Author: Mitch TurckSubscribed: 0Played: 2
© 2023 Mitch Turck
The show that goes nowhere fast. Telekinetic explores how human progress changes human movement. It could be telecommuting, delivery culture, virtual reality, job automation -- if there’s a trip being made by knowledge that used to be made by people, we're here for it.
The Jobs Are Back In Town
(1:40) Mitch introduces Greg LeRoy, Executive Director of Good Jobs First. (3:13) Greg notes that America's state and city governments spend roughly $70B/yr in economic development incentives to corporations, who often use those incentives in turn to pay no taxes on property or income over the course of their local operation, thus failing to deliver returns on the public's investment. He cites a depression-era Mississippi scheme as the origin of America's "tax break industrial complex", coinciding with the birth of "site location consulting companies" like Fantus, as the building blocks of a "second war among states" which has since produced net losses as a rule rather than an exception. (5:20) Greg explains how these tax incentives regularly go to corporations who are bound for the region anyway, given how little a local tax code contributes to the cost structure of company operations. (7:50) Greg notes that the highly-publicized Amazon HQ2 site competition is simply a rare public glimpse into the kinds of self-defeating dog-and-pony shows that occur hundreds of times each year, in secret. (10:36) Good Jobs First maintains a database of "mega deals" -- incentive plans over $50MM for one project -- and the average cost per job across such deals is $658,000, borne entirely by taxpayers. His message here is that such deals are, if nothing else, programs designed to transfer wealth from taxpayers to shareholders. (18:38) We discuss a particularly preposterous case study in the second war among states, occurring over the course of a decade between Kansas and Missouri vying for Kansas City job growth. In the end, the two states had collectively spent $321 million to lure 6,000 jobs one way and 5,500 the other way, netting a per job tax incentive cost of $642,000. Greg makes the important note that government eventually learned its lesson, and has since created an interstate regulation prohibiting either state from using tax dollars to draw jobs across the border in the Kansas City region. (27:12) Mitch's hot take: Americans yearn so much for familiar identity (which manufacturing and other blue-collar jobs promise) that many would simply ignore or willingly dismiss the obvious math that says these tax incentives are hurting their communities. Greg recalls the early part of his career, researching the tax breaks that incentivized plants to close and companies to move, and agonizing over the loss of direction and purpose those victimized towns felt. His solution: make the community the source of familiarity and identity, not the employer. Invest in education, health & wellness, good transit, clean air, and the stickiness of the city will stand above any corporate temptation.
Let’s Make Sweet Music Alone
(1:38) Mitch introduces Ben Sharp, the force behind progressive metal act Cloudkicker. (3:09) Ben reflects on the influences and innovations that shaped his "bedroom music" hobby -- a classification barely old enough to drink, as it references the 21st century transition from traditional lo-fi homemade music to the studio-grade technologies that place the means of music production almost entirely within reach of anyone owning a home computer. Among other influences, Ben cites the creation of EZdrummer (an application allowing for drum sounds and tracks to be programmed via computer) as a major stepping stone towards his independence as a one-man band. (7:27) Mitch plays a 20-second Cloudkicker clip to emphasize just how readily the music comes across as a 4 or 5-member group in a studio, when in fact it's just Ben and his laptop. (10:49) We address the democratization of music production over recent decades, as Mitch pegs a traditional studio album in the low-to-mid five-figure range. Ben, by comparison, estimates he spent less than $500 to produce (and effectively, distribute) his 2008 album "The Discovery". (12:56) We consider how much of stereotypical musicianship is gained, lost or changed when an artist circumvents the traditional tribulations of being in a band -- whether it's the local scene you absorb, the people you become linked to by chance, the touring and gear hauling, etc. (21:05) We break into our undergrad philosophy bag to debate what counts for creativity and artistry, and whether any objectivity deserves to be a part of the conversation. (24:55) Mitch's hot take, dragged up from his naive 19-year-old perspective attending psuedo-art school: the purest artist, hypothetically, is the one devoid of any external influence. Ben quickly pops the bubble by pointing out that virtually all art is motivated by emotions and experiences, hence the hypothetical uninfluenced artist wouldn't have much reason to create art at all.
