April 03, 2014  |  permalink

WPI: The Hidden Order of the Brave New World


(On April 1, I hosted a political salon with Yale architect and “Extrastatecraft” author Keller Easterling at the World Policy Institute in New York. The recap below originally appeared on WPI’s Website.

By Libby Leyden-Sussler

In a recent political salon, “Extrastatecraft: The Hidden Order of the Brave New World,” World Policy Institute hosted a roundtable conversation on how infrastructure is not only the systems of pipes and wires running through our cities, but also the hidden rules for structuring the spaces all around us.

Leading the political salon was Keller Easterling and Greg Lindsay. Easterling is an American architect, urbanist, author, and professor at the Architecture School at Yale University. Lindsay is a Senior Fellow at the World Policy Institute and director of the Emergent Cities Project. In attendance were experts from the UN-Habitat, Time Equities, Inc., Ernst & Young, and Living Cities to name a few.

The event discussed the challenges, opportunities, and recent developments in infrastructure, urban planning, and the ways in which humans organize themselves. The event focused in on several poignant discussions, including how cities should operate like software, the notion of broadband urbanism, and the outlook of some promising urban centers.

An Operating System for Organizing the System

A city, Keller explains, is information of the medium of architecture. It should be viewed as a “software system,” organizing routines and protocols. The radical changes occurring in the global world is in the language of this urban software. She describes this software system as a secret weapon. The “defacto” forms of policy, city grids, free-trade zones, and power systems are being built faster than bodies of government can pass in congress or legislation. And the people who are “coding” this software are the young finance personnel.

Keller raised the question of, “might we be good at hacking this operating system?” Some of the most interesting and innovative people in the social sciences, she explains, are the ones questioning the assumptions of their science. Experts from a variety of backgrounds are positioned to influence the interesting subject of how humans organize themselves. By beginning to recognize that the world is not a rational place, but instead one run largely by fictions we self-impose, new actors find themselves at liberty to participate in the exciting field. The world has become addicted to urbanism.

» Continue reading...

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March 27, 2014  |  permalink

The Takeaway: The Network Effect

I appeared on Public Radio International’s “The Takeaway” today to discuss my story in the April issue of Inc. about Relationship Science and the future of social networks. The interview is above, and the story is below — please give it a listen and a read.

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March 27, 2014  |  permalink

Inc.: The Network Effect


(Originally published in the April 2014 issue of Inc.)

Maybe you know Neal Goldman. Or maybe you know someone who does. A minor celebrity in both Davos and Big Data circles, Goldman sold his first company for $225 million, back when less than a billion dollars was actually worth something. Tonight, I am meeting him for the first time, sharing a train ride to Philadelphia, where I’ll get to hear him pitch his latest company, Relationship Science.

While waiting in the maelstrom of NYC’s Penn Station, I run through what I’ve learned about him: where he went to school, where his sister-in-law works, and how much cash he donated to Rudy Giuliani’s presidential campaign ($6,900). I also go over a mental list of people in his circle—including, crucially, the ones we have in common.

I’ve learned all of this because before I met Neal Goldman, I stalked him, using his own software. So when I finally pick him out of the swarm, I’m able to drop the name of a mutual friend: “Parag Khanna sends his regards,” I say, referring to the foreign-policy wonk and author. Goldman, wearing the tech exec’s standard-issue scruffy beard and horn rims, rocks back on his heels, eyes vaguely searching, trying to put the pieces together. And the fact is, I don’t have a clue whether my old friend Khanna and Goldman are drinking buddies or mortal enemies. I’m about to find out.

» Continue reading...

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March 22, 2014  |  permalink

92Y: Youth Think Tank

On March 10, I moderated an event at the 92nd St. Y as part of its “7 Days of Genius” series. The video is above, the description is below:

We often look to geniuses in the past, but what about our youth and the next generation of great thinkers? What innovations do you think will change the world in the next five years? And what inspires today’s students to think big and explore STEM subjects?

Find the answers to these—and other questions—by joining a remarkable conversation with Tanishq Abraham, a 10-year old science prodigy, and Dr. Dario Gil, a cognitive scientist at IBM. Learn as they discuss the importance of STEM and the future of science. From the big bang to Watson, learn about the latest approaches to scientific discovery and how the combination of science knowledge is leading to new discoveries.

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March 22, 2014  |  permalink

How IBM Is Using Watson And An Innovative Workspace To Crunch Big Data For Big Solutions

(Originally published at Fast Co.Exist on March 11, 2014.)

