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Holloway Wins Grant to Merge Technology, LGBTQ Health

Ian Holloway, associate professor of social welfare, has received an Avenir Award of more than $2 million from the National Institute on Drug Abuse to advance his research into health interventions for LGBTQ communities. Holloway leads a UCLA team that is developing a social media tool designed to offer highly personalized health information to prevent substance abuse and HIV infection among gay men. Under a previous grant, the researchers built a library of nearly 12,000 data points made up of text phrases and emojis that correlate with offline health behaviors. Holloway’s Avenir Award will be used to create a machine-learning system that will monitor social media interactions with participants’ consent, then send customized health reminders and other alerts via an app. The team’s goal is to develop a wide-reaching and cost-effective tool to promote public health, said Holloway, director of the Hub for Health Intervention, Policy and Practice at UCLA Luskin. The Avenir Awards, named for the French word for “future,” provide grants to early-stage researchers who propose highly innovative studies, particularly in the field of HIV and addiction.


 

Matute on Monetization of Google Maps

Juan Matute, deputy director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, spoke to Fox Business about reports that Google Maps will soon launch advertising on the app — to the tune of $11 billion in annual revenues within four years, according to some estimates. The app has become so popular that its users are not expected to strongly object to the ads. “Google has developed a high-quality mapping product with a significant user base over the past two decades. That they haven’t fully monetized it sooner is the anomaly,” Matute said. Linking people with information about nearby businesses, services and events is a useful service, he added. Google has also announced plans to integrate bike riding, ridesharing and transit information into their maps. “Google Maps helps transit and commuters,” Matute said. “It provides them with easy-to-understand, actionable information in context, which can help them make informed travel decisions.”


 

Tilly on Apps That Disrupt the Payday Cycle

Urban Planning Professor Chris Tilly spoke to Bloomberg Law about new apps that allow workers to tap into their paychecks ahead of the traditional two-week cycle. At least five tech startups have entered the market, which is primarily aimed at workers who live paycheck to paycheck. By accessing their earnings earlier, people will gain more flexibility in paying bills and avoiding high-interest credit card charges, the services say. However, some observers say that speeding up pay cycles could mask a larger problem: stagnant wages. “The smoothing of pay availability over a pay period is advantageous to people who have very little savings,” said Tilly, a labor economist. “What it doesn’t address is why those people have very little savings in the first place. Low pay is low pay, and this is being intensified by increasing housing, health care and other costs in many places.”


 

Villasenor on Easy Access to Powerful Technology

Public Policy Professor John Villasenor spoke to Business Insider about “deepfakes,” phony videos and digital images manipulated using artificial intelligence. Easy access to both the technology to alter videos and the platforms to distribute them widely has heightened concern about deepfakes, Villsasenor said. “Everyone’s a global broadcaster now. So I think it’s those two things together that create a fundamentally different landscape than we had when Photoshop came out,” he said. Altered videos can be used in satire and entertainment, creating complications for legal efforts to crack down on malicious users. Time constraints are also an issue, Villasenor said, citing deepfakes used in political attacks. “Election cycles are influenced over the course of sometimes days or even hours with social media, so if someone wants to take legal action that could take weeks or even months,” he said. “And in many cases, the damage may have already been done.”


 

Holloway on Dating Apps as a Tool for Crime

Ian Holloway, associate professor of social welfare, spoke to NBC News about a string of attacks against gay men who were targeted through the dating app Grindr. Anti-LGBTQ hate crimes rose 3 percent nationally in 2017, the story reported. In some cases, apps such as Grindr are used to identify victims who may be kidnapped, robbed, carjacked, assaulted or slain. Holloway noted that the risk is international in scope. “There are people impersonating romantic partners and friends in countries where being gay is illegal, then threatening to out the user,” he said. Experts advise app users to guard their personal information and create a safety plan. Holloway noted that LGBTQ dating platforms can have a positive impact. “Parts of the U.S. can be incredibly isolating for LGBTQ people, which is where the apps come in,” he said. “For people living in these areas or in countries where homosexuality is criminalized, apps can be a way to build community.”