Stranded In The Food Desert
(1:22) Mitch introduces Genevieve Miller, Director of Advocacy at Indy Hunger Network. She gives us the lay of the land regarding how millions of Americans, many of whom are located smack in the middle of high-density urban areas, find themselves unable to access food. She cites USDA's official definition of a food desert as a community with 20%+ poverty & 33%+ located a mile or more away from a grocery store. (4:45) Genevieve calls out the distinction between food access and food security, with the later being a function of having the economic stability to acquire and possess food at a healthy consistency. (6:25) Mitch brings up Genevieve's prior supervisor, Pete Buttigieg, and his current battle to create a bipartisan appreciation for infrastructure as access development rather than simply road development. (10:52) Genevieve points out some startling facts about food scarcity & security, noting that in her county alone, more than 25% of residents struggle to put (and keep) food on their tables. Nationally, Coronavirus brought much of the USA towards the levels Indianapolis regularly sees, with food insecurity jumping from 11% to 23%. We discuss the potential silver lining of having almost every American briefly experience an empathetic moment of scarcity in their pandemic quest for toilet paper or hand sanitizer, if not basic food and supplies. Genevieve finishes out her statistics by reminding us that food safety net programs benefit 70% of Americans at some point in their lives, and federal nutrition programs are responsible for 84% of food assistance. (21:51) Mitch asks about the state of litigation & liability that historically served as an excuse -- valid or otherwise -- for destroying unsold food rather than making it available to those in need. (25:02) Mitch's hot take: food should be a public utility given the abundance of resources we currently dedicate or dismiss. The luxuries of Whole Foods and restaurants can continue to operate in private markets as they do today, and most people with food stability would never notice a difference to their immediate lifestyle. Genevieve entertains the idea but points towards the broader problem of poverty as something we can and should solve, given how much we know about the holistic socioeconomic ROI of supporting fellow community members in need.
Water On The Brain
(1:18) Mitch introduces Dr. David Zetland, economics professor at Leiden University College. (2:16) David briskly walks us through humanity's drive to get useful water on demand, whether it be at the root of an irrigated crop, or at the 30th floor of the Bellagio in Vegas. (7:44) We approach water markets from David's "2x2" mental model: understanding how to manage water based on whether it is a) inclusive vs. exclusive, and b) rival vs. non-rival (or, subtractive vs. sharable). He shares how this model helps us understand where responsibilities and actions lie, whether it's a bottle of water or an aquifer being tapped by several farmers. Again here, the ongoing Telekinetic theme of "tragedy of the commons" is addressed. (13:57) We discuss "induced demand" in water economics, a familiar phenomenon to some of our listeners. David notes the example of early-settled Southern California importing palm trees as an illusion of water abundance, when in fact SoCal has virtually no native water to offer. He also brings up Vegas, and how the political efforts encouraging housing development expose induced demand, because naturally any new home built is expected to have a pool, lawn, and other water-rich amenities that ought not to exist in the desert. The topic leads us into water pricing (18:16), and the complication of pricing water delivery, rather than pricing water itself. We make reference to the gas tax as an example of wrong pricing getting out of control. (26:46) Mitch's hot take: we (America) can't educate or incentivize itself out of unsustainable water behaviors, and we can only get the necessary change by pinpointing and allowing for "minimum viable catastrophes", rather than attempting to triage or bolster the communities who stand to suffer them. David argues we've already done that by accident (e.g. the Katrina & Sandy disasters), and we still don't take the issues seriously enough. He proposes instead that external funding & support for disaster prevention or infrastructure maintenance should be commensurate with the efforts made by the local & most directly impacted communities. (35:07) David offers up his free, easy-reading book "Living With Water Scarcity", which can be found at https://www.kysq.org/lwws/.
