Monthly Archives: November 2019

Europe Wants ‘Strategic Autonomy,’ but That’s Much Easier Said Than Done

By Stewart M. Patrick – Strategic autonomy has obvious appeal to Europeans at a time of fraying trans-Atlantic bonds and deepening great-power competition. Aspiring to self-reliance is one thing, however. Achieving it will require much more from the European Union. The heterogeneous bloc will have to develop a coherent strategic culture and come to some agreement on a shared assessment of threats—and on how the EU should pursue its interests and promote its values internationally.

Europeans must also reassure the United States that any new EU military capabilities will complement rather than undermine NATO.

Europe’s strategic reappraisal is largely, though not entirely, a function of President Donald Trump. While his predecessors in Washington often pressed the Europeans to ramp up defense spending, Trump has upended the trans-Atlantic alliance in several ways. He has depicted it as obsolete, questioned America’s commitments to NATO’s mutual defense as outlined in Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, and taken precipitous actions without consulting allies in Europe—such as his recent unilateral withdrawal of U.S. troops from northeastern Syria. Confronting such uncertainty, Europeans naturally want to hedge their bets. One way to do so is by developing autonomous military capabilities that permit them to act outside NATO, including with a post-Brexit United Kingdom.

Washington’s own identification of China as America’s primary economic, technological and strategic adversary reinforces these instincts. Few Europeans share such a zero-sum assessment, seeking instead to pursue what Beijing terms “win-win” relations. While Americans seem bent on a new Cold War with China, Europeans must confront a more immediate military and political threat: an aggressive Russia under Vladimir Putin, right on their doorstep.

Beyond defense matters, Trump’s disruption of U.S. foreign policy has persuaded a growing number of Europeans that they need to pursue strategic autonomy across the board. America’s abdication of global leadership has thrust the EU into an unaccustomed role—that of chief defender of the rules-based, liberal international order. As Trump has embraced unilateralism and protectionism, cozied up to dictators and ignored climate change, the EU has become the primary champion of collective security, multilateralism, human rights and the preservation of the global commons. more>

Nature’s Solution to Climate Change

A strategy to protect whales can limit greenhouse gases and global warming
By Ralph Chami, Thomas Cosimano, Connel Fullenkamp, and Sena Oztosun – When it comes to saving the planet, one whale is worth thousands of trees.

Scientific research now indicates more clearly than ever that our carbon footprint—the release of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere where it contributes to global warming through the so-called greenhouse effect—now threatens our ecosystems and our way of life. But efforts to mitigate climate change face two significant challenges. The first is to find effective ways to reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere or its impact on average global temperature. The second is to raise sufficient funds to put these technologies into practice.

Many proposed solutions to global warming, such as capturing carbon directly from the air and burying it deep in the earth, are complex, untested, and expensive. What if there were a low-tech solution to this problem that not only is effective and economical, but also has a successful funding model?

An example of such an opportunity comes from a surprisingly simple and essentially “no-tech” strategy to capture more carbon from the atmosphere: increase global whale populations. Marine biologists have recently discovered that whales—especially the great whales—play a significant role in capturing carbon from the atmosphere (Roman and others 2014).

The carbon capture potential of whales is truly startling. Whales accumulate carbon in their bodies during their long lives. When they die, they sink to the bottom of the ocean; each great whale sequesters 33 tons of CO2 on average, taking that carbon out of the atmosphere for centuries. A tree, meanwhile, absorbs only up to 48 pounds of CO2 a year.

Protecting whales could add significantly to carbon capture because the current population of the largest great whales is only a small fraction of what it once was. Sadly, after decades of industrialized whaling, biologists estimate that overall whale populations are now to less than one fourth what they once were. Some species, like the blue whales, have been reduced to only 3 percent of their previous abundance. Thus, the benefits from whales’ ecosystem services to us and to our survival are much less than they could be.

But this is only the beginning of the story. more>

Updates from McKinsey

A transformation in store
Brick-and-mortar retail stores need to up their game. Technology could give them significant boost.
By Praveen Adhi, Tiffany Burns, Andrew Davis, Shruti Lal, and Bill Mutell – Now should be a great time in US retail. Consumer confidence has finally returned to pre-recession levels. Americans have seen their per capita, constant-dollar disposable income rise more than 20 percent between the beginning of 2014 and early 2019.

Yet despite the buoyant economic environment, many brick-and-mortar stores are struggling. In the last three years, more than 45 US retail chains have gone bankrupt.

Yet rumors of the physical store’s death are exaggerated. Even by 2023, e-commerce is forecast to account for only 21 percent of total retail sales and just 5 percent of grocery sales. And with Amazon and other major internet players developing their own brick-and-mortar networks, it is becoming increasingly clear that the future of retail belongs to companies that can offer a true omnichannel experience.

Retailers are already wrestling with omnichannel’s demands on their supply chains and back-office operations. Now they need to think about how they use emerging technologies and rich, granular data on customers to transform the in-store experience. The rewards for those that get this right will be significant: 83 percent of customers say they want their shopping experience to be personalized in some way, and our research suggests that effective personalization can increase store revenues by 20 to 30 percent.

