Category Archives: Economy

What Happens to ‘Smart Cities’ When the Internet Dies?

By Lee Gardner – One of the chief criticisms of smart city technology is that it’s very generic. These technologies are very much off-the-shelf solutions—and “solutions” in quotation marks, because a lot of the smart-city stuff views cities as a problem that needs to be solved.

My view—and Bristol is a good example of this—is that cities exist as a bunch of different conflicts between different priorities and different communities and different infrastructures, and those conflicts are unique to every city. The idea that a top-down solution can be dropped onto every city is really dangerous.

One thing that cities and the internet have in common, it seems, is that they both embody these contradictory impulses people have to be together, and also to maintain privacy.

What’s public and what’s private is increasingly blurred by technology and the internet, and the privatization of public spaces is an issue that the book was trying to tap. What were previously common spaces, or public spaces, are increasing corporatized, even if just by advertising or through surveillance technologies.

In most cities in the world, there’s very little regulation. The use of surveillance technology by the city itself might be regulated, but it’s less regulated for people that own property.

That idea that you are being watched, that you don’t have privacy in public spaces, which sounds, I guess, oxymoronic in some ways—I think we should be allowed to have an anonymity in public spaces to a certain extent. That’s a real conflict, and I hope the book makes that something that people think about.

We buy into that saying that if you’ve done nothing wrong, you’ve got nothing to hide. I think that’s an incredibly dangerous expression, because it simplifies the surveillance argument down to one about law and order. I come from the perspective that that kind of law and order is probably incredibly dangerous in itself. But it’s more to the fact that we are being surveyed for our behavior and our data rather than for moralistic or legal reasons. more>

The exploitation time bomb

Worsening economic inequality in recent years is largely the result of policy choices that reflect the political influence and lobbying power of the rich.
By Jayati Ghosh – Since reducing inequality became an official goal of the international community, income disparities have widened. This trend, typically blamed on trade liberalization and technological advances that have weakened the bargaining power of labor vis-à-vis capital, has generated a political backlash in many countries, with voters blaming their economic plight on ‘others’ rather than on national policies. And such sentiments of course merely aggravate social tensions without addressing the root causes of worsening inequality.

But in an important new article, the Cambridge University economist José Gabriel Palma argues that national income distributions are the result not of impersonal global forces, but rather of policy choices that reflect the control and lobbying power of the rich.

The driving force behind these trends is market inequality, meaning the income distribution before taxes and government transfers. Most OECD countries continually attempt to mitigate this through the tax-and-transfer system, resulting in much lower levels of inequality in terms of disposable income.

But fiscal policy is a complicated and increasingly inefficient way to reduce inequality, because today it relies less on progressive taxation and more on transfers that increase public debt. For example, European Union governments’ spending on social protection, health care and education now accounts for two-thirds of public expenditure, but this is funded by tax policies that let off the rich and big corporations while heavily burdening the middle classes, and by adding to the stock of government debt. more>

Updates from Siemens

Bearings manufacturer meets stringent accuracy requirements while improving productivity
Siemens – Humankind has been trying to improve the mobility of people and materials by reducing friction between moving parts for centuries. The creators of the pyramids and Stonehenge were able to move massive structures by placing cylindrical wooden rollers beneath great weights to reduce the coefficient of friction and the force required to move them. These world wonders were made possible by some of the earliest known applications of bearings.

Modern bearings with races and balls were first documented in the fifteenth century by Leonardo da Vinci for his helicopter model. Since then, the design, mobility and precision of bearings have developed dramatically in many application domains. In the semiconductor and medical device industries, miniaturization and increasing product complexity have revolutionized motion systems and their components. The precision and accuracy of motion systems are highly dependent on bearings assemblies and how they are integrated into systems. Precisie Metaal Bearings (PM-Bearings) is one of only a few manufacturers in the world that provide high-precision linear bearings.

