TIME Innovation

Why Some District Attorneys Are Trying to Prove Themselves Wrong

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

These are today's best ideas

1. Some district attorneys have dedicated units working to prove them wrong.

By Nicole Porette with Dean Meminger in the Crime Report

2. Find out why the U.S. unskilled labor visa program is like a new American slavery.

By Jessica Garrison, Ken Bensinger and Jeremy Singer-Vine in BuzzFeed

3. For Turkey, the fight against ISIS upends a fragile peace with the Kurds.

By Kaya Genç in Pacific Standard

4. The next billion entrepreneurs will be women.

By Carol Leaman in the Next Web

5. What is your attention really worth?

By Manoush Zomorodi in Note to Self from WNYC

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Careers & Workplace

This is Why Most Etsy Sellers are Women

Woman Laptop
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Women are opening Etsy shops at a much higher rate than they are starting other types of small business

At Etsy, women rule. According to the company’s second annual seller report, 86% of Etsy sellers are female. That’s a dramatic departure from overall trend: Only about a third of U.S. small businesses are women-owned, according a report from the Institute of Women’s Policy Research.

But does an Etsy shop really count as a business? According to 76% of sellers, the answer is yes. And while many do supplement their income in other ways, around 30% of sellers say their store is their sole occupation. The report doesn’t specify how much Etsy sellers are taking in from their shops, but does list their average household income: $56,180. It also notes than more than half would consider scaling their shop by, say, buying new equipment or renting additional space.

So, assuming it’s fair to consider these sellers business owners, what is it about running an Etsy shop that makes it more accessible to women their other types of small businesses? To find out, Fortune reached out to some Etsy experts.

Staying home: 26% of sellers had no paid employment before starting their business

Julie Persons was a stay-at-home mother of two when she joined Etsy in 2006. She began by selling the needle felting pieces she made for fun. When that shop started getting traction she expanded, opening a series of shops selling vintage finds and her original photography.

One of Persons’ stores, “Chicks in Hats,” which sells photographs of, well, chicks wearing hats, began as a project with her then-7-year-old daughter. Persons’ daughter makes the hats; Persons takes the photos. Aside from being a great excuse to spend time with her daughter, Persons says she wanted “show [her daughter] that there’s a way to take any creative idea and take it further.”

About a third of American mothers do not work outside the home, according to the Pew Research Center. This number has been increasing steadily for the past fifteen years, a trend that’s attributed to a range of factors, including high unemployment rates and increasingly unaffordable childcare. According to Etsy, 26% of sellers on the site had no paid employment before starting their stores and 38% were homemakers.

Based in rural Maine, Persons says she makes $40,000 to $45,000 per year on Etsy. And while she says she works full-time hours, she is able to stay home with her kids. “Women are still mainly the ones who stay home,” she says. “Having an online store is a way to do that, while still pursuing other passions and supporting my family.”

No financing required: Less than 1% of sellers took out a loan to start their businesses

Before launching their Etsy shop, friends Ericka Wright and Jessica Herning both had flourishing boutique sewing lines. However, the women found that success to be a mixed bag: While the businesses did well, Wright and Herning said they ended up spending all their time sewing. Both wanted to shift their focus to design rather than production, so they joined forces, opening an Etsy shop selling paper and PDF patterns.

Today, Wright and Herning’s Nashville-based shop Violette Field Threads employs four people and three freelance designers. The pair say Etsy business brings in about $70,000 a year. Still, they have not sought out additional financing to grow their business, choosing to finance it themselves. “We’ve thought about finding an investor and trying to start selling clothes ourselves, but that’s just such a big risk,” says Wright.

Wright and Herning are not unique: Less than 1% of sellers took out a loan to start their businesses, according to Etsy. That’s not terribly surprising given that sellers are mostly women, and women are less likely to tap outside financing over their lifetime, according to a study by the US Department of Commerce. On average, women-owned firms launch with just 64% of the capital of male-owned firms.

While experts can’t quite settle on a reason for the financing gap, most researchers agree that several factors are in play. Studies have found that women are less likely to be approved for loans or to get less favorable terms than men do. They’re also less likely to apply for those loans in the first place and, according to Experian, are likely to have slightly lower credit scores.

