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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Identifying the Unidentified

Identity access and management (IAM) is perhaps one of the areas where Blockchain Technology (BCT) could make a real difference. Research I am currently undertaken indicates that over one hundred BCT startups around the globe are focusing on this area. Add to this number the many other startups and organizations who have been engaged with digital identity for many years now but do not use BCT.1 See this report by OneWorld Identity for details and examples.

Also, factor in target 16.9 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that explicitly calls for universal legal identity provision, including birth registration for all children around the globe.2 Links to other SDG targets are listed here. The ID2020 global public-private partnership is now spearheading these efforts.

IAM

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Endnotes   [ + ]

1. See this report by OneWorld Identity for details and examples.
2. Links to other SDG targets are listed here.

Social Innovation Redux

Context

I was invited to the Social Innovation – Driving Force for Social Change (SI-DRIVE) final conference which took place earlier this week in Brussels. SI-DRIVE is a four-year project funded by the EU and launched in 2014. The project has undertaken comprehensive research on the topic. It has also managed to create a network of European social innovators as well as selected representatives from developing countries.

After a few years of closely following the topic, I must admit social innovation fell off my radar screen around 2015. Partly to blame are new technologies such as blockchains and the rebirth of older ones such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) – now propelled by machine learning. Both could be used to foster social innovation. But this is still in the works.

Social innovation

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Blockchain Technology and Human Development

The blockchain tsunami has reached the shores of all seven continents in the world.  It would be fair to say most Capitals have been flooded, slowly coming to terms with the potential impact of the new technology. Cryptography, hashing, Merkle trees, peer-to-peer networks, distributed trust and governance, proof of work and stake algorithms, and smart contracts are a few of the buzzwords that many if not most are still trying to fully grasp. They come with the territory.

I started to follow Bitcoin from a distance in 2011. At the time, the cryptocurrency was closely associated with the Dark Web and dubious financial transactions. Two years later, blockchain technology (BCT) started to gain ground as perhaps the most relevant and innovative technology supporting cryptocurrencies. The creation

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Internet Access and Human Development

A recent news article nicely summarized efforts by Silicon Valley tech giants to close the so-called digital divide in developing countries. Not that this kind of initiatives is new – not at all. In fact, a plethora of projects and programs with a similar goal have been launched since the mid-1990s, with mixed results at best. Twenty plus years later, close to 60% of the world’s population is still not connected to the Internet.  And Internet access growth rates for most countries are now converging around 7% per annum, down from double digits in previous years.1 While mobiles have spread faster in the Global South, the latest GSMA report suggests that growth rates in the sector are also slowing down due to the socioeconomic barriers this group of countries face.

One common trait these

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Endnotes   [ + ]

1. While mobiles have spread faster in the Global South, the latest GSMA report suggests that growth rates in the sector are also slowing down due to the socioeconomic barriers this group of countries face.

Democracy Index and Human Development

The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) has recently published the latest iteration of its democracy index. The biggest headline about the new EIU report was the demotion of the US from “full” to “flawed democracy”, complemented by the medium-term decline of democracy in Eastern and Western Europe, and in North America. The latter is based on trends that first emerged a decade or so, according to EIU. Even so, Norway continues to take top prize while North Korea seems to be persistently stuck at the very bottom of the rankings.

Figure 1 presents the overall distribution of the 167 countries that the report covers. Flawed democracies are the most common type of regime, followed by authoritarian countries. In fact, full democracies only account for 11% of the total, while hybrid and authoritarian

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More on Measuring Human Development

In a previous blog we examined the relation between GDP and the Human Development Index (HDI) which has been published annually for the last 25 years by the UN Development Programme (UNDP). In this post, I want to dive a bit deeper into the latter and explore some of its potential policy implications.

HDI components and calculation

The HDI has three main components or subindexes: Income, health and education (or knowledge). Statistical indicators used to estimate the first two components are: Gross national Income per capita (GNI) and life expectancy. The education subindex comprises two indicators: literacy and quality of education. One can thus think of the HDI as a 3D index where each of the subindexes constitutes one of its three orthogonal axis. And the HDI is the point in that 3D space

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