Category Archives: Technology

The trilemma of Big Tech

By Karin Pettersson – Last week Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg took to the stage in San Jose, California, and presented his vision for the future at the company’s yearly developers’ conference.

The attention given to the conference by the world’s media was testimony to the fact that Facebook is now more powerful than most nation states. Its products provide the infrastructure for core democratic functions such as free speech, distribution of news and access to information. Our societies, to a larger and larger degree, are shaped by how Zuckerberg and a small elite of Silicon Valley business leaders choose to do business. And the results, frankly speaking, are catastrophic.

‘Have social media made the world a better place?’ Poppy Harlow of CNN asked the influential tech writer Kara Swisher ‘No, not now’ was the dry answer.

The founder of the modern web, Tim Berners-Lee, has called for regulation of the internet as the only way to save it, and the virtual-reality pioneer and internet philosopher Jaron Lanier has written a book about why people should get off ‘social media’ as soon as possible.

The current situation is clearly unsustainable and the measures taken so far to address it insufficient. But before discussing solutions we need to define what the problem is. And here it is easy to get lost in details and anecdotes. Not all of the problems of social networks are fatal to democracy.

The economist Dani Rodrik has framed the discussion around the state of the world economy as a trilemma, where hyperglobalization, democratic policies and national sovereignty are mutually incompatible. We can, he argues, combine any two of the three, but never have all three simultaneously and in full.

It might be conceptually useful to structure the discussion of the global information space in an analogous manner. One can have democracy, market dominance and business models that optimize for anger and junk—but only two at a time. more>

Updates from Chicago Booth

How opinion polls are presented affects how we understand them
By Alice G. Walton – Oleg Urminsky and Luxi Shen used data provided by the prominent data-driven forecasting organization FiveThirtyEight leading up to the 2016 US presidential election.

The researchers presented the then-current forecasts to two groups of study participants, but in different formats. One group saw probability projections that, on average, said Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton had a 74 percent chance of winning. The other group saw margin forecasts that said, on average, that she would get 53 percent of the vote.

On a given day, both forecasts represented the same snapshot in time—two essentially identical takes on Clinton’s expected victory. But participants interpreted the forecasts differently. When people saw the probability forecast and were then asked to estimate a margin by which Clinton would win, they overestimated, predicting she would get 60 percent of the vote on average, more than the 53 percent. Meanwhile, people shown the second, margin forecast predicted the probability of her winning at 60 percent on average rather than the actual 74 percent average.

Both predictions turned out to be incorrect, as Clinton won 48 percent of the vote and lost the election to Republican candidate Donald Trump, who received 46 percent. But they illustrated bias in people’s perceptions.

The difference in interpretations is unlikely to be explained by forecasters having the wrong assumptions in their models, the researchers say. more>

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Updates from Ciena

Top 5 business benefits of modernizing legacy networks
By Wayne Hickey – Modernizing legacy networks is a hot topic, and for very good reasons.

Consider this – your legacy network is rapidly headed to obsolescence, while your packet-based applications are growing. Legacy applications are hindering your revenue growth opportunities, consuming your budget, and degrading your customers’ quality of experience, which can lead to the loss of your existing and/or new customers.

Two primary factors are driving the migration of legacy networks; (1) the imminent phase-out of legacy systems, and (2) the need to use modern packet networking techniques to improve network efficiencies, serve end-users better, and open up new revenue-generating business opportunities.

Let’s further break it down into the top 5 business benefits of modernizing legacy networks:

The biggest bang for your buck is to reduce the number of networks you operate with the goal of getting to a single, common network. Why? Running parallel networks is costly, complex, and ultimately unrealistic. Network silos are costly to manage and prevent the use of common features, toolsets, and services. more>

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Internet capitalism pits fast technology against slow democracy

By Tom Wheeler – Technology-driven changes—like those we are presently experiencing—produce demands for security and stability that pose a threat to liberal democracy and capitalism. Across the world, autocrats are on the rise because they claim they can deliver answers; symbols such as Brexit or the Wall pose as solutions; and old economic “isms” are reborn as “new” solutions. This is not a unique experience; our struggles in the information age echo similar struggles in the industrial age.

When change attacks at gigabit speed, the quest for solutions also accelerates. It took the telephone a leisurely 125 years to connect one billion people. The Android mobile phone, in contrast, reached the same milestone in less than six years. The buffer of time that traditionally helped individuals and economic activity acclimate to new technology is compressed.