Prioritizing happiness: 64%of sellers think that doing something they enjoy is more important than making money

When Rebecca Plotnick was laid off from her job in apparel merchandising in 2008, she took the opportunity to step back and re-evaluate her career goals. A self-taught photographer based in Chicago, she started experimenting with selling her work on Etsy. Now, she says she’s making as much as she did in her old job and has no intention of going back.

“Etsy has allowed me to live my dream,” she says of her frequent photography trips to Paris. “Right now, I’m single, so I use the flexibility to travel. But I see myself having a family and I can do that too.”

Like Rebecca, 74% of sellers were motivated to start their creative business because they want to do something they enjoy, according to the Etsy survey. Nearly two-thirds of sellers agreed that doing something they like is more important than making money.

Etsy sellers aren’t alone. According to a joint study by Fleishman Hillard and Hearst Magazines, when asked to define success, women most frequently cited financial security, family and happiness and deprioritized wealth, luxury and being a senior executive. Women are also slightly more likely to say that enjoying their jobs is extremely important than men are, according to Pew.

“I just came back from 6 weeks of traveling,” Plotnick says. “What other job would let me do that?”

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

TIME Innovation

Hitchhiking Robot That Crossed Nations Fails to Last 2 Weeks in U.S.

anthropomorphic robot hitchBOT
Paul Darrow—Reuters The anthropomorphic robot named hitchBOT, seen here during its cross-Canada trek in 2014, was destroyed on Aug. 1, 2015 two weeks into its attempted trip across the U.S., according to its creators

Vandals in Philadelphia bring Hitchbot's adventure to an untimely end

A hitchhiking robot eager to explore America has met its demise just two weeks into its cross-country journey.

HitchBOT was vandalized in Philadelphia overnight on Saturday after exploring parts of Massachusetts and New York, Canadian researchers David Smith and Frauke Zeller shared on the project’s website. The friendly robot, who sports yellow polka dot boots and a smiley-face LED screen, had hoped American humans would shuttle it around the country to see Times Square, pose with the Lincoln Statue and tour Walt Disney World, among other destinations on its bucket list.

“Sometimes bad things happen to good robots,” HitchBot’s creators wrote. “We know that many of hitchBOT’s fans will be disappointed, but we want them to be assured that this great experiment is not over. For now we will focus on the question ‘what can be learned from this?’ and explore future adventures for robots and humans.”

The hitchhiking robot is an experiment to see how humans interact with robots. HitchBOT previously journeyed across Canada and Germany without incident, in addition to enjoying a three-week vacation in the Netherlands.

 

TIME Education

How To Be More Innovative in 21st Century Learning

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Try connecting the dots between science and humanities

Today’s college students may benefit from an exciting array of subjects to study. But they seem to miss the most important education of all: how to relate their specialization to others in an increasingly interconnected world.

The National Academy of Engineering has categorically stated that today’s engineers need to be more than individuals who simply “like math and science.” They must be “creative problem-solvers” who help “shape our future” by improving our “health, happiness, and safety.”

And in 2001, the engineering accreditation body ABET added a new criterion so as to ensure that students get “the broad education necessary to understand the impact of engineering solutions in a global, economic, environmental, and societal context.”

The point is that the connections between humanities and science have been lost in today’s separation of disciplines. Indeed, a recent report by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences discovered that humanities and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) training majors largely dwell in different silos.

So, where and how did we lose our way? And how can educators and institutions change things?

Separation of disciplines

The founders of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) were well aware of the critical nature of this interdependence.

When the NEH and the National Science Foundation (NSF) were established in the 1950s and ‘60s, the NEH founders wrote:

If the interdependence of science and the humanities were more generally understood, men would be more likely to become masters of their technology and not its unthinking servants.

These founders, hailing from leading universities as well as the US Atomic Energy Commission, IBM Corp and New York Life Insurance, knew that connecting the humanities and sciences helps us make informed judgments about our control of nature, ourselves and our destiny.

But, since the 1980s, political rhetoric has emphasized the need for less humanities and more STEM education. STEM is painted as a more profitable investment, in terms of job creation and research dollars generated.

A notable example is the Obama administration’s “Race to the Top” initiative, which both isolates and prioritizes the STEM disciplines from the humanities, arts and social sciences.

This rhetoric is also evident in the creation of separate political education organizations such as the bipartisan STEM Education Caucus founded several years ago by congressional representatives to strengthen STEM education from kindergarten to the workforce.

