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Riding in an Uber self-driving car in Pittsburgh. Photo: Angelo Merendino/AFP/Getty
The companies backing smart city technologies, surveillance and autonomous vehicles are among the most powerful entities on the planet, worth hundreds of billions of dollars and led by larger-than-life CEOs.
But the testing grounds for their innovations are second-tier cities. Desperate to compete with coastal superstars for jobs and talent, these smaller-fry metros — like Tempe, Arizona, and Kyle, Texas — are offering themselves up to these companies as living labs.
Erica writes: The ultimate payoff for these cities, however, can be meager: mere morsels, or often — nothing. "There’s a huge asymmetry in power and knowledge," says Jake Dunagan of the Institute for the Future.
By the numbers:
Not all the second-tier cities are suffering: A handful, like Nashville and Austin, Texas, are thriving alongside the superstars. Austin hosts major campuses of Amazon, Google, Apple and Facebook. And Nashville was a secondary winner of the HQ2 pageant, gaining 5,000 jobs.
But most of the second tier is like Shreveport, Louisiana, a city of about 200,000 near the Texas border. It's dreaming of high-paying tech jobs and satellite campuses, seeing an Amazon HQ2 or Foxconn as the only way to grow materially. "It's so important to leverage technology to be more important and stand out and to compete with the bigger cities," says Shreveport Mayor Adrian Perkins.
Effectively locked out of the bidding for prized Big Tech campuses, second-tier cities have found themselves the venues for experiments.
One of their principal roles — tracks for the nascent driverless car industry.
Uber set its self-driving cars loose in Tempe. In March 2018, one of them struck and killed a pedestrian. Last week, Arizona prosecutors declined to press charges against Uber.
The Texas cities of Kyle and Orange last year saw different consequences of being a tech company's lab when they let in Vigilant Solutions, a firm that makes automated license plate readers.
Several Florida cities started testing Harris Corp.'s StingRay, a cellphone surveillance device, in 2014 and signed airtight NDAs.
The companies did not respond to requests for comment.
Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios
When you are a second-tier city, courting a Big Tech company can backfire.
Erica writes: For the Big Tech companies, the payoff is usually data. In its recent search for an HQ2, Amazon solicited applications from 238 cities, large and small. On the way to settling on New York and a Virginia suburb of Washington, D.C., Amazon ended up with a massive, granular database of American cities, a goldmine of inside dope as it expands.
But almost always, the smaller metros end up disadvantaged:
One city that spilled its secrets to Amazon: With big hopes for the $100,000-a-year jobs the company dangled in front of the bidding cities, Spokane, Washington, submitted a bid for HQ2.
Albuquerque is arguably better placed as a destination for Big Tech, with a population around 600,000 and four universities. Indeed, it has already attracted a handful of major satellite campuses, including a 3,300-strong Intel office.
But even Albuquerque gets played by Big Tech:
Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller defends the Netflix deal. "No one has any bad taste in their mouth."
The companies did not respond to requests for comment.
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios
Pre-identified photos of half the U.S. adult population are searchable in law enforcement databases. Jake Laperruque, a contributor to Axios Expert Voices and senior counsel with the Constitution Project at the Project on Government Oversight, explores the risks around facial recognition technologies and how lawmakers may respond.
The expanded use of facial recognition by law enforcement agencies poses significant risks, from misidentifications and unlawful targeting to the danger of disclosing sensitive information about people's daily lives.
Both federal and state lawmakers are trying to address these risks while responding to pressure from law enforcement and from Big Tech companies like Amazon and Microsoft.
The big picture:
What's needed: Limiting the use of facial recognition to serious crimes and requiring police to secure a judge's permission to use the technology, based on probable cause, could lower the risk of abuse.
Photo: Tatyana Makeyeva/TASS/Getty
A central promise of artificial intelligence is to automate away tedious routine tasks, but a lingering worry is that it will chip away at our humanity, causing people to lean on computers to the detriment of their ability to think critically.
Kaveh writes: A new survey from the PR firm Edelman, conducted last summer with 1,000 Americans, shows widespread worry around the social effects of swiftly advancing AI.
"People tend to trust the information they are presented by their digital devices, and it’s possible with AI — given the vast amounts of personal data that drive those systems — to steadily persuade individuals and entire groups to a certain point of view."— Gary Grossman, head of Edelman's AI center
Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios
Banks and money laundering (The Economist)
The very different world of Chinese driverless cars (Patrick Lozada — Axios)
Black entrepreneurs shift from Silicon Valley to the South (Jessica Guynn, Nicquel Terry Ellis — USA Today)
Peak California (Byrne Hobart — Medium)
Murdoch company calls for Google breakup (Jamie Smyth — FT)
Iditarod, 2015. Photo: Joshua Corbett/dpa/Getty
Nicolas Petit, a contestant in Alaska's storied Iditarod dogsled race, was sitting pretty with a five-hour lead when his dogs quit on him Monday.
Kaveh writes: Two of Petit's dogs had been fighting, and the French musher — the dogsled equivalent of a horse jockey — shouted at one, AP reports.