How "Discreet, Unobtrusive Technology" Will Transform Cities

Question: What might a city look like in 2050?

Bill Mitchell: The fundamental thing about cities, they change very slowly, even under a lot of stress and even when you have a lot of innovation.  A number of years ago I was a consultant on a movie, you may remember, called “Minority Report,” that Steven Spielberg did about, it was about the future of Washington D.C.  He sort of started out the conversation by saying, “Well, what’s Washington D.C. going to be like in 50 years?”  And the honest answer was, not a lot different for me.  You know, the way it is now.  He said, “Well we can’t make a movie about that.  We have to you know, invent some things like cars driving up the sides of buildings and all kinds of stuff like this.”

 I think, and if you think of some of the big transformations that have taken place, let’s say over the last 50 years.  Probably the biggest thing that’s happened to cities has been – well, I’m not sure it’s the biggest, but a massive thing that’s happened, has been in the overlay of intelligence by the Internet, mobile phones, personal computers, and all this kind of thing.  In some ways, it’s almost invisible.  You can take a city and it’s functioning in a completely different kind of way because everybody’s talking on their mobile phones and they're all text messaging and they're all tweeting.  Functionally it’s working on a totally different kind of way.  It doesn’t look that much different.

I never believe in sort of Buck Rogers fantasies of the future of cities.  They never happen and it’s just as well, because we’d be extremely unhappy if they did.  It’s not just a matter of some massive sudden technological transformation; that never happens.  What cities are, are a sort of intricate layering of the work of many generations, one on top of another, and so, it’s subtle transformation and inflection of cities rather than whole scale transformation that’s really important.  I mean, maybe the big dramatic thing is something that goes against people’s expectations.  I would say the important technology of the late 20th century and the early 21st century has been extremely unobtrusive.  It sort of disappears in your pocket and disappears in the woodwork.  The mobile phone is a revolution, but basically you don’t even see it.  The little automobiles that we are talking about; little, quiet, unobtrusive things that fit into the city without fundamentally transforming what I think a city needs to be. So I think the big surprise I think to a lot of people is going to be... The really effective technology that transforms our lives is going to be this discreet, unobtrusive technology that does very interesting things for us, but without making cities look like some sort of science-fiction fantasy.

Cities won't look like "some sort of science-fiction fantasy," but it's likely that technological advances and information overlays will change the way we live in significant ways.

Marijuana addiction has risen in places where it's legal

While legalizaiton has benefits, a new study suggests it may have one big drawback.

BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • A new study finds that rates of marijuana use and addiction have gone up in states that have recently legalized the drug.
  • The problem was most severe for those over age of 26, with cases of addiction rising by a third.
  • The findings complicate the debate around legalization.
Keep reading Show less

The ‘X17’ particle: Scientists may have discovered the fifth force of nature

A new paper suggests that the mysterious X17 subatomic particle is indicative of a fifth force of nature.

Surprising Science
  • In 2016, observations from Hungarian researchers suggested the existence of an unknown type of subatomic particle.
  • Subsequent analyses suggested that this particle was a new type of boson, the existence of which could help explain dark matter and other phenomena in the universe.
  • A new paper from the same team of researchers is currently awaiting peer review.
Keep reading Show less

Marijuana legalization bill passes historic House committee vote

The bill would effectively legalize marijuana at the federal level, while allowing states to draft their own laws.

Politics & Current Affairs
  • The bill aims to decriminalize marijuana and expunge federal convictions, among other provisions.
  • To become law, it still has to pass through the Republican-controlled Senate.
  • A majority of Americans support legalizing recreational marijuana, according to a recent Pew survey.
Keep reading Show less