This separation of disciplines actually hurts education, and it also hurts our ability to innovate and solve big problems.

Connecting STEM with humanities doesn’t just provide the well-rounded education today’s employers want. As the American Academy of Arts and Science’s 2013 “The Heart of the Matter” report observes, connecting these fields is necessary to solve the world’s biggest problems such as “the provision of clean air and water, food, health, energy, universal education, human rights, and the assurance of physical safety.”

So, separating and prioritizing STEM from humanities ignores the fact that we live in a complex social and cultural world. And many different disciplines must combine to address this world’s needs and challenges.

Bringing the disciplines together

To address this gap, four years ago the faculty from materials engineering and liberal arts at the University of Florida began working with the Materials Research Society. We wanted to put together a new course on “materials.”

Why did we choose materials? Because everything is made of them, every discipline studies them and they are tangible (quite literally) to the average freshman.

After all, grade school students still learn about the Stone, Bronze, and Iron ages. The Industrial and Information revolutions revolved around new uses for steel, aluminum and silicon. The human past has been shaped by harnessing and consuming materials and energy.

Materials will be important for our collective future as well. So, we thought, this is the future for which we should be preparing students.

And thus our course, The Impact of Materials on Society (IMOS), was born. Taught by a team of nine faculty from engineering, humanities and social sciences, the course explores the close connection between the “stuff” in our lives and our experiences as social beings.

Students discuss how materials benefit global trade and communication but also risk resource exploitation and political conflict. For example, we depend upon rare earths for our cellphones, iPads and wind farms, but accessing these rare earths from limited sources is not sustainable.

So, some of the questions that the course raises are: what materials do we depend upon in our daily lives? Does this dependence have social consequences? What social relationships form around the production and use of these materials? And how do our current uses of materials affect our ability to discover new uses for them?

Students are also asked to consider how our values shape our willingness to adopt new technologies. For example, Earl Tupper may have invented Tupperware, but it was Brownie Wise and her home parties with other women who first made his polymer famous!

Each week covers a different material (eg, clay, glass, gold, plastic), its scientific properties, demonstrations, and its past and present impacts.

Working together in multidisciplinary groups, students then contemplate the development of future materials. These include flexible electronic materials that can be used to create wearable sensors that can transmit important information, such as body hydration levels during athletic training. New polymer (plastic) materials made from renewable sources instead of petroleum may have fewer health risks and are more sustainable than today’s plastic cups and bottles.

At the same time, they discuss the ethical and social considerations that might affect the successful production and adoption of these new materials in different contexts.

Gap in education

The course is different from other freshman-oriented courses. It is not a “history course for engineers.” And it is not an “engineering course for humanists.”

It is an interdisciplinary course that uses multiple perspectives to understand materials innovation. A wide range of departments including engineering, anthropology, classics, history, English, sociology and philosophy participate in its teaching.

Students refer to IMOS as a “bridge course” that provides the “connecting dots” between different classes.

And the responses come from students across the different majors. For instance, one engineering major noted, “This class just further proves that you have to understand different aspects of how our world works and not just engineering to be a great engineer.”

Meanwhile a history major observed, “This class gives me a leg up in my other history courses because it reminds me to think about the properties of materials and how they shape our lives.”

These experiences point to a gaping hole in modern education: discipline-specific and general education courses provide important knowledge, but “bridging courses” are needed for students to capitalize upon that knowledge.

To engineer useful technologies, we need to connect scientific study with the cultural competencies of the humanities and social sciences.

Challenges of 21st-century learning

The “Renaissance” ideal was to produce elite men whose broad training prepared them for any endeavor. Thankfully, 21st-century education is more inclusive.

But it still requires intellectual and cognitive flexibility to harness large amounts of data.

This doesn’t mean simply knowing everything, even though we live in the “Age of Google.” Today, students need the ability to make connections across disciplines.

Celebrated innovators such as Einstein, Ada Lovelace and Steve Jobs credit the intersection of disciplines for their inventive thinking.

More boundary-crossing opportunities in higher education can break open the disciplinary silos. And that alone will unleash critical thinking and innovation.

Additional contributors to this article are University of Florida faculty Sean Adams, Marsha Bryant, Florin Curta, Mary Ann Eaverly, Bonnie Effros and Ken Sassaman, and Materials Research Society Outreach Coordinator Pamela Hupp.