IBM loves Big Data. The bigger it gets, the more servers, storage, and services Big Blue would like to sell you (a lot more, please). But the volumes involved have already grown so big that IBM’s own researchers struggle to get a handle on it.

Last year, for example, IBM fellow Laura Haas asked one of her colleagues at the company’s Almaden research center in Silicon Valley why he wasn’t using bigger data sets. Because, he replied, it takes 80% of my time just to prep the data I have. Haas realized that the more IBM’s research agenda was consumed by analytics, the more time and energy its experts would spend struggling with expanding data sets, slowing down the pace of discovery.

The obvious thing was to hand the volumes in question over to dedicated data scientists, but removing researchers from the loop would only make things worse. Plus, it seemed to cut against the grain of Big Data, whose value isn’t governed by some function of Moore’s Law or Kryder’s Law in terms of the linear expansion of storage capacity or the falling costs of sensors.

Rather, it’s more a function of Metcalfe’s Law, which states that the value of a network is the square of the number of connected devices; the value is in the exponentially increasing connections, not the nodes. The same is true of IBM’s people, too. Instead of sidelining its researchers, how could it bring more eyes—and different ones—to opaque data sets being crunched in the cloud?

The solution, unveiled at Almaden last fall, is the Accelerated Discovery Lab, a large, open space amply equipped with comfy furniture, whiteboards, and lots of screens, not to mention an ever-evolving mix of project teams, systems managers, visiting clients, corporate anthropologists, and drop-ins, not to mention a sliver of Watson IBM’s newest super computer. As the lab’s name implies, the goal is crack the code on the optimal combination of diversity, proximity, physical space, and cloud computing to spot opportunities in the gaps between disciplines faster and more often.

“We call it cultivating ‘strategic serendipity,’” says Haas, who is also the director of technology and operations for the lab. “It’s those ‘A-ha!’ moments you have in the shower or often around the water cooler. We want to bring people together in a rich enough environment they want to play in it, and then create serendipity by leveraging the connections in the room, the connections in the data, and our ability to see what users are doing.”

The lab’s first project was to apply Watson’s natural language-processing ability to new domains, with drug research at the top of the list. Working with computational biologists from the Baylor College of Medicine, IBM’s data scientists began plowing through millions of papers, patents, and clinical studies culled from databases and IBM’s pharma customers, before eventually narrowing their focus to the tumor-suppressing gene TP-53. Sifting through the literature for promising, but overlooked chemicals to treat mutated genes, within a few months the team found four candidates. According to Jeff Welser, the lab’s director of strategy and program development, “historically, you find about one per year.”

That’s pretty fast, but could it have been faster? Part of the lab’s mission is to test hypotheses about the space itself. “We’re trying to instrument our projects from the get-go, recording them from the day they start,” Haas says, benchmarking their progress against similar teams that aren’t in the lab to see whether all those whiteboards and multi-disciplinary teams yield better tangible results.

While there are currently no plans to build similar labs in any of IBM’s other research centers, Haas hopes to someday develop a software tool that might help the company manage its own far-flung resources. Imagine a version of Watson that recognizes who or what it is you’re searching for, then begins suggesting data sets and colleagues working in tangential fields the IBMer might have otherwise never thought of.

For now, however, when it comes to cross-pollination, “there is more than I expected,” she says. “And less than I want.”

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March 10, 2014  |  permalink

Project 100 on “Carl in the Morning”

Last Friday, I appeared on Carl Wolfson’s “Carl in the Morning” live Web radio show out of Portland, Ore. We talked about Project 100, Songdo, the future of cities and much more. I appear around the 55:00 mark.

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March 09, 2014  |  permalink

How Las Vegas (Of All Places) May Be About to Reinvent Car Ownership


(Originally published at Atlantic Cities on March 4, 2014.)

LAS VEGAS—When your boss is Tony Hsieh, it’s not unusual to wind up in a bar for your last meeting of the day. This is the case one January night in downtown Las Vegas, where the CEO of Zappos is investing his personal $350 million fortune in building an entrepreneurial utopia in his company’s image. Maybe the most ambitious piece of his vision is “Project 100,” the code-name for a private car-, ride-, and bike-sharing service combining aspects of Zipcar, Uber, CitiBike, and RideScout scheduled to launch this summer.

