US news | The Knowledge Dynasty

US news

Fury at ‘Bodega’ tech startup that aims to put corner shops out of business

Bodega, which markets glorified vending machines where users can buy groceries, boasts: “Eventually, centralized shopping locations won’t be necessary.”

Bodega co-founders

 

A tech startup called Bodega that hopes to replace mom-and-pop shops with unmanned boxes that rely on an app and artificial intelligence is facing a massive backlash from immigrant business owners and skeptics across Silicon Valley.

The company, founded by two former Google employees and launched on Wednesday, is marketing five-foot-wide pantries that users can unlock with their smartphones to pick up non-perishable items. There are no humans at the stores which are already stationed in spots like apartment buildings, offices and gyms and a computer program automatically charges customers credit cards, according to Fast Company, which first reported on the startup.

Although the boxes appear to be little more than glorified vending machines, the company’s executives have been widely mocked, and criticized for explicitly stating that their mission is to displace neighborhood corner stores and put family-owned shops out of business.

“The vision here is much bigger than the box itself,” co-founder Paul McDonald, a former Google product manager, told Fast Company. “Eventually, centralized shopping locations won’t be necessary, because there will be 100,000 Bodegas spread out, with one always 100 ft away from you.”

McDonald backtracked on Wednesday, claiming in a blogpost that he is not trying to put bodegas out of business despite his earlier statements to the contrary: “Challenging the urban corner store is not and has never been our goal.”

The goal of disrupting a long-running industry and eliminating human interaction from the process of shopping at a convenience store is embedded in the roundly ridiculed Bodega name, which appropriates a commonly used term in the US for corner stores typically run by immigrants.

“It’s sacrilegious to use that name, and we’re going to do whatever we need to do to fight this,” Frank Garcia, chair of the New York State Coalition of Hispanic Chambers of Commerce, told the Guardian. “It was devastating to find out and it’s not fair to the local bodegas now that don’t have the angel investors that these guys have.”

McDonald and co-founder Ashwath Rajan have secured funding from high-profile players in the tech industry, including investors from First Round Capital, Forerunner Ventures and Homebrew and senior executives at Facebook, Google, Twitter and Dropbox, Fast Company reported.

Garcia said his grandfather was the head of the Latin Grocery Association in the 1960s and helped coin the term bodega, a name widely used for stores in New York City today.

“It’s his legacy and the legacy of these immigrants who came here with nothing to start a little grocery store, and came up with a concept to really help the community against racism,” he said, noting that existing grocers often would refuse to serve Puerto Ricans. “Don’t use our community to make a fast buck.”

McDonald claimed that the company conducted surveys in the Latin American community to understand if they felt the name was a misappropriation of that term or had negative connotations and alleged that 97% said no.

Bodega co-founders
The founders of Bodega hope there will eventually be thousands of boxes with one always 100 ft away from you. Photograph: Ellian Raffoul for Moanalani Jeffrey Photography

Bodega did not respond to an interview request and did not answer questions about the nature of the survey and how much funding the startup has raised.

In his blogpost, McDonald praised existing bodegas as fixtures of their neighborhoods for generations that stock thousands of items, far more than we could ever fit on a few shelves. He also said he was surprised by the social media outrage about the name, offering an apology to “anyone we’ve offended.”

“Rather than disrespect to traditional corner stores or worse yet, a threat we intended only admiration.”

He did not respond to a question about whether he was reconsidering the name.

Critics have also condemned Bodega as the latest example of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs attracting large sums of money to provide a service for which there is little demand, aimed at catering to a wealthy population. Juicero, a startup that raised $120m to sell $400 juicer machines that were revealed to be the equivalent of two hands squeezing a juice box, recently shut down.

McDonald told Fast Company he was unveiling 50 new locations on the west coast and plans to spread across the country, with more than a thousand Bodegas in place by the end of 2018. The boxes are supposed to use machine learning to assess which items are most in demand and adjust the supply accordingly, but some critics are already questioning whether the business model will be sustainable.