Liberal democracies, however, are hard to condense. A representative democracy of free and fair elections and an equally-applied rule of law is, by design, a slow process. In a time of rapid technological change, innovative capitalists step up to make the rules regarding how their activities impact the rest of us. Previously, such self-interested rule-making has been confronted eventually by a collective public interest, democratically expressed, to create new rules that protect the common good.

The second criteria necessary for democracy to work is for us to overcome our inherent tribal instincts and band together. Unfortunately, the business plan of the internet economy undermines this priority by hastening a retreat to tribes. Internet companies—both networks and those that provide services over them—have discovered a digital alchemy that takes your private information and turns it into their corporate asset. Using that information, the companies slice and dice us into tribal groupings to sell to advertisers—or foreign interests seeking to sow discord by playing one tribe against another. more>

Capitalism is failing. People want a job with a decent wage – why is that so hard?

By Richard V. Reeves – Before capitalism, there was work. Before markets, before even money, there was work. Our remotest ancestors, hunting and gathering, almost certainly did not see work as a separate, compartmentalized part of life in the way we do today. But we have always had to work to live. Even in the 21st century, we strive through work for the means to live, hence the campaign for a “living wage.”

As a species, we like to define ourselves through our thoughts and wisdom, as Homo sapiens. But we could as easily do so through the way we consciously apply effort towards certain goals, by our work – as Homo laborans. It nonetheless took two revolutions, one agricultural, one industrial, to turn “work” into its own category.

Industrial capitalism sliced and diced human time into clearly demarcated chunks, of “work” and “leisure”. Work was then bundled and packaged into one of the most important inventions of the modern era: a job. From this point on, the workers’ fight was for a job that delivered maximum benefits, especially in terms of wages, in return for minimum costs imposed on the worker, especially in terms of time.

For Karl Marx, the whole capitalist system was ineluctably rigged against workers. Whatever the short-run victories of the trade unions, the capitalist retained the power; the ultimate control, over workers’ time. And the worker would remain forever alienated from their work. The goal was to assert sovereignty over our own time, free of the temporal control of the capitalist, able “to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner.”

The problem of alienation is far from solved. more>

Updates from Ciena

Delivering high-bandwidth, revenue-generating services in minutes, not months
By Frank O. Miller – Many operators’ networks have grown organically to keep pace with rapidly growing traffic demands, with new technology added incrementally over time. This has resulted in multi-vendor, multi-domain networks that are difficult to manage and support. There are also major challenges when it comes to understanding where available capacity exists in the network, requiring consultation between multiple teams before new services can be provisioned and turned up. Additional effort and lead time are needed when service offerings are being newly designed and rolled out to the market.

These challenges typically result in very high costs for operators, who spend large amounts of time performing manual ordering, feasibility appraisals for new services involving multiple teams, manual configuration steps, and manual resource provisioning across several network layers and domains. As an additional challenge, new multi-vendor, physical or virtual network elements that support new service offerings may need to be introduced and integrated into Operational Support Systems (OSS) on a piecemeal basis, resulting in costly integration projects that result in a more complex operational environment.

Without a simple way to assess available capacity across the network, planning for new services is a time-consuming and difficult process. Most operators remain highly dependent on their vendor relationships in this regard, putting in frequent requests to understand if new services can be supported on existing infrastructure. Sometimes there is available capacity on the network, while other times a network buildout needs to be initiated with a vendor change request – which can be very time consuming and expensive.

All of this makes current, manual approaches to capacity planning and service provisioning unsustainable, particularly as customers’ expectations for on-demand, high-speed connectivity services continue to increase. more>

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Updates from Georgia Tech

Smart Communities Address Transportation, Housing, Flooding Challenges
By John Tibbetts – Four Georgia communities are exploring innovative technologies and collaborating with local partners and Georgia Institute of Technology research teams to help drive the state’s smart development.

Georgia Tech leads the pilot Georgia Smart Communities Challenge, which supports one-year projects to develop and implement smart design solutions to some of the biggest challenges facing the state.

The four selected localities were chosen from a pool of applicants statewide.The cities of Albany and Chamblee and the counties of Chatham and Gwinnett are focusing on pilot projects to improve local housing investments, address traffic and transportation challenges, and develop more targeted flooding forecasts of storms and sea level rise along Georgia’s coast.

A local government coordinates each project. But community and neighborhood groups, industry, and others are crucial collaborators. A Georgia Tech researcher conducts studies and provides guidance in pursuit of each project’s goals, supported by graduate and undergraduate students.

Each community has received $50,000 in grants and $25,000 from Georgia Tech in research support. Communities also raised matched funds. Georgia Power is the lead sponsor, with additional financial support from the Atlanta Regional Commission. The work began in September 2018 and will continue through September 2019.

