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Disney Launching Residential Communities For Fans 

The theme park division at Disney announced that they are developing master-planned residential communities that will “meet the demand from fans looking for new ways to make Disney a bigger part of their lives.”

The project is a part of Disney’s decades-long efforts to expand into residential development. The company announced this Wednesday that “Storyliving By Disney” communities will be master-planned by Disney Imagineers, who are responsible for designing the company’s many theme parks. 

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Disney employees will operate the community associations. The company also announced that the communities will feature clubs where residents can participate in different forms of entertainment, health and wellness activities, and seminars. 

The first community is set to be developed on a 618-acre community called Cotino in Rancho Mirage, California; DMB Development is also helping bring the community to life. 

Disney plans on building full-scale residential houses, including a neighborhood specifically for individuals aged 55 and older. Mixed-use districts will consist of shopping centers, restaurants, a beachfront hotel, beach park, and a 24-acre “grand oasis” lagoon. 

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Disney is currently looking for additional community locations throughout the nation to further develop the communities. Josh D’Amaro, chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, made a statement Wednesday regarding the search:

“As we prepare to enter our second century, we are developing new and exciting ways to bring the magic of Disney to people wherever they are, expanding storytelling to Storyliving.” 

Disney’s original residential efforts began in the 1960’s when the late Walt Disney announced his plans for the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, or EPCOT. The initial plans were to make the residential community the centerpiece of what is now Disney World. However, when Walt Disney died in 1966, the plans were put on hold, and the EPCOT name was repurposed to be used for Disney’s second theme park. 

Disney restarted residential development in the late 80s and 90s in Florida, with a planned community of Celebration. Celebration was a small town designed by Disney to give fans a nostalgic feeling. 

Disney sold a majority of its shares in Celebration in 2004 to a private investment firm. There’s no solid timeline as to when these Storyliving communities will be available for living, but it’s the biggest effort to come from Disney’s residential sector in a while.

Paris Police

Massive Paris Police Protest Sets Records

On Wednesday, roughly 27,000 police officers in Paris took to the streets to protest what they claimed were bad working conditions, a lack of respect from the general public, and a string of suicides in their ranks this year. The protest was the largest police demonstration in almost 20 years, and officers wore plain clothes, as the law does not allow them to protest in uniform. Although the protest complained about not being respected by the general public, the police officer’s public image in France has suffered as a result of the protests, which have drawn criticism about how harsh their tactics are. Protestors claim that the high number of suicides among police officers, totalling more than 50 this year alone, are a consequence of the intense degree of stress and public scrutiny associated with the profession.

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According to a French parliamentary inquiry, the French police are affected by a number of problems which lower morale, such as unpaid overtime and poor working conditions. It’s not uncommon to find anti-police graffiti in France, and anti-police slogans have grown popular among crowds. The protestors claim though they are obligated to provide public service, they get nothing but scorn and derision from the public, making the job untenable and leading to the conditions that resulted in the tragic suicides of several dozen officers.

For a number of reasons, the police in France differ fundamentally from the police in the United States and other countries. For one, they don’t walk a beat, and instead the police are a national force, which uses aggression to handle conflict but otherwise doesn’t often interact with citizens. This style of work hasn’t done favors for the police force, who are sometimes taunted with encouragements of suicide and shot with rubber bullets. Although the government has promised psychiatric intervention to address the problem of rampant suicides, little other action has been taken to address the underlying causes of the crisis.

Although protests are fairly ubiquitous in France, they are generally uncommon among police officers, and as such the recent protest highlights the severity of the bad working conditions police have been complaining about. Although the Interior Minister Christophe Castaner has promised more money and hires for the police, this did little to quell the concerns of protestors. A government plan to revise pensions for police officers was criticized for jeopardizing the unique retirement benefits enjoyed by police officers.

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The police officers’ protest comes in the aftermath of, and in some ways as a response to, the Yellow Vest Movement earlier this year which became violent after 13 consecutive weekends of demonstrations. The movement, which protests the presidency of Emmanuel Macron, started as a response to fuel taxes and other environmental policies that reduced the standard of living for the French population. Among the demands of the Yellow Vest protestors are the resignation of Macron, an increase in the French minimum wage, an end to austerity measures, an improved standard of living, greater transparency and accountability in the government, and better government services for rural areas, among other goals. While these protests are ongoing, the French government has made some concessions to protestors, including the cancellation of the fuel tax and the elimination of a tax on overtime and end-of-year bonuses.

The Yellow Vest protests have led to the deaths of 11 people, some of whom were protestors killed in traffic accidents while blocking roads, with an additional 4,000 people injured. The movement is a populist and economic one, focused on reforming the government to reduce the cost of living for the middle-class. Some protests have become major riots which have been described as the most violent ones in France since 1968. The intensity and size of the protests has led to a large-scale response from the police, who wear military-style riot gear, which has intensified criticism and public distrust of the police force. Both the Yellow Vest movement and the recent police protest signal a tremendous degree of social unrest among France’s citizenry, which is a trait shared in many countries around the world in the current global political climate.

Featured image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/kristoffer-trolle/25037207098

Tech at Home

How Technology will Shape Life in the Home

Already, rapid advancements in technology have fundamentally changed the way most of us spend time in our homes, adding convenience into our daily routines and expanding options for entertainment beyond what was once considered possible. This rapid pace of technological advancement is sure to continue, and while it’s difficult to predict exactly how technology will change our lives at home far into the future, looking at current trends and the research and development being conducted can give a general understanding of the direction technology is taking us.