“Even if Bodega rapidly grows, many shoppers won’t want to abandon their local stores,” said Trisha Chakrabarti, senior program and policy manager at Mandela MarketPlace, a nonprofit that supports local grocery stores and is based in Oakland, California, where Bodega is headquartered.

“It’s about having neighbours in your community who know you, who have lived there and been in business for a long time, who have seen changes in the neighborhood and are responsive to customers needs,” she said. “That kind of personalization of service, you will never be able to find with an automated service.”

“Bodega is launching at a time when local bodegas are barely scraping by,” said Chakrabarti. These are marginalized business owners to begin with in places like Oakland, New York and San Francisco. Their businesses are threatened by ever increasing rents.

She said she was particularly shocked to see the startup founders openly boasting about striving to wipe out this industry: “I hope that they fail.”

“In New York, where there are a large number of Yemeni-owned corner stores, some are known for using honour systems in which they let regular customers pay at a later date if they are low on cash and have immediate needs,” said Debbie Almontaser, board president of the Muslim Community Network.

“They work with communities when they don’t have money, people living paycheck to paycheck that need milk and diapers,” she said. “All of their customers are just so grateful that they have this kind of trust in them … I can’t imagine they would want to see these manufactured little kiosks in their communities.”

Garcia said his organization would explore any legal options it may have to challenge Bodega’s name, adding that he hoped lawmakers would regulate this kind of business and not let the startup bypass government rules existing stores have to follow.

He noted that even when 7-Eleven, the chain of convenience stores, has moved into neighborhoods with small businesses, executives have met with community leaders and representatives of bodegas.

“At least they respected the community,” he said. “These guys have not.”

At one residential skyscraper in San Francisco where a Bodega box is, tenant Nripesh Koirala said he would consider shopping from one since it’s convenient, but that he didn’t think the startup would threaten retail shops.

“It’s just their arrogance if they’re saying they are going to replace stores,” said Koirala, a 23-year-old student. “At a corner store, there are a lot of things you can choose from and you can ask them questions … You can’t talk to a vending machine.”

Contact the author: sam.levin@theguardian.com

Contribute with

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/sep/13/tech-startup-bodega-corner-stores

‘The US hasn’t been this divided since the 60s’: Slipknot’s Corey Taylor on how to save America

For his new book, America 51, the Slipknot frontman has been examining the sicknesses at the heart of US culture and from Donald Trump to modern dating; here’s his exclusive guide to navigating them.

Corey Taylor

 

Don’t fear Donald Trump

He is so ineffectual. Everyone was worried about the crazy things he’d do, but there’s nothing that he’s done that can’t be changed in another administration, like the Paris agreement. There’s no need to panic. Too many I don’t want to say liberal lambasts are hitting the panic button too quickly, instead of bringing up issues and talking about them. For me it’s really a case of: what’s going on with the senators, what’s going on on a local level?

Sure, Trump is the firebrand, and everyone wants to talk about the return of Nuremburg after that Boy Scout rally, but whatever. People forget: he hasn’t done shit. He really hasn’t. Even with his party in control of both houses, nothing has happened. He hasn’t fulfilled one promise.

So what am I scared of? I think people need to calm down, and keep fighting the illogical with logic. He won by the smallest of margins. And honestly, he only got in on a technicality. It’s shit like that you have to keep reminding yourself of, because they will try and paint a completely different picture. Rhetoric is swirling around. If only there was an interconnected device to look back in time to see what the truth and the reality was! I say that with all the sarcasm in the world.

Donald Trump

He hasn’t fulfilled one promise… Donald Trump. Photograph: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Toxic masculinity has been in America forever

It’s only because of this presidency that we are getting a really good taste of it. In a misogynistic culture, there’s this misconception that doing good things for people, and trying to take care of them, is a pussy move. The result is a bunch of people pumping their chests up, and talking shit on women, talking shit on gay people, talking shit about everyone. They feel threatened; their way of life feels threatened.

