miércoles, 22 de febrero de 2017

We need to talk about #robots

Few weeks after the beginning of 2017 it seems clear that robotisation of the production will be at the centre of many debates in the political arena. We have overcome the stage when we exchange opinions about the myth and reality of a future where robots replace humans for many tasks. Now we know that it is going to happen, the question now is what are we going to do to adapt our society to the new scenario.

We can not aspire to stop the deployment of a technology that promises a a 38% revenues increase and 37% costs drop by 2020. Robotisation is bring also the not so glossy promises of the disappearance of nearly 50% of the current jobs. But the later figure does not necessary means 50% raise in desemployment if the decrease in cost is used to generate new business opportunities around the traditional jobs. We should not think of human replacement but in a augmentation of human capabilities, what the Davos chief call "humanisation over robotisation".

We need to bridle the robot revolution and change the presumed bleak future. The 2017 WEF´s Global Risks Report identify robots as the technology that has "the highest potential for negative consequences, and also the greatest need for better governance". In this scenario the call for an EU regulation done by the European Parliament in its legislative initiative "Civil law rules on robotics" is a step in the right direction. We need to achieve a common understanding about what is an intelligent robot, the taxation on robot labour activities, liabilities in case of accident and even robot rights and the need for a robot personhood

Besides regulating, we need to educate people on what is a robot. It is worrisome that "people are attracted to financial advice from robots because they consider it impartial". We need to extend the understanding that robots are product of human mind and therefore its intellect biased by its creator principles, values and prejudices. Otherwise, it would be difficult to understand the need for diversity in the AI production force.

We are just at the beginning of the debate, but we need to talk seriously about robots. Beyond the technological debate there is a social debate that we should not allow to be skipped.

miércoles, 15 de febrero de 2017

The other faces of digital lilliteracy

The digital transformation of the economy and society is stressing the  foundations of all the countries. Technology has unleashed a subtle earthquake, but with some extremely violent displays from time to time. There is a paradox. Sometimes, the more developed the country, the more violent is the impact of these strong landslides.  This is especially truth when the quake hapens around a weak point that we thought that had been repaired forever  many  time ago. This have been the case of the affair related with the viral spread of fake news during the last US election

Although fake or not accurate news have existed since the dawn of humanity, it was thought that their impact on the developed societies was small now.  The constant evolution of the political systems had consolidated an independent and truthful media system reinforced by the existence of a critical and well-educated population. On one hand, traditional publishers were conscious that publishing fake news was a major risk for their business, as they could lose credibility and could face legal actions. On the other hand, the majority of the public was equipped with the skills to identify the possible bias of the media and to apply a critical view when they receive any piece of news. The balance has been broken with the appearance of the new digital media publishers as Facebook. 

According with a report from the Reuters Institute, there is a growing happiness with having the news served through an automatic process. The consequence is the reinforcement of the trend of having social media as the main source of news. The apparently disappearance of the human factor replaced by algorithms provide the whole process of presenting the news an aura of bigger independency.  This fact shows clearly a misunderstanding of what an algorithm is. As a product of a human mind, the algorithm inherits the bias of its maker.

The blind faith on the independence of algorithms is not reduced to those used on media sector. A recent study published by Accenture claims that bank customers would preferred to be advised on their investments by machines. People attracted to financial advice from robots because they consider it impartial. It is extremely worry that this big misunderstanding about the nature of algorithms is expanding to any area.

There is growing concern for the development of the digital skills among the governments and international institutions. For instance, the aim of increasing digital capabilities was included both in UN 2030 Agenda and the Digital Single Market Strategy. Generally, the success of this kind of actions is measured in the number of Internet users, the amount of digital services users or the number of PCs per person.  What shows the misunderstanding of the nature of algorithms is that digital illiteracy has other faces that we rarely pay attention and has bigger impact in our social life.

miércoles, 8 de febrero de 2017

#Workalipsis : The premier of the movie has been delayed

I don´t know what´s happening around you, but near me everybody is suddenly frightened with robotisation, artificial intelligence and the end of work. I´m too lazy to search when i wrote the first post on the issue, but certainly it was more than  two years ago. I am still thinking that the jury is outside the room and we will have to wait which will be the final balance.

However, more and more articles foreseen a "workalipsis". The last dark prediction I have read is related with driverless cars. The author does a thorough review the things and professions connected strictly or loosing with the fact that a human being drives the cars and the conclusion is that 128 things will dissapear in the future. Among these things there is a huge collection of job posts. 

