Alphabet’s far-reaching ambitions are forcing it to grapple with an unusual challenge for a private company: how to run its own city.What would be more fun than designing a city from the ground up? And this is refreshing:
Google’s parent company was working on a sweeping plan to build a city from the ground up, the executive in charge of its urban innovation business said on Tuesday, in an attempt to prove that a technologically-enabled urban environment can improve quality of life and reduce cities’ impact on the environment.
That would raise profound questions about the rules that govern such tech-centric places, particularly regarding how citizens’ data are collected, protected and used, conceded the head of Sidewalk Labs, the Alphabet subsidiary running the project.
“We actually want to build a new city, it is a district of the city, but one that is of sufficient size and scale that it can be a laboratory for innovation on an integrated basis,” said Dan Doctoroff, head of Sidewalk Labs, at a talk to the San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association.
Sidewalk was “quite far along” in its search for a city with which to partner to build a testing ground for new approaches to transport, infrastructure and possibly even governance and social policy, he said.
Mr Doctoroff said he hoped the city could pioneer new approaches to data policies and even “set an example” for other places. “I think the real issues, which we have to confront as a society anyway, involve the use of data.”
“Having a place in which we actually aggressively wrestle with those issues, and we aggressively develop policies — that are the result of a really thoughtful conversation amongst privacy advocates, and members of the community, and the government as well as us, as sort of a sponsor of the place — I think that could set an example,” he said, in his most explicit comments to date on the planned project.
Mr Doctoroff criticised Amazon’s request for tax incentives, saying that such incentives could hurt cities in the long term by undermining their tax base. He said that unlike Amazon, Sidewalk Labs was “not looking for huge handouts”.On the other hand, it sounds like the price of living there will be that your whole life will be data mined as thoroughly as your online life is now.