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The future's gaping maw

City Sage



A recent paper out of Arizona State University is dismally titled "Local Government 2035: Strategic Trends and Implications of New Technologies." It begins with a yawn-inducing sentence that echoes dozens of its predecessors:

"Technological advancements increasingly disrupt and destabilize markets, institutions, and organizations around the globe."

C'mon, tell me something new — and for the next 30 pages, that's exactly what they did.

Predicting the future is difficult enough, but by simply extrapolating existing trends you can arrive at conclusions. Some will be accurate, some not, but in the age of big data, those conclusions may be very tough to rebut. You may not like them, but too bad — the future doesn't care what you think. Here are a few examples from "Local Government 2035":

• Unmanned drones. They will become smaller, stealthier, more versatile and harder to detect. AeriCam is marketing one that's smaller than an iPhone. Can local governments regulate, tax, control or outlaw things that they can't see and don't understand, and that cross jurisdictions at will? And what about drone delivery systems, such as that under development by Amazon? If successful, FedEx and other package delivery systems will simply disappear, leaving warehouses, drones and robots. Jeff Bezos will be Amazon's only remaining human employee.

• Automated vehicles. Last year, Los Angeles generated $161 million from parking violations. Getting a DUI in California can cost $15,000 for a misdemeanor first offense, and California cities collect an average of $40 million annually in vehicle towing fees. Automated vehicles will change that because "unlike humans, they abide by the law." The process has begun. Parking ticket collections in Washington, D.C., dropped from $90.6 million in 2012 to $84.5 million in 2013 thanks to phone apps that allow you to communicate remotely with your parking meter and add time to avoid tickets.

• Artificial intelligence. We know that robots will take over many tasks. To paraphrase the country song: "Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be truckers." According to the study, "self-driving technologies will eliminate all 5.7 million trucking jobs in the United States as businesses move to streamline their supply-chain operations. ... Even journalists will not be spared additional cuts in their already dwindling profession as computers are now capable of producing basic write-ups of sports events." Say it ain't so!

• Peer2peer platforms. They're nothing new (Napster begat Friendster, which begat Myspace, which begat Facebook, which begat, well, everything). We love Airbnb, Lyft and Uber, but local governments don't. P2P transactions benefit buyer and seller; governments don't get a cut. Imagine being driven to work by your driverless car, which then becomes a robo-Uber, picking up fares. It'd show up at the office at 5 p.m. to take you and co-workers home or to your favorite bar, and tell you proudly that it collected $72.43 in fares while you were at work. Will the city take a cut? Probably not if you use a Bitcoin app, which even today offers "massive information transfer capabilities that are purposefully unidentifiable."

• Forget sustainability. Convergent technologies of the future will create a far more efficient, sustainable world without local government intervention. So don't waste your time trying to shut down the Martin Drake Power Plant. You're beating a dead horse.

• Creative class vs. cranky old geezers. Transnational peer groups, whom the study's authors credit with "half of all economic advancement," can go anywhere. Will they come here? Maybe not.

"Local leaders are trying to grow their economies to provide more jobs to more citizens and attract the creative class while wrestling with aging populations that often resist the very diversity desired by the creative class and fostered by healthy and balanced immigration."

That's us, but governments are preparing for an even more geezer-rich future. Last week, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a bill creating a "Strategic Action Planning Group on Aging." That's because a third of Colorado's population will be past 60 within the next two decades.

We can look forward to a sustainable, sharing, automated, jobless dystopia. Imagine Scandinavia without benefits, Texas without jobs — no country for young people. I won't be around to see it — so have fun, kids, and enjoy your cool, yet penniless, future.

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