PM-Bearings specializes in the design and manufacture of high-precision linear bearings, motion systems and positioning stages, and supplies the high-end semiconductor, medical device and machine tool industries. The company was founded in 1966 as a manufacturer of linear bearings, and has expanded to include design, manufacturing and assembly of custommade multi-axis positioning stages with complete mechatronic integration. Located in the Netherlands at Dedemsvaart, the company employs 140 people and supplies customers worldwide.

The company’s products range from very small bearings (10 millimeters in length) up to systems with footprints of 1.2 to 1.5 square meters with stroke lengths of one meter. The portfolio encompasses linear motion components including precision slides, positioning tables and bearings stages. PM-Bearings is part of the PM group, along with other companies specialized in hightech machining. Its global customer base extends from Silicon Valley to Shenzhen.

To maintain a competitive edge, PM-Bearings knew that complete control of the product realization, from design to delivery, was essential. This is why the company chose a comprehensive set of solutions from product lifecycle management (PLM) specialist Siemens PLM Software. These include NX™ software for computer-aided design (CAD), Simcenter™ software for performance prediction, NX CAM for computer-aided manufacturing and Teamcenter® software for PLM to make certain that all stakeholders use the same data and workflows to make the right decisions. more>

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Europeanization from below: still time for another Europe?

By Donatella Della Porta – Progressive social movement organizations have long been critical of the European Union—and progressively more so. Yet at the same time they have sought to promote ‘another Europe’.

They Europeanized their organizational networks and action strategies, developing cosmopolitan identities.

Research on social movements and Europeanization had indicated a move away from protest towards advocacy, understood as an adaptation of movements to EU structures. But there was also evidence of a repoliticization of EU issues, which saw the selective use of unconventional, protest-oriented strategies among groups forming part of the GJM (global justice movement).

The increasing criticism of existing EU institutions has targeted their democratic deficit, perceived as worsening during the financial crisis and counterposed to national sovereignty, but also their policies, perceived as less and less driven by considerations of social justice and solidarity. There has been criticism too of the definition of Europe as an exclusive polity, with proposals to go instead ‘beyond Europe’. more>

Why Behavioral Economics Is Really Marketing Science

By Philip Kotler – Economists rarely mention marketing. Occasionally an article appears in the American Economic Review on advertising or promotion or warranties. But to most economists, marketing is a sideshow in the economy. It is filled with too many particulars and virtually no theory. A cynical economist would even hold that marketing activity hurts the efficiency of the economy. Promotions distort the true price and lead consumers to buy on brand name, not real value.

Ironically, the discipline of marketing was started by economists! Marketing textbooks first made their appearance in the 1900-1910 period. Their authors were economists who were institutionally oriented rather than theory-oriented. These economists wanted to examine the role that different distribution organizations – wholesalers, jobbers, agents, retailers – played in the economy. They also wanted to describe and analyze the different promotion tools – advertising, sales discounts, guarantees and warranties—and determine whether they actually shifted demand.

Somehow classically-trained economists didn’t view marketing as an intrinsic economic activity. They couldn’t fit it into either macroeconomic theory or microeconomic theory.

The greatest irony is that traditional economics is now facing a new competitor, namely behavioral economics. Behavioral economics attacks the crucial assumption that consumers engage in maximizing behavior. Aiming to maximize utility or profits is the key to building economic decision models. Otherwise, economists would have to work with another assumption, that consumers are basically “satisficing,” stopping short of spending time to maximize and being happy enough to achieve enough of what they want. But the mathematics aren’t there for this behavior and hence the claim of economics to be a science is also weakened. more>

Updates from Chicago Booth

Why banning plastic bags doesn’t work as intended
Benefits of bag regulations are mitigated by changes in consumer behavior
By Rebecca Stropoli – As well-intentioned bans on plastic shopping bags roll out across the United States, there’s an unintended consequence that policy makers should take into account. It turns out that when shoppers stop receiving free bags from supermarkets and other retailers, they make up for it by buying more plastic trash bags, significantly reducing the environmental effectiveness of bag bans by substituting one form of plastic film for another, according to University of Sydney’s Rebecca L. C. Taylor.