The bad news are that these predictions are wrongly focused. There is a confusion between the change of a job post and the end of a job post. AI and the digital transformation will augment the human capacities to perform better some jobs and as a result some major tasks in these jobs will become lesser important and replace by others. Returning to the article "128 Things that will disappear in the driverless car era", take the case of bus drivers. The bus driver will stop to have the responsibility to stay behind the wheel but he will have time to provide the passengers other kind of services (e.g in a school bus solving doubts of the lessons to the children, in a touristic bus strenghtening the knowledge of the local customs to the tourists, ...) but this do not necessary means the dissapearance of the job post.

In this video, Tim O'Reilly gives some clues on why we will not run out of jobs. To begin with, we will still have to think on new ways to solve human problems or to repair the mess we make on a daily basis (e.g. wars or climate change). Coming to our closer environment, we will have to think on how to transform our analogue goods and services in digital goods and services. This is the first of the 5 tips for digital transformation given also by O´Reilly:
1. Build a digital organization, not just digital products.
2. Keep your eyes on the road, not just on the map.
3. Never stop learning.
4. Remember that the future starts today.
5. Don't replace people. Augment them.

These 5 tips reinforce also the idea that we are not facing the disappearance of jobs or our society, but a change. We may think that digital transformation is a deeper change than previous changes, but that it is because we are personally invlove in it. Try to think as those who lived the appearance of the steam machine  or the electricity. For the worst or the best, workalipsis will not come soon to your town.

miércoles, 1 de febrero de 2017

Artificial Intelligence: A story of police and thieves

There is an unstoppable move towards automatisation. Besides the routinary jobs that do not need special skills to be performed, news show us that even the more sophisticated jobs are not safe of not being taken by robots and algorithms. On one hand, the role of middle managers looks to be redundant soon in hedge funds firms where the every day decisions about investments decide the future of thousands and millions of jobs and people. On the other hand, "robolawyers" show their hability defending people in court in a more efficient manner than humans taking into consideration a huge pile of previous cases.

As times goes by, it looks that the expanding role of artificial intelligence is something more than the wish of geeks. IBM, Google and many others are getting ready for a near future where nearly every decision has something to do with AI. The global artificial intelligence market was valued at US$ 126.24 Bn in 2015 and is forecast to grow at a CAGR of 36.1% from 2016 to 2024 to reach a value of US$ 3,061.35 Bn in 2024. However, it should be highlighted that it will be difficult to confirm this predictions as AI it is more a feature than a product.

The case for AI is more than justified in massive services. Take the case of Facebook and its obligation to fight fake news that recently has been demanded by the roar of the society. The task to clean the facebook feed from fake news only in Germany requires daily 600 people to perform 2000 deletions. But the more massive the service the more critical is to eliminate any bias in automatisation, especially in the area related to freedom of expression. 

The more fields find an application to Artificial Intelligence the more it is needed to embed ethics in the role of algorithms. Furthermore, this brings a new paradox. If AI is pervasive in any process and decision, and it looks it will happen, the role of watching the ethics of algorithm ought to be encommended to other algorithms. As it was expected, some scientist are working on this issue also.

So algorithms and artificial intelligence looks at the same time as the problem and the solution. But better not to start with the question who oversees the guardian in the artificial intelligence world.

miércoles, 25 de enero de 2017

Three digital gaps to be filled in Europe

What should be the pillars of a successful policy for digital transformation? Maybe this is the question more hear in the management rooms of public and private sector. The digital basis set now will have a definite impact on the country or company for many years to come, so it is needed to identify a limited set of key projects which their development should be specially monitored. The approach to their identification can be more or less complex, a simple one could be the need to deploy the right infrastructures, set the conditions for a smart use of the available data and endow the population with the skills to use both.

Although it is not explicitly described in this manner, the above three pillars approach it is been followed by the European Commission in the development of its Digital Single Market strategy, the roadmap for Europe´s digital transformation.    Europe has major deficits in the three pillars that should be filled in order to ensure growth and jobs in the forthcoming years. The digital skills agenda, the roadmap for the Gigabit Society and the free flow of data initiative are the three levers that we should not failed to built up.

To begin with, it would be extremely difficult to take advantage of digital services and infrastructures without enough IT professionals and the population are not able to use the digital tools. The pool of digital talent will be irreparably empty if four of the major economies (France, Spain, Italy and Poland) are below the EU average percentage of IT professionals or if 40% of the EU population lacked the needed digital skills and 22% have no digital skills at all.

Regarding the network infrastructure, it looks that the deployment of NGA is steeping up in the last two years. However, there is still a major problem of adoption in an important group of economies and only 12 Member States are above the average. Among the laggers in the adoption of NGA we find again three major EU economies (Poland, Spain and Italy). Without the adoption of the current infrastructure no future jump to the Gigabit networks will be possible.