Baby On Circuit Board
(1:29) Mitch introduces Jenn Sydeski, Founder of Connect Wolf. She speaks to prior advancements in mommy autonomy that not only replaced the need for non-stop in-person vigilance, but also helped distribute the communal parenting load from people to objects and algorithms. (7:43) We talk specifically about Jenn's product and vision, wherein she explains how her long-term goal of solving for affordable & equitable healthcare is currently being manifested through her first product, which uses a complex system to deliver the kind of simple peace of mind parents desire, yet hesitate to entrust to others. The argument made here lies in deploying tools that enhance and expand the power of parents. Mitch ties it back to all the micro-movements moms make throughout the day to manage their children, and how progress has shifted even those small movements from transportation to communication. (11:35) We examine the babytech market, why it's so lucrative, and what challenges it presents. Not surprisingly, the conversation turns to the time deficit of working families, as women went into the white collar workforce and met an environment that expected the same full-time dedication it was already abusively squeezing out of the current labor force. (17:51) Mitch switches hot take horses midstream thanks to Jenn's insights. His original argument was that innovation requires the destruction of sacred traditions, ergo parenting only progresses when we stop acting as if it's beyond judgment. The revised argument infers that experimentation (mutation, if we want to call it that) is also a requisite for innovation, and as such, the pursuit of reducing parenting to a quantified and optimal state is inherently flawed. Jenn is well ahead of Mitch and cites evidence of different parenting styles yielding equally beneficial outcomes. We both trace the talking points to modern-day artificial intelligence research, wherein so much of the effort to optimize a function results in overfitting or otherwise impractical programs.
Add Me On Meatspace
(1:25) Mitch introduces Alex Cherones, Partner and head of Cybersecurity at Headstorm. He paints a picture of information security before the days of cloud computing and wifi and iPhones... and how the progression of business communication tech has added more and more attack vectors to spread risk. (7:14) Mitch and Alex discuss the dilemma of ultimately putting best-laid security plans in the hands of "carbon-based life forms" -- consistently the weakest link of any system. We talk about how and why users so often prioritize utility over safety, as Mitch compares the dilemma to government transportation organizations (FAA, NHTSA, etc) whose objectives are inherently at odds: encourage utility, but also encourage safety. (12:34) Alex bubbles up a classic blunder of the human brain -- that we focus on fear rather than danger, and doing so is one of the crucial ingredients in becoming a victim of cybercrime. (15:16) Alex speaks on some of his typical experiences working with corporations to help identify the need for cybersecurity. When he runs phishing tests, for instance, he's found the failure rate to be "anywhere between 100% and 100%." Consequently, we discuss how cybercrime is often a market of one, ergo the weakest security link is the only link that needs to be broken. Mitch gets to talk about one of his favorite hobbies: imagining how easy corporate espionage would be if he just sat in an airport all day with a recording device. Alex responds that one of the big cybercrime tactics used in airports and similar places is a "pineapple": a spoofed internet connection set up to be as simple as an open wifi signal with a familiar name, which then proceeds to gobble up the victim's data. (25:08) As a callback to the adtech episode with Veronica Ahern, we harp on data minimization as a risk mitigation strategy. (28:44) Mitch's hot take: the most sustainable defense users can offer is their imperfection -- the suboptimal, slow behaviors we organically exhibit as humans, which has helped security tools like Recaptcha distinguish a Bob from a bot. Alex generously buys 50% of the argument, pointing out that there is promise in profiling users to establish patterns (via behavior analytics), which can then be used to identify anomalies and deploy countermeasures. We close out by discussing the nature of hackers, and how that term has been misapplied and misunderstood by the masses who lack the imagination to see why someone might desire change.
