One of the lesser known Alphabet holdings is Sidewalk Labs, a division focussed on improving city living through advanced technology. But every experiment needs a petri dish, so Alphabet is reportedly looking at building a digital city in which to test Sidewalk’s evolving theories.
Sidewalk Labs is tasked with tackling the biggest urban problems: overcrowding, energy consumption, air pollution, traffic congestion, public transportation and waste disposal. While these can be nicely mapped on paper and in computer simulations, sooner or later any research lab needs real life data.
This is why the head of Sidewalk Labs is reportedly meeting with Alphabet CEO Larry Page: to discuss the possibility of constructing an entire city in which to field test possible solutions to the biggest issues facing cities. If Page agrees to the proposal, the company could potentially start taking bids as soon as this year from interested counties and states.
The proposed digital district could house hundreds of thousands of people.
So what would would this futuristic city look like? That’s hard to say, but it seems likely that it would largely resemble a current city if it is to tackle the issues affecting real citizens right now and not far-off projected inhabitants of a future metropolis. Sidewalk Labs has said its digital district could house ”hundreds of thousands of people” and Detroit and Denver have already been mentioned as possibilities.
Whatever it looks like and wherever it appears, you can be sure it will be a haven for self-driving cars, new forms of governance, public transportation experiments, Google Fiber broadband and public Wi-Fi everywhere – if Sidewalk Labs’ recent acquisition of a company providing Wi-Fi infrastructure for NYC is anything to go by – along with a whole host of other fancy technologies and developments we haven’t even heard about yet.
The technology ultimately cannot be stopped.
The CEO of Sidewalk Labs, Dan Doctoroff, recently spoke about the complexities of city building, noting that “thinking about a city from the Internet up is really compelling, but cities are hard. You have people with vested interest, politics, physical space. [But] the technology ultimately cannot be stopped.”
By creating a space devoid of politics and vested interests, Sidewalk can get down to the sticky busy of finding out what works. But it’s not all about trialling extravagant new “moonshot” ideas in pursuit of the scientific method. If Alphabet demonstrates the success of its digital district, it will become a great marketing tool for selling those ideas in real life too.
What do you think of this idea? Would you volunteer to live in an experimental city?
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