Students are engaged through the research projects but also through two additional summer programs. The Georgia Smart Community Corps is a full-time, paid summer fellowship for Georgia Tech students to become part of the project team. It is a joint collaboration with the Strategic Energy Institute, Center for Serve-Learn-Sustain, Center for Career Discovery and Development, and the Student Government Association. more>

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Inequality: from redistribution to predistribution and beyond?

Soaring income inequality inevitably raises discussion of more progressive taxation. But a more fundamental focus on the ownership of capital is needed.
By Liam Kennedy – The now much-traveled line from the historian Rutger Bregman at Davos 2019 is a perfect encapsulation of the Zeitgeist: inequality is out of control, we know more or less how to reduce it but, instead of actually doing anything, here we are pretending to be baffled by the state of the world.

Outside those snow-capped peaks, there is, of course, widespread recognition of the need to tackle spiraling inequality. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has spoken about it, the International Monetary Fund has written about it and reducing inequalities is enshrined in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Unfortunately, this evidence does not always translate into coherent political action. In the United Kingdom, for example, top rates of income tax have become less progressive over the decades while corporation tax has been consistently cut since 2010. Acknowledging the inequality problem is a crucial first step—but there is also a strong case for looking beyond ‘taxes, taxes, taxes’ if it is to be truly tackled.

Additionally, UK income-inequality statistics are plagued with problems which militate against any consistent understanding of how much income those at the very top of the distribution are actually ‘earning’.  To put it bluntly, the rich are even richer than we realize.

The truth is that the initial fall in income inequality seen after the financial crisis was an aberration which has allowed the government to mask the more systemic and continuing rise in inequality the UK has experienced since the late 1970s. more>

Updates from ITU

AI for Good’ or scary AI?
By Neil Sahota and Michael Ashley – Some futurists fear Artificial Intelligence (AI), perhaps understandably. After all, AI appears in all kinds of menacing ways in popular culture, from the Terminator movie dynasty to homicidal HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Though these movies depict Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) gone awry, it’s important to note some leading tech scholars, such as George Gilder (author Life After Google), doubt humans will ever be able to generate the sentience we humans take for granted (AGI) in our machines.

As it turns out, the predominant fear the typical person actually holds about AI pertains to Artificial Narrow Intelligence (ANI).

Specialized, ANI focuses on narrow tasks, like routing you to your destination — or maybe one day driving you there.

Much of what we uncovered when cowriting our new book, Own the A.I. Revolution: Unlock Your Artificial Intelligence Strategy to Disrupt Your Competition, is that people fear narrow task-completing AIs will take their job.

“It’s no secret many people worry about this type of problem,” Irakli Beridze, who is a speaker at the upcoming AI For Good Global Summit and heads the Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics at the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute, told us when interviewed for the book.

“One way or another, AI-induced unemployment is a risk we cannot dismiss out of hand. We regularly see reports predicting AI will wipe out 20 to 70 percent of jobs. And we’re not just talking about truck drivers and factory workers, but also accountants, lawyers, doctors, and other highly skilled professionals.” more>

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Updates from Chicago Booth

Technology is splitting the job market
Some people are prospering, while others are left behind
By Raghuram Rajan – Soon, the smartphone may be replaced by a device implanted in our body that connects with our mind and provides instant access to both computing power and enormous databases. Computer-enhanced humans are no longer the realm of science fiction. The information and communications technology (ICT) revolution has fundamentally changed what we spend time on, how we interact with one another, what work we do and where we do it, and even how people commit crime.

Most importantly, it has upset the balance between the three pillars—the state, markets, and the community.

The ICT revolution has not just followed the course of previous revolutions by displacing jobs through automation; it has also made it possible to produce anywhere and sell anywhere to a greater degree than ever before. By unifying markets further, it has increased the degree of cross-border competition, first in manufacturing and now in services. Successful producers have been able to grow much larger by making where it is most efficient. This has created spectacular winners, but also many losers.

The technology-assisted market has had widely varying effects across productive sectors in a country. Some of the effects stem naturally from technological change, and some stem from the reactions of people and companies to it. Indisputably, it has raised the premium on human capabilities. As a result, some well-educated communities in big cities have prospered, while communities with moderately (typically high-school-) educated workers in semirural areas dominated by manufacturing often have not.

More generally, as with past technological revolutions, the need for people to adapt has come rapidly, before the benefits have spread widely. Indeed, the communities that are required to adapt the most, as always, are the communities that have been experiencing the greatest adversity, and have the least resources to cope. more>

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