Greg Lindsay's Blog

August 05, 2023  |  permalink

FT: Self-Created Communities for the Digital Age

I’m delighted to be quoted in the Financial Times’ gimlet-eyed take on a new wave of intentional communities, finding them starry-eyed at best and exclusionary at worst. “They’re overly utopian,” I’m quoted as saying in part, and that would be an understatement. (Pair this story with Air Mail’s examination of Praxis for maximum enjoyment.)

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August 03, 2023  |  permalink

Microtargeting Unmasked: A Threatcasting Report

(I was asked by the United States Secret Service, Army Cyber Institute, and Arizona State University Threatcasting Lab to take the lead on writing our new report “Microtargeting Unmasked,” on the dangers of using new technologies to precisely identify and target individuals with access to high-value targets for espionage, terrorism, and crime. The full report is available here for download; the high-level findings are reprinted below.)

Finding 1: Attacks on High-Value Individuals

Adversaries will use microtargeting to attack figures in military, law enforcement, and civilian leadership, using transitive data and novel technologies to identify and exploit new vulnerabilities.

Microtargeting is poised to rapidly evolve into a set of tools and tactics employed by adversarial state- and non-state actors to target high-value individuals (HVIs) who are critical to the security and stability of the United States. Although the intentions and objectives of those adversaries and targets will vary, the general desired outcome of microtargeting will be to destabilize leadership and degrade the decision-making of federal institutions that are tasked with defending the country.

In addition, microtargeting may not always be aimed at HVIs per se, but rather at surrounding colleagues, direct reports, close friends, and family who might be instrumentalized through deception, coercion, and/or subversion. This expands the potential HVI population. The specific nature of the threat will depend on the target and desired outcome, ranging from kinetic attacks (e.g., towards an individual’s health and well-being) to more subtle campaigns to destroy careers and reputations through planted scandals, corruption, and/or humiliation.

This concept and practice are tied to a commonly used principle of Russian information operations, referred to as kompromat, a term short for “compromising material.” In the past, the KGB used kompromat, often in the form of “sexually-embarrassing dirt on public figures” to manipulate and persuade HVIs into a particular course of action. Attacks on HVIs may integrate this practice with recent technology and updated methods, which will in turn lead to new forms of kompromat.

Easier access to larger and more granular troves of sensitive personal data will likely allow microtargeting to precisely target individuals. This will not simply be a function of “big” data, but of the continued confluence of an ever-lengthening list of sources. These sources range from personal, professional, medical, and financial profiles to social media content, transaction histories, real-time location data, and traces from connected devices, etc. Collectively, this conjoined dataset-of-datasets might be more accurately referred to as transitive data, defined more by the emergent properties and relationships of their linkages as opposed to the sheer size of their sources.

Inevitably, there will be entanglements of delicate information that offer determined attackers the ability to exploit individuals. Sensitive data stolen from one source might unlock access to other channels across the chain — of which the exact length and composition are unknown. This will in turn make it incredibly difficult to safeguard, allowing bad actors both access to the data and the ability to leverage linked data to harm microtargeted individuals and proxies.

New tools will also be available to bad actors, which will give them more power and access to HVIs. Likewise, these tools are expected to be used together. Examples include the use of novel technologies misused for surveillance, evasion, and deception, such as real-time deepfakes, compromised AI assistants, wearable and implantable devices, at-home gene editing kits, and more. For instance, large language models, such as OpenAI’s ChatGPT have quickly spawned seemingly unstable, threatening, and emotionally manipulative chatbots, while televised deepfake disinformation has already been spotted emerging from Venezuela and China.

As attacks are expected to mount on HVIs and their associates, the forces tasked with protecting them are likely to struggle with establishing a defensive perimeter around potential targets. This will also come with a realization that the properties of transitive data may make anticipating threats nearly impossible. A new practice of “reputation management” will likely emerge to combat deepfakes and other hostile tactics, but the threats may not be able to be prevented. However, they may be managed once incited. Given the targets’ essential roles in defense, civil society, and the economy, the potential for escalation will require a broader effort to build more resilient systems for mitigation and recovery as well as protection.

[Continue reading...]

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August 01, 2023  |  permalink

At What Point Managed Retreat?

Back in June, I was invited to speak on a pair of panels at Columbia University’s “At What Point Managed Retreat?” the premier conference devoted to the policy and practice of managed retreat and climate migration. My first session exploring climate migration and private sector’s role, asking “how did we get here?” was chaired by KM Sustainability/InnSure principal Patrick Marchman, featured the Environmental Defense Fund’s Louisiana state director Liz Russell, Tulane Institute on Water Resources Law fellow Haley Gentry, and StateBook founder and CEO Calandra Cruickshank, with my bringing up the rear. (Watch above.)

The second, which explore how the real estate and insurance industries are reshaping climate migrants’ options — a subject at the top of mind as multiple insurers adopt blanket bans on writing new policies in Florida and California — kept me and Calandra and added Harvard GSD’s Hannah Teicher, the Environmental Defense Fund’s Carolyn Kousky, Stafford Rosenbaum LLP partner Jessica Mederson, and session chair Monika Serrano, the resilience program manager at Turner Construction Company. (Watch below.)

In both sessions, I discussed our mission at Climate Alpha to convince real estate and institutional investors it was in their long term interest to steer growth from high-risk coastal areas toward more resilient regions inland. But old habits are hard to break.



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July 18, 2023  |  permalink

Prepare for Descent: The Relative Decline of the US Passport

(Henley & Partners — the consulting firm that invented citizenship-by-investment — once again asked me to contribute an essay to their quarterly reports on the state of global mobility. This time around, they asked me to examine why the United States and its anglosphere cousins are slowly slipping down the rankings of global passport strength. Much to my surprise and delight, my essay generated global interest, quoted in Bloomberg, Forbes, Semafor, the South China Morning Post, the Strait Times, Der Spiegel, the Times of India, and many, many more. You can read it here or below.)

What a difference a decade makes. The US claimed the top spot on the Henley Passport Index as recently as 2014. Now, following years of inexorable decline, its ranking has slipped to 8th place — its lowest position to date. The period in question is instructive, spanning Democratic and Republican administrations alike, along with the pandemic years and slow recovery in international travel since. And yet, the standing of the American passport has waned regardless. Why?

From a purely mechanical perspective, the story is a simple one — by more or less standing still, the US has fallen behind. While its absolute score has in fact risen over the last decade, the nation has been steadily overtaken by competitors such as South Korea, Japan, and Singapore. Using data from the firm’s new Henley Openness Index, we can begin to speculate how much of its relative decline is due to visa reciprocity, or a lack thereof. America’s relentless slide down the rankings — and unlikelihood of reclaiming the highest position anytime soon — is a warning to its neighbor Canada and the rest of the Anglosphere as well.

Sacrificing passport power for strict (in)access
The reason for the US’s slump is both easy to explain and confounding: it isn’t trying. Of the 34 countries ranked between 1 and 10 (due to several ranks shared by different countries), the US boasts the smallest increase in the Henley Passport Index scores between 2013 and 2023, with additional access to only 12 countries. Singapore, by contrast, has seen an increase of 25 additional countries during the same period, propelling it upward by five places to the number 1 rank. What explains such slow growth?

An answer may be found in America’s corresponding openness score, which complements the Henley Passport Index’s degree of passport strength by measuring how many destinations are permitted visa-free access in turn. While America’s passport index score currently sits at 184 (out of 227 destinations worldwide), its openness score is a lowly 44 — good for 78th place. This divergence is the second highest in the rankings, narrowly trailing only Australia (and barely outpacing Canada). As slowly as America has added visa-free destinations over the past decade, its expansion of access is even worse.

For example, the US’s Visa Waiver Program permits citizens of 40 participating countries to travel visa-free to the nation for business or tourism for up to 90 days — and demands visa-free access for US citizens and nationals in return. Of those countries, exactly three have been added in the past decade — Chile (2014), Poland (2019), and Croatia (2021). The reasons for this are a combination of technical and political, as program acceptance requires implementation of the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), which consequently has strict requirements for counterterrorism efforts, border management, immigration, and visa issuance, among others.

What is clear, however, is that reciprocity matters. As a case in point, US citizens are poised to lose visa-free access to Brazil on 1 October this year after Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva decided to roll back the policy set by his predecessor Jair Bolsonaro in 2019. This development is consistent with previous Workers’ Party administrations, which rigorously upheld visa reciprocity as a matter of principle regardless of the nearly USD 5 billion that foreign tourists spent in Brazil last year.

While the correlation between a high openness score and a high Henley Passport Index score is less evident in the data, it is notable that Singapore and South Korea — some of the highest climbers in the Top 10 over the past decade, from 6th and 7th, respectively in 2013 to 1st and 3rd today — boast relatively high degrees of openness, while the US and Canada have slid down the rankings as their openness stagnates. Will the relative strength of their passports ever recover?

Economic implications of visa withholding
Technically speaking, it’s difficult for any nation to move up in the rankings once it’s started to slip, given the frenetic pace at the top. But more importantly, does the US have the political will to increase access — visa-free or otherwise — and reciprocity? Punishingly slow waits for visas have been well-documented, and despite a State Department surge in the hiring of visa-processing personnel last year, estimated wait times for B1 and B2 visa interviews remain well over a year in Dubai (391 days), Mumbai (570 days), Lagos (411 days), and Mexico City (751 days) as of this writing, to name just a few. (See for yourself in real-time.)

For this reason (among many), the number of international visitors to the US hovers around 80% of pre-pandemic arrivals, according to the International Trade Administration, which nonetheless has published rosy projections of a full recovery by 2025. A continued shortage in foreign tourists has big implications for the economic health of not only the sector but also of American cities reeling from a shortfall in foot traffic due to remote work policies.

While Canada is moving aggressively to expand both the number of international visitors and permanent migrants — including new measures announced in June to lure US H-1B visa holders to Canada and an overhaul of its Start-Up Visa Program — the US risks falling further and further behind.

“The idea that our economy can’t handle more immigrants. tourists, business, or academic travelers from non-ESTA countries is simply not based in any reality,” argues Chaos Capital managing partner Julie Frederickson, who has spent the last two years fruitlessly pursuing visas for her start-up founders.

“We should absolutely be allowing more visitors for the benefit of our tourism industry as well as our educational and business institutions,” Frederickson adds. “I’ve had people denied entry for family reunions and conference keynotes. My husband now hosts all-hands company meet-ups in Mexico as they cannot guarantee that their employees can safely get in and out of America.”

Clearly, the US has further room to fall in both the Henley Openness Index and the Henley Passport Index.

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July 15, 2023  |  permalink

The Metaverse Metropolis Symposium

On July 11, my fellowship at Cornell Tech’s Jacobs Urban Tech Hub concluded with The Metaverse Metropolis Symposium — a combination of panels and workshops imagining future threats and possibilities of augmented reality at scale.

Hosted by the Microsoft Garage’s Mike Pell, the morning was comprised of three sessions, videos of which are below. Watch this space for a capstone report this fall.

1. What is the Metaverse Metropolis? Greg Lindsay and Arizona State University Threatcasting Lab director Brian David Johnson host a brief fireside chat outlining the aims of The Metaverse Metropolis initiative and introducing the social, cultural, legal, and economic challenges and opportunities urban AR poses for cities.


2. Preparing for Disruption. Thousands of Pokémon Go players stampeded through parks, trespassed en masse, and may have injured nearly 30,000 people due to distracted driving in the game’s first five months alone in 2016. Prior to that, the rise of platforms such as Uber and AirBnB posed challenges to how public officials see and manage their cities. What have cities learned after a decade of disruption? How will urban AR pose new wrinkles to prior laws and customs? And how should the public generally prepare for technologies that have not fully arrived?

• Seleta Reynolds | Chief Innovation Officer, Los Angeles Metro
• Nigel Jacob | Chief Innovation Officer, Boston Society for Architecture
• Matt Miesnieks | CEO, Living Cities
• Jonathan Askin | Director, Brooklyn Law Incubator & Policy Clinic


3. The Augmented City. What is urban AR for? How are cities, artists, and activists already exploring the medium’s potential for discovery and connection. How should cities fold AR into the practice of “digital placemaking?” How will it offer inhabitants new ways of seeing their city? And what skills, roles, resources, and partners will civic institutions need to harness its full potential?

• Idris Brewster | Executive Director, Kinfolk Foundation
• Diana Lind | author, Brave New Home
• Alina Nazmeeva | Alfred A. Taubman Fellow, University of Michigan

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July 04, 2023  |  permalink

The Metaverse and Cities Summit

Back in April, I and the Jacobs Urban Tech Hub co-hosted the inaugural Metaverse & Cities Summit in conjunction with New York University’s School of Professional Studies and the Sharing Cities Alliance. Video from the event has finally been posted, including my session “The Metaverse and Sustainability: Working on a Shared Vision,” which you can watch above.

I was joined by Amy Jaffe — director of NYU SPS Center for Global Affairs’ Energy, Climate Justice, and Sustainability Lab — CGA’s associate dean Carolyn Kissane, and Virtual America CEO Paul Turner to discuss how visualizations of a more sustainable and resilient future — one in which Charleston, South Carolina has a (hotly debated) seawall, or what a world without oil might look like — might help galvanize the political support and public will to achieve them.

You can also watch the other sessions from the summit and review the “Metaverse City Accord” we published following the conference. Watch this space for details about a second edition of the conference in 2024.

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June 27, 2023  |  permalink

Conference of Montreal 2023

La Conference de Montréal — an arm of the International Economic Forum of the Americas — invited me to join a discussion on “The Digitalisation of Urban Management” with Helpful Places’ Jacqueline Lu, the Shared-Use Mobility Center’s Benjamin de la Peña and the Urban Resilience and Innovation Institute’s François William Croteau, hosted by The Globe and Mail’s architecture critic Alex Bozikovic. Video from the session is above; here’s the official description (which we didn’t always stick to):

The future of urban planning and development is here, and the increase in leveraging emerging technologies for improved decision-making in urban ecosystems brings an array of benefits that will enable us to better tackle the imperatives of our time, but crucial emerging issues are yet to be answered. What is the general outlook on the state of smart cities globally today? Which key areas of urban planning and development can benefit from these technologies and which solutions do they provide to modern urban needs? What foreseeable risks should be kept top of mind and which labour segments will be disrupted as a result of these technologies?

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June 12, 2023  |  permalink

Bloomberg Citylab: Augmented Reality Is Coming for Cities

(Originally published by Bloomberg Citylab on June 12, 2023.)

When Pokémon Go streaked across the cultural landscape in 2016, briefly becoming the fastest-downloaded app in history, thousands of players stampeded through parks, trespassed en masse, and may have injured nearly 30,000 people due to distracted driving in the game’s first five months alone.

It’s a particularly stark example of what cities could face if Apple’s forthcoming augmented reality (AR) headset, the Vision Pro, becomes as popular as the Apple Watch, let alone as ubiquitous as the iPhone. Although the jury is still out until “early next year” on the public’s appetite for a $3,499 pair of goggles, Apple’s insistence that it’s meant to be worn in the world around other people means it’s time for cities to finally sit up and pay attention to the small-m metaverse.

While Apple may have shouldered its way to the forefront of AR — which Cook has extolled for years — it is hardly alone. Google, Snap, and others have all recently made strides in fusing the real and virtual worlds. Without the means to monitor and intervene in these new dimensions, cities risk companies and creators running roughshod over the public realm. Just last month, for example, Google unveiled its “Geospatial Creator” tool enabling anyone to anchor digital content to real-world locations, such as Google’s own virtual takeover of Times Square by the band Gorillaz in December.

Niantic, the maker of Pokémon Go, is now building its own “visual positioning system” (VPS) — what amounts to a proprietary virtual GPS overlaid on cities, mapped down to the centimeter — to compete with Google’s and others. This not only raises the prospect of overlapping, incompatible realities owned by various tech companies, but also thorny issues around speech and property rights. What’s to stop someone from geolocating an obscene AR billboard outside a competing storefront, for instance?

Will the Vision Pro be AR’s “iPhone moment?” Perhaps, if you recall the original iPhone’s then-exorbitant price tag and lack of an app store at launch. It took years for startups to harness smartphones’ potential to connect and transact with physical spaces and assets, producing platforms like Uber and Airbnb. More than a decade later, cities are still grappling with how to rein in and regulate these disruptors retroactively.

Now Apple and its rivals aim to go a step further by overwriting reality itself, raising a whole new host of problems. How can cities avoid repeating those mistakes in the real-world metaverse? What recourse do cities have when faced with immaterial interlopers who nonetheless have corporate consequences?

Prior efforts to confront another once-impending technological threat — autonomous vehicles — may prove instructive. In 2018, the Los Angeles Department of Transportation commissioned its own software standard, the Mobility Data Specification, for sending and receiving information from fleets of private vehicles (although ultimately scooters instead of AVs). While some players welcomed real-time regulation, others resisted its granular data collection. While LADOT ultimately prevailed against legal challenges, a subsequent effort to convince Apple, Google, Waze and others to re-route driving instructions within their apps was politely rebuffed. It’s hard to imagine the same firms giving cities carte blanche to edit their VPS.

It’s still early in the metaverse, however — no killer app has yet emerged, and the financial returns on disruption are falling as interest rates rise.

Already, a handful of companies have come forward to partner with cities instead of fighting them. For example, InCitu uses AR to visualize the building envelopes of planned projects in New York City, Buffalo, and beyond in hopes of winning over skeptical communities through seeing-is-believing. The startup recently partnered with Washington, DC’s Department of Buildings to aid its civic engagement efforts. Another of its partners is Snap, the Gen Z social media giant currently currying favor with cities and civic institutions as it pivots to AR for its next act.

There’s certainly an argument that augmented reality could be a boon for big cities, enriching and attracting foot traffic to iconic locations weakened by remote work. “I think we’ll see a growing digital divide between cities that embrace AR and those that thwart it,” said Jonathan Askin, director of the Brooklyn Law Incubator & Policy Clinic, who has studied the legal issues stemming from AR. “With governments suffering lost tax revenue from diminished retail and commercial real estate activity, cities and property owners could benefit from smart deployments of games, cultural experiences or even just new advertising opportunities.”

“The only real issue for cities,” he adds, “is how to ensure that use of AR applications does not threaten public safety while enhancing the urban living experience.” And therein lies the rub.

For cities to gain the metaverse they want tomorrow, they will need to invest the scarce staff time and resources today. That means building a coalition of the willing among Apple, Google, Niantic, Snap and others; throwing their weight behind open standards through participation in umbrella groups such as the Metaverse Standards Forum; and becoming early, active participants in each of the major platforms in order to steer traffic toward designated testbeds and away from highly trafficked areas.

It’s a tall order for cities grappling with a pandemic crisis, drug-and-mental-health crisis, and climate crisis all at once, but a necessary one to prevent the metaverse (of all things!) from becoming the next one.

Read the original story at Bloomberg Citylab here.

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June 05, 2023  |  permalink

AWE: The Augmented City

Last week in Silicon Valley, I was honored to curate and host the only session of the world’s pre-eminent metaverse conference, Augmented World Expo. There, I was joined by inCitu CEO Dana Chermesh, Snap public policy manager Jasson Crockett, and former Washington D.C. Department of Buildings chief Ernest Chrappah to discuss how augmented reality might transform cities… in a good way. Watch the video above; here’s the session description:

As American cities struggle to build housing, improve transit, and otherwise convince a skeptical public that change is good - and necessary! How can AR help win over their critics? This panel will bring together a startup (inCitu) and platform (Snap) engaging the public at massive scale through offering passerby a glimpse of new projects in their actual context. They’ll be joined by a city official to discuss the potential of AR to deliver services, fast-track development, and re-imagine our relationship with the built environment at large.

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May 23, 2023  |  permalink

Fast Company & Siemens: The New Skills and Roles Transforming Manufacturing

I recently hosted the third and final installment in Fast Company’s Webinar series on the “industrial metaverse” hosted in partnership with Siemens. Titled “Talent for Innovation: The New Skills and Roles Transforming Manufacturing,” I first spoke with Siemens USA president and CEO author Barbara Humpton before ushering MIT’s T.L. Taylor and Mike Molnar, director of the Advanced Manufacturing Office at the National Institute of Standards and Technology onto the virtual stage. From the description:

With more than 800,000 open positions across U.S. manufacturing, new technologies like the industrial metaverse present an opportunity both to lower barriers of entry and inspire a new generation of workers to work in manufacturing. Fast Company and Siemens will bring together senior business leaders to highlight the efforts and opportunities to address talent recruitment needs to remain globally competitive and share how new design, gaming and user experience roles are transforming the perspective on industrial career paths.

Watch the whole thing here.

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Greg Lindsay is a generalist, urbanist, futurist, and speaker. He is a 2022-2023 urban tech fellow at Cornell Tech’s Jacobs Institute, where he leads The Metaverse Metropolis — a new initiative exploring the implications of augmented reality at urban scale. He is also a senior fellow of MIT’s Future Urban Collectives Lab, a senior advisor to Climate Alpha, and a non-resident senior fellow of the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Strategy Initiative.

» More about Greg Lindsay


August 05, 2023

FT: Self-Created Communities for the Digital Age

August 03, 2023

Microtargeting Unmasked: A Threatcasting Report

August 01, 2023

At What Point Managed Retreat?

July 18, 2023

Prepare for Descent: The Relative Decline of the US Passport

» More blog posts

Articles by Greg Lindsay

-----  |  August 3, 2023

Microtargeting Unmasked

-----  |  July 1, 2023

2023 Speaking Topics

CityLab  |  June 12, 2023

Augmented Reality Is Coming for Cities

CityLab  |  April 25, 2023

The Line Is Blurring Between Remote Workers and Tourists

CityLab  |  December 7, 2021

The Dark Side of 15-Minute Grocery Delivery

Fast Company  |  June 2021

Why the Great Lakes need to be the center of our climate strategy

Fast Company  |  March 2020

How to design a smart city that’s built on empowerment–not corporate surveillance

URBAN-X  |  December 2019


CityLab  |  December 10, 2018

The State of Play: Connected Mobility in San Francisco, Boston, and Detroit

Harvard Business Review  |  September 24, 2018

Why Companies Are Creating Their Own Coworking Spaces

CityLab  |  July 2018

The State of Play: Connected Mobility + U.S. Cities

Medium  |  May 1, 2017

The Engine Room

Fast Company  |  January 19, 2017

The Collaboration Software That’s Rejuvenating The Young Global Leaders Of Davos

The Guardian  |  January 13, 2017

What If Uber Kills Public Transport Instead of Cars

Backchannel  |  January 4, 2017

The Office of the Future Is… an Office

New Cities Foundation  |  October 2016

Now Arriving: A Connected Mobility Roadmap for Public Transport

Inc.  |  October 2016

Why Every Business Should Start in a Co-Working Space

Popular Mechanics  |  May 11, 2016

Can the World’s Worst Traffic Problem Be Solved?

The New Republic  |  January/February 2016

Hacking The City

Fast Company  |  September 22, 2015

We Spent Two Weeks Wearing Employee Trackers: Here’s What We Learned

» See all articles