The Commute of the Future Will Be Driverless, Flying and Electric

And four other important things we learned this week.

Five Things We Learned This Week

Disruption Is Coming. The Question Is When.

We’re not whizzing around in flying taxis just yet. But this week, we found several of Silicon Valley’s biggest risk takers getting serious about the technology. Google co-founder Sergey Brin has been working on a secret airship that looks like a zeppelin. His partner, Larry Page, also has a secret vehicle project: flying cars that can take off and land vertically. Uber said it is working with officials in Dallas-Fort Worth and Dubai to test flying taxis by 2020, as well as building plans for an electric charging network. Even major oil companies are forecasting and planning for the rise of the electric vehicle.

Bloomberg’s Justin Bachman points out that we’re really far from this being a reality. “It’s hard to overstate how many fundamental achievements must occur first, on both regulatory and technical grounds, before anyone can summon a cab from above,” he wrote in an in-depth look at what it will take to get there.

Traditional Retailers Look Doomed...

Main Street retailers are going bankrupt at an alarming pace, Bloomberg’s Kim Bhasin reports. There have been 14 bankruptcy announcements through April 6, which outpaces bankruptcies in 2010 and 2011. Stores are closing faster than ever. “It’s an industry that’s still in search for answers,” said Noel Hebert, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence. “I don’t know how many malls can reinvent themselves.” The Limited, Wet Seal, BCBG Max Azria, and Payless have all filed for bankruptcy protection so far this year. 

... While Luxury’s Doing Just Fine
Consumers are opening their Chanel bags again, and luxury goods makers are on the rebound. Demand in China has turned around after a crackdown on corruption and bribery. This week, the French billionaire behind luxury conglomerate LVMH offered to pay about $13 billion to take control of Christian Dior. Gucci’s first-quarter sales rose at the fastest pace in 20 years, fueled by colorful patterns and whimsical prints. So long austerity. 

The Establishment Is Out in France

The next French president won’t be from one of the country’s two mainstream parties—the ones that produced current president François Hollande and his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy. But the two candidates left standing aren't complete outsiders to French politics. The frontrunner, Emmanuel Macron, is Holland’s former economy minister and formed his own party last year. The challenger, Marine Le Pen, is the daughter of National Front party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen and has been politically aware, she says, since her family’s apartment in Paris was bombed in 1976. Le Pen dominated in nine of 10 areas on the French mainland with the highest unemployment rates. These maps break down the results.

Tech Is Going to Cause Decades of Pain

Jack Ma, billionaire and chairman of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., gestures as he speaks during a panel session at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, on Jan. 18, 2017.

Jack Ma, billionaire and chairman of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.

Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg

If you think the populist upheaval in the U.S. and Europe was bad, just wait 30 years, Jack Ma says. The 52-year-old Alibaba chairman said society needs to overhaul education systems, learn to work with robots and lend to all segments of society. “The world will see much more pain than happiness,” Ma said in a speech in China. “Social conflicts in the next three decades will have an impact on all sorts of industries and walks of life.” People will live longer but their jobs will be replaced by machines and artificial intelligence, he said. Then he seemed to suggest limits: “Machines should only do what humans cannot,” he said. “Only in this way can we have the opportunities to keep machines as working partners with humans, rather than as replacements.”

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