This article originally appeared on The ConversationThe Conversation

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME technology

Drones Can Be Used To Enforce Property Rights

drone-with-camera
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Drones have become a revolutionary tool in the defense of property rights of disenfranchised people

When most people imagine what a drone expert looks like, more than likely they see a scene from TV or a film of a drone strike: a man in front of a screen controlling a joystick and then, an explosion. They almost certainly do not imagine Gregor MacLennan.

Yet in the fall of 2014, he arrived in Guyana’s dense forest with a backpack full of motors, glue, and soldering irons in tow, intent upon building a drone that local communities in the Wapichana region could use to monitor and document how small-scale gold miners were rapidly destroying large sections of treasured rainforest. MacLennan—the program director for Digital Democracy, a non-profit focused on empowering marginalized communities through the use of technology— spent several months working with the people of Guyana to construct a drone that they could independently fly, repair, and use as a “tool of reflection” to start community discussions on land use and resource management.

In recent years, drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), have become a revolutionary tool in the defense of property rights of disenfranchised people such as the villagers in Wapichana. “These people find it difficult to find the information that they need to prove that they live on this land and that they have the right to it. UAVs help these people level the proverbial playing field,” explained Faine Greenwood, an avid drone hobbyist and field analyst for New America’s International Security Program. She and MacLennan, along with other experts, spoke at a recent daylong event at New America convened for discussion of critical issues around drones and aerial observation.

MacLennan and Greenwood both spoke on a panel devoted to the question of using drones to map property rights. In the Wapichana territory, MacLennan explained, villagers have been able to capture aerial images using a quadrocopter and then overlay them onto older images to demonstrate the deteriorating condition of the rainforests.

Empowerment from within, rather than involvement from outside actors, is Digital Democracy’s goal. “We want working with technology to be something that reduces inequality and makes them feel like they’re participating more in something that’s happening on their land,” he said. “This was not my technology that I was bringing in or the white man’s technology being brought in from the outside,” he reflected, “This was the Wapichana drone.”

MacLennan’s experience in Guyana crystallized a common belief expressed by other participants: UAV technology has clear benefits for community empowerment. Whether through strides in the realm of land use and management or through the advancement of mapping techniques, the conference participants demonstrated that drones undeniably have the potential to mold the future for the better for many people.

Another related theme that emerged was a need for increased local engagement with these new technologies—an ambition often foiled by negative public perceptions about drones.

For example, although MacLennan described positive reactions to the drone technology from the Wapichana villagers, other members of the same property rights panel, recalled facing apprehension about UAVs from the very communities they were trying to help with them. Dr. Janina Mera, who uses drones for a land-titling project in small regions of southern Peru, met resistance from local residents who feared this technology would replace their jobs on the ground by automating them. Convincing these villagers that they “were still needed to analyze, interpret, and contextualize the images collected by the drones” was imperative to the success of Dr. Mera’s work.

For Abi Weaver of the Red Cross, the future success of drones in disaster response will hinge on the success of these efforts to foster local engagement with dronesand to neutralize negative assumptions about them. In communities where these negative assumptions have been replaced by optimism and even excitement, residents have come up with applications of drone technologies that humanitarian workers, “never could have dreamed of,” says Weaver. Future progress depends on the ability of international organizations like hers to encourage this community leadership and to develop these technological capacities in regions affected by disaster.

According to Weaver, however, many efforts by the Red Cross to deploy UAVs for humanitarian purposes have also been met with suspicion and distrust. After facilitating extensive discussions with residents in disaster stricken areas, the Red Cross learned that people had an enhanced aversion to UAVs in post-conflict communities where drones had been weaponized to cause destruction and in areas with increased access to popular media because of the portrayal of drones in film and television. Weaver described one particular discussion in a slum in Nairobi, which found that many people thought “drones were taking over.”

“Communities don’t feel connected to the benefit that humanitarians are deriving from UAVs. They feel like there’s a flight that goes over the community and all the information is sent to a database or a headquarters elsewhere and they never see the results of that activity,” she noted. As part of an effort to bridge this gap between the “aspirations of helpers” and the “rights of victims,” the Red Cross has launched projects across the globe to experiment with what Weaver describes as “use cases,” collaborations between the Red Cross and local partners that are intended to experiment with new uses for UAV technology that can address local priorities and improve the perceptions around what drones can do.