 

Villasenor on ‘Deepfakes,’ Free Speech and the 2020 Race

Public Policy Professor John Villasenor narrated a short Atlantic video on the proliferation of “deepfakes,” videos and audio manipulated using sophisticated technology to convincingly present fiction as fact. Deepfakes are “engineered to further undermine our ability to decide what is true and what is not true,” he said. “We are crossing over into an era where we have to be skeptical of what we see on video.”  Villasenor, who studies the intersection of digital technology with public policy and the law, predicted that deepfakes will be used to deceive voters during the 2020 presidential campaign yet cautioned against aggressive laws to rein them in. While the technology could harm targeted individuals, the First Amendment protects free expression, including many forms of parody, he said. “As concerning as this technology is, I think it’s important not to rush a whole raft of new laws into place because we risk overcorrecting,” Villasenor said.


 

image of drone demonstration in Shenzhen, China

Villasenor on Security of Chinese-Manufactured Drones

Public Policy Professor John Villasenor spoke to NPR about the U.S. government’s security concerns regarding Chinese-manufactured drones. The Department of Homeland Security issued a warning that drones manufactured by Chinese companies pose a potential security risk, including that data gathered by these drones can be stolen. Villasenor said this is not the first time the U.S. government has been uneasy about drone security, referring to when the U.S. Army raised concerns about Chinese-made drones in 2017. “The concern is not new, although the fact that it has surfaced now may or may not be tied to these broader trade tensions which have flared up in recent months,” he said.


 

Image of LA Found electronic tracking bracelet

Villasenor Weighs In on Electronic-Tracking Bracelets

Public Policy Professor John Villasenor spoke to the Associated Press about using technology to locate missing seniors with dementia or autism. Los Angeles County began a program called LA Found to help police, sheriffs, fire departments, nursing homes and hospitals coordinate searches for missing people. LA Found uses a system of electronic bracelets worn by vulnerable people; the bracelets can be tracked by the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department if these individuals go missing. While some technology that tracks people can raise red flags about privacy, experts said in this case the upside outweighs any concerns. Villasenor said the voluntary use of the electronic bracelets “seems like a very good potential use of location-tracking technology.” The report was picked up by several media outlets, including NBC Los Angeles, the San Francisco Chronicle and Fox News.


 

Image of US courtroom

Villasenor on Risk Assessment Tools in Legal Proceedings

John Villasenor, professor of public policy, and UCLA student Virgina Foggo wrote a blog post for the Brookings Institution about the ramifications of using data-driven risk assessment tools in criminal sentencing. Risk assessment tools have raised due process concerns, as offenders have challenged the accuracy and relevance of algorithm-based information used at sentencing, the authors wrote. Offenders argue that they have a right to know what their risk assessment score is, how it was computed and how it is being used, the blog post noted. Moving forward, “a foundational assumption in the dialogue will need to be that the right to due process can’t be collateral damage to the adoption of increasingly sophisticated algorithmic risk assessment technologies,” the authors wrote. Villasenor is currently a nonresident senior fellow in governance studies at the Center for Technology Innovation at Brookings.


 

Transit Forum Focuses on Impact of Mobility Innovations UCLA scholars join government, nonprofit and private sector representatives to discuss declining ridership in an era of emerging mobility services

By Claudia Bustamante

Across the country, public transit ridership has been declining.

But that isn’t the story in Seattle. Terry White, deputy general manager at King County Metro Transit, said that can be attributed to the agency’s community efforts.

Speaking at the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies’ 12th annual Downtown Forum on Transportation, Land Use and the Environment held March 1, 2019, at the Japanese American National Museum, White said an organization that doesn’t reflect its community will lose trust.

“We’ve been making a concentrated effort that the folks that make up our outreach and leadership teams reflect the communities we go out and serve,” White said. “I don’t think it’s an accident that we have better relationships since 2014.”

King County Transit, which most recently won the American Public Transportation Association award for outstanding transit system, makes more than 400,000 trips per day and has seen all-time-high ridership as more people move into the Seattle area.

