No time to spare for the Paris climate promise

Having squandered past opportunities and shirked previous commitments, we now must start making up for lost time.
By Mary Robinson – Covid-19 turned the world upside down in 2020. But it has also shown us that when there is a political consensus for action, human ingenuity and innovation can be deployed at the scale and speed needed to meet global challenges.

With unprecedented speed, we have developed, tested and begun to deploy multiple effective vaccines for Covid-19. Now we must bring the same resolve to bear on fighting the other great existential threat to humanity: climate change. As the United Nations secretary-general, António Guterresput it last month, ‘our future security and prosperity depend on bold climate action’.

And yet, even at the most recent Climate Ambition Summit on December 12th, many leaders’ commitments still fell far short of what is needed to meet this collective challenge. To be sure, the European Union, the United Kingdom and even some of the smaller countries that are most vulnerable to climate change have significantly strengthened their 2030 emissions-reduction targets. But the United States, Japan, China and other major greenhouse-gas emitters still need to follow suit, preferably well ahead of the UN Climate Conference (COP26) in Glasgow this coming November. Given the crisis we face, there are no more excuses for delay or prevarication. more>

Updates from ITU

How the city of Philadelphia plans to measure its digital divide
By Sarah Wray – The City of Philadelphia has issued a request for proposal (RFP) to rapidly quantify the number of households that are without Internet connectivity or relying on unstable, low-bandwidth options.

The RFP, issued with non-profit the Mayor’s Fund for Philadelphia, seeks to enable the city to benchmark its progress on closing the digital divide and inform the next phase of policy, program and budget decisions.

Mark Wheeler, Chief Information Officer, City of Philadelphia, told Cities Today: “To address digital equity problems, the City of Philadelphia needs to be able to benchmark its impact with programmes like PHLConnectED.”

“The city seeks feedback from firms or research agencies who have the means to measure Internet use (by type of technology) by Philadelphia households. We are looking for any and all ways to achieve quantifiable measures,” said Wheeler. “Because we are smart city and innovation-oriented, proposals that make sophisticated use of commercial data modelling and artificial intelligence are of particular interest.”

Closing the digital divide has shot to the top of cities’ priority lists amid the pandemic as everything from work to shopping for essentials and even access to critical information and services has shifted online. Access to education has been a particularly urgent concern. more>

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Updates from Ciena

Accelerate mission response with a simpler, Adaptive Network
Jim Westdorp, Ciena Government Chief Technologist, outlines how a holistic, end-to-end networking approach can help agencies meet growing digital and cybersecurity demands.
By Jim Wesdorp – The rapid transition to remote work and constituent demands for improved user experiences are challenging government agencies to digitize services—from tax payments to employee benefits. At the same time, government databases are increasingly becoming major targets for individual and nation-backed attackers. Budgetary constraints and diminishing tech expertise only complicate matters as agencies struggle to balance cost- and performance-optimization alongside cyber resiliency.

So how can government agencies accelerate digital transformation, defend against hackers, and support legacy applications and complex infrastructures?

The answer: a network infrastructure that is simpler to manage. Modern IT and communications can enable automation, improve performance, and help assure cyber resiliency at a time when government agencies are under unprecedented pressure to deliver services quickly and securely.

It takes more than technology, though, to simplify a network. A foundational step in any modernization effort is to conduct an inventory of a network’s physical assets, from routers to servers, and determine both the network elements and attached management software used to construct it. more>

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Why Immigration Drives Innovation

Economic history reveals one unmistakable psychological pattern.
By Joseph Henrich – When President Coolidge signed the Johnson-Reed Act into law in 1924, he drained the well-spring of American ingenuity. The new policy sought to restore the ethnic homogeneity of 1890 America by tightening the 1921 immigration quotas. As a result, immigration from eastern Europe and Italy plummeted, and Asian immigrants were banned. Assessing the law’s impact, the economists Petra Moser and Shmuel San show how this steep and selective cut in immigration stymied U.S. innovation across a swath of scientific fields, including radio waves, radiation and polymers—all fields in which Eastern European immigrants had made contributions prior to 1924. Not only did patenting drop by two-thirds across 36 scientific domains, but U.S-born researchers became less creative as well, experiencing a 62% decline in their own patenting. American scientists lost the insights, ideas and fresh perspectives that inevitably flow in with immigrants.

Before this, from 1850 to 1920, American innovation and economic growth had been fueled by immigration. The 1899 inflow included a large fraction of groups that were later deemed “undesirable”: e.g., 26% Italians, 12% “Hebrews,” and 9% “Poles.” Taking advantage of the randomness provided by expanding railroad networks and changing circumstances in Europe, a trio of economists—Sandra Sequeira, Nathan Nunn and Nancy Qian–demonstrate that counties that ended up with more immigrants subsequently innovated more rapidly and earned higher incomes, both in the short-term and today. The telephone, hot blast furnace, screw propeller, flashlight and ironclad ship were all pioneered by immigrants. The analysis also suggests that immigrants made native-born Americans more creative. Nikola Tesla, a Serbian who grew up in the Austrian Empire, provided George Westinghouse, a New Yorker whose parents had migrated from Westphalia, with a key missing component for his system of electrification based on AC current (Tesla also patented 100s of other inventions).

