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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The Butterfly Effect

The weather forecast indicated that heavy rain will commence overnight, lasting close to 36 hours and, in the process, dumping from 1 to 3 inches (2.5 to 7.5 centimeters) on the ground. Yes, a lot of rain was expected. But I had to find a break in the rain to be able to go out and complete my planned running session.

The night before the local weather person told the audience a two-hour rain break in the early morning was in the works. With this in mind, the first thing I did when I woke up the next morning was to check the cool radar option on the mobile app that shows the future path of the incoming rain. Indeed, the radar showed that between 7:45am and 9:15, more or less, the storm will be missing in action in my location.

I started my session at around 7:55am. It was drizzling. Fifteen

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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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From MDGs to SDGs

An unexpected abundance of acronyms seems to be on of the traits of the UN. Having worked at the organization for (too) many years helped corroborate this fact. Certainly, the UN is not the only entity with such a trait, not by a long shot. However, the UN has formal global scope and thus acronyms rapidly spread around the world, some getting quick translations into local languages thus adding more to the growing list. The MDGs and their recent transition to SDGs are perhaps a good example.

Two years ago, UN country members agreed to replace the M in MDGs with an S (s as in sustainable). This was complemented by a two-fold “inflationary” process. First, and unlike the MDGs, the SGDs became universal, applicable to all countries, from the super-rich to the poorest. By 2030, most if not all

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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.

Blockchain ICOs Revisited

A couple of weeks ago, Coindesk launched an ICO tracker which seems quite comprehensive and includes data starting in 2014. It has information on 164 ICOs1 I downloaded the data on 18 August but was unable to replicate some of the charts Coindesk has on its web site. The data I downloaded ends on 27 July of this year whereas the  Coindesk site includes data until 31 July. and the data is expected to be updated every week or so.

In a recent post,  I shared some insights on the nature of ICOs. In a nutshell, ICOs should not be equated with crowdfunding nor are they comparable to the more traditional IPOs. What has really changed since my initial posting is the fact that SEC is now planning to get involved in the process and will soon start to regulate how ICOs are run and managed. In the

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Endnotes   [ + ]

1. I downloaded the data on 18 August but was unable to replicate some of the charts Coindesk has on its web site. The data I downloaded ends on 27 July of this year whereas the  Coindesk site includes data until 31 July.