Autonomy and Autocrats

Autonomy on Two Wheels

Unless you’re completely shutting out all transportation news (and we’d understand if you were) you’ll have heard about micromobility and the rise of the scooter-share. Naysayers call it a gimmick, an invitation to thieves and vandals (there are entire Instagram accounts devoted to trashing public scooters), and a boon to personal injury attorneys (ok, we made up that last part). Nevertheless cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, Cleveland, Tacoma, and Chicago have rolled out massive scooter-sharing programs, and in 2018 Americans took 38.5 million trips on shared scooters.

That’s a lot of unevenly worn-down pairs of shoes.

But there’s a long way to go before it’s perfect. One of the biggest complaints about scooter-sharing programs is the horrible, sidewalk-boneyard result of a thousand littered scooters. If users aren’t responsible (and if you’ve spent any time among humankind you’ll know a lot of them won’t be) the scooters lay where they fall until fleet operators rescue them. 

“Give them brains and you won’t have that problem,” an engineer probably said. Beijing-based Ninebot is creating semi-autonomous scooters that take themselves back to their charging stations, saving fleet owners the hassle and cities the clutter. Will it convince holdout cities like St. Louis to embrace the trend?

Probably. But then again, maybe it’ll end like China’s bike-share craze, with those sidewalk boneyards standing as monuments to another failed tech boom. 

Autonomy Addendum

It’s worth bringing up another point: What happens when these amazing bits of self-driving technology go rogue? Autonomous technology isn’t infallible, and while humans seem far more error prone than machines, we have to acknowledge the real dangers of driverless vehicles. In fact, just a few months ago an Uber whistleblower revealed a study that showed self-driving cars were actually recording incident rates higher than typical (human) motorists

And with Uber being found not criminally liable for the 2018 death of Elaine Herzberg, one wonders who takes the fall when these four- (or two-) wheeled Skynets run amok. 

Rough Trade 

It often shocks us just how profoundly the petty spats of powerful men impact our lives. Take tariffs, for instance. Right now Donald Trump’s bizarre, one-sided slap-fight with China is echoing shrilly through the halls of our economy. Let’s be clear, here: The world’s biggest economy is now in an all-out trade war with the second-biggest. That’s bad. And sometimes it’s hard to quantify “bad” until we see how it impacts our everyday economic lives. 

In the wake of the US announcing a 10% tariff on another $300 billion worth of goods imported from China, Apple stock dropped 2%. That sounds like such a small number, but there is no small for a company that posts a quarterly revenue of $58 billion

There’s a temporary reprieve for some products, including smartphones, iPads, and MacBooks, but on September 1 the tariffs will kick in for quite a few other Apple products. Desktop machines, Apple Watches, and the ubiquitously popular AirPods will suffer for this shortsighted trade spat.

Here’s the thing. We’re not economists here at BiTE (though our Content Director does a fantastic Milton Friedman impression), but when you’re staring at a possibly looming recession, slowing economic growth by imposing exorbitant tariffs on everything from headphones to frozen pollock seems a little…unwise.

Call us crazy. 

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