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Saturday, April 13, 2024

Henry Grabar responds to Linda Nagata’s short story “Ride.”

Journalist reporting on autonomous cities and vehicles responds to Linda Nagatadrive. “

I like to think of myself as a deep skeptic in relation to the many internet algorithms that tell me what I want and need. I turn off targeted advertising wherever I can. I use AdBlock to hide what’s left. Most of my recommendations on YouTube are for concerts or a sports record, but I know I’m a few clicks away from a wild-eyed influencer who tells me to gargle turpentine because of a sore throat. Popular topics on Twitter? I regret that I clicked right away.

But I make an exception to the sweet and all-knowing embrace of the Spotify algorithm, to which I turn my ears several times a day. This software not only knows my taste in music better than my friends; He works on it, with chains of songs that build things I know I love, or have forgotten I did.

Being navigated by an algorithm is the subject of Linda Nagata’s “journey”. In this case, I mean it literally: Nagata’s story takes place in Honolulu’s neighborhood, Waikiki, in the not-so-distant future where a self-driving transportation system takes residents from place to place. Who you ride with, how long you wait and how you get where you want to go are all in the hands of opaque computer software. So when Jasmine, a disappointing receptionist at the hotel, gets a tip about an “Easter egg” in the public transportation app code, the option to change things makes her flutter with excitement.

Most of us probably experience this kind of algorithmic control only in seizures and outbursts, in the well-tuned interface of a dating app or playlist, but Nagata’s characters live under the algorithm. It’s the only game in town when they have to get from A to B, and as a public right-of-way guard, the power of the code extends all the way to the type of people who get to meet each other. Riders are sorted by social ranking. Because the cars are autonomous, there is no driver to turn to when something goes wrong.

Nagata’s vision for fleet transportation is not so different from the way Silicon Valley CEOs like Tesla’s Elon Musk or Lyft’s Zimmer imagined the urban future. In this scenario, electric and autonomous vehicles are expanding mostly under a common model, so cheap and convenient For use until they eat up our purchases of private cars.This all this travel sharing – like, literally sharing cars with other passengers – theoretically produces more mobility without adding more traffic.

Historically, transit monopolies have been among the most infamous players in urban politics, from early tram franchises to taxi cartels. The avoidance of taxi drivers by black customers and neighborhoods was one of the reasons why Uber managed to summon the political capital to disrupt the system that prevailed in the big cities in the early 21stStreet century. Nowadays, non-driving big city residents often have a choice between at least two risk-funded taxi services, in addition to a public transportation system.

I do not intend to present the status quo as a kind of utopian collection of traffic options. Uber and Lift, the two largest taxi companies in the country, are not cheap for consumers, are not affordable for drivers, and are not profitable for shareholders. Public transport service remains poor almost everywhere, possibility of last resort. Leasing and driving his own car, while it is without a doubt the most reliable option to get from A to B, imposes an inevitable financial penalty on the working poor. Also, it’s terrible for the environment.

From this angle, there is something very appealing about the smooth Transit AI system that transports Jasmine from home to work and back for goodness sake. Its cost is never mentioned; Its efficiency is legendary (even if, under duress, the emergency functions of the Transit AI need nothing but work). Thoughtless comfort, to the extent that Nagata’s protagonist wants to spoil it and put some excitement into her routine.

However, under the hood, the utopian system that exists everywhere in Waiki replicates, under the guise of “social ranking,” many of the socio-economic inequalities inherent in our system. (Waikiki also has “luxury services” and personal cars, by the way.) This is not such a far-fetched idea; Service ratings do determine who gets access to hail services. For employees, such important ratings can be the difference between plum work and no work at all.

But perhaps it is better to see Waikiki’s Transit AI social rating system as a metaphor for the kind of sorting that is so easily done in the many algorithmically managed spaces that make up, more and more, the framework of our lives. The Internet is a place of stability that undermines stability, where we can brush our shoulders in mentions with famous writers and junk-loving basketball players or vote on whether the richest man in the world should sell $ 20 billion in stocks. Sometimes it feels more like a subway car, in other words, than the stratified ascent areas of an international flight.

But on the internet, behind the free code — apparently hides a code he often tries to sort out as with Like, feed me news that matches my biases, and play me musicians I know their songs, and sell me boots like the ones every other 31-year-old man wants to buy. “I’m ready for a change,” Jasmine says. Software has just the thing for her.

Future Tense is a partner of Slate,
New America, And
University of Arizona
Examining evolving technologies, public policy and society.


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