Weaver described one such project, based in Peru, that linked the Red Cross with community partners to stitch plastic bags and trash together to create balloons that can assess weather data and in turn help with climate mitigation and adaptation. She also cited a Red Cross team launched drones in the Netherlands that monitor marathons and large sporting events to try to identify injuries sooner, dispatch medical responders faster, and transport critical first aid supplies more efficiently.

On this same panel on disaster response, Patrick Meier, a leader in humanitarian technology and innovation, cited the union of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), a Swiss non-profit called Drone Adventures, and local Haitians in 2012 as another successful example of this kind of collaboration in a real disaster scenario. In 2012, after Hurricane Sandy ravaged the Haitian slum of Cité Soleil, the IOM worked with Drone Adventures to train Haitian pilots to fly and maintain drones that could be deployed to conduct initial damage assessments in the region. Within 24 hours, the team had images that could be used to create point clouds and digital terrain models to determine what houses had been destroyed and to assess areas prone to flooding.

Without these kinds of collaborations, concluded Meier, Weaver, and MacLennan, people will continue to shy away from and resist the use of drones in their communities, losing out on the enormous benefits the technology could provide them. Meier and Greenwood, along with Konstantin Kakaes, Matthew Lippincott, Shannon Dosemagen, and Serge Wich, have co-authored a primer, Drones and Aerial Observation: New Technologies for Property Rights, Human Rights, and Global Development.

For many of the experts at the event, the future of drone technologies is an exciting and seemingly boundless prospect—with the proper strategies for community engagement in place. Aldo Watanave—whose work uses drone imagery to preserve archaeological sites in Peru—put it concisely. “As we say in Peru,” he explained, “you can’t love what you don’t understand.”

This piece was originally published in New America’s digital magazine, The Weekly Wonk. Sign up to get it delivered to your inbox each Thursday here, and follow @New America on Twitter

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

The Downside of the Death of Mullah Omar

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

These are today's best ideas

1. The U.S. put a $10 million bounty on Mullah Omar. But his death might spell disaster for peace talks in Afghanistan.

By David Rohde in Defense One

2. If you think women in tech is just a pipeline problem, you haven’t been paying attention.

By Rachel Thomas in Medium

3. Politicians propping up food prices are playing with fire.

By Joseph Weinberg in Political Violence at a Glance

4. There are still more than four million unexploded mines in Cambodia. These rats are sniffing them out.

By Linda Poon in CityLab

5. Robot umpires aren’t perfect, but they’re better than humans at calling strikes and balls.

By Joseph Stromberg in Vox

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Meet the Weapons of the Future

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

These are today's best ideas

1. This isn’t Star Wars: The military weapons of the near future are laser blasters and microwaves.

By Andrea Shalal at Reuters

2. Domestic violence is about power. This idea could level the playing field for survivors.

By Melissa Jeltsen in the Huffington Post

3. Here’s how Japan made something useful out of its golf course boom.

By Ariel Schwartz in Business Insider

4. The world needs ‘Fundraisers Without Borders.’

By Duncan Green in Oxfam’s From Poverty to Power

5. The next generation of superfast computers will use light instead of electricity. Here’s how.

By Ken Kingery at Duke Pratt School of Engineering

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

These Scientists Just Fired The World’s Most Powerful Laser

But only for a fraction of a second

Researchers at Osaka University said Monday that they successfully fired the world’s most powerful laser beam.

The energy captured in its concentrated beam was equal to 1,000 times the world’s electricity consumption, reported the Asahi Shimbun. The laser emitted a 2-petawatt, or 2-quadrillion-watt, output.

It was able to achieve that highly-concentrated energy by consolidating the power to a blast lasting one pico-second, or one-trillionth of a second. The researchers at the Institute of Laser Engineering used a massive LFEX, which stands for Laser for Fast Ignition Experiments, which uses four sets of devices within itself to repeatedly amplify the laser.

The researchers aren’t done, yet. Junji Kawanaka, an associate professor at the university, said they plan to increase their output to 10 petawatts.