A lot of it has to do with the fact that the liberal and LGBT community is coming at them fast and loose with concepts they are not used to; they’re not part of their culture, and yet they are being forced to accept them. There’s liberal fascism in response to the conservative fascism, and it’s keeping good people in the middle scratching their heads and thinking: “I don’t know what to believe.” And part of that reaction is this pumped-up masculine middle finger going: You don’t tell me how to live my life. It’s their mind balking at the fact that they may have to accept something when they haven’t had the chance to understand what it is.

For so many years they have been in control of what is culturally accepted, and the whole LGBT community is trying to override that, because they’re tired of being marginalised, they’re tired of being treated like a perversion. It’s very much a war. I lived through the Reagan years and I grew up during the gas shortage, I grew up seeing some serious shit go down. But I dont think the country has been this divided since the 1960s.

Kid Rock

I’m about as qualified for senate as he is, i.e. not at all … Kid Rock. Photograph: Getty

Celebrities: stop running for senate

Kid Rock is for running for senate, and I’m about as qualified as he is, i.e. not at all. It’s the same as the Rock; I love the idea of him saying he wants to run for president but they’re just another pair of voices saying that they can get it done, and look where that’s got us.

There are still so many cabinet positions that have not been filled in this administration, because Trump is completely overwhelmed. And that’s a guy who reportedly knows how to run a business. So what the hell is Kid Rock going to do? It’s the biggest form of ego I have ever heard in my life. Please go ahead. Drive a car with a blindfold on and see how far it gets you.

Modern dating is gross

It brings out this crazy psychosis in all of us. At least on a blind date you have to kind of be yourself; they’re going to see the sweat, and see you’re struggling. But dating sites and apps put you at ease, and so all the little gnarly quirks and perversions come out. Hey, if it brings freaks together, who am I to judge? I think everyone has someone out there, and I would like to see people get together. But are you really trying to meet the love of your life on Grindr?

Romance isn’t dead, though. As long as there are hopeless romantics like myself, I don’t think it will die. We will just see an evolution of what romance means. There are still people who love selfless acts. And if its something as weird as a very heartfelt post on Twitter, to some people that’s huge. To some people that’s the ultimate act of romance.

Corey Taylor

I’m the worst hypocrite… Corey Taylor in his civvies.

We’re addicted to our phones

I’m the worst hypocrite because I bitch about it, but Im just as bad as everyone else. I wander around with this tiny little tablet in my hand, and I look up and see that someone has asked me a question. It’s so embarrassing. These devices are bringing out all the dopamine that I had wasted for years on smoking and drinking and drugs, and I’m waiting for what the hangover is going to feel like. I don’t know what the repercussions are going to be, but maybe we’re starting to see the end of face-to-face relationships, and more and more people being comfortable with long distance relationships. Why do I need to touch anyone? All I need is my phone and this contact and that’s all I need.

Don’t worry about the environment

My contribution to being eco-friendly is quitting smoking. I recycle. I do this and that. But all you can really worry about is your own side of things. If you start to think about it on a huge scale then you get overwhelmed. At the same time, I’d like to think we’re trying to do the right thing and we are trying to get this planet on the right track; not because of the planet, but because of us. George Carlin nailed this 25 years ago. He said: the planet is fine, the people are fucked!

The planet is going to be here long after we are gone. Don’t try and bullshit me that we are saving the planet we are saving ourselves. We put so much emphasis on the planet and not on the people, because we feel it’s more selfless, but if people were more honest maybe we would get more done with climate change. I’m not trying to save shit. I don’t give a fuck about the planet; I just want to keep my kids alive.

The music industry is like the wild west

The industry is trying to make peace with streaming; they’re finding out how to monetise it, but they’re still screwing over the artists. It’s sad because I’m seeing a lot of bands get out because they can’t make a living. How are you supposed to make a living when it’s completely taken out of your hands?