Several new technologies have reached a tipping point and are set to spill over onto the retail floor. Machine learning and big-data analytics techniques are ready to crunch the vast quantities of customer data that retailers already accumulate. Robots and automation systems are moving out of factories and into warehouses and distribution centers. The Internet of Things allows products to be tracked across continents, or on shelves with millimeter precision. Now is a great time for retailers to embrace that challenge of bringing technology and data together in the offline world. more>

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Updates from Chicago Booth

How racial bias infected a major health-care algorithm
By Jeff Cockrell – As data science has developed in recent decades, algorithms have come to play a role in assisting decision-making in a wide variety of contexts, making predictions that in some cases have enormous human consequences. Algorithms may help decide who is admitted to an elite school, approved for a mortgage, or allowed to await trial from home rather than behind bars.

But there are well-publicized concerns that algorithms may perpetuate or systematize biases. And research by University of California at Berkeley’s Ziad Obermeyer, Brian Powers of Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Christine Vogeli of Partners HealthCare, and Chicago Booth’s Sendhil Mullainathan finds that one algorithm, used to make an important health-care determination for millions of patients in the United States, produces racially biased results.

The algorithm in question is used to help identify candidates for enrollment in “high-risk care management” programs, which provide additional resources and attention to patients with complex health needs. Such programs, which can improve patient outcomes and reduce costs, are employed by many large US health systems, and therefore the decision of whom to enroll affects tens of millions of people. The algorithm assigns each patient a risk score that is used to guide enrollment decisions: a patient with a risk score in the 97th percentile and above is automatically identified for enrollment, while one with a score from the 55th to 96th percentiles is flagged for possible enrollment depending on input from the patient’s doctor.

Obermeyer, Powers, Vogeli, and Mullainathan find that black patients are on average far less healthy than white patients assigned the same score. For instance, for patients with risk scores in the 97th percentile of the researchers’ sample, black patients had on average 26 percent more chronic illnesses than white patients did. The result of this bias: black patients were significantly less likely to be identified for program enrollment than they would have been otherwise. Due to algorithmic bias, 17.7 percent of patients automatically identified for enrollment were black; without it, the researchers calculate, 46.5 percent would have been black.

The bias stems from what the algorithm is being asked to predict. more>

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The planet is burning

By Stephen J Pyne – From the Arctic to the Amazon, from California to Gran Canaria, from Borneo to India to Angola to Australia – the fires seem everywhere. Their smoke obscures subcontinents by day; their lights dapple continents at night, like a Milky Way of flame-stars. Rather than catalogue what is burning, one might more aptly ask: what isn’t? Where flames are not visible, the lights of cities and of gas flares are: combustion via the transubstantiation of coal and oil into electricity. To many observers, they appear as the pilot flames of an advancing apocalypse. Even Greenland is burning.

But the fires we see are only part of our disturbed pyrogeography. Of perhaps equal magnitude is a parallel world of lost, missing and sublimated fires. The landscapes that should have fire and don’t. The marinating of the atmosphere by greenhouse gases. The sites where traditional flame has been replaced by combustion in machines. The Earth’s biota is disintegrating as much by tame fire’s absence as by feral fire’s outbreaks. The scene is not just about the bad burns that trash countrysides and crash into towns; it’s equally about the good fires that have vanished because they are suppressed or no longer lit. Looming over it all is a planetary warming from fossil-fuel combustion that acts as a performance enhancer on all aspects of fire on Earth.

So dire is the picture that some observers argue that the past is irrelevant. We are headed into a no-narrative, no-analogue future. So immense and unimaginable are the coming upheavals that the arc of inherited knowledge that joins us to the past has broken. There is no precedent for what we are about to experience, no means by which to triangulate from accumulated human wisdom into a future unlike anything we have known before. more>

Updates from McKinsey

Why isn’t your transformation showing up in the bottom line?
The success rates of large change programs vary widely. Finance teams can make a big difference in the outcome of these initiatives by articulating and validating the link between transformation efforts and long-term value.
By Ryan Davies, Douglas Huey, and David Kennedy – “Transformation” is the buzzword of the day for companies in most industries, but for many it carries an asterisk: studies show wide variation in companies’ rates of success with organizational transformations—whether they are changing how they go to market, updating back-office processes, automating production systems, or otherwise making significant changes in how their businesses are structured and run.

In some cases, this variation exists because executives propose fundamental changes in how the business operates but don’t go through the hard process of setting commensurate performance targets. They often set targets too low, aiming for incremental change. When they do set their sights appropriately high, they often fail to adequately make clear to key stakeholders who owns the goals and responsibilities associated with various elements of the transformation. As a result, value can end up “leaking” even from good initiatives, which can sap companies’ efforts to meet bottom-line targets, drain momentum from good investments, and impede buy-in for change efforts generally.

