Rents in San Francisco have been skyrocketing, and the people of San Francisco are pissed. It’s a multifaceted issue, but it boils down to a combination of A) A lot of very highly paid people in the tech industry are moving into the city, both from the suburbs and from all over the world, and B) there is not enough new housing being constructed to meet demand.
When supply is constrained, prices increase. Rent is getting to the point where many people not employed by the tech industry are being priced out of their homes, neighborhoods, and the entire city. These are the people who serve our food and pick up our trash. The people who drive us to meetings and sell us clothes. The people who teach our children.
But the question no one is asking is… do we need these people? Could startups replace all those jobs? During the recent BART strikes, a Bay Area CEO took a lot of heat for (rather rudely) suggesting we automate all their jobs. But what if we did? Could San Francisco be “The City of the Distant Future" in just a few years?
Lets do a thought experiment and look at what this tech utopia (dystopia?) might look like.
**DISCLAIMER. I’m not advocating this idea, and I’m not saying it’d be a good thing. In fact, I’m pretty sure it’d be awful direction for society to go. This is simply a thought experiment.**
“Yo, Mark! Wake up, dude! It’s 7:48. Your first calendar appointment is at 9 at the office. You gotta move now!” Mark groans, rolls over, and grabs his phone to finish the Soduku puzzle his alarm app wants him to solve to prove he’s awake.
When he solves the puzzle, his phone displays his “morning apps” folder. He checks the fridge app and notices he doesn’t have any eggs or bacon, so he clicks the “schedule afternoon delivery on Amazon Fresh” button. He flips to his weather app and sees there’s a snowstorm forecasted for later that week.
“Stupid global warming,” Mark mutters, as he clicks “Add boots and gloves in your size to current Amazon order.”
As Mark comes out of the shower, his son Steve is already awake, on his Faceboculous Rift, and at 3rdGrayd.edu.co.io. To solve their problem with lack of human interaction, companies like Khan Academy and Udemy joined forces with Facebook and other advanced personal VR headsets, so children could have an interactive classroom, full of other students, in their living room. The kids watch pre-recorded lectures, and then interact with a teacher to answer their questions. Because the kids are spending most of their time watching pre-recorded lectures, a teacher is able to managed up to 500 students at once. "Not scalable," Mark thinks as he shakes his head, "but still cool."
He has just enough time to eat his breakfast Soylent before he has to run to work. Ever since the city banned privately owned cars, he takes an Uber to work every day. Lyft is cheaper, but he prefers Uber’s “unlimited use monthly subscription” plan over the pay-per-use plan Lyft still uses.
They’re both still pretty fast though. Now that the city has also banned human-drivable cars, they were finally able to raise the speed limit to 200mph on city streets, which the self-driving cars can easily handle. Unusual amount of traffic today, but he still gets to work in 194 seconds.
Mark rolls into work and greets his team. After a morning meeting, they go out for coffee. Walking across the street, everyone opens the Starbucks App and selects “The Usual” from the home screen. They walk into the Starbucks, go to the Robo-barista, flash a QR Code on their phone (ha ha, like QR codes are the future), and a panel slides open with their drink and they head back to work.
Lunchtime rolls around, and Mark is famished. He decides to skip out on the free catered lunch driven in from ZeroCater’s kitchen factory outside the city, and he opts for having a fresh sandwich delivered by Breadbox instead. Their bakery factory scales up to produce up to 28 loaves of bread a minute during algorithmically predicted peak times. When you put in an order, their robotic factory assembles your sandwich from the selected ingredients in 3.7 seconds, and they’re operating at such scale that each sandwich only costs them half a penny. They ensure freshness by only half-cooking the bread in the factory - the bread finishes baking in the internal ovens of the automated dispatch truck during delivery, so it finishes moments before it lands in your hands.
After work, Mark has a romantic date planned with, Cheryl a girl he met on OKTinder. He picks her up in an Uber, and they open up the Foodspotting app. They select “romantic restaurant for two,” and after it hits all the restaurant APIs to see which one has a table open, it books them a reservation. As they drive past the empty and abandoned retail district, they talk about Mark’s son's recent progress in his Quantum Electrochemistry class.
They arrive at the restaurant, and Mark’s iWatch points them to their table. The candles at the table are actually made of a curved display, and a VR Waitress appears. The voice recognition and natural language processing software flawlessly takes their order and sends it to the robokitchen in the back. Data suggests that 17 minutes is the optimal wait time for food to facilitate conversation in a romantic situation, and so 17 minutes later their food is delivered via a knockoff brand of Amazon quadrocopter.
As they finish their meal, they stand up and walk out. Because Mark booked through Foodspotting, his Simple credit card had already been charged for the meal. Mark turned off the payment confirmation Whatsapp messages a long time ago. (Whatsapp became the primary communication tool after the city instituted free ubiquitous gigabit wifi. No one needs a cell or data plan anymore.)
Mark’s Uber drops off Cheryl, then takes him home as his Roomba Home Janitor Unit is finishing its monthly roof maintenance. "The garden is looking a little boring,” Mark thinks as he goes inside. “The Garden DLC for the Roomba is only $250, that’s totally worth it.” He opens the Roomba app, makes the in-app purchase, then heads to bed.
So would you want to live in this city? What jobs do you think startups/technology could replace in the next five years? What jobs do you think startups or technology could never replace?
Let me know in the comments!
Left Jerusalem and headed to Tel Aviv today. I've got a bunch of things planned here, and was introduced to a ton of people. This city started off right with a great night with my friend, even if he doesn't believe me when I write it... (see tomorrow's post for more on an interesting question he asked me.)
The picture is of a painting I found in one of the winding alleyway markets in Jerusalem. A slacklining rabbi. Loved it. Probably would have bought it if there was a reasonable way of getting it home.