It’s worth taking a look back several decades into the past to determine which previous predictions about the homes of the future came true and which didn’t. Some concepts, such as video calling and advanced thermostats, have manifested into technologies like Apple’s Facetime and Nest’s Learning Thermostat. Other predictions turned out to be off the mark, such as the idea that homes of the future would be made out of glass or Thomas Edison’s prediction that steel would become the primary material for building furniture. Most of the predictions that came true involved how technology would impact the way we engage with information and conduct our daily routines; as such, the best predictions are the ones that look to how technology can work in these domains. For instance, Phillip’s Hue system of smart light bulbs can be programmed to automatically adjust to our schedules, and Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Home devices allow us to interact with our personal computers by using natural language. While the rate of technological progress has produced these impressive devices, there is plenty of room for improvement, and continued investment and innovation by these companies is sure to produce even more advanced generations of the same fundamental concepts.

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One of the most promising domains of technological development can be found in the field of artificial intelligence. Machine learning systems which take advantage of neural network technology have already produced incredible results, as speech synthesis systems can sound totally indistinguishable from a genuine human voice and can even mimic the speaking styles of real individuals with great verisimilitude. This technology would not only allow for natural-sounding communication between humans and AI, but assistants could even be programmed to mimic the tone of voice of different emotions, enabling a personal assistant which always sounds happy to speak with you to create a more pleasant experience. In the future, deep learning technology could be used to make these assistants smarter, as they would be able to better parse and interpret the complex information expressed in natural speech to accomplish specific and unique tasks. For instance, in the future you may be able to ask a computer assistant to take notes, send emails, and set reminders without having to worry about how you phrase your requests and with confidence that the computer will understand you correctly. We will continue to carry these assistants with us on our phones, but they will also be integrated in the home in the form of connected smart speakers placed in different rooms.

Another field worth paying attention to involves the rising interconnectivity of our devices. Though compatibility varies across manufacturers, already consumers are able to synchronize their activity between their tablets, laptops, smartphones, and desktop consumers, and it’s even possible to wirelessly stream content from a phone to a TV. As our devices get better, their capabilities begin to overlap, causing some specialized devices to become obsolete. Tablets such as the iPad have incorporated much of the functionality of laptops, making ownership of the latter device unnecessary, and improvements in smartphone cameras have all but killed the compact camera industry.

As virtual reality headsets and computer graphics become more realistic, the allure of vacationing in a distant location will become overshadowed by the difficulties of transportation and the cost of travel and accommodations

This trend is sure to continue, and as devices become more versatile, we’ll find that our smartphones, which will have folding screens and seamless wireless compatibility with a host of input and display options, will become our primary computing devices. We will still have displays around our houses, and in fact even more of them as we add smart mirrors and wallpapers to our televisions and desktop monitors, but these displays will function not as discrete computing entities but instead will connect to our personal smartphones. As such, all of our computing needs will be handled by a single portable computing device, which will be deeply integrated with the cloud and which we will interact with in different ways by using wirelessly connected devices, such as keyboards, monitors, large tablets with styluses, our voices, and our television sets with remote controls. In this way, our computers will seem to follow us wherever we go, as sitting down in front of a monitor in a public place will grant exactly the same experience as sitting in front of a monitor at home.

As our devices become more interconnected and artificial intelligence streamlines our relationship with technology, more opportunities to fundamentally transform our lives at home will continue to open up. A new generation of young professionals will increasingly view the commute to work in the office as unnecessary and burdensome, as computing and communications technology will replicate nearly all of the functionality of the office environment. Instead, young people will opt to work from their home offices, using high-quality video calls and augmented and virtual reality systems to replicate the experience of participating in conferences and meetings. Home offices will be customized to suit the individual’s professional needs to the same degree that office buildings can provide, and though professional attire will remain an expectation, the flexibility of the home environment will ensure a more efficient collaborative experience. As a result, the boundaries between the home environment and the work environment will be blurred, and while this is sure to enable a great degree of convenience for professionals, it may increase levels of stress among the professional population, as they will be expected to be available throughout the day whenever they’re in their houses.

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Technology is also likely to transform the way we think about leisure. As virtual reality headsets and computer graphics become more realistic, the allure of vacationing in a distant location will become overshadowed by the difficulties of transportation and the cost of travel and accommodations, and the alternative of staying at home during vacation time will become more appealing. As consumer devices will be able to replicate the look and feel of visiting exotic destinations, even fictional ones, the natural urge to travel and explore different places will be satisfied by simulations of these experiences. Developers will have the freedom to craft entire vacation experiences, which will be able to be enjoyed either for a few hours at the end of the day or for days at a time, and consumers will be able to download and share these experiences digitally without having to leave home at all.

Of course, no one can be totally accurate in predicting the future of technology in the home, but by looking at the general principles by which technology has already shaped our home lives it’s easy to imagine how it will continue to do so with time. Human nature, of course, will always stay the same fundamentally, and future generations will still have the same needs of experiencing novelty, finding purpose in life and work, and interacting socially, but the ways we go about fulfilling these needs are sure to radically change.

Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/143789194@N03/28935810275