Think that self-driving cars will eliminate traffic? Think again

Fascinating paper, “The autonomous vehicle parking problem” by Adam Millard-Ball. In it he: identifies and analyzes parking behavior of autonomous vehicles; uses a traffic simulation model to demonstrate how autonomous vehicles can implicitly coordinate to reduce the cost of cruising for parking, through self-generated congestion; discusses policy responses, including congestion pricing; and argues that congestion pricing should include both a time-based charge for occupying the public right-of-way, and a distance- or energy-based charge to internalizes other externalities.

The Abstract reads:

Autonomous vehicles (AVs) have no need to park close to their destination, or even to park at all. Instead, AVs can seek out free on-street parking, return home, or cruise (circle around). Because cruising is less costly at lower speeds, a game theoretic framework shows that AVs also have the incentive to implicitly coordinate with each other in order to generate congestion. Using a traffic microsimulation model and data from downtown San Francisco, this paper suggests that AVs could more than double vehicle travel to, from and within dense, urban cores. New vehicle trips are generated by a 90% reduction in effective parking costs, while existing trips become longer because of driving to more distant parking spaces and cruising. One potential policy response—subsidized peripheral parking—would likely exacerbate congestion through further reducing the cost of driving. Instead, this paper argues that the rise of AVs provides the opportunity and the imperative to implement congestion pricing in urban centers. Because the ability of AVs to cruise blurs the boundary between parking and travel, congestion pricing programs should include two complementary prices—a time-based charge for occupying the public right-of-way, whether parked or in motion, and a distance- or energy-based charge that internalizes other externalities from driving.

What this suggests is that society — in this case city authorities — should think of urban streets as analogous to radio spectrum. We auction rights to communications companies to operate on specific chinks of the radio spectrum. When autonomous vehicles arrive then those who operate them ought to be treated like radio spectrum users. The one tweak we’d need is that AV operators would be charged not only for the right to use a particular slice of the road ‘spectrum’ but also for the amount of use they make of it.

Microsoft President: It’s time to regulate face-recognition technology

Interesting post by Brad Smith on the company’s Issues blog:

In July, we shared our views about the need for government regulation and responsible industry measures to address advancing facial recognition technology. As we discussed, this technology brings important and even exciting societal benefits but also the potential for abuse. We noted the need for broader study and discussion of these issues. In the ensuing months, we’ve been pursuing these issues further, talking with technologists, companies, civil society groups, academics and public officials around the world. We’ve learned more and tested new ideas. Based on this work, we believe it’s important to move beyond study and discussion. The time for action has arrived.

We believe it’s important for governments in 2019 to start adopting laws to regulate this technology. The facial recognition genie, so to speak, is just emerging from the bottle. Unless we act, we risk waking up five years from now to find that facial recognition services have spread in ways that exacerbate societal issues. By that time, these challenges will be much more difficult to bottle back up.

In particular, we don’t believe that the world will be best served by a commercial race to the bottom, with tech companies forced to choose between social responsibility and market success. We believe that the only way to protect against this race to the bottom is to build a floor of responsibility that supports healthy market competition. And a solid floor requires that we ensure that this technology, and the organizations that develop and use it, are governed by the rule of law…

Coincidentally, the New Yorker has an interesting essay — “Should we be worried about computerized facial recognition?”

Tim Wu’s top ten antitrust targets

He writes:

If antitrust is due for a revival, just what should the antitrust law be doing? What are its most obvious targets? Compiled here (in alphabetical order) , and based on discussions with other antitrust experts, is a collection of the law’s most wanted — the firms or industries that are ripe for investigation.

Investigation questions: Does Amazon have buying power in the employee markets in some areas of the country? Does it have market power? Is it improperly favoring its own products over marketplace competitors?

Investigation question: In light of this, was the trial court’s approval of the AT&T and Time Warner merger clearly in error?

Big Agriculture
Over the last five years, the agricultural seed, fertilizer, and chemical industry has consolidated into four global giants: BASF, Bayer, DowDuPont, and ChemChina. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, seed prices have tripled since the 1990s, and since the mergers, fertilizer prices are up as well.
Investigation question: Were these mergers wrongly approved in the United States and Europe?

Big Pharma
The pharmaceutical industry has a long track record of anticompetitive and extortionary practices, including the abuse of patent rights for anticompetitive purposes and various forms of price gouging.
Investigation and legislative questions: Are there abuses of the patent system that are still ripe for investigation? Can something be done about pharmaceutical price gouging on drugs that are out of patent or, perhaps more broadly, the extortionate increases in the prices of prescription drugs?