Last but not least, there is the question of data. The benefits from having quality network infrastructure and the people with enough digital skills is reaping from the smart exploitation of data. But taken advantage of the data pool of an organisation or country is based in its free flow and established rules for its access and sharing, as well of its usage as a currency in transactions.

Infrastructure, data and skills make a virtuous circle for the development of the digital economy. Other factors as cybersecurity or applications are important, but there are not as critically essential to set the wheels of growth and jobs in motion.

miércoles, 18 de enero de 2017

Are we facing the tip of a failed state?

As times goes by, it looks that the trend of outsourcing the censorship digital news is being consolidated. I am not a fan of any kind of censorship in any media, but for those case if is needed I see it as a mission that should be under severe control of governments. However, what started with the "right to be forgotten", later was extended with the "Code of Conduct on illegal online hate speech". In both cases, digital platforms are the final court for deciding on the retirement of contents from the network.

The collaboration with the platforms is probably a pragmatic approach, but what scares me it is the lack of transparency on the process. From time to time, Google publishes results of the application of the "right to be forgotten", and as fas as I know there is not an independent review of the report. Recently, during the review on the compliance of the code of conduct on illegal hate speech the results were criticised by the European Commission due to its dissapointing results, but the report was not completely published neither we have data from the platforms on the issue.

Outsourcing the patrolling of contents have also other downsides. Although the code of conduct has a wide scope, combating "public incitement to violence or hatred directed against a group of persons or a member of such a group defined on the basis of race, colour, descent, religion or belief, or national or ethnic origin", the platforms could pick and choose their favourite targets. For instance, a couple of days after the review they team up to develop automatic solutions to combat the spread of terrorism apology, but no other form of illegal hate speech.

Therefore, it seems governments are unable to combat illegal hate speech and reinforce freedom on the network, while at the same time the help of the industry is far from be effective in all the areas. And the same it´s happening with other kind of illegal activities. Furthermore, the help of platforms to combat all these illegal activities is reduced to those areas they like to combat. We are growingly missing the tools to make effective parts of the law in the network.

A failed state is defined as a state “whose central government is so weak or ineffective that it has little practical control over much of its territory; non-provision of public services; widespread corruption and criminality; refugees and involuntary movement of populations and sharp economic decline”. Some thinkers are begining to ask themselves if the Internet has not become a failed state. And it is the right question. What is the same as as asking for the sustainaibility of the network because no failed state could last.

miércoles, 11 de enero de 2017

5G in EU: Do we really have a plan?

One of the more pronounced phrases among the European technological sector is "Europe is lagging behind". Europe was once the home of the most important technological companies, now there is no remain of a European company among the 15 largest ICT companies. There are many reasons for the sectoral European decline, but perhaps the main reason is the decline in the European dominance of the mobile scenario. Europe was the home for GSM invention but,  it has been a follower of 4G deployment since the start of it. Both the global ICT decline and the mobile decline has happened in the same time space.

The rationale described above has a clear implication: Europe has to base the recovery of its technological force in winning the 5G race. Therefore, it looks sound that the European Commission has set as one of the strategic targets for the telecommunication sector "uninterrupted 5G coverage for all urban areas as well as major roads and railways". However it is worrisome that it has not set a this deadline in the press release, except for having "commercially availability of 5G in at least one major city in each EU Member State by 2020", which is a previous promise of the telecom sector. The ambiguous target has been set for two years after the forthcoming Korean trial in 2018 Olimpic Games.

Nevertheless, the Plan for 5G in Europe published by the European Commission gives more space to optimism. There we can find the missed deadline for the "uninterrupted 5G coverage for all urban areas as well as major roads and railways" in 2025.  Also there are a mix of actions that foreseen boosting investments (through the review of the regulatory framework), the creation of a 5G ecosystem (through the continuation of the actions within the H2020) and the works in the standarisation area (through establishing 5G as one of the standardisation priorities for Europe).

However, although the plan looks sound, there would be need concrete actions from Member States. The European Commission just only encourage the Member States to develop its national plans by 2017, but the support and pressure for its development from Brussels looks short. No clear incentives for this purpose are defined, like for instance taking out of the national deficit accounting the government support for 5G deployment or the relax of State Aid ruling in this area.

The 5G Plan for EU have shadowy and bright sides. Good central planning for some measures but improvable basis for the real deployment. We should wait and see its real impact, alas it could too late to rectify if something goes wrong.





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