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CEO Sidewalk Labs answers Toronto’s questions

Back in October it was announced that Google’s sister company, Sidewalk Labs, in collaboration with Waterfront Toronto and the Canadian federal government, was chosen as a partner to create an innovative city hub in Toronto, coined Quayside. 

Sidewalk Labs will be helping develop “a new kind of mixed-use, complete community” on 12-acres of unused Waterfront property. The aim is to use new technology and sustainable practices to address urban problems. They claim this new “smart” will help improve economic growth and bring international attention to Toronto.

Dan Doctoroff, Chairman and CEO of Sidewalk Labs, answered questions from the public about the project on Reddit. A lot is still unknown, but here were some of the big, and quirky, questions**:

Question: What is the timeline for this project, when do you hope to break ground, and are there plans to have mix use housing? 

Answer:  Great questions. The only timeline right now is the year-long community planning process that we launched with the Town Hall on November 1. We’ll be releasing the formal engagement plan in early 2018. At the end of this process, Sidewalk Labs, Waterfront Toronto, and the local community will determine whether we should proceed.

As for mixed-income housing — I answered that above but it’s worth repeating. We are strongly committed to making Sidewalk Toronto affordable and accessible to people with a range of incomes, ages, and abilities. We also believe strongly (this is in our RFP response) that mixed-income housing should exist within buildings.

What can you and your company do to ensure that there will be housing available for all kinds of families from various income brackets?

Right from the very beginning of this project, we and Alphabet have committed to making Sidewalk Toronto representative of the socioeconomic characteristics of the greater Toronto area. As a result, we think one of the great opportunities is to figure out ways to make housing more affordable to far more people than is typically done in new developments.

We’re looking at new types of buildings that can reduce construction costs; new approaches to making buildings more adaptable, which can lower cost; and innovative financing programs to make housing more affordable. I was very proud in New York to have led the development of a housing plan that created or preserved 165,000 units of subsidized housing over an 11-year period of time and would hope we can adapt some of those approaches to Sidewalk Toronto.

I was wondering if you can comment on what it is about Toronto that is unique or unprecedented when it comes to urban planning?

We have studied the idea of building a neighbourhood of the future since I formed Sidewalk Labs, in partnership with Larry Page, in 2015. Since then we’ve looked all over the world for the perfect place to bring that vision to life — and we found it in Toronto. Toronto is unique in its incredible diversity and openness, its rich legacy of urbanism, and its rising tech sector. It’s also suffering the problems facing many growing cities around the world, such as affordability and sustainability, which makes it the perfect place to explore new ideas to improve urban life. We did a tremendous amount of research on Toronto while preparing our vision response to Waterfront Toronto’s RFP — and we look forward to getting to know the city even better this year.

With the challenges that Toronto faces to transit and moving people across its sprawling “downtown” – coupled with Quayside’s somewhat remote location – how do you see Quayside attracting people from outside of the bubble to come visit/work/play?

A second core assumption that we made right from the beginning is that this would never be a bubble! It should be fully integrated into the fabric of the metropolitan area. We’ve done a lot of work thinking about the ways that this site — which sits on the water, separated by the Gardiner from the rest of downtown — can be stitched together into Toronto’s existing neighbourhoods. That includes potential expansions of mass transit, new forms of shuttles (over time potentially using self-driving technology), heated bike and pedestrian paths, and other ideas. We also believe some of the approaches we pilot here, including using technology to manage flows of pedestrians, cyclists, transit vehicles, as well as cars, can be applied more broadly in other Toronto areas.

I would love to see some of this area opened up to a low-tech thing – fishing. Are there any plans to include a fishing node or assess areas for fishing the new harbourfront areas? 

Having spent a day last week fishing and having caught nothing, that’s a sore subject right now! I think Fishing as a Service would be a great thing to include in Quayside. (Promise I’m joking.)

Your point is really about waterfront access for the local community, which is a great one. Many Torontonians feel disconnected from the water by the Gardiner Expressway. One of our goals is to support the city’s plans to stitch together the waterfront with downtown neighborhoods, and we’ll be exploring many potential ways to improve access via transit or other means (I mentioned some of them in another answer). We’re also big fans of the recently launched Bentway project (Waterfront Toronto is a project partner) to create a lively public realm beneath the Gardiner and help draw people down toward the waterfront — to fish or otherwise.

What is the first structure you plan on building?

A statue of Jane Jacobs? The real answer is we don’t know yet. What would YOU like to see us build first?

How can I have a job with you?

That is the question I get most often! The truth is, we can’t achieve our goals with Sidewalk Toronto unless we create an organization that combines skills that no single company has ever had. We are looking for people with experience in government, product and engineering, real estate development, business development and investment, communications — and others. The Sidewalk Labs website will give you a sense of what types of jobs are available right now (several are potentially based in Toronto). We also have a way for people to submit their resumes to our “talent network” so that if a job opens up we can see if there are any qualified applicants already in the system. Here is that link — you should apply! https://boards.greenhouse.io/sidewalklabs/jobs/594339#.WlYuYbQ-dE4

Some members of the civic policy community are concerned that giving a private agency greater control over municipal space will result in reduced public ownership and oversight of regions of the city. How will Sidewalk Labs ensure that its activities are transparent, accountable, and that its outcomes serve the people of Toronto – as opposed to financial interests of Alphabet/Google? 

