Home / Technology / Bits: Daily Report: A Light Local Hand on Tech

Bits: Daily Report: A Light Local Hand on Tech


Ford Fusion cars mapped out the streets of Pittsburgh last week before the introduction of driverless vehicles by Uber. Credit Jeff Swensen for The New York Times

“If you want to see the future, head to Pittsburgh” is probably something unsaid for most of a century. That may be about to change, because of the way its local government is welcoming its robot overlords.

As Cecilia Kang reports, Pittsburgh, once known as Steel City, is about to see a 100-strong fleet of self-driving cars from Uber deployed. These are not test cars, but commercial vehicles that will pick up paying passengers.

The cars will have human overseers in the driver’s seat, for now, but they are expected to operate as autonomous vehicles. And autonomy seems to be what the mayor has given Uber — he and the chief of police have ridden in the cars, but no one else in government has even seen them.

“If you want to be a 21st-century laboratory for technology, you put out the carpet,” said the mayor, basically encapsulating a concept called “greenlight governing,” or letting companies do whatever they want (within reason).

The hope is that this will gain the town a reputation as a robotics hub, something already plausible because of the impressive robotics engineering department at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University (which Uber once raided for talent).

But fear may be another motivation. The city rode high during America’s industrialization, enabling Andrew Carnegie to fund Carnegie Mellon. He also built the first of his famous public libraries in nearby Braddock, which was hit by the steel bust that set Pittsburgh back for decades.

Other parts of the city have come back, in part because of the insurance and health care industries that have made Pittsburgh home. The experience of losing out from one economic cycle, however, very likely shapes how much Pittsburgh views getting in early on the next one.

That is a situation that is being played out elsewhere in hollowed-out industrial America, as towns welcome giant data centers from companies like Amazon, Google and Microsoft.

In that case, the towns also look for a big economic bump from sponsoring some part of our computing-intensive future, but it does not turn out that way: Data centers are exceptionally automated, with just a few highly skilled jobs, and even fewer jobs in security and maintenance that match the local skill sets.

As robotics catch on, there will be even fewer positions in the data centers. Maybe the robots will be made in Pittsburgh.

Continue reading the main story

NYT > Technology

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *