Your Next Car Will Be Electric

Above is a picture of the first production Tesla Model 3. It’s not a hybrid; it’s 100% electric. No engine at all. It starts at $35,000, it can travel 215 miles on a single charge, and it looks great.

A few months ago, I purchased an electric car of my own – and I can tell you, once you go electric, you’ll never go back.

If you think electric cars are just souped-up golf carts driven by urban hippies, think again. Going electric is now a no-compromise choice, and it’s going mainstream faster than you think. Here’s why:

Range anxiety is no longer a thing. My electric car can go up to 300 miles on a single charge, which is about the same as a full tank of gas. And every night, it recharges in my garage, so I start every day with a “full tank.” You actually worry less about range in an electric car than you would in a gas-powered vehicle, where you periodically need to stop at a gas station. Even long road trips aren’t a problem – we traveled from Orlando to Miami and back a couple of weeks ago, and used conveniently placed “superchargers” to recharge (for free) in about a half hour while grabbing lunch a couple of times. But remember, it’s only those occasional road trips where you’ll even need to charge on the road – 300 miles of range is way more than enough for any daily driving needs.

It doesn’t really matter if you’re an environmentalist. Driving an electric car feels like you’re in the future, and it delivers a far superior driving experience than internal combustion engine (ICE) cars. Once you’ve driven an electric car, driving an ICE vehicle seems like driving an ancient relic from a more primitive time. While electric cars do use energy much more efficiently than ICE vehicles, you’ll find you want to drive them because they’re fun – not just because you want to save the planet. Although that’s kind of nice too.

Their performance kicks ass. My wife described the experience of flooring my electric vehicle as “it feels like you left your butt behind you and then it races to catch up with you.” Electric vehicles deliver torque instantly to your wheels – there is no engine that needs to burn your fuel, no transmission, no gearbox. This gives them 0-60 times that even supercars can’t beat. They also have very low centers of gravity (the battery packs make up the bottom of the chassis), making their handling impossible to beat as well.

No more gas stations. I hate gas stations. They’re usually disgusting, and you’re always taking a chance of your credit card getting skimmed at them. I don’t miss them. At all.

They’re quiet. If it’s a nice day and you don’t need the A/C fans going, an electric car makes no noise whatsoever. It’s creepy. And magical.

They’re reliable. There are only about a dozen moving parts in an electric vehicle. It’s an electric motor connected to wheels. No engine. No pistons. No transmission. No gears. No fuel lines. No carburetor. No spark plugs. No fuel injectors. No radiators. Basically, there’s almost nothing of consequence that can break. And the batteries are designed to last a very long time – at least 10 years, maybe more – we just don’t have enough data to really know yet. Longer than you’re likely to hold on to your car.

Zero maintenance. No need for oil changes, changing transmission fluid, changing air filters – because none of that exists in an electric vehicle. About all you’ll ever need to do is replace the tires and windshield wipers and wiper fluid.

They’re safe. The Tesla Model X was recently rated the safest SUV ever made. Having no engine means you can devote more space to crumple zones, and heavy battery packs give electric vehicles a very low center of gravity making them almost impossible to tip over. The battery packs themselves are protected by a thick layer of steel in order to protect them from impacts – and that layer of steel gives the car a smooth, impenetrable undercarriage.

They’re roomy. With no transmission and no engine, that leaves lots of space for storage and for people. There’s no hump going down the center of the interior where the transmission would go in a ICE vehicle. And instead of an engine, you get a “frunk” with extra storage space under the hood.

They’re future-proof. Given the simplicity of the hardware, most of your experience as a driver is driven by software – and that software can be updated over the air at any time. Every month my car’s self-driving capabilities and features get a little better, just through software updates applied while I sleep. In an electric vehicle, absolutely everything in the car is electric, and can be controlled by software. In a vehicle like this, the entire concept of “model year” goes out the window – your car will continue to evolve even after you’ve bought it.

They’re getting cheaper. The Tesla Model 3 starts at $35K, which is making electric vehicles a real mainstream choice. And as other manufacturers jump on the bandwagon, the cost of batteries will continue to fall, making them even cheaper. Volvo has announced that it will stop producing ICE vehicles in 2019, France has already banned ICE vehicles starting in 2040, and BMW is rumored to be working on electric versions of its entire lineup of models. Every major car manufacturer has some sort of electric vehicle program in place, because they see the writing on the wall.

Also, can your car do this?

So, even if you think global warming is a hoax and we should burn all of the oil, it doesn’t matter. Electric cars provide a far superior experience for their owners, and that alone will continue to drive their adoption. And as more people buy them, economies of scale will make them cheaper and cheaper, until they’re just a no-brainer choice for everyone. Sorry about that, oil industry – electric vehicles are here to stay this time.

Image Credit: Tesla

Google’s AlphaGo Beats the Best Player in the World

Last year, Google’s artificial intelligence program AlphaGo beat a Korean Go Master, and it was big news. Today the news is even bigger – AlphaGo beat the best human Go player in the world, ¬†19-year-old Ke Jie of China.

This is a big deal because unlike Chess, you can’t simply brute-force all possible moves your Go opponent might make, and find the optimal move to counter whatever she may be doing. That’s why Chess programs have been kicking my butt since I was 12, but computers playing Go is a recent thing.

Instead, AlphaGo’s deep learning algorithms trains itself by playing games against itself, and learning as it goes which sorts of patterns result in advantages. Just like with humans, practice makes perfect – and it can practice 24/7. Its play is now described as very human-like, which perhaps shouldn’t be surprising because finding patterns given training data is pretty much all that our brain does. The difference is a computer never forgets a pattern it’s learned – well, unless you pull its plug!

Does this mean artificial intelligence is that much closer to taking over the world and enslaving its human creators? Well, yes and no. AI is still limited to learning how to get really good at very narrow problems – like keeping a car within its lane, figuring out what temperature you’d like your house to be at, or playing Go. Think of them as idiot savants, except they’re even less than idiots – they know nothing other than the data you’ve trained them with, and only within the context of the objective you’ve given them. But like all technology, it can be dangerous in the wrong hands – a human who trains an AI with some nefarious cyber-warfare goal could do a number on humanity, even today.

Can Bitcoin Save the Planet?

Nature magazine published a piece by Swedish ecology professor Guillaume Chapron, detailing how the technology that makes Bitcoin transactions secure can be applied to solve ecological problems.

It’s a big idea, and it’s already being used to track sustainably-caught fish in Indonesia together with small sensors. Bitcoin has solved a huge¬†challenge in finance: you must assume everyone involved in a transaction is out to defraud you. Bitcoin’s “blockchain” system is a distributed way to track financial transactions in a trackable, trustworthy, and secure manner.

Financial transactions aren’t the only ones subject to fraud, however. You can’t even know what species of fish you’re really buying, let alone trust its “sustainable” moniker. Blockchain can help authenticate the origins and movements of fish, or anything else, along the supply chain.

Science magazine published an interview with Mr. Chapron, where he explains:

To take an example, if you buy a fish at the supermarket, the supply chain is very long. The supermarket might not even know where it came from. And so there are multiple opportunities for environmentally unsustainable goods to enter the supply chain. A blockchain-based supply chain would mean that when you buy a fish, you scan a QR code [like a bar code] with your smartphone, and you see every step. And you know that it cannot be falsified.

Other social applications of Blockchain proposed include:

  • Digital authentication of land titles, to prevent corrupt governments from reclaiming land from native people
  • Secure, direct payment of incentives to communities for meeting conservation targets
  • Secure, tamper-proof voting

It’s always great when technologies have unintended, positive consequences. Bitcoin’s Blockchain may be the next big example.

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