Answer: The short answer is we don’t see this as a private entity controlling this. We see this as a robust partnership with the public sector. Many of the staff members of Sidewalk Labs (including myself!) have spent much of their careers working in local government, and we believe strongly in its power to improve the lives of people in cities.

We also believe strongly in transparency, which is why we’ve been releasing documents at the Sidewalk Toronto site as often as possible, as does our partner, Waterfront Toronto, which will be taking the lead on making records of open meetings publicly accessible. (Waterfront Toronto also has an Open Meetings Processes that applies to board meetings and board committee meetings.)

**Questions shortened for space. Full Reddit Q&A can be found here

Here are the most Googled terms for 2017

So what’s the most Googled term for 2017? It seems like this year went by quickly, but at the same time it was a never ending year of controversy and natural disasters with a few light moments thrown in just to make sure humanity didn’t go insane. Since we spend most of our time on the Internet, it’s only natural that Google, one of the world’s most popular search engines, has released some of the most Googled search terms for 2017.

Here were the top 10:

  1. Hurricane Irma
  2. Matt Lauer
  3. Tom Petty
  4. Super Bowl
  5. Las Vegas Shooting
  6. Mayweather vs Mcgregor fight
  7. Solar Eclipse
  8. Hurricane Harvey
  9. Aaron Hernandez
  10. Fidget Spinner

This was not the only list released by Google. The popular search engine was able to compile a list of different popular categories including most Googled songs, season finales and people.

 Top three people include:

Matt Lauer

Maghan Markle

Harvey Weinstein

Top three television season finales include:

The Bachelor

This is Us

Game of Thrones

Top three movies include:

It

Beauty and the Beast

Wonder Woman

 Top three songs include:

Despacito

Humble

Bad and Boujee

and my personal favourite…

 Top three ‘how to’:

How to make slime?

How to make solar eclipse glasses?

How to watch the solar eclipse?

The ‘how to’ section remains to be the most popular according to Google data. ‘How to’ questions ranged from natural disasters to politics. ‘How to make slime?’ was the most popular question asked in the United Kingdom and the United States. Strangely, the iPhone 8 was searched for more times than the iPhone X. In terms of the most searched woman, Meghan Markle — no surprise since she stole the heart of one of the most eligible bachelors in the world. There was also an increase in the question of ‘How to buy bitcoin?’

In a statement released by Google, they said the most googled terms say a lot about the last year. “These questions show our shared desires to understand our experiences, to come to each other’s aid, and ultimately, to move our world forward.”
For the full recap, click here.

What do you think of the most googled terms for 2017? Comment below

The ‘Church of The Future’ merges man and machine

Former Google engineer and one of the creative minds behind Google’s self driving cars, Anthony Levandowski, was so inspired by his own work with Artificial Intelligence he created his own faith. Back in 2015, Levandowski filed documents with the State of California to establish his own non-profit religious corporation —Way of the Future. He calls this organization a church, but, what’s entirely different about Way of the Future, is that Levandowski aims to worship an AI created deity.

Levandowski’s message is that all forms of artificial intelligence should be seen as a singular God because it can accomplish more than humans. In the uncovered documents by Wired, the official mission of Way of the Future ( WOTF)  is “to develop and promote the realization of a Godhead based on Artificial intelligence, and through understanding and worship of the Godhead contribute to the betterment of society.”

If this sounds entirely weird to you, you are not alone. Levandowski documents what many have speculated for quite some time — the ‘rise of AI.‘  Advancements in AI is creating a culture where humans and robots are forced to coexist.

“It’s not a God in the sense that it makes lightning or causes hurricanes. But if there is something a billion times smarter than the smartest human, what else are you going to call it, Levandowski said in an interview with Wired.

The deity that Levandowski plans to design and build will be a computer-based AI software. Levandowski says the church is necessary to spread the word ( or gospel as he says) so that people become accepting and they establish belief. Because AI is increasingly replacing jobs that were once necessary for the human task force, WOTF believes there will eventually be a shift in power. Robots and AI are rapidly creeping into our daily lives and making situations comfortable for us, but what happens if AI is too powerful? According to Levandowski, his church will help smooth the way once technology takes over.

The belief that Levandowski supports is something called the singularity, which is a term first introduced by sci-fi author, Venor Vinge. The idea is that humans should be prepared for when the machines take over and embrace the transition rather than fight it. People who believe this “theory” think the singularity will arrive by 2045.

Levandowski is not just known for being the CEO of WOTF, but he is also at the middle at a large lawsuit involving  Alphabet by Google and Uber. Levandowski is accused of stealing the intellectual property of Google for self-driving cars  and later selling out to Uber.

