Algorithmic Inequality

Disruptive. One of the attributes that most use to describe in minimalistic terms the potential impact of new and emerging information and communication technologies (ICTs) in society. While its actual meaning can vary from one person to another, disruption is usually linked to dramatic short-term change where old and obsolete technologies, processes and institutions -not to mention people – will be either replaced or purge altogether, all for the best.

Disruption is thus implicitly connected to the concept of progress, especially to its linear version. Here, progress is seen almost like time is in physics: it always goes forward, and it is impossible to go back and say edit the past. Recent research has challenged the linear conception of progress((See for example Amy Allen’s book, The

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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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Chasing ICOs (away?)

Recent events seem to suggest the cryptocurrency bubble is finally starting to deflate. Bitcoin, Ethereum and most of their crypto cousins are significantly down while regulators in several countries are finally beginning to take action on the ground. Nobel laureate economists are also speaking up against the digital currency, arguing that the new currency is not capable of fulfilling the three core functions that define money.

Does this mean that ICOs are on the way out?

If we look at the latest ICO data,((Data was obtained from tokendata.io. Sample size includes 1032 ICOs completed by the end of 31 January 2018. 485 or 47% percent did not report any funding. The total number of successful ICOs is thus 547. The DAO ICO is not included as it is considered a failure. Hdac, quoted by some

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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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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.

25 Years of the Sustainable Development Networking Programme, SDNP

The Sustainable Development Networking Programme (SDNP) was a UNDP global program that ran between 1992 and 2004.  SDNP’s core goal was to enhance access to sustainable development information on a multi-stakeholder basis using new Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). Its scope of work was driven by Agenda 21, the sustainable development agenda endorsed by UN member countries at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.

Agenda 21 was composed of forty chapters, organized under four separate headings. The very last chapter of the agenda called for increased access to information for decision-making as one of the means of implementation of the agenda. Adding to its approach the targets of chapters 27 (strengthening non-government organizations) and 37 (capacity building in developing

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