Contentious Politics in the AI Age

Initially touted as revolutionary and progressive in the 1990s, the lightening evolution of digital technologies, running on the coattails of continuous innovation, has been accompanied by the rise of both extreme socio-economic inequalities and loud and widespread populism, nationalism and overt racism. Many countries are undergoing de-democratization processes undergirded by very resilient neoliberalism, while claim-making by conservative political actors has gained considerable ground in the always contentious political arena.

The unexpected and devastating pandemic triggered by the accelerated spread of the SARS-COV-2 virus has put into evidence the real constraints of a now aging and highly monopolistic digital sector. While information and communication tools and platforms are indeed

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Innovation in the Public Sector

I. Introduction

For the last 30 years, relentless technological innovation has seemingly conquered most, if not all, corners of the world. While in its early stages, the focus was on infrastructure and social networks, the latest phase has set its eyes on core productive and financial processes that will undoubtedly have profound socio-economic and environmental impact across the board. Rapidly adapting to the emerging global context is the clarion call for most countries if they want to remain relevant and competitive at the global level.

Many developing countries find themselves in a unique situation. For starters, most innovations and technologies hold a foreign passport and thus need to first travel and then be adopted and adapted to the national context. Having local capacities  –

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Carbon Removal Policies for the U.S?

Founded almost 40 years ago with the financial support of the MacArthur Foundation, the World Resources Institute (WRI) is one of the U.S most prominent research organizations working on environmental issues since its inception. The entity centers its efforts on scientific research and development while explicitly ignoring “ideology” or fostering activism. WRI has a wide range of scientific publications that have made outstanding contributions to the field over the years.

Last month, WRI published a paper, the 4th of an ongoing series, identifying the policies and technologies the U.S. will need to adopt to undertake carbon removal at scale. The publication offers four broad options, each discussed in detail, backed by relevant research and data, and linked to clear investment strategies

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Technology and Earth Hacking

Hacking the Sky

Low, angry gray clouds, seemingly non-stop light rain and damp breathing air were hometown weather traits that most bothered me when I was growing up. Like most other children, I had a fascination with airplanes and could spend hours watching them. Going to the airport was one of the coolest things – nowadays not anymore. Planes, however, almost always managed to beat antagonistic weather. The opposite was my case. Bad weather automatically meant no outdoor play, parents reinforcing such terrible predicament. How could we change this, I started wondering.

My solution was simple. Equip a few small planes with some magical powder and get them to spray the menacing and sempiternal clouds. Viola! I could not understand why adults had not come up with such a brilliant idea.

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A Glance at Carbon Dioxide Emissions Data

Lack of data is certainly not one of the issues at the table when discussing energy production and carbon emissions. Well-known sources for the former include the UN Statistics Division, the International Energy Agency (IEA), the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), and British Petroleum (BP).  The latter publishes an annual report while IEA data is behind a paywall. EIA offers open data access to a vast number of resources, including international carbon emissions. The main source for the latter is the Global Cabon Project created in 2001 and operating as an international partnership. The World Bank has carbon emissions data starting in 1960, but updates seemed to have stopped in 2014. The Global Carbon Atlas, initially funded by the BNP Paribas Foundation, is a good secondary source

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Blockchains and Digital ID, II

The Evolution of Digital identity

The emergence of digital technologies provided the ground to shift from traditional systems based on physical identity. In the past, both foundational and functional identity mechanisms were centralized with individuals getting a physical document containing relevant personal attributes required by the issuing entity. Document management was totally in the hands of the end-user who used them as proof of identity to make claims in person.

The Internet and the digitalization of biometrics and other personal attributes propelled new ways of issuing and managing personal identity. This process started around the end of the last century and allowed Internet companies to start issuing online identities to its users. It also promoted efforts to release functional

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Blockchains and Digital ID, I

Overview

Like previous technologies, such as the Internet, for example, blockchains have been driven by a high degree of techno-optimism not yet backed up by on the ground impact or reliable evidence. Undoubtedly, the technology, which is still rapidly evolving, has enormous potential in many sectors and could promote human development if harnessed strategically.

One of the many blockchain innovative traits is the use of sophisticated cryptographic tools to generate unique identities for individuals interacting within the distributed network. In principle, such identities can be pseudo-anonymous, immutable, secure and directly created and managed by their owners – thus not need for centralized or federated intermediaries This, in principle, make blockchains an ideal candidate to propel

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E-government Development II

In this sequel post, I will look at the various components of the UNDESA e-government index and then introduce the EIU democracy index to explore potential interlinks between the two,

 Components

The e-government development index (EGDI) comprises three distinct components 1. Online services. 2. Telecom infrastructure. And 3. Human capital.  While the last two are obtained from external data sources (ITU, UNESCO, UNICEF), the first one is directly developed by the UN.  A combination of website checking and a questionnaire sent to UN member states is used to generate the required data – albeit the data is not publicly available. The e-participation index comes from the same source.

The telecom index relies on user access to the Internet, mobiles, analog phones, and broadband. The human

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Biased Artificial Intelligence

A recent piece in MIT’s Technology Review nicely summarizes the issue of bias in AI/ML (AI) algorithms used in production to make decisions or predictions. The usual suspects make a cameo appearance including data, design and implicit fairness assumptions. But the article falls a bit short as it does not distinguish between bias in general and that which is unique to AI.

Indeed, I was surprised to see the issue of problem framing as the first potential source of AI bias. While this might occur in some cases, this is not an issue that only pertains AI projects and enterprises. For example, large multinational drug companies indeed face a similar challenge. Nowadays, almost none of them are investing in developing new antibiotics to stop the spread of the so-called superbugs nor have any interest

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The Global Centralization of (Dis)Intermediation

Merchants are perhaps the most famous image of an intermediary, the not-so-loved “middleman” that buys cheap, sells dear, and becomes rich doing little work. Even in the supposedly dark Middle Ages, merchants were able to openly operate creating in the process Merchant Guilds that promoted regional trade while protecting members from potential abuses by powerful landlords and countervailing the staunch opposition of the Catholic Church. Merchants and traders are also part of the Greek and Roman empires.

Nevertheless, not every single intermediary is necessarily a merchant. In economics, an intermediary is defined as an agent or enterprise that sits between a product (or service) and the consumer. A supply chain for a given product might indeed have multiple intermediaries that handle the

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