CFOs and finance teams have a critical role to play in not only setting ambitious targets but also providing the discipline to mitigate value leakage and fully deliver transformational benefits to the bottom line. more>

Updates from ITU

WRC‑19: Enabling global radiocommunications for a better tomorrow
By Mario Maniewicz – ITU’s World Radiocommunication Conference 2019 (WRC‑19) is playing a key role in shaping the technical and regulatory framework for the provision of radiocommunication services in all countries, in space, air, at sea and on land. It will help accelerate progress towards meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It is providing a solid foundation to support a variety of emerging technologies that are set to revolutionize the digital economy, including the use of artificial intelligence, big data, the Internet of Things (IoT) and cloud services.

Every three to four years the conference revises the Radio Regulations (RR), the only international treaty governing the use of the radio-frequency spectrum and satellite orbit resources. The treaty’s provisions regulate the use of telecommunication services and, where necessary, also regulate new applications of radiocommunication technologies.

The aim of the regulation is to facilitate equitable access and rational use of the limited natural resources of the radio-frequency spectrum and the satellite orbits, and to enable the efficient and effective operation of all radiocommunication services. more>

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Updates from Adobe

Seeing Music with Amelie Satzger
By Brendan Seibel – For German photographer Amelie Satzger, music has always intertwined with the creative impulse.

As a youth, she performed in a band with a good friend. When that partnership split, her imagination found refuge behind the lens of a camera. “I was searching for another medium I could put my creativity into,” says Satzger. “I would ride around on my bike searching for cool locations to shoot. I was just imaging something in there that could maybe look good and then putting my camera on a tripod and trying it out. I didn’t really care if the picture came out well or not. I just tried everything.”

But even as her artistic focus changed, the music was there inspiring the visual narratives she created. While studying photography in Munich, she began translating lyrics that moved her into a series of richly colored, evocative self-portraits.

Then a thought struck her: Why not have the musicians themselves star in the scenes their songs inspired?

“I want to visualize lyrics from musicians into my own colorful world and I want the musician to be a part of the picture,” says Satzger. more>

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War once helped build nations, now it destroys them

By Mark Kukis – Organized violence – the term war boils down to – has long been a unifier of peoples. Archaeological evidence shows that nearly half those who lived during the last part of the Stone Age in Nubia, an area along the southern reaches of the Nile River, died violent deaths. Many other tribal societies through the ages have shared this mortality pattern, which suggests large-scale mobilization for killing rather than widespread random violence.

Cooperation, mutual dependence, trust – even in killing others – are building blocks of political order, the foundational elements of states.

The advent of agriculture was a prerequisite to long-term human settlements – cities – of any significant size. It gave rise to larger societies, capable of bigger and more elaborate wars. For the dynasties of ancient China, the empires of Mesopotamia and, centuries later, the kingdoms of Europe, waging war was one of their reasons for being.

Frederick William founded and built Prussia to wage war against its many hostile neighbors. Prussia’s clashes with regional rivals during the 17th and 18th centuries made the nation we know today as Germany.

Across this long history from the Stone Age to the modern era, the basic political formula remained the same. Disparate elements of a society learned to cooperate outside familial structures in order to arm themselves for plunder, defense – or both. They formed hierarchies, bureaucracies and institutions that endured and evolved. For emerging nations, the aftermath of the wars imparted important shared experiences too. Defeat could be even more unifying than victory.

The last major nation-building war came in 1980, when Iraq under Saddam Hussein attacked Iran following the Iranian Revolution. When Hussein launched a ferocious assault reminiscent of fighting from the First World War, Iran was woefully unprepared. The Iranian revolutionaries drew on religious commitments to help galvanize legions of fighters. Iranian men young and old flung themselves against Iraqi tank attacks, again and again, until Iraq’s advance ground to a halt.

For Iran, it is difficult to overstate the legitimacy this achievement gave the new regime, and the cohesion the war imparted to Iran. Iranian society cohered around grief, fear and a renewed sense of Persian identity in response to Arab invaders, both Sunni and Shiite.

Since the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88), wars have tended to be mainly destructive forces for nations. more>

Cybersecurity and digital trade: What role for international trade rules?

By Joshua P. Meltzer – Trade and cybersecurity are increasingly intertwined. The global expansion of the internet and increased use of data flows by businesses and consumers—for communication, e-commerce, and as a source of information and innovation—are transforming international trade. The spread of artificial intelligence, the “internet of things,” (IoT) and cloud computing will accelerate the global connectivity of businesses, governments, and supply chains.

As this connectivity grows, however, so does our exposure to the risks and costs of cyberattacks. As the President’s National Security Telecommunications Advisory Council observed, the U.S. is “faced with a progressively worsening cybersecurity threat environment and an ever-increasing dependence on internet technologies fundamental to public safety, economic prosperity, and overall way of life. Our national security is now inexorably linked to cybersecurity.

Not only are traditional defense and other national security targets at risk of cyberattack, so too is the broader economy. This includes critical infrastructure—such as telecommunications, transport, and health care—which relies on software to network services. There is also cybertheft of intellectual property (IP) and manipulation of online information. More broadly, these risks undermine business and consumer trust in the internet as a basis for commerce and trade.

Many countries are adopting policy measures to respond to the threat. According to one estimate, at least 50 percent of countries have adopted cybersecurity policies and regulations. more>