Urban Planning Chair Chris Tilly was featured in a Fox32 news segment about the growing use of artificial intelligence technology in the food industry. Many stores such as McDonald’s and Amazon Go are testing drive-thru and AI invisible checkout systems. Tilly explained that these new technologies have an impact on both consumers and the workforce. “To some extent, workers are being replaced by this technology,” he said. “At the same time, the expansion of services like curbside pickup means that workers are being added.” While the workforce may be balanced out by the expansion of these new technologies, Tilly noted that the services can be very intrusive for consumers. “Artificial intelligence is always on, always tracking what people are doing,” he said. While the Amazon Go model has currently only been implemented in small stores with many sensors and cameras, Tilly predicted that technology will most likely allow companies to expand these services in the long run.
Associate Professor of Urban Planning Adam Millard-Ball joined an episode of Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast “Revisionist History” to discuss the future of autonomous vehicles. The safety of autonomous vehicles was originally framed as a technological challenge that required a programming solution, but the main issue is actually the people outside the vehicle, Millard-Ball explained, beginning at minute 26:50. “If you are a pedestrian and you have that confidence that the autonomous vehicle is going to stop and yield to you as it legally should, then there is nothing to stop you from taking the right of way,” he said. Autonomous vehicles are programmed to maximize caution, which allows the pedestrian to make the first move instead of waiting to see what the car will do. “The more unpredictable a pedestrian appears, the autonomous vehicle will recognize that unpredictability and be more cautious,” he explained. Autonomous vehicles allow for a role reversal where the vehicle caters to the pedestrian’s erratic behavior.
Urban Planning Professor Anastasia Loukatiou-Sideris was featured in a Los Angeles Downtown News article about her involvement in Civic Bicycle Commuting (CiBiC), a new initiative promoting the health and environmental benefits of commuting by bike. While Los Angeles has been dominated by automobiles for decades, a group of UCLA scholars has teamed up to create a digital media archive that will map safe routes, promote biking as an alternative to driving and foster community among bike commuters. Loukaitou-Sideris spoke to the Daily Bruin about CiBiC’s focus on reaching vulnerable groups, including women, people without housing and those from ethnic neighborhoods. In the long term, she hopes CiBiC will build a bicycle infrastructure in low-income neighborhoods through employer partnerships to improve the process of commuting. She added that creating a community of bikers will build safety and protection for vulnerable populations through social capital – the ties that hold together a community when individuals interact and help one another.
Urban Planning Professor Donald Shoup wrote an article in Parking Today about changes in the parking industry over the last 25 years. For most of the 20th century, the industry was stagnant, with parking meters that “looked identical to the original ones introduced in 1935,” Shoup explained. Since he published “The High Cost of Free Parking” in 2005, new technologies have made it possible to measure occupancy, charge variable prices for curb parking and make paying for parking much easier. Using license-plate-recognition cameras, parking apps and voice commands, many cities have been able to adopt demand-based pricing for curb parking. Shoup predicted that in the future, artificial intelligence may be able to determine optimal parking spots for price and time. “Better parking management can improve cities, the economy and the environment,” Shoup wrote. “The parking industry can help save the world, one space at a time.”
Juan Matute, deputy director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, spoke to the Wall Street Journal about the growing role of technology in public transit service. New York, London and Los Angeles are releasing new apps and digital versions of their subway maps, which give riders access to information about how close a train is to their station as well as any closures or delays. Matute explained that the new platforms are designed with more focus on the user experience than some predecessors, which first appeared on app stores around 2010 and were often neglected by transit agencies afterward. “These apps just fell out of favor and ended up being removed from the marketplace,” he said. The growth of ride-share services like Lyft and Uber and competition with other navigation apps such as Google Maps and Apple Maps has prompted public transit agencies to invest resources in improving the digital experience for riders.
The study, by the Gay Sexuality and Social Policy Initiative at UCLA Luskin, was published in the Journal of Homosexuality. It focuses on a group that historically has been disproportionately affected by poor health outcomes. The results are based on responses from more than 10,000 men in 20 countries via a survey conducted in April and May 2020 on Hornet, a social networking app, which also participated in the research.
The paper’s lead author, Ian Holloway, is faculty director of UCLA’s Gay Sexuality and Social Policy Initiative, which is dedicated to understanding the complexities of gay male sexuality. Other authors are from UC San Francisco and the LGBT Foundation in San Francisco.
Participants were asked 58 questions about the impact of stay-at-home orders on their lives. Those who reported not going out or only going out for essentials were categorized as staying in. Everyone else, including essential workers and those who said they continued to go out socially amid the pandemic, were categorized as not staying in.
The study found that those who have stayed in during the pandemic were:
- 37% more likely to feel anxious than those who haven’t stayed in.
- 36% more likely to feel lonely.
- 28% more likely to use text messaging to stay connected with others.
- 54% more likely to use video calls to connect with others.
“We know that all people are affected by the isolation that can result from physical distancing,” said Holloway, a UCLA associate professor of social welfare. “Our concern is that the harm may be more severe among gay and bisexual men, who face disproportionate rates of poor mental health and sexual health outcomes. COVID-19 has exacerbated stress, anxiety and social isolation within our communities.”
Most of the survey participants were between the ages of 18 and 34 (55.5%), identified as gay (78.6%), were currently employed (67.7%) and had health care coverage (85.4%). In addition, most lived in a large urban center (69.8%) and were not in a relationship at the time of the survey (67.4%).