Economists call this phenomenon “leakage”—when partial regulation of a product results in increased consumption of unregulated goods, Taylor writes. But her research focusing on the rollout of bag bans across 139 California cities and counties from 2007 to 2015 puts a figure on the leakage and develops an estimate for how much consumers already reuse those flimsy plastic shopping bags.

This is a live issue. After all those localities banned disposable bags, California outlawed them statewide, in 2016. In April 2019, New York became the second US state to impose a broad ban on single-use plastic bags. Since 2007, more than 240 local governments in the US have enacted similar policies.

She finds that the bag bans reduced the use of disposable shopping bags by 40 million pounds a year. But purchases of trash bags increased by almost 12 million pounds annually, offsetting about 29 percent of the benefit, her model demonstrates. Sales of small trash bags jumped 120 percent, of medium bags, 64 percent, and of tall kitchen garbage bags, 6 percent. Moreover, use of paper bags rose by more than 80 million pounds, or 652 million sacks, she finds. more>

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Why Autonomous Vehicle Developers Are Embracing Open Source

By Chris Wiltz – GM Cruise is turning loose its tool for autonomous vehicle visualization to the open source community for a wider range of applications, including robotics and automation. But its only the latest in a series of similar developments to happen over the course of the year.

This time the General Motors-owned Cruise is open-sourcing Webviz – a web browser-based tool for data visualization in autonomous vehicles and robotics. Webviz is an application capable of managing the petabytes of data from various autonomous vehicle sensors (both in simulation and on the road) and creating 2D and 3D charts, logs, and more in a customizable user interface.

Cruise is making that tool available to engineers in the autonomous vehicle space and beyond. “Now, anyone can drag and drop any [Robot Operating System (ROS)] bag file into Webviz to get immediate visual insight into their robotics data,” Esther Weon, a software engineer at Cruise, wrote in a Medium post.

Difficulties in testing autonomous vehicles have played in a key factor in major automakers rethinking their timetables on the delivery of fully-autonomous vehicles. Simulation is becoming an increasingly common solution in the face of time-consuming real-world road tests. But simulation comes with its own challenges – particularly around data and analysis. A robust autonomous vehicle is going to have to be intelligent enough to navigate and respond to all of the myriad of conditions that a human could encounter – everything from bad weather and road hazards to mechanical failures and even bad drivers.

To create and train vehicles to deal with all of these scenarios requires more data than any one company could feasibly gather on its own in a reasonable time frame.

By open sourcing their tools, companies are looking to leverage the wider community to take part in some of the heavy lifting. more>

How the marvel of electric light became a global blight to health

By Richard G ‘Bugs’ Stevens – Light pollution is often characterized as a soft issue in environmentalism. This perception needs to change. Light at night constitutes a massive assault on the ecology of the planet, including us. It also has indirect impacts because, while 20 per cent of electricity is used for lighting worldwide, at least 30 per cent of that light is wasted. Wasted light serves no purpose at all, and excessive lighting is too often used beyond what is needed for driving, or shopping, or Friday-night football.

The electric light bulb is touted as one of the most significant technological advancements of human beings. It ranks right up there with the wheel, control of fire, antibiotics and dynamite. But as with any new and spectacular technology, there are invariably unintended consequences. With electric light has come an obliteration of night in much of the modern world; both outside in the city, and indoors during what was once ‘night’ according to the natural position of the Sun.

Life has evolved for several billion years with a reliable cycle of bright light from the Sun during the day, and darkness at night. This has led to the development of an innate circadian rhythm in our physiology; that circadian rhythm depends on the solar cycle of night and day to maintain its precision. During the night, beginning at about sunset, body temperature drops, metabolism slows, hunger abates, sleepiness increases, and the hormone melatonin rises dramatically in the blood. This natural physiological transition to night is of ancient origin, and melatonin is crucial for the transition to proceed as it should.

