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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Blockchains and Food Safety

Trade is one of the main trademarks of the globalization process. Nowadays, most countries in the world exchange products and services on a regular basis and use local comparative advantages to specialize in specific trade sectors and/or commodities. Food and agricultural products are important components of this process. Within countries, rapid urbanization has increased the demand for food. At the same time, the number of people working in the agricultural sector and living in rural areas has decreased substantially. While some food staples are imported, others are still produced locally but must travel from rural areas to urban centers and big cities to meet the demand.

Food products are thus in perpetual motion, moving from their place of birth as soon as possible towards a wide variety

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Measuring Artificial Intelligence Development

In the last decade, Artificial Intelligence (AI), including siblings machine learning and deep learning, has been growing by leaps and bounds. More importantly, the technology has been deployed effectively in a wide range of traditional sectors bringing real transformational change while raising fundamental socio-economic (joblessness, more inequality, etc.)  and ethical (bias, discrimination, etc.)  issues along the way.  As it stands today, AI, understood as a set of still-evolving technologies, seems poised to become a general-purpose technology that could leave no stone untouched.

As with other digital technologies, most developing countries face the daunting challenge of harnessing AI to foster national human development  Prima facie, AI looks mostly like software, code that one can

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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 I

Birth

Running on the coattails of the now infamous dot-com bubble, e-government first saw the light of day before the end of the last Millennium. At that time, where hype overtook the tech scene yet again, adding ‘e’ (as in electronic) to almost any theme became quite fashionable. First in the scene was e-commerce (and e-business) which foreshadowed the 1994 launching of Amazon, among others, followed by its successful IPO three years later. Surely, governments could also master the emerging digital technologies to improve their core functions while fostering increased efficiency, transparency, and accountability. Most governments in industrialized countries quickly jumped into the e-government wagon while emerging economies such as Estonia, Singapore, and South Korea were determined not to

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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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Smart contracts are not that smart

Smart contracts are perhaps one of the most touted features of blockchain technology. While the idea itself dates from the end of last century,  blockchains provided the platform for actual implementation in the Internet era. Undoubtedly, Ethereum was the real disruptive innovator by enhancing the original but limited Bitcoin architecture with a plethora of programmable new features, smart contracts being one of them.1 In fact, Ethereum is defined as a Turing-complete platform.. This same development also opened the door for clearly distinguishing between blockchains and cryptocurrencies, the latter being just one application of the former, a general purpose technology of sorts.

Analysis of smart contracts can be undertaken from at least three different angles. These are 1. Finance; 2.

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Endnotes

1 In fact, Ethereum is defined as a Turing-complete platform.

ICOs: Endangered Species

As expected, ICOs are finally cooling down. There are several reasons for this. First, ICO oversight by regulators in many countries has substantially increased. Regulators are poking not so much into new ICOs. Instead, they are doing deep dives into those that have already been completed and going after those who look fraudulent. Second, the token market is in a massive downswing. Some tokens have lost at least 90 percent of their value thus leading to substantial loses for ICO investors. As a result, crypto tokens have become much less attractive.

Third, many of the successfully completed ICOs are having a hard time showing or delivering on the ground results in spite of massive infusions of capital. While lack of maturity and technology constraints might play a role here, it may also

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