Public Transit On-Demand? Los Angeles Mayor Says It's Possible.

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, speaking yesterday at an urban solutions summit, shared visions of various tech transit projects he'd like to see instituted in his city before 2020.

Would Los Angeles residents ever give up their autonomy over the roads? Mayor Eric Garcetti thinks so, and that it may happen sooner than you'd expect. 


Garcetti spoke yesterday at the CityLab 2014 summit in downtown L.A. The topic was "Urban Solutions to Global Problems." CityLab's John Metcalfe has the scoop:

"It's no secret that Eric Garcetti has a thing for autonomous vehicles. At a conference last winter, L.A.'s self-proclaimed 'tech mayor' shared his dream of having an entire neighborhood devoted to whirring, driverless machines... Today he doubled down on that vision, saying that L.A. 'could be the first place really in an urban center where we have autonomous vehicles that are able to be ordered up [like] a car service, right away in a real neighborhood, not just in a protected area.'"

The future-minded Garcetti believes there's a possibility autonomous vehicles will take over within the next two decades and make car ownership an obsolete and archaic concept. His dream of a sort of on-demand, Uber-meets-Transit service sounds far-fetched but Metcalfe explains the city is already working with a team at UCLA to create a neighborhood for driverless vehicles. Garcetti's also set up a project with Xerox that, although most of the details are still under wraps, appears to be the development of a strategy for running an autonomous vehicle network.

Garcetti's hope is that, someday soon, commuters would be able to take care of all their transit needs over their personal devices:

"And you never have to stress out anymore about how you're going to get some place. You know you have the options.... And maybe the city makes a small transaction fee off of that, or MTA, so it's actually in our interest to build that and then share that open-source again with the rest of the world."

Whether Angelenos will really buy-in remains to be seen. It should be remembered that ever since it allowed the auto companies to disassemble its world-class transit system in the late '40s, Los Angeles has had a long run of embarrassing failures while trying to catch up with the rest of the world. For example, you can't take a metro train to the airport without having to transfer to a bus (and sit in traffic for a mile). The "subway to the sea" currently lets out 5 miles from the water. And even though over 1 million Angelenos commute every day via bus, they're susceptible to the same gridlock as every other vehicle. 

The vision of a city-wide fleet of autonomous MTA vehicles may seem cool as a hypothetical, but L.A. commuters don't have much reason to believe in the transit pipe-dreams of local politicians.

Read more at CityLab

Photo credit: photo.ua / Shutterstock

For more on autonomous cars, here's software guru and Big Think expert Brad Templeton:

Related Articles

Why cauliflower is perfect for the keto diet

The exploding popularity of the keto diet puts a less used veggie into the spotlight.

Purple cauliflower. (Photo: Shutterstock)
Surprising Science
  • The cauliflower is a vegetable of choice if you're on the keto diet.
  • The plant is low in carbs and can replace potatoes, rice and pasta.
  • It can be eaten both raw and cooked for different benefits.
Keep reading Show less

Sex robot brothel in Texas sparks controversy and ethical questions

Some say the proliferation of sex robots could lead to less demand for prostitution, but not all agree.

Will the proliferation of sex robots be a net good or bad for society? (Photo: Shutterstock)
Sex & Relationships
  • A Toronto-based sex robot brothel plans to open another location in Houston.
  • Some critics argue that the proliferation of sex robots would lead to increases in prostitution and sex trafficking.
  • Others say that such technology could help some people find a degree of much-needed companionship.

There are currently no laws against opening a sex robot brothel in Houston, though recently announced plans to open one inspired some residents to say there should be.

The owner of Kinky S Dolls, a Toronto-based company where $120 gets customers 80 minutes alone with a robotic sex doll that moves and talks, plans to open another location in the Houston area. It would be the first sex robot brothel in the U.S.

On advice from counsel, owner Yuval Gavriel doesn't call his business a 'sex robot brothel' but rather a kind of try-it-before-you-buy-it shop for realistic sex dolls, which he sells for $2,000 to $5,000.

"I consulted with a lawyer and the lawyer said, 'Listen, there are no rules to it, but if you are smart you don't go out and say you are operating a brothel,'" Gavriel told the Washington Examiner. "He went through all the laws and all of the regulations and currently there are no regulations for this kind of service. The States is a bigger market, and a healthier market, and God bless Trump."

A sex doll sold by Kinky S Dolls for about $3,500.

Sex dolls and toys may be legal in the U.S., but some believe that establishing what's essentially a robot sex brothel would cross a line. In response to Gavriel's plans, Elijah Rising, a Christian organization in Houston that combats sex trafficking, published a petition titled 'Keep Robot Brothels Out Of Houston'.

"As a nonprofit whose mission is to end sex trafficking we have seen the progression as sex buyers go from pornography to strip clubs to purchasing sex—robot brothels will ultimately harm men, their understanding of healthy sexuality, and increase the demand for the prostitution and sexual exploitation of women and children," reads the petition, which currently has nearly 6,000 signatures.

Elijah Rising's argument is based on a paper written by Kathleen Richardson, a professor of ethics and culture of robots at De Montfort University.

"I propose that extending relations of prostitution into machines is neither ethical, nor is it safe," Richardson argues in the paper. "If anything the development of sex robots will further reinforce relations of power that do not recognise both parties as human subjects. Only the buyer of sex is recognised as a subject, the seller of sex (and by virtue the sex-robot) is merely a thing to have sex with."

How would sex robots affect rates of prostitution?

One argument, to which Gavriel subscribes, says that increased availability of sex robots would lower the demand for human prostitutes. It's an idea tangentially related to the longstanding body of research that shows countries tend to see decreases in sexual assaults and rape after they legalize porn.

In his bestselling book Love and Sex with Robots, A.I. researcher David Levy explores the future of human relationships with robots and suggests that sex robots could lower prostitution or even someday render it obsolete.

But that's "highly speculative philosophy," according to Richardson.

"The reality is that it will just become a new niche market within the pornography industry and within the prostitution trade," she said in an interview with Feminist Current. "If people buy into the idea that you can have these dolls as part of your sexual fetish, it will become another burden that actual living human beings will have to undergo in the commercial sex trade."

A sex doll sold by Kinky S Dolls.

Richardson elaborated on this idea in her paper.

"...studies have found that the introduction of new technology supports and contributes to the expansion of the sex industry," she wrote. "Prostitution and pornography production also rises with the growth of the internet. In 1990, 5.6 percent of men reported paying for sex in their lifetime, by 2000, this had increased to 8.8 percent."

However, those rates aren't necessarily causally linked.

Richardson also wrote that if sex toys, such as RealDolls and blow-up dolls, actually led to lower prostitution demand then we would have already seen decreases, but "no such correlation is found."

Still, that last point might soon become invalid as a sort of apples-to-oranges comparison if technology can produce artificially intelligent and lifelike sex robots unlike anything the industry has seen before.

An illusion of companionship

Image: Film4, from the 2015 film 'Ex Machina'

Image: Film4, from the 2015 film 'Ex Machina'

Critics argue that the proliferation of sex robots would serve to reinforce the objectification of women in men's minds, and also reduce the ability for some men to empathize, a necessary component of healthy social interaction.

Houstonian Andrea Paul voiced a simpler objection to the brothel:

"There's kids around here and it's a family-oriented neighborhood and I live right here and to have that here is just gross."

Gross, sure. But to Matt McMullen, creator of the RealDoll, the future of sex robots looks a bit more uplifting.

"My goal, in a very simple way, is to make people happy," McMullen told CNET. "There are a lot of people out there, for one reason or another, who have difficulty forming traditional relationships with other people. It's really all about giving those people some level of companionship—or the illusion of companionship."