We now know that bright, short-wavelength light – blue light – is the most efficient for suppressing melatonin and delaying transition to night-time physiology; meanwhile, dimmer, longer-wavelength light – yellow, orange, and red, from a campfire or a candle, for example – has very little effect. Bright light from the Sun contains blue light, which is a benefit in the morning when we need to be alert and awake; but whether we are outdoors or indoors, when bright, blue light comes after sunset, it fools the body into thinking it’s daytime.

The current ‘lightmare’ traces back to the 1950s, when a road-building frenzy, including construction of the Interstate Highway System, aimed to solve the problem of congestion in the United States. But the roads turned out to increase congestion and pollution, including light pollution, too. In retrospect, the result was preordained: build a bigger freeway, and more people will use it to the point where there is more congestion than before the new road.

To understand the phenomenon, economists developed the idea of induced demand – in which the supply of a commodity actually creates demand for it. So the more roads one builds, the more people drive on them, and the more that congestion results. more>

The Ideology of Self-interest Caused the Financial Crash. We Need a New Economic Paradigm

By Mark van Vugt and Michael E. Price – We are still feeling the effects of the global financial crisis, which started in the US in 2008, and that has now spread to every corner of the world.

The financial crisis should teach us some important lessons about the way economies work and the way we design our organizations. In essence, we have simply made the wrong assumptions about human nature. The leading model in economic theory is that of Homo economicus, a person who makes decisions based on their rational self-interest. Led by an invisible hand, that of the market, the pursuit of self-interest automatically produces the best outcomes for everyone. Looking at the financial crisis today this idea is no longer tenable. When individual greed dominates, everyone suffers. We could have known this all along had we looked more closely at human evolution.

Economic scientists often portray competition between firms as a Darwinian struggle where firms compete and only the fittest ones survive. The British financial historian Niall Ferguson wrote “Left to itself, natural selection should work fast to eliminate the weakest institutions in the market, which typically are gobbled up by the successful.”

This may be true but it is not the outcome of individual greed and competition.

Competition between firms presupposes that individuals cooperate well with each other, and the most cooperative organizations survive, and the least cooperative organizations go extinct. This is group selection, selection operating at the level of groups, where the best groups survive.

This is a far more accurate model of how economies and business operate, and it offers a totally new way of thinking about the design of organizations and ways to avert global financial crises.

A team of evolutionary minded psychologists, biologists and economists led by biologist David Sloan Wilson have come together over the past few years to come up with a more accurate model for how businesses and economies operate. It is based on Homo sapiens rather than Homo economicus. Their efforts are put together in an Evolution Institute report on socially responsible businesses “Doing Well By Doing Good.” more>

I’m a hacker, and here’s how your social media posts help me break into your company

By Stephanie Carruthers – Think twice before you snap and share that office selfie, #firstday badge pic, or group photo at work.

Hackers are trolling social media for photos, videos, and other clues that can help them better target your company in an attack. I know this because I’m one of them.

Fortunately, in my case, the “victim” of these attacks is paying me to hack them. My name is Snow, and I’m part of an elite team of hackers within IBM known as X-Force Red. Companies hire us to find gaps in their security–before the real bad guys do. For me, that means scouring the internet for information, tricking employees into revealing things over the phone, and even using disguises to break my way into your office.

Social media posts are a goldmine for details that aid in our “attacks.” What you find in the background of photos is particularly revealing–from security badges to laptop screens, or even Post-its with passwords.

No one wants to be the source of an unintended social media security fail. So let me explain how seemingly innocuous posts can help me–or a malicious hacker–target your company.

The first thing you may be surprised to know is that 75% of the time, the information I’m finding is coming from interns or new hires. Younger generations entering the workforce today have grown up on social media, and internships or new jobs are exciting updates to share. Add in the fact that companies often delay security training for new hires until weeks or months after they’ve started, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

Knowing this weak point, along with some handy hashtags, allows me to find tons of information I need within just a few hours. Take a look for yourself on your favorite social apps for posts tagged with #firstday, #newjob, or #intern + [#companyname].

So, what exactly am I looking for in these posts?

There are four specific kinds of risky social media posts that a hacker can use to their advantage. more>