Joining White at the forum were UCLA scholars, and government, nonprofit and private sector representatives who share other real-world examples of how to tackle declining transit ridership, especially in an era of emerging mobility services.

The forum focused on successful public-private partnerships that could fill gaps in transportation services. Other topics included effective uses of data to manage mobility, practical innovations that can yield great gains for transit ridership, and how new mobility technology and services can enhance equity and quality of life.

Speaking specifically to how a big-city transportation department can put equity first was Ryan Russo, director of Oakland’s Department of Transportation, which was recently formed as a new model of urban mobility centered around progressive policies that aim to recognize and address past injustices.

Russo said the Bay Area city’s legacy of redlining is still seen and felt throughout the area, which means that departmental projects must be considered through an equity lens. Dedicated monthly meetings are held to strategize ways of infusing equity into projects. For example, Paint the Town combined community art and traffic safety through street murals.

For every project approved in less disadvantaged communities, at least two were approved for low-income neighborhoods.

“Transportation and street management isn’t about getting people from A to B,” Russo said. “It’s the way we will serve our community.”

Partnerships and Pilots

In light of the proliferation of private mobility companies, the forum discussed different ways the public sector could partner with these companies to meet transportation needs.

One example came from HopSkipDrive, a ridehailing service for school-aged children, which partnered with Los Angeles County to provide free rides to foster youth. Under the Every Student Succeeds Act, foster youth were provided core protections for school stability, meaning that districts need to provide transportation to keep these students in their schools of origin. Many foster youth bounce from school to school, and they graduate at far lower rates than do their peers.

“We are not meant to replace school bus companies. We are designing our systems to ride alongside school buses and existing transportation systems. That way we can provide mobility opportunities and access for all kids,” said Qiana Patterson, senior director of public partnerships.

In fact, finding innovative ways to partner with the private sector to tackle the biggest transportation issues of the day is something that Metro has been doing through its Office of Extraordinary Innovation.

Its unsolicited proposal process has yielded more than a dozen contract awards and proofs of concept for key projects, including the Sepulveda Transit Corridor, a gondola to Dodger Stadium, mobile tolling and bus electrification.

“The public sector is reluctant to admit they have a problem,” said Nolan Borgman, Metro senior transportation planner. “You need to admit that there is a problem that you don’t know how to solve.”

In Santa Monica, the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, along with the rise of electric scooters, drove city officials to authorize a pilot program to offer more mobility choices and gain a better grasp on the use of shared public space.

Declining ridership has also forced many public agencies to adopt innovations to improve transit.

In Everett, Massachusetts, a pop-up bus lane is being utilized to improve mobility and connections to major nearby destinations like Boston. Instead of conducting traditional outreach, City Planner Jay Monty said a pilot project incorporated outreach and gleaned real-time public feedback. The part-time lanes only for buses went quickly from pilot project to a statewide model, and today more than a dozen similar Tactical Transit Lane projects have sprung up across the country as a means of improving mobility.

Disruption

Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville said that neither new trains or lanes free up space on roads over time. What has worked — where it has been implemented — is congestion pricing.

Speaking to the fairness and equity concerns that come up when congestion pricing is discussed, Manville said that not only was the entire transportation system financed regressively through gas taxes, sales taxes and registration fees, but pricing access to roads could produce revenue to offset the costs for low-income individuals.

“Congestion harms people who live in low-income communities with disproportionate low vehicle ownership,” Manville said. “They have to bear the higher health and pollution burdens of driving, which leads to higher rates of preterm births and other negative health outcomes — and thus inheriting poverty.”

Earlier this year, Metro decided to move forward with a two-year study of congestion pricing, evaluating different pricing methods, including per-mile charges and tolls in specific areas.

Even though all the new mobility options may make it seem otherwise, we are not living through a particularly disruptive period of transportation, said Martin Wachs, emeritus professor of urban planning at UCLA Luskin. People have long been using the same language to describe new mobility — from bicycles and jitneys in the 19th and 20th centuries to today’s ridehailing companies like Lyft and Uber, as well as electric scooters.

Instead of reacting to technology, Wachs said, agencies should create policy that builds upon the capacity of innovation.

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