Greater “AI for Good”

The proliferation of top, best, fails and prediction posts on almost any topic is now a staple of the annual transition from one year to the next. As the new year starts to see the light of day, we seem to be compelled to take stock of the previous 365.25 days and poke more in-depth into the short past. Regular note-taking, logging and recording are, among others, part of the task. The end of a decade calls for more elaborate efforts given the period. A few attempts are even more ambitious and, for example, recommend the 100 books one must read before dying. A bit over the top, perhaps. One could spend a whole year just trying to catch up with all these posts in any event. A better strategy is to focus on areas of interest or specialization. Books, films, social sciences and technology capture

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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 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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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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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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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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Uncertainty and Artificial Intelligence

In a world where perfect information supposedly rules across the board, uncertainty certainly poses a challenge to mainstream economists. While some of the tenets of such assumption have been already addressed – via the theory of information asymmetries and the development of the rational expectations school, for example, uncertainty still poses critical questions.

For starters, uncertainty should not be confused with risk. The latter in a nutshell can be quantified using probability theory. Based on existing data and previous behavior, we could say predict there is a 75 percent chance investments in the stock market can yield a 25 percent reward in say 5 years. This is not the case for uncertainty as here the outcome is entirely unknown. In other words, we have no idea what is going to

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Bitcoin Inequality

In the short and medium-term, technology and inequality seemed to be positively correlated. In the long term, however, things are not as clear-cut. With the right policies and democratic institutions in place, technology could become a catalyst to reduce income and wealth inequality. Historical evidence from the last century clearly supports this claim. Will digital technologies of the 21st Century follow the same path?

The long-term is still quite a few years away for digital technologies such as AI and blockchains. In this post, I will look at the world of Bitcoin and explore its links to income and wealth inequality. I will assume the Bitcoin network is a country on its own with defined financial ties to the rest of the world, mostly via crypto exchanges and miners.

Last May, the Bitcoin

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Blockchain Mining Revisited

Blockchain mining cannot catch a break when it comes to environmental sustainability. This is especially true for Bitcoin mining that seemingly has an insatiable appetite for electricity. A recent paper suggests that by 2020 Bitcoin mining will consume as much energy as Australia. While these estimates are not exempt from criticism, mining does not appear to be best friends with sustainable development, at least not for now.  An alternative way to look at this issue is to compare Bitcoin’s mining power use to cloud-based providers who have now become well-established tech corporations. Such comparison should be made not only in absolute terms (gigawatts) but also in relative fashion by considering, for example, the total population being served by these platforms and networks.

In a previous

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