In ending the quotas imposed under the Harding-Coolidge administration, President Johnson remarked in 1964 that “Today, with my signature, this system is abolished…Men of needed skill and talent were denied entrance because they came from southern or eastern Europe or from one of the developing continents…” By the mid-1970s, U.S innovation was again powerfully fueled by immigrants, now coming from places like Mexico, China, India, Philippines and Vietnam. From 1975 to 2010, an additional 10,000 immigrants generated 22% more patents every five years. Again, not only did immigrants innovate, they also stoked the creative energies of the locals. more>

Was it a coup? No, but siege on US Capitol was the election violence of a fragile democracy

By Clayton Besaw and Matthew Frank – Did the United States just have a coup attempt?

Supporters of President Donald Trump, following his encouragement, stormed the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6, disrupting the certification of Joe Biden’s election victory. Waving Trump banners, hundreds of people broke through barricades and smashed windows to enter the building where Congress convenes. One rioter died and several police officers were hospitalized in the clash. Congress went on lockdown.

While violent and shocking, what happened on Jan. 6 wasn’t a coup.

This Trumpist insurrection was election violence, much like the election violence that plagues many fragile democracies.

The uprising at the Capitol building does not meet all three criteria of a coup.

Trump’s rioting supporters targeted a branch of executive authority – Congress – and they did so illegally, through trespassing and property destruction. Categories #2 and #3, check.

As for category #1, the rioters appeared to be civilians operating of their own volition, not state actors. President Trump did incite his followers to march on the Capitol building less than an hour before the crowd invaded the grounds, insisting the election had been stolen and saying “We will not take it anymore.” This comes after months of spreading unfounded electoral lies and conspiracies that created a perception of government malfeasance in the mind of many Trump supporters.

Whether the president’s motivation in inflaming the anger of his supporters was to assault Congress is not clear, and he tepidly told them to go home as the violence escalated. For now it seems the riot in Washington, D.C., was enacted without the approval, aid or active leadership of government actors like the military, police or sympathetic GOP officials. more>

Updates from ITU

Towards environmental efficiency in the age of AI
ITU – The rapid adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) and emerging technologies has sparked the need for a sustainable approach able to safeguard the environment. A recent ITU workshop provided a platform to discuss environmental efficiency in the age of AI, increasing automation, and smart manufacturing.

The workshop discussed emerging technologies’ potential to contribute to climate action as part of global efforts to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals. It also highlighted practical tools to evaluate environmental aspects of emerging technologies and discussed the role to be played by international standardization in supporting the expansion of this toolkit.

The workshop’s discussions fed into a meeting of the ITU Focus Group on environmental efficiency for AI and emerging technologies (FG-AI4EE). The group is analyzing the relationship between emerging technologies and environmental efficiency to benchmark best practices and provide a basis for new ITU standards. “This focus group is among the first global platforms for the environmental aspects of emerging technologies,” noted Paolo Gemma, Huawei, Co-Chair of the Focus Group.

The Focus Group is open to all interested parties. Sign-up as a participant and join the mailing list on the homepage. For more information, contact tsbfgai4ee@itu.int. more>

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Updates from McKinsey

Derisking digital and analytics transformations
While the benefits of digitization and advanced analytics are well documented, the risk challenges often remain hidden.
By Jim Boehm and Joy Smith – bank was in the midst of a digital transformation, and the early stages were going well. It had successfully transformed its development teams into agile squads, and leaders were thrilled with the resulting speed and productivity gains. But within weeks, leadership discovered that the software developers had been taking a process shortcut that left customer usernames and passwords vulnerable to being hacked. The transformation team fixed the issue, but then the bank experienced another kind of hack, which compromised the security of customer data. Some applications had been operating for weeks before errors were detected because no monitors were in place to identify security issues before deployment. This meant the bank did not know who might have had access to the sensitive customer data or how far and wide the data might have leaked. The problem was severe enough that it put the entire transformation at risk. The CEO threatened to end the initiative and return the teams to waterfall development if they couldn’t improve application development security.

This bank’s experience is not rare. Companies in all industries are launching digital and analytics transformations to digitize services and processes, increase efficiency via agile and automation, improve customer engagement, and capitalize on new analytical tools. Yet most of these transformations are undertaken without any formal way to capture and manage the associated risks. Many projects have minimal controls designed into the new processes, underdeveloped change plans (or none at all), and often scant design input from security, privacy, and risk and legal teams. As a result, companies are creating hidden nonfinancial risks in cybersecurity, technical debt, advanced analytics, and operational resilience, among other areas. The COVID-19 pandemic and the measures employed to control it have only exacerbated the problem, forcing organizations to innovate on the fly to meet work-from-home and other digital requirements.