While Hsieh holds court at Atomic Liquors, project leader Zach Ware debates with his team at a nearby table whether to keep a short-range electric car in its lineup, or switch to the larger (and more expensive) Mercedes-Benz Smart car. At stake is the project’s vision: Will it be an amenity for downtown residents and Zappos employees, or should it aim to replace the car of any commuter in the entire 500-square-mile Las Vegas Valley?

In either case, Ware argues for the short-range electric — a light vehicle for zipping around a mile or so downtown — and when his colleagues counter that bike-sharing is better for those distances, he explodes. “I’m never going to fucking ride a bike!” he yells, more in emphasis than anger. After more fruitless back and forth, Ware stalks off to yet another meeting, demanding they reach a decision in his absence.

“Who are we?” asks Josh Westerhold, the company’s head of business operations, over another round of drinks. “Are we a company that changes how people move, or a company that changes how car-ownership works? We may be trying to solve two different things.”

» Continue reading...

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February 18, 2014  |  permalink

Video: Ronkonkoma Parks and Rides

Roger Sherman and Greg Lindsay present the Parks & Rides design from Long Island Index on Vimeo.

As noted previously, I had the pleasure of both working and presenting with Roger Sherman on his “Ronkonkoma Parks and Rides” concept for the Build a Better ‘Burb: Parking Plus competition. Video of our join presentation at Adelphi University last month is above (I don’t make an appearance until the 12:30 mark).

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February 02, 2014  |  permalink

WPJ Political Salon: “When Computers Take Over The City”

Last week, the World Policy Institute and I hosted my NYU Rudin colleague Anthony Townsend to speak about his book “Smart Cities.” The ensuing conversation touched on the history and present understanding of smart cities, as well as Townsend’s “civic principles” checklist for successful metropolitan areas. The video of our conversation is embedded above.

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January 19, 2014  |  permalink

Build a Better ‘Burb: “Ronkonkoma Parks and Rides”


When my friend and colleague Roger Sherman asked me to join his team for the second “Build a Better ‘Burb” competition, subtitled “Parking Plus,” I didn’t know it would entail writing an entire newspaper set in 2031. And yet that’s exactly what I did for our entry, “Ronkonkoma Parks and Rides,” which imagines a parking lot twice the size of the Empire State Building’s footprint if you laid it on its side… which we did. Roger’s design for a combination parking garage/shopping mall/public space/theme park was hailed as the most visionary of the four proposals unveiled at Adelphi University on Jan. 16. For the story behind it, please check out the newspaper I wrote, “The Daily Hub.”

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Greg Lindsay is a journalist, urbanist, and speaker. He is a contributing writer for Fast Company and an author of the international bestseller Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next. He is also a visiting scholar at New York University’s Rudin Center for Transportation Policy & Management, a senior fellow of the World Policy Institute, and a research affiliate of the New England Complex Systems Institute (NECSI).

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Articles by Greg Lindsay

Inc.  |  April 2014

The Network Effect

Atlantic Cities  |  March 2014

How Las Vegas (Of All Places) May Be About to Reinvent Car Ownership

Wired (UK)  |  October 2013

How to Build a Serendipity Engine

Next American City  |  August 2013

IBM’s Department of Education

The New York Times  |  April 2013

Engineering Serendipity

Fast Company  |  March 2013

Swedish Modern Comes To Town

Fast Company  |  March 2013

Working Beyond the Cube

Fast Company  |  December 2012/January 2013

Imagine Air Travel Without Hassle: Surf Air Can

WSJ  |  November 2012

Jeanne Gang

Fast Company  |  June 2012

That’s So Fly

Next American City  |  May 2012

Chartered Territory

The New York Times  |  Feburary 2012

Designing a Fix for Housing

Departures  |  October 2011

Instant Cities

Travel + Leisure  |  October 2011

The Future of Travel

The New York Times  |  September 2011

Not-So-Smart Cities

World Policy Journal  |  Fall 2011

Thus Spake Nano

Advertising Age  |  September 2011

Ad Age Insights: The Evolution of Facebook Brand Fans

Open Skies  |  July 2011

Paradise Lost: The Death and Strange Afterlife of Brasilia

WSJ  |  May 2011

Marc Newson on How Design Is Easy and Why You Can’t Make a Cappuccino on a Plane

WSJ  |  February 2011

Cities of the Sky

» See all articles


April 03, 2014

WPI: The Hidden Order of the Brave New World

March 27, 2014

The Takeaway: The Network Effect

March 27, 2014

Inc.: The Network Effect

March 22, 2014

92Y: Youth Think Tank

» More blog posts