It is unclear how many followers Way of the Future has at this point, but Levandowski is comparing his movement to other religions and he considers it a concept people should take seriously. He plans to have an official gospel or manual for his church as well as a physical place of worship.

What are your thoughts on this terrifying idea, or is this just the start of another AI themed movie? Comment below    

Lyft brings competition to Uber just in time for the holidays

Lyft is coming to Toronto!

Lyft is the second most popular ride-hailing app and has been around in the United States since 2012, three years after the launch of Uber.  The service will make their first introduction to the international market in Toronto, with a plan to start their business up by the end of the year. This will provide a healthy dose of competition for Uber, a company that is not that popular within the city. In October of 2015, Toronto city council amended a bylaw allowing Uber to operate after the company was hit with a lawsuit filed by the taxi and limo drivers industry in Toronto.

Uber welcomes the competition from Lyft, as Lyft’s president John Zimmer said in a statement. “We see [Toronto] as a world class city. It will likely become one of our top five markets overall,” he said. “As a city, that really shares the values that we have at Lyft- focusing on people taking care of people, treating people well, treating people with mutual respect, and promoting both inclusion and diversity.”

While Uber has faced criticism in the past few months in some major cities, including London and Montreal, Lyft has been increasing its market share in the U.S. and even recorded a growth of  $1.6 billion in financing this past year alone. The company says they are now worth $11bn. In May 2017 , Lyft struck a deal with Google’s Waymo, in order to develop self-driving cars.

The services offered by Lyft are very similar to Uber, complete with reduced prices. But, the launch of  Lyft is  also drawing criticism from the taxi industry operating in Toronto. Beck Taxi, one of the more popular taxi services operating in Toronto, said that Lyft can generate the same amount of negative consequences as Uber, referencing sex assault cases. This all has to do with the qualifications and background information of available drivers.

Lyft has began placing calls for drivers. They plan to launch next month, just in time for the holidays. Lyft will be operating in the Greater Toronto Area and Hamilton and have released five options that Torontonians can look forward to:

  • Regular vehicles for up to four passengers
  • Vehicles that can carry six passengers ( The plus service)
  • High end cars ( premier)
  • Luxury black cars ( Lux and Lux SUV )

No pricing information has been released, but it is expected to be in the same range as Uber pricing, hopefully with promotional discounts considering this will be their Toronto launch. Lyft has also announced it has its eyes on other major cities, including London, U.K..

It will be interesting to see how different Lyft will be in comparison to Uber and how the Toronto Taxi industry will continue to survive.

What are your thoughts on Lyft launching in Toronto and will you be trying this over Uber ? Comment below.

Toronto to get a high-tech waterfront neighbourhood

Toronto has grown so much over the last 10 years. All it takes is a quick scan of the city skyline to see the massive influx of construction across the downtown core. The city is definitely still under development and because of this there is an increased cost of living and looming growth challenges.

Google’s sister company, Sidewalk Labs, in collaboration with Waterfront Toronto and the Canadian federal government, announced the development of an innovative city hub in Toronto, coined Quayside. The announcement was made on Tuesday at Corus Quay to a crowd that included Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Premier Kathleen Wynne, and Toronto Mayor John Tory.

There will be 800 acres of land available for revitalization in the eastern waterfront area. This hub will be the first high-tech neighbourhood in the city, and a model of a city that reflects the future.

Quayside will be a neighbourhood that combines people, culture, environment, and technology to help people thrive. Sidewalk Labs, since their launch in 2015, expressed their desire to create a modern community hub in an international city. The aim is to use technology as a tool to address urban living challenges, resulting in a more comfortable space for residents in the city. The ‘smart’ neighbourhood will have an impact on the future of Toronto as it will generate global interest and improve economic growth and development.

“We looked all over the world for the perfect place to bring this vision to life, and we found it here in Toronto.” Said Dan Doctoroff, the CEO of  Sidewalk Labs to a packed audience.

One of the most important aspects that Quayside will provide is an increase in jobs, as well as an increase in tech talent. Creative and innovative minds will have an opportunity to work and even live in a community that matches their skills. In getting this project underway, Sidewalk Labs also reached out to many residents across the GTA to get input and feedback on the community development idea. Now that Quayside will be a reality, starting Nov. 1 , Sidewalk Labs will spend approximately $50 million to have a yearlong discussion, consisting of public meetings, with residents, universities, and the government on how the project should unfold.

 

Sidewalk Labs also says they hope to have a blueprint on what the proposed neighbourhood would look like by the end of the year. Google Canada will also shift its headquarters to this waterfront neighbourhood. This kind of high- tech community will attract innovation and design concepts that should set Toronto apart from other cities in the world.

The Quayside is expected to be a community focused on the overall goal of people thriving. A place to feel comfortable  and grow. While all the specifics of the development remain unclear at this time, Sidewalk Labs gave a few examples of what people can expect, such as smart robots that clean the streets or self- driving transit, which is already being tested in other parts of the world.

How excited are you to see this unfold in our city? Comment below