McKinsey recently surveyed 100 digital and analytics transformation leaders from companies across industries and around the globe to better understand the scope of the issue. 1 While the benefits of digitization and advanced analytics are well documented, the risk challenges often remain hidden. From our survey and subsequent interviews, several key findings emerged:

  1. Digital and analytics transformations are widely undertaken now by organizations in all sectors.
  2. Risk management has not kept pace with the proliferation of digital and analytics transformations—a gap is opening that can only be closed by risk innovation at scale.

more>

Updates from Chicago Booth

How central bankers misjudge forward guidance
By Rose Jacobs – One of the best ways to spur an economy is to get people spending, and policy makers have a number of tools to do that. Yet growing evidence suggests a favored approach of late—forward guidance by central banks—doesn’t work. Such guidance, usually focusing on the outlook for interest rates, is meant to make clear to consumers that prices are likely to rise soon, so buying big items now would be smart.

While people may agree with the buy-now logic, they still may not react as economists and policy makers expect, according to Boston College’s Francesco D’Acunto, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology’s Daniel Hoang, and Chicago Booth’s Michael Weber. That’s because they don’t understand the signal, the researchers find.

“If you’re an economist too much stuck in your model world, this is very surprising to you,” Weber says. On the other hand, he acknowledges that not everyone can follow the logic chain that leads from a central banker predicting depressed interest rates, to lower borrowing costs, to higher inflation, to the urgency of buying now. “If you’re not too detached from reality, it’s not surprising,” Weber says.

The researchers analyzed two events in which governments or central banks signaled that prices were set to rise. One was a 2005 announcement by the German government that the country’s value-added tax (similar to the US sales tax) would increase from 16 percent to 19 percent in 2007. The second was a 2013 statement by then European Central Bank president Mario Draghi that interest rates would stay low or decline further for some time. To economists, this statement was a clear signal that price inflation would soon follow. more>

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Updates from ITU

Banking for all: Can AI improve financial inclusion?
ITU – In a world where an estimated 1.7 billion people do not have a bank account, can artificial intelligence help make financial inclusion a reality for everyone?

This was the topic under discussion at a webinar during the year-round AI for Good Global Summit 2020.

Inclusive financial access directly helps enable seven of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. It requires people and businesses in underserved areas to have affordable and easy access to secure financial services and products.

This means being able to build credit, receive funds, deposit money, buy insurance, invest in education and health and withstand economic shocks.

With the rise of mobile phone use and information and communication technologies (ICTs) penetration in developing countries, financial service providers are now turning to artificial intelligence to make financial inclusion happen.

‘Superpowers’ for digital services

Typically, to lend money, providers use documents to verify the identity of a person, evaluate their credit score and offer a collateral loan. But AI tries to fix this for people who cannot meet these requirements, said panelist Rory Macmillan, Founding Partner at Macmillan Keck, Attorneys & Solicitors. more>

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The rule of law: a simple phrase with exacting demands

If the finger is to be pointed—rightly—at Hungary and Poland, then the EU must insist on compliance by all with universal norms.
By Albena Azmanova and Kalypso Nicolaidis – That the European Union, in its moment of public healthcare emergency and acute economic plight, should find itself paralysed over such a seemingly abstract matter as the rule of law is one of the great paradoxes of our times. And yet this is exactly the conundrum plaguing approval of the EU’s seven-year budget and recovery fund, totaling €1.81 trillion, which Poland and Hungary have been blocking over rule-of-law conditionality for the funds’ disbursement.

Respect for the rule of law is one of those self-evident truths—the absolute minimum requirement of decent political rule—which should be unproblematic in the family of liberal democracies that is the EU. It is equally beyond doubt that the prompt approval of the pandemic recovery fund is in everyone’s interest.

Many commentators assert that the EU should stand up to the defiant governments, in the name of its fundamental values. We do too. But our hope is that we, in Europe, can use this moment as an opportunity to question ourselves further.

Most of us may believe that the arguments put forward to resist rule-of-law conditionality are disingenuous. And they are. But we must still take them seriously when they are presented in line with … the rule of law.

Hungary and Poland are claiming that, by being poorly defined, the rule-of-law principle opens the door to discretionary decisions and thus to the abuse of power.

The rule of law as a political principle and legal norm was indeed born of the ambition to constrain the arbitrary power of central authority. This was why the English barons forced King John to adopt the royal charter of rights, the Magna Carta, on June 15th 1215. The specification of basic freedoms, codified not as privileges for a handful of aristocrats but as abstract and unconditional rights, was meant to ensure that no authority could place itself above these rights in pursuit of its political ends

It is true that the EU should make no compromises with the very foundation of the liberal political order. But the EU itself has complied with these principles erratically and selectively, thus violating the spirit of the rule of law.

This has been evident in several instances—from lack of concern with the Silvio Berlusconi media monopoly in Italy to France’s semi-permanent state of emergency, Malta’s and Slovakia’s complacency with political murder and the Spanish government’s response to the 2017 independence referendum in Catalonia. Often, the EU is content with narrowly reducing the remit of the rule of law to a simple matter of legality—ignoring routine violations of core values, such as the right to peaceful assembly, freedom of speech or even the right to liberty and life itself.

Has the EU not thereby set itself up for the current crisis, supplying the ammunition for autocrats to try to absolve themselves from compliance with the rule of law? more>