Having acquired competitors Instagram and WhatsApp in the 2010s in mergers that were arguably illegal, it has repeatedly increased its advertising load, incurred repeat violations of privacy laws, and failed to secure its networks against foreign manipulation while also dealing suspicious blows to competitor Snapchat. No obvious inefficiencies attend its dissolution.
Investigation questions: Should the Instagram and WhatsApp mergers be retroactively dissolved (effectively breaking up the company)? Did Facebook use its market power and control of Instagram and Instagram Stories to illegally diminish Snapchat from 2016–2018?

Investigation question: Has Google anticompetitively excluded its rivals?

Ticketmaster/Live Nation
Investigation questions: Has Live Nation used its power as a promoter to protect Ticketmaster’s monopoly on sales? Was Songkick the victim of an illegal exclusion campaign? Should the Ticketmaster/Live Nation union be dissolved?

Investigation question: Would the merger between T-Mobile and Sprint likely yield higher prices and easier coordination among the three remaining firms?

U.S. Airline Industry
The U.S. airline industry is the exemplar of failed merger review.
Investigation and regulatory questions: Should one or more of the major mergers be reconsidered in light of new evidence? Alternatively, given the return to previous levels of concentration, should firmer regulation be imposed, including baggage and change-fee caps, minimum seat sizes, and other measures?

U.S. Hospitals
Legislative question: Should Congress or the states impose higher levels of scrutiny for health care and hospital mergers?
Investigation question: In light of this, was the trial court’s approval of the AT&T and Time Warner merger clearly in error?

So what’s the problem with Facebook?

Interesting NYT piece by Kevin Roose in which he points out that the key question about regulating Facebook is not that lawmakers know very little about how it works, but whether they have the political will to regulate it. My hunch is that they don’t, but if they did then the first thing to do would be fix on some clear ideas about what’s wrong with the company.

Here’s the list of possibilities cited by Roose:

  • Is it that Facebook is too cavalier about sharing user data with outside organizations?
  • Is it that Facebook collects too much data about users in the first place?
  • Is it that Facebook is promoting addictive messaging products to children?
  • Is it that Facebook’s news feed is polarizing society, pushing people to ideological fringes?
  • Is it that Facebook is too easy for political operatives to exploit, or that it does not do enough to keep false news and hate speech off users’ feeds?
  • Is it that Facebook is simply too big, or a monopoly that needs to be broken up?

How about: all of the above?

Zuckerberg’s monster

My Observer review of Siva Vaidhyanathan’s Anti-social Media: How Facebook Disconnects Us and Undermines Democracy:

The best metaphor for Facebook is the monster created by Dr Frankenstein. Mary Shelley’s story shows how, as Fiona Sampson put it in a recent Guardian article, “aspiration and progress are indistinguishable from hubris – until something goes wrong, when suddenly we see all too clearly what was reasonable endeavour and what overreaching”. There are clear echoes of this in the evolution of Facebook. “It’s a story”, writes Siva Vaidhyanathan in this excellent critique, “of the hubris of good intentions, a missionary spirit and an ideology that sees computer code as the universal solvent for all human problems. And it’s an indictment of how social media has fostered the deterioration of democratic and intellectual culture around the world.”

Facebook was founded by an undergraduate with good intentions but little understanding of human nature. He thought that by creating a machine for “connecting” people he might do some good for the world while also making himself some money. He wound up creating a corporate monster that is failing spectacularly at the former but succeeding brilliantly at the latter. Facebook is undermining democracy at the same time as it is making Mark Zuckerberg richer than Croesus. And it is now clear that this monster, like Dr Frankenstein’s, is beyond its creator’s control…

Read on

In the bleak midwinter, droning on

This morning’s Observer column:

Well, Black Friday has come and gone and this columnist has missed the boat – again. But if the marketing mythology is to be believed, countless millions of our better-organised fellow citizens have been dutifully clicking and purchasing.

This year, however, is slightly different because something new will have appeared on the wishlists of tech-savvy shoppers: drones. A quick search for them on brought up 46 different models before I got tired of scrolling, ranging in price from under £20 to over £1,200. And over at the Apple store, they’re selling the Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 Power Edition Quadricopter, a snip at £299.95.

And that’s just the amateur/hobbyist end of the market. At the “serious” end, things rapidly get expensive…

Read on

LATER And you thought I was joking.

Well, see here: