Jan 18, 2019

Axios Future

By Bryan Walsh
Bryan Walsh

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1 big thing: AI surveillance goes to school

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A new breed of intelligent video surveillance is being installed in schools around the country — tech that follows people around campus and detects unusual behaviors.

Axios' Kaveh Waddell reports: This new phase in campus surveillance responds to high-profile school shootings like the one in Parkland, Florida, last February. School administrators are now reaching for security tech that keeps a constant, increasingly sophisticated eye on halls and classrooms. One drawback: a major blow to student privacy.

Background: Schools are experimenting wildly with technology in order to secure students, deploying facial recognition, license plate readers, microphones for gunshot detection and even patrol robots.

  • At a news conference today, officials in Broward County, Florida — where Parkland is located — announced that they have spent more than $11 million on security cameras over the past year.
  • Read this fact: There are now more than 12,500 cameras in Broward County schools, said Superintendent Robert Runcie, and the district signed an agreement this week to share real-time video with the county sheriff's office.
  • Now, the school district is considering buying a next-generation surveillance system for more than $600,000, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reports.

The tech the district wants is benignly branded "intelligent video analytics." It's already popular with police and retailers; now, it's appearing in schools.

  • It represents a sea change in how video surveillance works. Where once a lone security guard would sit bored in front of dozens of security feeds, scanning for abnormal activity, unblinking artificial intelligence now monitors the videos.
  • It can detect unusual motion — such as a person in a hallway that is usually empty at a given time — and can search footage by peoples' appearance.

One company, Avigilon, sells these capabilities to school districts and universities, in addition to banks, hospitals and airports. Another, Pelco, announced last April that it will provide schools with an IBM version of intelligent video.

Increased surveillance stirs up some worry among students, teachers and privacy advocates.

  • On an online forum for teachers, some wrote that students shouldn't be monitored — or even that they felt uncomfortable being watched — while others said footage helped to settle arguments.
  • In an October town hall meeting, UCLA students raised worries about breaches of privacy, according to the university's student newspaper.
  • "You have to ask whether you want to raise a generation that is used to growing up in environments where they're electronically monitored by AI agents," the ACLU's Jay Stanley tells Axios.
  • Avigilon declined to comment to Axios.

Kenneth Preston, a Broward County high school student, says he supports surveillance tech that excludes facial recognition. (Broward County says it's not installing facial recognition.)

  • But technology should be an "absolute last precaution," he tells Axios.
  • Preston, who has been deeply critical of the county and school district, calls for a better system in which teachers and counselors identify threatening students in advance, rather than technology that helps to solve a crime after the fact.

Just east of Nashville, in Wilson County, Tennessee, schools are brimming with security tech. Several schools have cameras in every classroom, teachers have panic buttons at hand, and students' online communication is monitored 24/7.

  • "We're like every other school district" trying to keep students safe, says Jennifer Johnson, a spokesperson for the school system. "We're just throwing darts at the wall to see what sticks."
2. Student debt is depleting rural America

Union Station, Chicago, 1960. Photo: Bettmann Archive/Getty

College students from rural areas are moving to big cities for higher wages to help pay off their student loans, according to new research from the Federal Reserve.

Kaveh writes: A "rural brain drain" has been pulling college-educated people out of rural America and into urban areas, deepening an educational and political divide that is increasingly coming to define the country.

The average age of the U.S. rural population is going up, and the share of prime-working-age people is going down. Fewer people have college degrees, and more are unemployed.

  • In the past, experts have explained this dynamic as a lifestyle choice. But in its new analysis, the Fed points to student loans as an additional factor in the gravitational pull away from rural areas.

Researchers studied student borrowers, following their path across America for several years after they started paying back their loans. They found that:

  1. About half of rural residents who took out student loans still lived in a rural area six years later, compared to two-thirds who had not taken out loans.
  2. People with the most debt — those in the highest quartile of loan balances — were most likely to leave.
  3. Those who did move to cities did better financially. They were employed at higher rates and earned considerably higher wages, even when accounting for more expensive living.

This pattern was on hold during the 2000s, but has taken off post-recession, the analysis said. David Chang, CEO of Gradifi — which consults for companies on their student loan repayment programs — said he's seen the pattern.

  • "With 70% of today’s graduates borrowing an average of more than $25,000, it’s no question that college graduates are forced to live in expensive urban areas, because they have the highest concentration of high-paying jobs," Chang tells Axios.
  • "While these urban areas offer tremendous opportunities, these come at significant costs. The metro areas that are drawing the most recent graduates are among the most expensive in the country, which is also a challenge for those grappling with student loan payments."
3. Big Tech infighting — again

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

As we've chronicled before, Big Tech is at war with itself. Now, Microsoft is pitted against Amazon on their home turf.

Axios' Erica Pandey writes: Microsoft announced that it would commit $500 million to building affordable housing in Seattle. In doing so, it showed up its neighbor Amazon, which fought publicly and bitterly with the city of Seattle over a per-employee "homelessness tax." Microsoft has grabbed all the kudos in Seattle, even though Amazon is involved in a slew of charities itself.

The infighting is even more pronounced in Silicon Valley, where Salesforce is battling Twitter, while Apple is going after Facebook and Google.

  • During the last election cycle, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey bickered over San Francisco's homelessness problem, with Benioff supporting a "homelessness tax" on tech companies, and Dorsey opposing it.
  • And Apple CEO Tim Cook is charging forward against Facebook and Google — and calling for privacy regulation. Apple won the "2018 award for pouring salt in wounds of competitors," NYU's Scott Galloway says.
4. Worthy of your time

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Microsoft's answer to Seattle's housing problem (Jay Greene — WSJ)

The world's slow drift from the dollar (Dion Rabouin — Axios)

The spike in anti-anxiety drug overdoses (Aimee Cunningham — Science News)

Why it's so hard to build quantum computers (Martin Giles — MIT Tech Review)

Populism stunts Indonesia's growth (The Economist)

5. 1 musical thing: Super-short songs

Coney Island, New York. Photo: Getty

Forget the 7-minute masterpieces featuring multiple artists — the songs of the future are shrinking.

As streaming platforms like Spotify and Apple Music increasingly become the norm for listening to music, musicians — who get paid by the stream — are opting to record sub-3-minute tracks, according to Quartz' Dan Kopf. A lengthy opus earns the same dough as a quick hit, Erica writes.

By the numbers:

  • Take rapper Kendrick Lamar. He's one of the hottest artists right now. Quartz notes that in Lamar's first album, "good kid, m.A.A.d city," the 5th song starts 19 minutes in. But in Lamar's latest, "DAMN," the fifth song comes after only 12 minutes.
  • The same is true for country superstar Jason Aldean. The average track in his latest work, "Rearview Town," is 18% shorter than the average five albums ago, in "My Kinda Party."

The bottom line: In 2000, the number of top 100 songs under 2:30 was 0. Today, slightly over 6% of the top tracks are that short.

Bryan Walsh