TIME Microsoft

Why Windows 10 Users May Never Use Google Again

It could change the way you use the web

Microsoft’s new Windows 10 software, out Wednesday, is effectively a sneak attack on Google, packing a new desktop search bar that can field just about any question under the sun. And it’s powered in part by Microsoft’s own Bing search engine, meaning the move could help Microsoft gain even more of the search market share against its foremost rival.

Windows 10’s search features are a welcome change to the myriad search options currently sprawling across our digital lives. Right now, search looks a little like this: Want to search the web? Go to Google. Your calendar appointments? Open your calendar app. Your local files on a phone, tablet or PC? Launch finder windows, one by one. Microsoft aims to replace all of those searches with a single, comprehensive search bar that scans everything — your device, your apps, your cloud and the web — in one fell swoop.

The result is a more versatile search experience, but one that users may find momentarily disorienting. After all, we’re used to rummaging through digital compartments and wielding search like a spotlight. At first glance, the search bar in Windows 10 looks like yet another circumscribed spotlight. That is, until you start typing in commands. The scope of answers soon expands well beyond your expectations.

File searches work not only by name, but by file type. Type in “.ppt,” for example, and a list of PowerPoint presentations crops up in a pop-up menu, sortable by most recent or most relevant and accessible in one click. Searches for the names of apps extend beyond your device and into the Windows Store, fetching not only the apps you’ve installed, but the apps you may want to download, too.

When it comes to web searches, you may not regularly visit Bing, though it recently reached 20% of the search market share in the U.S. Windows 10 brings Bing to the forefront, fetching answers faster than you can type the word “Google.” Open-ended questions, like “what’s the meaning of life?” automatically opens up the relevant results on Bing’s landing page. As you type, Bing will autopopulate frequent search phrases (Life lyrics? Life of Pi?) before zipping the question out to the web.

Questions with more definitive answers, like “what’s 2+2,” come even faster with an assist from Cortana, Microsoft’s new voice-activated digital assistant. Cortana pulls the answer, (four, in case you were wondering), directly into a pop-up menu above the search bar, circumventing the web browser entirely.

And that’s where things get interesting, because Cortana can also use machine learning to display everything you wanted to know, but were too busy to ask. Microsoft’s group program manager for Cortana, Marcus Ash, showed TIME his personalized suggestions from Cortana during his recent visit to Manhattan. A stack of cards in a pop-up menu displayed nearby restaurants in Midtown.

“[Cortana] knows I’m in New York and knows it’s roughly lunch time,” Ash said as he scrolled through a list of pubs and delicatessens. “The list will change for happy hour and change for dinner later on.” Throw in stock price gyrations and flight cancellations, and the very idea of search as most of us know it starts to look outdated.

Read More: Here’s What Really Makes Microsoft’s Cortana So Amazing

Windows 10’s personalized search feature isn’t exactly a breakthrough. Google Now users have been seeing similar results since 2012, and Apple’s next big Siri upgrade offers similar functionality. But it’s a field open to competition, and winner of the search wars in the years ahead is likely to be the one that delivers the best personalized results right when you need them. In a sign of how far Microsoft has come, this writer, for the first time ever, used a Bing Map, despite my historical preference for Google, simply because it popped up first in a Windows 10 search menu. If that’s true of other Windows 10 users, Microsoft’s new operating system could prove an unexpectedly successful trojan horse for the company.

TIME Innovation

Boston’s 2024 Olympics Bid Could Have Been Saved

Signatures of support for Boston 2024 cover a banner on the table at a grassroots campaign in Boston on March 14, 2015.
John Tlumacki—The Boston Globe via Getty Images Signatures of support for Boston 2024 cover a banner on the table at a grassroots campaign in Boston on March 14, 2015.

It needed a bold statement of commitment to the city—not the Olympics

Boston’s pursuit of Olympic gold has been dying a slow death over the past seven months.

The final nail in the coffin came Monday, when Mayor Marty Walsh refused to sign a taxpayer guarantee as requested by the Unites States Olympic Committee (USOC), which would have taken effect in the event of cost overruns and revenue shortfalls.

As the city’s chief public official, Walsh was right to hold the line, to protect taxpayers and safeguard the future fiscal health and economic growth of the city and region.

But before the Walsh rebuff, Boston 2024 had other big hurdles to overcome. From the beginning, the bid played as a struggle between Boston’s business elite and commoners – the powerful versus powerless, the haves versus have-nots.

