New Study About Taxi Ride Sharing and Its Implications for the Emergence of the “Sharing Economy”

Adding one of the more compelling scientific studies to the ongoing and rapidly developing saga of urban car ride-sharing services, the September 2, 2014 edition of The New York Times published a summary and analysis of a study of what would happen, as the titles states, If 2 New Yorkers Shared a Cab … , by Kenneth Chang and Joshua A. Kirsch. In the findings’ simplest terms, there would be a 40% reduction on the cab fleet and corresponding improvements in traffic flows, energy consumption and the environment.

The author of this fascinating study are Steven Strogatz*, a mathematics professor at Cornell, whose team included Carlo Ratti of MIT. This article contains links to their recently published paper, an accompanying graphic of the data points overlaid upon a street map of NYC, and a link to a site they have set established enabling anyone to peruse a massive database of taxi ride info.

This article also expertly explores:

  • The scientific methods used to obtain these results, balanced against the reality of the fact that New Yorkers are very reluctant to voluntarily share cab rides
  • How the recent introductions here of Uber and Lyft are impacting the economics and dynamics of the city’s taxi industry
  • Whether and how the possible introduction of self-driving cars might affect the study’s findings
  • The concerns of a scientist who is skeptical of the study’s conclusions

The day following day, on September 3rd, Strogatz and Ratti were interviewed about their report on the Brian Lehrer Show** on WNYC in New York. They covered more of the details concerning their methods, conclusions and predictions. But what really enlivened this show were the live calls from the listeners with remarkable stories of their cab rides in NYC as passengers and from an actual driver as they related to the prospect and realities of ride sharing. I highly recommend this 23 minute podcast entitled Should We Start Sharing Taxis? for these reports from the front lines of this story.

For additional original perspectives, commentary and insights into the emergence of the new sharing economy that I found to be quite relevant to this story, I further recommend the following three articles that were published during same week:

Will this sharing trend gain further traction in other sectors of the service economy? If so, what sectors and job types might be sucsceptible? If not, is this just a trend that will quickly run its course or perhaps morph into something more enduring?

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* Professor Strogatz has written a number of highly acclaimed books on science and math. Ten years ago I had the great pleasure of reading one of them entitled Sync: How Order Emerges From Chaos In the Universe, Nature, and Daily Life (Hyperion, 2004). This is a strikingly original work about how synchrony emerges from within a wide diversity of biological and environmental systems. I found his writing to be highly engaging and accessible about what otherwise would appear to be a highly complex topic for a general audience. He has done a masterful job here of explaining the concepts and examples with great clarity. I highly recommend it for any reader looking for something entirely new and different.

** X-ref to the August 1, 2014 post here entitled Discussion re: Faster Web Service, Media Mergers and Net Neutrality about another interesting segment of this show, including a link to its podcast.

Applying MRI Technology to Determine the Effects of Movies and Music on Our Brains

By a very fortuitous coincidence on August 28, 2014, two articles appeared online in very different publications but with very similar facts and implications about using MRI technology to research the neurological effects of movies and music upon their audiences. Let’s, well, scan these features together and see what we find.

First, everyone loves watching movies and nowadays they can be viewed on screens everywhere in theaters, televisions, computers, mobile devices and gaming systems whenever it is convenient for the viewer. The work of a psychologist named Uri Hasson was reported on WIRED.com in a fascinating article by Greg Miller entitled How Movies Sychronize the Brains of an Audience. As reported here, has Hasson employed MRIs to scan viewers of the same scenes in a series of films from different genres. He recently presented his finding to a group of film industry professionals.

He was surprised to find that highly similar regions of the brain were showing specifically increased activity among the viewers of the clips of the same films, That is, discernible patterns emerged in the scans while viewing westerns, action movies, mysteries and so on. However, a comedy on cable produced a much lower level of Synchronicity among the test subjects. (There are two very informative graphics of the MRI’s outputs accompanying this story.) In effect, different films and different genres produced more highly correlated levels of such synchronicity than others. One Hollywood director is quoted here about his concerns that movie studies might soon be using MRIs to test movies at pre-release test screenings.

Furthermore, I think it would be interesting to know if Netflix might also be able to apply this research. This because starting in 2006 and concluding with the “Netflix Prize” being awarded in 2009, the company ran a contest challenging contestants to devise an algorithm that would improve their movie rating and recommendation system. That is, when subscribers order film A for viewing, Netflix will additionally recommend films B, C and D based on the reviews of the user base. So, would the added application of MRI data and analyses possibly improve the current recommendation algorithm being used at Netflix?

Second, is there actually anyone out there who still doesn’t get chills up and down their spine whenever they hear the opening bars of Born to Run? This likely happens even thought you have heard it 10,000 times before. Do you recall the first time you ever heard it come blasting out of the radio?

Using MRI technology in the context of researching why tunes have such a strongly evocative effect upon our brains, was another engaging report entitled Why Your Favorite Song Takes You Down Memory Lane posted on Medicalxpress.com. According to this story, the test subjects in a study were all played six songs (four were “iconic”, one was a favorites and one was unfamiliar), of five minutes each, from very different types of music. The scientists conducting this study found distinct patterns depending on whether that subject either liked or disliked a song and another pattern for the fave among the group.

Moreover, the fave increased activity in the hippocampus*, the brain region that controls memory and emotion, thus causing the resulting connection between music and memory.

I highly recommend clicking through and reading both of these articles together for all of the scientific details of how these studies were done and their conclusions were reached.

Also, for a terrific and thoroughly engaging detailed analysis of the neuroscience of music I also recommend This is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession by Daniel J. Levitin (Plume/Penguin, 2007)

December 19, 2014 Update:

The next set of analyses and enhancements to our cinematic experience can be found in a newly published book that explains the science of how movies affect our brains entitled Flicker: Your Brain on Movies (Oxford University Press, 2014), by Dr. Jeffrey Zacks. The author was interviewed during a fascinating segment of the December 18, 2014 broadcast of The Brian Lehrer Show on WYNC radio. Among other things, he spoke about why audiences cry during movies (even when the films are not very good), sometimes root for the villain, and move to duck out of the way when an object on the screen seems to be coming right at them such as the giant bolder rolling after Indiana Jones at the start of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Much of this is intentionally done by the filmmakers to manipulate audiences into heightened emotional responses to key events as they unfold on the big screen.

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* Isn’t that also what they call the place where hippos go to school?