A Few Reflections on ICTD

As a multi-disciplinary field, ICTD research hosts a wide variety of knowledge and expertise initially developed in other academic areas, ranging from specialized information theory to broad economic development. That should not be a surprise as ICTs emerged from the convergence of telecommunications, electronics and computing, and information dissemination.

Looking at the left side of the ICTD acronym, we thus find three distinct areas. Information which opens the door to information theory and information systems, among several others. Next in line is Communication that brings in media and thus media theory and has been propelled by the emergence and seemingly primacy of social media and social networks. Last but not least is digital Technology, the more technical area of the overall

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Better “AI for Good”

While the dystopian camp perceives digital technologies as a formidable, perhaps even unsurmountable threat to society, those on the other, much more optimistic side do not seem to get tired of repeating its almost countless benefits. The latter camp apparently has the upper hand, at least for now, as its message captures most daily media headlines, mainstream and otherwise. Doom technology scenarios occasionally take center stage when one global personality decides to warn us, once again, about the war we are about to lose should technology be left to its own devices.

Despite such opposing views, both camps share the idea that technology is just like Frankenstein, a human creation that somehow has acquired a life of its own, a distinct personality and a determined will. If we are on the

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Best Films – 2020

Bellocchio’s The Traitor was the last film I saw in a theatre. The film was only playing once a day at 1pm, so an early lunch was required. The calendar said it was the last day of February. The very next day, officials identified the first case of COVID-19 in NY. A couple of days later, the first super-spreader case became public at a location just over two kilometers from home. The person infected had been at a hospital located within walking distance from where I live. Early close calls that fortunately did not recur. Anyway, I sorely miss going to the theatre. That wonderful big screen now looks gigantic.

Undoubtedly, virtual has decidedly beaten the real thing by a wide margin in a year no one could have ever predicted. However, the proliferation of streaming sites has been one of the

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Ethics in Ethical AI

Garbage in, garbage out (GIGO) is one of the oldest computer programming commandments. It was first coined in the same decade as AI, the 1950s, thus suggesting the connection between the two goes back to their birth dates. GIGO is particularly relevant to programs that take data – text and graphics included – as main input, run it through one or more algorithms and generate the expected (and many times unexpected) outputs. An example will help elucidate the process.

Sorting is one of the most basic algorithms, usually taught first in computing programming classes. The idea is simple. Suppose I have a list of 10 thousand names and need to sort by last name and then by first name. Piece of cake. I can choose one of the various sorting algorithms to get the output desired. Now suppose that

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A Glimpse at Development Economics

ICT for Development (ICTD) has been around for over three decades now. A multidisciplinary field involving researchers and practitioners from many different areas and backgrounds, ICTD has one clear objective: to deploy new ICTs in society to foster development. The first and most obvious question is how this can happen. The answer is not trivial. Nevertheless, my focus on this post is instead on the development side of the equation. How exactly is development defined and perceived by ICTD? One thing is clear. There is no agreement on the actual definition of the concept.  Revisiting the evolution of international development thus might be a useful starting point to address the question.

Just like ICTD, the international development field is also multi-disciplinary. A few decades older than

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Digital Government in Jamaica

The last time I visited Jamaica was in the early 2000s. A few years before, we had launched the national node of the old and now defunct Sustainable Development Networking Programme (SDNP). It was labeled JSDNP and did quite a bit of work locally fostering digital technologies and creating and disseminating local content. Unfortunately,  JSDNP ended operations sort of unexpectedly in 2006.  Now I am playing catch-up with the island’s digital evolution. And thanks to COIVD-19, I was not able to travel. Virtual will never beat the good old analog thing, that is for sure.

The pandemic unexpectedly struck the world amid yet another wave of digital technology innovation, thus adding seemingly insurmountable obstacles to an already crowded set of development challenges. Jamaica has not been spared

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Evolving COVID-19

Over six months after its official birth, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to expand globally, as expected. Long-term lockdowns and other complementary measures have impacted, especially in industrialized countries that, back in June, were leading in cases and deaths. Not that the virus has been tamed, not at all. Rather, it now seems to be more isolated, albeit a so-called second wave is expected to kick-off once the colder weather in the Northern Hemisphere starts to gain steam – to fog, your pick. With the notable exception of Africa, developing nations are now in the midst of the first massive spread wave. Governments there have also adopted similar containment measures. Nevertheless, implementation and enforcement are more challenging thanks to more widespread poverty and less than subpar

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Digital Government Governance Models

Governments should fully understand the scope and reach of the various Digital Government (DG) institutional functions, described in my previous post, and their proper sequencing before they embark on comprehensive digital transformation processes. The policy units’ actual institutional location leading DG processes should be the result of the analysis of the various functions, not the starting point. Indeed, countries have deployed a wide variety of institutional arrangements while designing and implementing DG. A one size fits all approach is thus out of the question. Similarly, copying and pasting institutional design from DG lead countries or nations within similar development stages will tend to fail. Context is thus essential.

Equally important here is the distinction between policy

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Digital Government Revisited – III

Institutions matter, more so for the development and implementation of Digital Government (DG), whose core target is public institutions’ transformation. On the one hand, public institutions should have an array of capacities to ensure public investments in digital technologies are effectively managed from beginning to end. In many low-income countries, such capabilities are exiguous or conspicuously absent. On the other, digital technologies are a means to foster public entities’ responsiveness and effectiveness, thus increasing their overall capacity to deliver established legal mandates.  Juggling these two seemingly contradictory propositions in sustained fashion is one of the core challenges governments face when designing and deploying DG, especially in the Global South, where state capacity

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Digital Government Revisited – II

Since the early 1980s, Governments have taken a bad rap. Menacing fingerpointing from most quarters ended up on a consensus that loudly declared them personas non-gratas. The 2009 Global Financial Crisis started to turn the tide. At the time, governments once again came to the rescue of capitalism, unveiling gigantic financial packages to prevent critical financial institutions’ failure. Once the recovery started a few years later, Governments took the back seat once more, backed by universal austerity policies that, in hindsight, did more damage than anything else – especially in terms of income and wealth inequality.

The ongoing pandemic has once again demanded the strong intervention of Governments. However, this time around, the crisis is impacting most, if not all, sectors, in addition

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