The Boston 2024 Olympic committee read as a who’s who of Boston corporate giants and sports celebrities. Those opposed included a collection of concerned residents, city councilors, local politicians and academics.

Boston 2024 and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) saw it necessary to alter and access neighborhoods, institutions and roads to accommodate Olympics venues, athletes and media. Those opposed said not so fast – we live and work here, want to know the true costs and would like to be included in the planning.

And tidbits such as assuring exclusive travel lanes on highways for IOC VIPs, athletes and corporate sponsors, and the high salaries and compensation for Boston 2024 staff and consultants, only added fuel to the haves versus have-nots narrative.

In the end, this narrative and, ultimately, the failed Olympic bid is unfortunate. As executive director of Wheelock College’s Aspire Institute, a social and education innovation center, I’ve seen and studied firsthand the many problems that plague Boston, from crumbling schools to endemic homelessness.

While the Boston 2024 bid raised many questions about the priorities of its backers, it also offered a historic opportunity to catalyze new development and transform the city in key ways. Boston 2024 could have been saved with only a bit more vision and a bold statement of commitment to the city – not the Olympics – by backers.

The wrong priorities

The prevailing narrative stems from the perceived sharp contrast between the priorities of the bidding committee and those of Bostonians.

At the same time as Boston 2024 proposed spending billions to construct new venues, the Boston Public Schools (BPS) announced its own 10-year Educational and Facility Master Plan.

While the former involved building an Olympic stadium, aquatics center, velodrome and an US$800 million deck over Widett Circle, the latter aimed to improve the physical condition of BPS’s 133 aging school facilities, expand early childhood programs, support dual language learners and children with special needs and promote STEM learning and technology-enhanced education.

Boston 2024 revealed slick plans for an Athletes’ Village that would be converted, post-Olympics, to 2,700 dorm beds for the University of Massachusetts’ Boston campus and 8,000 housing units nine years from now.

Yet this wouldn’t address the current housing crisis. Boston leads all of the 25 major US cities in the number of residents living in emergency shelters. Massachusetts also has one of the highest rates of family homelessness of any state in the country.

Further, Transportation for Massachusetts (a local coalition of organizations advocating for new transportation policy and initiatives) and TRIP (a national nonpartisan transportation research group) warned of the state’s huge need to invest in its system of roads, highways, bridges and public transportation in order to support economic growth, ensure safety, protect the environment and enhance residents’ quality of life.

Boston 2024 agreed that transportation enhancements were needed and critical to hosting a successful Olympics. Yet they had no plans to contribute funding to these enhancements.

Could Boston 2024 have been saved?

Whether the critiques of Boston 2024 are fair or not, the casualty of Boston’s derailed bid is the loss of a truly historic opportunity for long-term, large-scale economic and community development.

Plans included development of two new neighborhoods in currently underdeveloped, underinvested areas, as well as the creation of new public spaces and commercial areas. Lost too is the $4 billion in private investment, creation of thousands of jobs and intensified scrutiny of and urgency to improve our outdated transportation infrastructure. I concur with Boston 2024 Chairman Steve Pagliuca that this could have been “the biggest economic development opportunity of our lifetimes.”

What would have saved Boston 2024? What could have countered the anti-bid arguments and sentiments?

One bold move: Boston 2024 and the business leaders behind it should have pledged planning, support and private funding for economic community development in the city, regardless of whether Boston won the bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympics.

Such a pledge would have instantly and powerfully communicated the goodwill, commitment and intent of Boston 2024 leaders to all of Boston and Massachusetts. And this pledge could have had important, reasonable caveats.

For example, in the case of a failed bid, the pledge might be downsized to $2 billion in private investment (half of the current goal), a focus on just residential and commercial development projects and the already committed public capital funding.

Tax breaks and other incentives to developers – as proposed in the Olympic plan – would still lure private investors, and the city would still benefit from the projected tax revenue from new residential and commercial areas. Gone would be the billions in projected Olympic revenues. But the important community development would have gone forward.

Would such a pledge have been a long shot? A huge risk for business leaders? Of course, but so was Boston 2024 all along. Perhaps the risk was not having gone this far, in making this “no matter what” pledge.

As Chairman Pagliuca put it: “The riskiest move of all can be watching an opportunity slip away.”

This article originally appeared on The ConversationThe Conversation

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