Have You Ever Seen a Blockchain?

A silent but intense competition seems to be taking place when it comes to defining blockchain technology. A Google search for the question “What is blockchain” yields over 120 million possible results. This number includes thousands of guides, videos, FAQs and other “educational” material on the subject. A shining example is a video depicting a blockchain expert trying to explain the technology to a 5-year-old kid. Really?

One common trait of all these resources is the lack of agreement on a single and straightforward definition of a blockchain. So take your pick. But, as mentioned in a previous post, this is probably not that relevant. After all, many people use mobile phones on an hourly basis and have no idea how they work. They do not need to, nor do they seem to care about it. The

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Democracy and Capitalism: Friends or Foes?

The post-WWII era can be arguably defined as the golden age of democratic capitalism – at least from the perspective of developed or industrialized countries. Rebuilding Europe and pumping capital into Japan triggered a long economic boom that lasted until the 1980s – notwithstanding the infamous 1973 oil crisis. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 opened new markets to capital investment and recruited new members to the democracy club thus providing a much needed second wind to the then declining golden age.  During that same period, democracy, defined narrowly, continuously expanded in developing countries, including those that became independent nations in the 1960/70s. By the end of the last Millennium analysts and observers were openly speaking about the third wave of democratization,

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Blockchains: The Patents Are Coming!

Open source is one of the core traits of blockchain technology propelling its rapid adoption and growth. The source code from the most popular platforms such as Bitcoin, Ethereum, and Hyperledger Fabric is freely available for download by anyone who wants to play with the technology. Granted, users wishing to deploy and use these platforms must have the required technical skills. While average Internet users might not have such capabilities, companies and startups can find internal capacity or hie external expertise to run and manage their preferred blockchain platform.

Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) has been around for almost three decades. Back in the late 1990s, a war of sorts between FOSS and proprietary software commenced, attracting lots of media attention and generating plenty

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Deconstructing the Gender-Equality Paradox in STEM, Part II

In the previous post, I detailed some issues that could help explain in part the gender-equality STEM paradox.

Recap

These can be summarized as follows:

  1.  The Global Gender Gap Index (GGGI) measures gaps not levels. It is thus a relative indicator that takes stock of the gender gap regardless of the level or depth of development.
  2. The four GGGI subindices cannot be larger than 1. Thus, the GGGI does not factor-in cases where women are ahead of men. This is related to the previous point: the aim is to measure gender gaps, not gender levels.
  3. As of 2015, UNESCO STEM data is only available for 59 of the 144 countries included in GGGI. That is, almost 60% of the states are missing in the analysis of the gender-equality STEM paradox. Many low-income and lower-middle income countries

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Deconstructing the Gender-Equality Paradox in STEM

A paper on the subject published a couple of weeks ago in the academic journal Psychological Science attracted plenty of attention thanks to some of its surprising conclusions.1 The paper is behind a paywall. Its main finding is that, contrary to all expectations, there is an inverse relation between gender equality and the number of women that graduate in Science, Technology, Engineering and Science (STEM). That is, higher gender-equality is correlated to lower female graduation rates in STEM. And vice-versa. How can this be?

In this post, I will explore the issue in more detail. First, I take a quick glance at the data used by the researchers. I then explore some of the nuances of the WEF’s Global Gender Gap Index (GGGI) used to measure gender equality. I conclude with some possible

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Endnotes   [ + ]

1. The paper is behind a paywall.

Blockchain Technology and Human Development revisited

I was invited to Canada to discuss my blockchain technology paper. Here are my opening remarks at the panel organized by Government Affairs and IDRC.

Speaking about a seemingly complex subject such as blockchains poses a challenge not only for me but also for you, the audience. More so when the time is scarce. It is probably not the same challenge, however. So perhaps the best way to start this conversation is to take a step back and start with technological innovation. Technological innovation has been around longer than you and me, for sure. But what has changed nowadays is the frequency in which innovation is happening, especially since the dawn of digital computing and electronics.

The Internet is no doubt the best example here. Initially conceived with government support and public

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An Overview of Blockchain Technology and Digital Identity

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

One of the many BCT innovative traits is the use of sophisticated cryptographic tools to generate unique identities for individuals interacting within its distributed network. In general, such identities are pseudo-anonymous, immutable, secure and directly created and managed by the individual. This in principle makes BCT an ideal candidate to propel further innovation in the digital identity sector. The critical question

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Overall Perspectives on Technology

Disruptive, transformative and revolutionary are some of the adjectives commonly used to describe the potential impact of new and emerging technologies on society. Joblessness, human decay, and the Singularity sit on the opposite side constantly reminding us of the darker side of technologies.

Indeed, there are two traditional approaches to the social impact of technology which, despite their very divergent predictions, share a common trait.

The first and most commonly accepted approach is the instrumental approach. Here, technology is a tool: A hammer is a hammer; the Internet is the Internet, ready to be used by people – but lacking any intrinsic social value. In this perspective, technology is neutral meaning 1. Technology can be used in any social environment and can thus be easily

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Cryptocurrencies and Development

While not the only cryptocurrency around, Bitcoin was the first to solve the well-known double-spending problem that characterizes digital currencies. Tackling the issue demanded the creation of blockchain technology (BCT) combined with the use of a brute force algorithm known as proof of work.

Created in 2009, Bitcoin is now one of the largest (and most unstable) currency in the world (Says & Says, 2017). Launched in the fringes of the Internet and initially used only by computer geeks, the cryptocurrency has now become a hot financial asset attracting both traditional and new investors. Word out there is that Bitcoin billionaires do not spend because they fear losing money as Bitcoin rapidly appreciates over time and ad infinitum (Tucker, 2017).

Bitcoin and its crypto-cousins have

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Identifying the Displaced

After remittances and land titles, refugees are perhaps one of the primary targets of blockchain technology (BCT) initiatives promoting development or social impact. Bitnation, Aid:Tech and the UN World Food Programme, among many others, are good examples. Last month, at a BCT meeting in New York, UN Women shared its plans to launch a blockchain lab in early 2017. And women refugees are a top priority in the lab’s agenda.

No doubt refugees have become a critical issue of global scope, especially after the forced displacement of hundreds of thousands of Syrians in the last few years. Syrians escaping civil war had no choice but to leave their homes, belongings, and country seeking more peaceful and secure lands. What is different today is the scale of this forced migration which seems unprecedented

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