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Illustration: Sam Jayne/Axios
For two years, historians, economists and others have pondered whether western leaders, facing a growing populist challenge, must prepare for an even greater temblor resembling the French Revolution or 1930s fascism.
In a new paper in the Oxford Review of Economist Policy, U.K. economist Carl Frey and two co-authors argue that indeed the 2016 U.S. presidential election — and the effects of industrial automation during the decades before — may be a signal of worse to come.
What's going on: Frey, co-author in 2013 of one of the most-cited papers about automation and jobs, writes that since the start of the Industrial Revolution about 1780, new technology has transformed living standards but also "bred many political revolutionaries."
Frey found similar statistics in the years leading up to the 2016 election. "The trajectories of the American economy over the four decades following the revolution in automation of the 1980s almost exactly mirror the first four decades of the Industrial Revolution in Britain," the authors write.
To assess any link between automation and the 2016 election, the authors used local mechanization data from the International Federation of Robotics and county-level voting data from Dave Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections. They say they controlled for other factors in joblessness — like offshoring of manufacturing and trade deals. Among their results:
The electoral count, the authors say, would have been 278-260 with a Clinton win rather than the ultimate 306-232 in favor of Trump.
What's next: Frey and his team recommend that governments act before political unrest worsens.
In a turn away from vision, a team at MIT has created a feline robot that attempts to better approximate how humans and animals actually move, navigating stairs and uneven surfaces guided only by sensors on its feet.
Kaveh Waddell writes: Many ambulatory robots rely on substantial recent improvements in computer-vision, like advanced cameras and lidar. But robots will be more nimble and more practically interact with humans with the addition of "blind" vision — a sixth sense of feeling that most living things have for their surroundings.
What's going on: Computer vision alone can result in a robot with slow and inaccurate movements, says MIT's Songbae Kim, designer of the Cheetah 3.
"People start adding vision prematurely and they rely on it too much," Kim tells Axios, when it's best suited for big-picture planning, like registering where a stairway begins and knowing when to turn to avoid a wall. So his team built a "blind" version in order to focus on tactile sensing.
How the blind version works: Two algorithms help the Cheetah stay upright when it encounters unexpected obstacles.
The result is a quick, balanced robot: The Cheetah can move 6.7 miles an hour, and jump up onto a table from a standstill. These tricks make the 90-pound bot look surprisingly nimble.
Cheetah's design emphasizes "sensors that you and I take for granted," said Noah Cowan, director of the LIMBS robotics lab at Johns Hopkins University.
Photo: Chris Jackson/Getty Images
Big Tech is being challenged by a new strain of thought: that it should pay people for their data. The current arrangement — data for free search and friendship services — is insufficient, the new thinking goes.
Why it matters: If adopted, the argument — pressed by tech thinkers, economists and a new book — could erode billions of dollars of profit from companies like Google and Facebook, along with China's Alibaba and Tencent. Meanwhile, an undetermined amount of money, though probably just a few dollars to start, would go into the pockets of ordinary people around the world.
What they're saying: The argument is that data is actually labor — the result of stuff that everyone does in their daily lives. Therefore, if a company is using it for commercial purposes, it should pay the source of the data — you.
Speaking to Axios, Brookings' Mark Muro says this convergence of thought is legitimate. "It makes total sense that the exploitation of people for their data will lead to new forms of organization for recouping its value, or at least for extracting greater return," he says.
But, but, but: No one thinks it will be easy to devise the compensatory system. Nor, of course, that Big Tech will easily surrender to a new data marketplace.
Najin (L) and Fatu, the last known northern white rhinos, both female. Photo: Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty Images
At the Hipster Olympics in Berlin. Photo: Adam Berry/Getty Images
If you happen to seriously favor tattoos, vintage shops, vinyl records, vegan food and coffee — in other words, if you're an unapologetic hipster — where is the best place on the planet to put down roots?
The big picture: According to MoveHub, which collected data on 446 cities in 20 countries, two cities more or less tie for the appellation of the world's biggest hipster haven: the southeast U.K. city of Brighton and Hove and Portland, OR. Rounding out the top five were Salt Lake City, Seattle and the Portuguese capital of Lisbon.
An important cultural anchor: In 2011, Berlin — which many locals regard as a capital of hipster fashion and manner — held a Hipster Olympics (its second year in 2012 is pictured above). The Olympics appears to have segued into the Hipster Cup Festival, which will be next held in July 2019, according to its website.
Why MoveHub bothered: "Our pretentious brethren deserve attention. It’s all they really want. So we rolled up our plaid sleeves and worked out exactly where to find them," writes MoveHub's Frederick O'Brien.
Fun fact: the French call hipsters bourgeois bohème, or bobos for short.