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Inside Cornell Tech: NYC’s Tech Hub of the Future

CThe crown jewel of New York City's tech push is open for business. More than half a dozen years in the making, the new Cornell Tech campus on Roosevelt Island is the glimmering face of the city's educational and economic ambitions to build itself into a self-styled "Silicon Alley," the tech- and startup-driven economic hub of the East Coast.

Wednesday morning's official dedication ceremony brought together the business, educational, government, and tech leaders who made Cornell Tech a reality. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Governor Andrew Cuomo, and former mayor Michael Bloomberg—the architect behind the project—each gave speeches on their vision for tech, education, and economic growth in New York. They joined the heads of Cornell Tech and its academic partner, the Technion–Israel Institute of Technology, to cut the ribbon on the high-tech, eco-friendly campus representing the pipeline of engineers, entrepreneurs, and technologists that will power New York's tech-driven economy of the future.

"Cornell Tech is the result of collaboration between the public and private sectors, between universities and businesses, between artists and architects, and so many others," said Bloomberg. "The school is an investment in the future of this city, and that investment belongs to generations to come. It will help generate jobs across the economic spectrum, generate revenue to help the city fund important services, and help our city compete with tech centers around the world, from Silicon Valley to Seoul."

Situated on a narrow sliver of land wedged in the East River between the east side of Manhattan and Queens, the 12-acre Cornell Tech campus occupies essentially the entire southern half of Roosevelt Island. The first phase of the campus includes three buildings nestled under the Queensboro Bridge, each adorned with solar panels, open workspaces, and high-tech amenities with public spaces in between.

The Bloomberg Center is the academic center of the campus, and features a public cafe, glass meeting rooms, and open offices spindled around a central staircase and an intricate mural of tech diagrams and abstract art. The Bridge is a co-working building where startups and businesses rent space to work alongside students and faculty, and the House is a 26-story residential building and the first high-rise built to passive house energy standards.

There are two more buildings under construction and set to open in 2019: the Graduate Roosevelt Island Hotel and the Verizon Executive Education Center for conferences and meetups. PCMag got a tour of the new Cornell Tech campus from the architects and designers who built it, and heard from the faculty, students, and startups who are already innovating and building products on the island.

(Top Art Photo Credit: Iwan Baan)

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  • 1

    Ribbon Cutting

    Mayor De Blasio, former Mayor Bloomberg, Goveror Cuomo, Cornell University President Martha Pollack, Cornell Tech Dean Daniel Huttenlocher, and Technion President Peretz Lavie cut the ribbon at Cornell Tech’s official dedication.

  • 2

    Welcome to Cornell Tech

    Housed since 2012 at Google's offices in Chelsea, Cornell Tech now moves to its permanent Roosevelt Island home. The school currently has 300 students, and over the next few years will scale toward 2,000.

  • 3

    The Bloomberg Center

    The 160,000-square-foot academic building is the center of campus life, with four floors of classrooms, glass meeting spaces, open offices, and some private rooms and faculty offices. The outer facade features a unique design meant to look from afar almost like constantly changing code.

  • 4

    Open Offices

    Cornell Tech students working in the Bloomberg Center with a view of the Queensboro Bridge and the Manhattan skyline.

  • 5

    Lecture Hall

    A lecture hall in the Bloomberg Center with a teacher giving a lecture on blockchain and smart contracts.

  • 6


    Some of the 173 tech diagrams and equations drawn into the main mural of the Bloomberg Center, which is intended to promote a new way of thinking. Look for everything from the printing press to Isaac Newton's discovery of gravity, as well as unsolved mathematical equations offered by Cornell Tech professors.

  • 7

    Solar Panels

    Cornell Tech is touted as a "net zero" campus built with environmental sustainability in mind. There are solar panels atop each building, as well as advanced bio-filtration systems and a geothermal well field underground. The campus is also elevated, built well above the flood line in case of future natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy.

  • 8

    The Bridge

    The Bridge is a 235,000-square-foot building housing 30 percent Cornell Tech students and faculty, and 70 percent startups and co-working spaces for businesses.

  • 9

    View from The Bridge

    The building has river-to-river views of Queens on one side and the Manhattan skyline, pictured here, on the other. It's also built with sustainability in mind, built with a glass exterior that's 40 percent transparent and 60 percent opaque to maximize natural light and minimize artificial lighting consumption.