I’m in a unique situation because I’m in the old system, but I’m actually able to make a pretty decent living with the new system. I find it hard to bite the hand that feeds me. But at the same time I see all these other bands who can’t get a break. I don’t know what the answer is to be honest. I’m stoked for people like Ed Sheeran; that kid worked his ass off, so why shouldn’t he get the recognition? But at the same time when his songs dominated [the charts] because of streaming, where is the fairness? What about the other artists who worked their asses off, but maybe didn’t have a million streams?

DJ Khaled, Chance the Rapper and Ed Sheeran

DJ Khaled, Chance the Rapper and Ed Sheeran… Corey Taylor is a fan of one of these men the others, not so much. Photograph: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

Hip-hop has dethroned rock’n’roll as America’s music

I could have told you this 20 years ago. The thing that bothers me is that people differentiate pop and hip-hop but they’re the same thing. I hate most new hip-hop. It’s all the same mush-mouthed bullshit, and it doesn’t say anything except I want to get fucked and drink champagne. It’s pathetic. The hip-hop I grew up with had a message. There’s a reason Chuck D is my hero, let me put it that way.

Artificial intelligence is taking over the world

A lot of people are upset because too many manufacturing jobs are gone, but there are so many companies coming up that need a workforce. There’s a reason the market is doing well in America even though the presidency is shit, because the prior presidency actually left behind a healthy infrastructure with growth happening. Trump’s going to try and take credit for that, but there’s always a two or four year hangover. The problem comes when you start to see deregulation happening on a federal level when it comes to big business; that’s when the machines come in, that’s when the outsourcing comes in.

But all of these insurance companies are hiring, all of these tech companies are hiring. People look at those industries and go: “I’m not intelligent or pretentious enough.” But if you want to feed your family, then a job is a job. Sometimes you have to bite the bullet and go with what you have to do. Follow where the work is. If industries want to keep outsourcing and replacing people with programs, then stop buying those products. Hit them where it hurts. That’s what it comes down to.

Corey Talyor on stage with Slipknot

Corey Taylor on stage with Slipknot. Photograph: Raphael Dias/Getty Images

Everyone is appropriating metal culture

You’re seeing grandmas in Slipknot shirts. It’s really weird. It makes it easier for me to blend in, which I am completely happy to do; you get tired of the stares after a while. But punk and metallers take fascist imagery like shaved heads and black clothing and divorce it from racism and nationalism, to make a statement about disaffection; you’re now seeing people like Richard Spencer who are not only appropriating the imagery of nationalism, but also the rhetoric. The anger, the racism of it. It worries me. Oh, but Justin Bieber’s line in pseudo-metal T-shirts? He can kiss my ass.

  • Corey Taylor was speaking to Harriet Gibsone. America 51 is out now, published by Da Capo. His new album with Stone Sour, Hydrograd, is out now on Roadrunner; the bands UK tour begins at Birmingham Barclaycard Arena on 29 November. The Slipknot documentary Day of the Gusano will screen nationwide on 6 September.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2017/sep/06/slipknot-corey-taylor-how-to-save-america-donald-trump

This is the most dangerous time for our planet | Stephen Hawking

We can’t go on ignoring inequality, because we have the means to destroy our world but not to escape it.

As a theoretical physicist based in Cambridge, I have lived my life in an extraordinarily privileged bubble. Cambridge is an unusual town, centred around one of the world’s great universities. Within that town, the scientific community that I became part of in my 20s is even more rarefied.

And within that scientific community, the small group of international theoretical physicists with whom I have spent my working life might sometimes be tempted to regard themselves as the pinnacle. In addition to this, with the celebrity that has come with my books, and the isolation imposed by my illness, I feel as though my ivory tower is getting taller.

So the recent apparent rejection of the elites in both America and Britain is surely aimed at me, as much as anyone. Whatever we might think about the decision by the British electorate to reject membership of the European Union and by the American public to embrace Donald Trump as their next president, there is no doubt in the minds of commentators that this was a cry of anger by people who felt they had been abandoned by their leaders.