Social networking apps like Hornet provide an opportunity for people around the world “to connect with one another and cultivate a sense of community,” said Alex Garner, one of the study’s co-authors and senior health innovation strategist at Hornet. “We must invest in interventions that include harm reduction approaches and leverage technology where possible to increase access to necessary health services and strengthen community connections.”
Sean Howell, a co-author of the study and CEO of the LGBT Foundation, noted that many in the LGBTQ community lack the resources to effectively combat COVID-19, and it is especially critical to understand the challenges facing younger gay people.
“They face greater economic jeopardy or have increased exposure to the virus,” Howell said.
Holloway said there will be significant challenges in tracking mental health outcomes for gay men and other vulnerable communities in the coming months and years. “Our study shows us that technology can help us meet the moment.”
Holloway also directs the UCLA Hub for Health Intervention, Policy and Practice, the umbrella organization for the Gay Sexuality and Social Policy Initiative. In addition to producing research, the initiative will conduct policy analysis and participate in community mobilization seeking to empower global gay communities.
Urban Planning Chair Chris Tilly spoke to KQED about the obstacles facing Silicon Valley workers who want to unionize. In recent years, tech employees have protested lack of diversity, mishandling of sexual harassment claims, and the second-class treatment of temporary workers and contractors. White-collar tech employees recently formed Alphabet Workers Union at the parent company of Google. According to Tilly, Silicon Valley companies such as Google have done a lot to make it difficult for workers to form unions. “There are a lot of barriers to building worker solidarity within Google,” he said. “Google and other tech companies have been effective at fissuring workers, hiring some as contractors, others as temps and also outsourcing labor around the globe,” Tilly explained. Workers are physically separated and have different employment statuses, including different wage and benefit packages, making it difficult to organize them around common goals.
Paul Ong, director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at UCLA Luskin, spoke to the education news site The 74 about students with limited internet and technology access who are falling behind in remote classes. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution also cited a UCLA report authored by Ong, which found that nearly one in three American households had limited computer or internet access this fall. Students of color, students with disabilities, students learning English and students from low-income households are more likely to fall on the “wrong side of the digital divide,” making it harder to access classes, engage with peers, and complete and upload assignments. “You can think about all of these things that by themselves may not seem absolutely fatal, but collectively it has this cumulative effect that eventually leaves certain students behind,” Ong explained. While the report does not focus on the effects of limited access, Ong noted that the implications are clear and concerning.
By John McDonald
While students’ access to computers and the internet improved during the pandemic-affected and largely remote fall school term, a clear digital divide persists, especially among Black, Latino and low-income students, according to a new report by the UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge.
“It appears that the lack of access has become less severe this fall than it was last spring, as schools have made adjustments to support remote learning,” said Paul Ong, the center’s director and an author of the report. “But it is also clear that a lack of access and real and troubling divide remains.”
This digital divide, the authors say, translates into students missing lessons, being unable to access materials and struggling to complete assignments — all of which have significant implications for long-term learning and success later in life.
The researchers used data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey to provide a current look at household access to computers and the internet. Their findings show that the rate of limited digital access for households fell from a high of 42% during the panic and chaos of school closures last spring to about 31% this fall.
But the data also make clear that during the fall term, racial and economic inequality has remained significant, with African American and Latino households being 1.3 to 1.4 times as likely as white households to experience limited accessibility. Low-income households are most impacted by digital unavailability, with more than 2 in 5 having limited access to a computer or the internet.
In addition, since mid-October, the rate of digital inaccessibility has increased slowly but unmistakably. The researchers are concerned that the divide may worsen amid the current surge in COVID-19 infections and resulting restrictions.
“This new research details a persistent and troubling digital divide among students, with far-reaching implications for educational access and equitable opportunities,” said Tina Christie, the Wasserman Dean of the UCLA School of Education and Information Studies, which co-published the report with the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.
“The pandemic has brought into focus the intimate connection between education and technological connectivity and, with it, the connection between connectivity and social justice,” Christie said. “The battleground for educational equity has now, and perhaps forever, shifted into a new space.”
According to Ong, a UCLA Luskin research professor, persistent digital inequality threatens to widen disparities in achievement as minority and low-income children become adults, contributing to an intergenerational reproduction of inequality.
“The disparities in limited technological resources for virtual learning are not just today’s education crisis,” Ong said. “Falling behind increases the achievement gap, which has long-term social and economic implications. To avoid this tragedy, we must act immediately and decisively to close the digital divide.”
COVID-19 and the Digital Divide in Virtual Learning, fall 2020, is a publication of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. The research brief was published in collaboration with the UCLA School of Education and Information Studies. Read the full research brief.
Contact: John McDonald
Juan Matute, deputy director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, spoke to the New York Times about the challenges facing hyperloop technology, which would theoretically enable transportation of people and goods at speeds up to 600 miles an hour. Virgin Hyperloop recently became the first company to conduct a human test of the technology at a test track in Las Vegas. The company hopes to eventually use the technology to move passengers and cargo in vacuum tubes between cities and ports, cutting travel time significantly. However, transportation experts noted that the hyperloop system would require expensive maintenance. Matute pointed out that, like high-speed rail systems, hyperloop companies will have to acquire expensive rights of way. The tubes that carry hyperloop pods will have to be very straight with wide turns in order to enable high-speed travel. “Airlines do not have this problem,” Matute said.