizens. The telehealth system uses smartphones, Fitbits, Bluetooth and sensors to collect information about things like blood pressure, physical activity, glucose levels, medication intake and weight. The information is then compiled on a dashboard so that the patients’ doctors, loved ones and caregivers can keep an eye on them and provide proactive care, even from hundreds of miles away.

This is proving to be a valuable service for individuals managing complicated health situations. But Vadim Cherdak, CEO and president of eCare21, says we are only scratching the surface. Once his company partners with a big data analytics service, it will be able to glean even more useful insights from the intense amount of data flowing in.

Cherdak expects to be able to deeply analyze the data to provide better alerts and tailored recommendations for patients and caregivers. Cherdak has been looking at big data systems such as IBM WatsonCloudvara and Hortonworks, but the industry is still in the pioneering stages. No one yet knows the best way to make sense of the vast troves of data.

This kind of telehealth — which eliminates geographical constraints by using technology to help people receive timely medical care no matter where they are — is on the upswing. In fact, according to the National Business Group on Health, nine in 10 large employers will provide telehealth services to their employees in 2017. By 2019, NBG predicts, this number will leap to 97%.

Telemedicine may alleviate some of the struggles currently facing the health-care industry. We have an aging population, a shortage of physicians and an increasing need to manage chronic diseases. We also need to keep burgeoning health-care costs in check. Thanks to “constant technological innovation, increasing remote patient monitoring and rising use of treatments that require long follow-ups,” Mordor Intelligence predicts that the global telemedicine market will reach more than $34 billion by 2020.

Read the full post here.

Uberless Austin Needs To Stop Calling Itself The No. 1 City For Startups

By Kish Rajan

For the second year in a row Austin, Texas, is boasting that it is the No. 1 city for startups. That’s some nice PR, but the entrepreneurs trying to build the Silicon Valley of Texas likely don’t feel like they’re in a sophisticated tech hub. They can’t even use Uber.

Since May 9th, there have been no Ubers and no Lyfts in Austin. People who relied on the ridesharing companies to navigate the city have had to find other (more expensive or less convenient) ways to get around. And the thousands of people who were earning money as drivers? They’re out of work.

(Photo: TLVshac)
(Photo: TLVshac)

And it doesn’t look like that’s going to change any time soon. The City of Austin is vowing to keep its sharing economy unfriendly policies in place even if the state enacts new rules.

Austin’s title as top startup city comes from the Kauffman Index which ranks cities on things like the rate of entrepreneurial growth and the density of startup firms per 1,000 people. Those numbers show how entrepreneurial the city is. The population is ripe for something like Uber which not only makes it easier to get around but gives people a way to earn extra money while they are going to school, working on the great American novel or saving money to start their own business.

But Uber and Lyft are no longer an option for the people of Austin. The companies left the city after voters failed to change a law that requires transportation companies to do fingerprint background checks on their drivers.

Fingerprint checks are one of those things that seem like a great idea but when you dig a little deeper, they really don’t do all a concerned citizenry might expect. Fingerprint checks are expensive and they take a long time to get results. That’s a burden on potential drivers.

Then they don’t even catch all criminals. The checks are usually state based which means if someone committed a crime in another state it wouldn’t necessarily show up on a fingerprint background check.

Companies like Uber and Lyft want passengers to feel safe when they hail rides. So they do their own background searches on drivers through third parties that often do much more extensive searches than a fingerprint check. Austin’s fingerprint requirement wouldn’t have made riders any safer, it just would have made life harder for drivers.

Any city that puts up these kinds of barriers against an innovative tech company like Uber doesn’t have the right to call itself the top startup city in the nation. It doesn’t matter what the numbers say. Sometimes policies speak louder than numbers.

If Austin really wants to be seen as a viable competitor to Silicon Valley it should change its outdated regulations and make the fingerprint check requirement a thing of the past. Entrepreneurs are smart and mobile. Without rideshare companies, Austin stands to lose its standing next year as entrepreneurs flock to the next, more welcoming, tech hub.

Goodbye Payphones, Hello Progress

by Kish Rajan

If Clark Kent wanted to turn into Superman in California today, he’d struggle to find a phone booth. Across the entire state there are only 27,000 payphones left, down 70% from 2007.

It’s no big surprise that the payphone is going the way of the dodo bird. According to the Pew Research Center 92% of American adults own cellphones. If you’re desperate to make a call and find yourself with a dead battery, chances are good you’re going to ask a friendly stranger to borrow their cell phone before you’re going to search out a payphone.

Late last month, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill into law that acknowledges the demise of the payphone. SB 1055 puts an end to the Payphone Services Committee and the Payphone Service Providers Committee Fund which was being used to, among other things, “fund programs to … educate consumers on matters related to payphones.”

Let that sink in for a second. As a state, until a few weeks ago, we were still spending money to educate people about payphones — something the vast majority of citizens don’t want or need.

That’s pretty emblematic of how the legislature works when it comes to telecom. There are lots of outdated laws and committees and funds on the books but change comes incredibly slowly.

That’s why the death of the payphone committee is a small but symbolic step.

California should turn its attention to fixing other policies that keep outdated technology tethered to our streets and our homes even when we as a population have moved on.

Read the full post on Fox and Hounds here.

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