It was, everyone seems to agree, the moment when the forgotten spoke, finding their voices to reject the advice and guidance of experts and the elite everywhere.

I am no exception to this rule. I warned before the Brexit vote that it would damage scientific research in Britain, that a vote to leave would be a step backward, and the electorate or at least a sufficiently significant proportion of it took no more notice of me than any of the other political leaders, trade unionists, artists, scientists, businessmen and celebrities who all gave the same unheeded advice to the rest of the country.

What matters now, far more than the choices made by these two electorates, is how the elites react. Should we, in turn, reject these votes as outpourings of crude populism that fail to take account of the facts, and attempt to circumvent or circumscribe the choices that they represent? I would argue that this would be a terrible mistake.

The concerns underlying these votes about the economic consequences of globalisation and accelerating technological change are absolutely understandable. The automation of factories has already decimated jobs in traditional manufacturing, and the rise of artificial intelligence is likely to extend this job destruction deep into the middle classes, with only the most caring, creative or supervisory roles remaining.

This in turn will accelerate the already widening economic inequality around the world. The internet and the platforms that it makes possible allow very small groups of individuals to make enormous profits while employing very few people. This is inevitable, it is progress, but it is also socially destructive.

We need to put this alongside the financial crash, which brought home to people that a very few individuals working in the financial sector can accrue huge rewards and that the rest of us underwrite that success and pick up the bill when their greed leads us astray. So taken together we are living in a world of widening, not diminishing, financial inequality, in which many people can see not just their standard of living, but their ability to earn a living at all, disappearing. It is no wonder then that they are searching for a new deal, which Trump and Brexit might have appeared to represent.

A
In sub-Saharan Africa there are more people with a telephone than access to clean water. Photograph: Andy Hall for the Observer

It is also the case that another unintended consequence of the global spread of the internet and social media is that the stark nature of these inequalities is far more apparent than it has been in the past. For me, the ability to use technology to communicate has been a liberating and positive experience. Without it, I would not have been able to continue working these many years past.

But it also means that the lives of the richest people in the most prosperous parts of the world are agonisingly visible to anyone, however poor, who has access to a phone. And since there are now more people with a telephone than access to clean water in sub-Saharan Africa, this will shortly mean nearly everyone on our increasingly crowded planet will not be able to escape the inequality.

The consequences of this are plain to see: the rural poor flock to cities, to shanty towns, driven by hope. And then often, finding that the Instagram nirvana is not available there, they seek it overseas, joining the ever greater numbers of economic migrants in search of a better life. These migrants in turn place new demands on the infrastructures and economies of the countries in which they arrive, undermining tolerance and further fuelling political populism.

For me, the really concerning aspect of this is that now, more than at any time in our history, our species needs to work together. We face awesome environmental challenges: climate change, food production, overpopulation, the decimation of other species, epidemic disease, acidification of the oceans.

Together, they are a reminder that we are at the most dangerous moment in the development of humanity. We now have the technology to destroy the planet on which we live, but have not yet developed the ability to escape it. Perhaps in a few hundred years, we will have established human colonies amid the stars, but right now we only have one planet, and we need to work together to protect it.

To do that, we need to break down, not build up, barriers within and between nations. If we are to stand a chance of doing that, the worlds leadersneed to acknowledge that they have failed and are failing the many. With resources increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few, we are going to have to learn to share far more than at present.

With not only jobs but entire industries disappearing, we must help people to retrain for a new world and support them financially while they do so. If communities and economies cannot cope with current levels of migration, we must do more to encourage global development, as that is the only way that the migratory millions will be persuaded to seek their future at home.

We can do this, I am an enormous optimist for my species; but it will require the elites, from London to Harvard, from Cambridge to Hollywood, to learn the lessons of the past year. To learn above all a measure of humility.

The writer launched www.unlimited.world earlier this year

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/dec/01/stephen-hawking-dangerous-time-planet-inequality

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Categories

Coursera

New Skills, New You: Transform your career in 2016 with Coursera

Follow us on Twitter