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Tomorrow’s world

Take a “roboat” tour of Amsterdam

Driverless “roboats” are set to make Amsterdam’s canals a lot smarter, says Jesse Orrall in CNET. The driverless robot boats, built by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, can shuttle people around, deliver goods and gather waste. Two prototypes are floating around the Singel, Herengracht, Prinsengracht and Keizersgracht waterways this month. The battery-powered boats are big enough to carry five people and can be recharged wirelessly while docked. MIT says there’s enough juice on board for 10 hours of operation.

The roboats are “straight out of Blade Runner”, says Haje Jan Kamps in TechCrunch. Tap in a destination and you’re whisked away. To establish a clear path and avoid crashing into objects, the little vessel uses lidar (radar, but with lasers) and cameras to give its automated brain a 360-degree view. “Granted, there aren’t many cities where self-driving water taxis are a viable option, but Amsterdam may just be one of those places.”

A high-tech city powered by volcano

Shopping with Bitcoin in Chiltuipan, El Salvador. Alex Pena/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

El Salvador’s president, Nayib Bukele, wants to build a tax-free, volcano-powered “Bitcoin city”, says Christine Murray in The Financial Times. Two months ago his country became the first in the world to accept the cryptocurrency as legal tender. Now he plans to raise $1bn for his latest project by issuing sovereign-wealth Bitcoin bonds. Wearing his signature backwards baseball cap, he likened his plans to those of Alexander the Great: “If you want Bitcoin to spread over the world, we should build some Alexandrias, right?” He wants to start work on the city next year.

It sounds “like a villain’s lair from the latest Bond film”, but it might just work, say Tom Rees and Louis Ashworth in The Daily Telegraph. The as yet unnamed city will draw geothermal power from the Conchagua volcano, keeping the lights on for homes, offices, an airport, ports and railways. Crucially, says “tech bro” Bukele, the volcano will provide clean fuel for the notoriously energy-hungry process of “Bitcoin mining” – generating coins by pinging bits of code from one computer to another. This requires thousands of computers.

Fans of the experiment say it will make El Salvador “the financial centre of the world” and “the Singapore of Latin America”. No taxes will be levied except value added tax on spending. Bukele reckons public infrastructure for the city will cost 300,000 Bitcoin – which, when he said it, equalled nearly $18bn. By way of comparison, Saudi Arabia’s planned super-city, Neom, is expected to cost $500bn.

Critics fear the president is using his people as “guinea pigs”. By the time the UK is considers bringing a digital version of the stalwart pound, “Bukele may look like a genius – or a reckless gambler”.

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