  • 10

    Multi-Level Workspaces

    There aren't many walls in The Bridge. Lounges and work spaces encourage startups and entrepreneurs to collaborate with students and faculty on ideas and projects.

  • 11

    Businesses Moving In

    Three companies have already signed on for office space in The Bridge. Tech and finance firm Two Sigma is moving data-driven artificial intelligence research to Cornell Tech as part of a "Collision Lab" to incubate new products with students and startups. Chocolate maker Ferrero Rocher is opening an office to innovate delivery and food systems, and Citi is opening an "Innovation Zone" at Cornell Tech for cybersecurity and Big Data research.

  • 12

    Cornell Studio

    The Cornell Studio program encourages students to form diverse teams, come up with ideas, and build viable products. Since 2012, the program has spun out 38 startups from 81 founders, who employed 173 people and raised $31 million in funding. Students iterate on products and ideas, and get feedback on their products and business plans from real world tech advisers and venture capital investors. One of the successful startups from Cornell's most recent awards is Speech Up, a gamified mobile speech therapy platform for kids.

  • 13

    The House

    The final completed building is The House, a 26-story high-rise for students and faculty residences. The 270 foot-tall building is the largest passive house structure in the world with 352 apartment units and 550 beds. The building is projected to save 882 tons of CO2 per year.

  • 14

    Passive House Design

    The House is built with a state-of-the-art "thermal wrap" of 8-11 inches of metal panel around the entire building to provide continuous insulation, which reduces utility bills by keeping cold air contained in the summer and heat insulated in the winter. The "gills" on the outside let the mechanical systems breathe, constantly cycling fresh air into the building and maintaining constant temperature in all habitable spaces.

  • 15

    Verizon Center and Hotel

    The next phase of construction, set to be completed in 2019, is the Graduate Roosevelt Island Hotel and the Verizon Executive Education Center next to The House.

  • 16

    The Next Phases

    This view from the Bloomberg Center shows the open public spaces of the campus and the rolling hills beyond, on which development will begin in the coming years for new buildings in phases two and three of Cornell Tech construction, set to be fully completed by 2043.

  • 17

    New York's Next Tech Hub?

    Mayor De Blasio said during the ribbon cutting that he sees Cornell Tech as "not a distant beacon, but a harbinger of change" in the lives of New York City's residents, and that the city's tech ecosystem is already generating 350,000 jobs and growing rapidly. The city is investing heavily in software development and STEM education at every level of its public school system.

    Cornell Tech represents the key piece of the city's talent pipeline in getting those highly skilled entrepreneurs and engineers into New York-based technical colleges, interning and being recruited by local tech companies and businesses, and founding their own startups to feed back into the economic growth of Silicon Alley. For all the tech, business, and government leaders who cut the ribbon on Roosevelt Island, that vision is beginning to become a reality.

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Facebook’s Kodi box ban is nothing new