Police In The Panopticon
(1:24) Mitch introduces Dr. Brett Stoudt, head of the CUNY Graduate Center's PhD program in Critical Psychology. He rattles off a handful of the NYPD's latest and shadiest technologies, exponentially increasing the power with which law enforcement can bring the city to its fingertips. He points out that some of these use cases are blatant 4th Amendment rights violations, simply basking in the salad days of unsophisticated policy. Examples include surveillance towers, stingrays, LRAD, x-ray vans and heat vision helicopters. Telekinetic's reoccurring theme -- of technologies slowly creeping over centuries to arrive at their current bewildering state -- pops its head out once again. (10:32) We take stock of all these technologies and ask the obvious question: where does the money come from, and why? Mitch reads verbatim a head-scratching example of Pennsylvania State Police nabbing $4 billion from highway and bridge funds. Brett offers an easy-to-internalize concept: we have convinced ourselves that safety & security equates to police, ergo any program or budget containing safety & security as a line item will naturally translate to, "give this money to police." (16:17) Brett shows how the natural progression of making this money and power more invisible is to migrate to surveillance technologies, where accountability can be further abstracted even as power to manipulate the environment increases. He invokes the concepts of e-carceration and school-to-prison pipelines -- how 24/7 surveillance limits its subjects to walking a frighteningly narrow path, and how that path turns into a plank when enough data can be gathered to support biased precedent. (21:47) Mitch's hot take: given the keys to such an astounding amount of data, we should be policing on intent rather than behavior. Brett dismantles this argument with the quickness. (25:44) We talk through a simple, memorable mental model to reform police and communities: ask yourself how much police contribute to safety where you live. De-center police as the assumed answer to crime, and then de-center crime from the concept of harm. From this new lens of observing and analyzing your community through the notion of mitigating harm, you begin to see just how little the police can or should actually be involved, which leads to a reassessment of where community investments should be going instead.
Time Machines Are Selling Potato Chips
(1:44) Mitch introduces Veronica Ahern, fresh off her career move at Oracle. We compress a hundred years of advertising into one brief recap -- revealing how the industry progressed from transporting their ads to physical destinations all over the built environment, to now focusing primarily on one tiny screen and the manipulative factors that dictate whether showing an ad will provide a return on investment. (6:52) We rag on the old-school industry performance metric of "circulation", a hilariously uninformed and illogical method of quantifying efficacy. Veronica offers up some of the new-age, creepily-precise ROI metrics by comparison. (8:54) Mitch asks Veronica whether advertising has incidentally become the most well-funded psychological study in human history. We point to research conducted by Stanford University and the University of Cambridge, wherein an algorithm fueled only by a subject's Facebook likes was able to gauge that person's personality more accurately than their close friends and family. (14:47) Veronica walks us through the adtech "time machine": programmatic real-time bidding auctions. We look towards a potential future where such technologies could squeeze entire algorithmic lifetimes into the millisecond-long window between a real-world event and a human's perception of that event. (25:15) Mitch's hot take: privacy is the enemy of progress. The argument primarily stems from the nature of data as something that only has value when it is shared; Veronica riffs on it by emphasizing the need for advertisers, consumers and policymakers to become better-educated and transparent about the value exchange that data as a currency creates. (35:15) We address the farce of personally identifiable information (PII) as a red herring in the grand scheme of consumer data, and wishful thinking that the average person could simply peek under the hood of adtech programs (or any algorithm-driven technologies) in order to decide how they should work or what's malfunctioning.
Telecommuting With (Literally) Extra Steps
(1:30) Mitch introduces Gary Walker, creator of "Ready for Remote" and Digital Director at Distribute. (4:45) Gary lays out some of his process around aligning employers to the optimal working environment for their staff & departments... one tell-tale sign informing his consideration for taking any job remote is when 75% of its labor occurs over digital tools or virtual interaction. He states that in large part, successful shifts in team structure and virtual engagement lean on establishing trust in consistent & clear communication. (10:18) Riffing on the importance of working as if all coworkers are remote to you, Mitch recalls a study by Humanyze finding a corporation's interactions so tied to proximity that employees sitting within 500 meters accounted for 90% of all communications. We talk about how this natural tendency for informal, splintered communication leaves employee success & satisfaction to chance. (14:56) Gary speaks to some early-stage approaches he's been taking to integrate mindfulness and mental health tools into an employee's workday. We discuss the precarious path of gathering & applying wellness insights, including the opportunity to blend your work "location" with a real-time trip to your therapist, for example. (21:24) Gary revisits his 75% number, revealing what employees and leaders specifically come to understand about what the office's real value could be. (25:13) We go on a bender in denouncing the anti-telecommuting protectionist myth of physical "collaboration" -- Mitch's mental model is that collaboration is half of a "net interaction" equation, with the other half being distraction. Gary calls it the illusion of collaboration and invokes the research of Adam Grant. (32:53) Mitch heaves up his hot take: if supervisors expect employees in their seats to ensure productivity through observation, then we should replace those supervisors with cameras at a fraction of the cost. Gary champions the servant leader and doubles down on the need for organizations to embrace the principles of trust, transparency and clarity.
The Miseducation Of Educators
(1:30) Mitch introduces Tracey Zimmerman (President of Robots and Pencils), and Ryan Gialames (education technologist at large). Thus begins a Zoom interview with so much compression it sometimes sounds like autotune. T-Pain, don't steal our hooks. (4:15) We cite the core advantages of online learning in respect to Telekinetic's technology-eats-transportation credo -- the asynchronous environment, the rewatchable/relivable material, and the democratization of giving everyone the same seat since they all paid the same price of admission. (10:10) We hear a familiar theme of toppling ivory towers, as Tracey recounts tirelessly trying to prove the value of online learning environments to established educators, only to uncover they couldn't prove their own value. Mitch forgets he graduated 15 years ago, not 20. (17:03) Ryan offers a theoretical counterpoint: that school is where you go to shop for the kind of person you want to be. (20:20) Tracey talks about the potential of Earn & Learn -- a hybrid model coordinating higher ed tracks with industry & employer skills in demand. (25:48) Mitch offers up his hot take: the religion of "personalized learning" is a recipe for algorithms as teachers. Ryan and Tracey deliver a few excellent insights as to why personalized learning isn't the be-all and end-all. (30:31) The gang fawns over Peloton as a shining example of virtual courses, and Ryan reveals he's only on the pod to get referral bonuses.
Democracy Beyond The Destination
For posterity: this was recorded in mid-December, 2020. (1:55) Mitch introduces Jamie Skella, technologist and strategic advisor to the Aussie stars -- Mitch's words, not Jamie's. (5:26) Jamie explains how the blockchain-based voting technology he helped developed at MiVote, and later Horizon State, modernizes and optimizes voting to make it more equitable, more affordable, and more available as a lever for change. (8:47) We lay plain the literal transportation problems in location-based elections, and double down on how alleviating those problems paves the way for a dramatic increase in voting opportunities on a per-policy basis, rather than the character-driven soap operas plaguing conventional politics. (14:29) We touch on the blockchain solution as an exponential improvement on digital machine-based voting, rather than a linear progression. (17:09) Jamie reflects on the hurdles of getting his technology adopted in the public sector and beyond. (23:47) Mitch offers his hot take: the voting aspect of democracy is more or less mob rule no matter how you slice it; abiding by the social contract to support the winner after the fact is what actually makes a democracy. (31:50) Mitch posits that fast-developing countries could use the Horizon State platform to leapfrog established superpowers. Jamie reveals a few interesting discussions he's had with unlikely heroes for democratic revolution.
(1:28) Mitch introduces Carlos Pardo of NUMO. (3:52) Carlos illuminates the modern history of "transportation avoidance" as an urban planning strategy. (6:26) We consider why transportation planners and mobility agencies refuse to acknowledge teletravel as a key component of TDM. (19:30) We debate the inherent value of travel as an instinctive and anthropological need, regardless of trip purpose. Carlos cites a study about soccer moms and the Marchetti constant. Mitch offers his hot take: transportation optimizes at zero. (30:42) Carlos speaks to the threats and opportunities transit systems are grappling with due to pandemic-induced confinement, and the potential future where social movement shifts from a pendular nature to a more chaotic one. (37:13) Carlos offers up the concept of a "mobility hub", the current focus of his work at NUMO.
Mitch settles into his dangerously comfortable armchair to wax philosophical about the nature of human progress, and how we know we're achieving it whenever we see transportation being made obsolete.