According to recent reports, Facebook has updated its Commerce Policy to specifically ban the sale of Kodi boxes on its site – that is, devices that come with pre-installed Kodi software, which are often used for illegally streaming digital content. However, the ban is not a new one – Facebook confirms its policy on Kodi box sales hasn’t changed since last summer, and its external Policy Page – the one being cited as evidence of the new ban – was updated in December. It’s true that the changes have flown under the radar until now, though. The policy change was first reported by Cord Cutters News, and later linked to by TorrentFreak and Techdirt. The original report claims that Facebook added a new rule on its list of “Digital Media and Electronic Devices” under “Prohibited Content,” which specifically calls out Kodi boxes. It says that Facebook posts “may not promote the sale of devices that facilitate or encourage streaming digital content in an authorized manner or interfering with the functionality of electronic devices.” The Policy page lists a few examples of what this means, including wiretapping devices, jamming or descrambling devices, jailbroken or loaded devices, and, then “promoting the sale or use of streaming devices with Kodi installed.” (The only permitted items are “add-on equipment for Kodi devices, such as keyboards and remotes.”) But this ban on Kodi boxes, Facebook says, is not a recently implemented policy. According to a Facebook spokesperson, it launched a new policy last summer that prohibited the sale of electronic devices that facilitate or are intended for unauthorized streaming or access to digital content – including Kodi boxes. This policy has not changed since last summer, but its external Policy Page – this one being cited by the various reported – was updated in December 2017 to offer additional illustrative examples and more detailed information on all its policies, including the one related to unauthorized streaming devices. In other words, Facebook has been banning Kodi boxes since it decided to crackdown on unauthorized streaming devices last year. It’s just now being noticed. The ban affects all posts on Marketplace, Buy and Sell Groups, and Shop Sections on Pages. Facebook explains it takes a very strong enforcement approach when “Kodi” is mentioned with a product for sale. As Techdirt pointed out, that’s problematic because the Kodi software itself is actually legal. However, device makers like Dragon Box or SetTV have been using the open-source Kodi platform and other add-ons to make copyright infringement easier for consumers. Facebook does seem to understand that Kodi software isn’t illegal, but it knows that when “Kodi” is mentioned in a product (e.g. a device) listing, it’s very often a product designed to circumvent copyright. The company tells us that its intent is not to ban Kodi software altogether, however, and it’s in the process of reviewing its guidelines and these examples to more closely target devices that encourage unauthorized streaming. That could mean it will, at some point, not outright ban a device that includes Kodi software, but focus more on other terms used in the sale, like “fully loaded” or some sort of description of the illegal access the box provides, perhaps. (Facebook didn’t say what might change.) As for Kodi, the company says Facebook’s move doesn’t affect them. “It doesn’t impact us, since we don’t sell devices,” says Keith Herrington, who handles Business Relations at the XBMC Foundation (Kodi). He said his organization would love to talk to someone at Facebook – since they’ve never been in touch – in order to ensure that devices that are in compliance with Kodi’s trademark policy are not banned. Both Amazon and eBay have worked with Kodi on similar policies, he added. “We’ve gotten thousands of devices which were in violation of our trademark policy removed from eBay,” Herrington said. It’s unclear how well-enforced Facebook’s ban really is – I’m in Facebook groups myself where people talk about how to jailbreak “Fire sticks” and include posts from those who sell them pre-jailbroken. (It’s for research purposes. Ahem.) Industry crackdowns go beyond Facebook Facebook isn’t the only company that’s attempting to crack down on these devices. Netflix, Amazon and the major studios are suing Dragon Box for facilitating piracy by making it easy for consumers to access illegal streams of movies and TV shows. In January 2018, a U.S. District Court judge handed down a preliminary injunction against TickBox TV, a Georgia-based set-top box maker that was sued by the major studios, along with streaming services Netflix and Amazon, for profiting from the sale of “Kodi boxes.” Google has removed the word “kodi” from the autocomplete feature of Search, along with other piracy-related terms. And more recently, the FCC asked Amazon and eBay to stop selling fake pay TV boxes. It said these boxes often falsely bear the FCC logo to give them the appearance of legitimacy, but are actually used to perpetuate “intellectual property theft and consumer fraud,” the FCC said in letters to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and eBay CEO Devin Wenig. Why Streaming Piracy is Growing There’s a reason Kodi devices are so popular, and it’s not just because everyone is being cheap about paying for access to content. For starters, there’s a lack of consequence for consumers who do illegally stream media – it’s not like back in the day when the RIAA was suing individuals for pirating music. While there has been some activity – Comcast several years ago issued copyright infringement notices to Kodi users, for example – you can today basically get away with illegal streaming. The copyright holders are currently focused on cutting off piracy at the source – box makers and the platforms that enable their sale – not at the individual level. The rise of cord cutting has also contributed to the issue by creating a highly fragmented streaming ecosystem. Shows that used to be available under a single (if pricey) cable or satellite TV subscription, are now spread out across services like Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Sling TV, HBO NOW, and others used by cord cutters. Customers are clearly willing to pay for some of these services (largely, Netflix and maybe one or two others), but most can’t afford a subscription for each one. And they definitely don’t want to when all they’re after is access to a single show from a network. That’s another reason they then turn to piracy. Finally, there is the fact that film distributors have forever withheld their movies from streaming services for months, creating a demand for illegal downloads and streams. Though the release window has shrunk some in more recent years, the studios haven’t yet fully bought into the idea of much smaller windows to cater to the audience who will never go to the theater to watch their movie. And when this audience is cut out the market, they also turn to piracy. Eventually, the record industry adapted to consumers’ desire for streaming, and services like Spotify and Apple Music emerged. Eventually, streaming services may be able to make piracy less attractive, too. Amazon Channels, could become a key player here if it expands to include more add-ons. Today, it’s the only true a la carte TV service available. And that perhaps – not skinny bundles – is what people really want.

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