miércoles, 24 de mayo de 2017

Digital transformation of sectors (II): Farming

Human beings and societies depend on agriculture for its survival. Without this rural activity, we would not have the nourishment needed for our subsistence. Nevertheless, the rural population is decreased year by year puting in risk having the needed workers at hand. The World Bank estimates that while rural population was 2/3 of the world population at the begining of the 60´s in 2015 was less than half of world population.  At the same time, estimates that the global population will rise to more than 9.7 billion in 2050 and exceed 11.2 billion by 2100, which demands and increase in agriculture production.

The dramatic decrease of population in the rural areas while we need more production calls for an automation of the farming activity. It also calls for it the diminishing public budgets dedicated to promote and support agriculural activity, so needed in developed countries due to its excessive costs. For instance, in Europe the agricultural budget has decreased from 70% to 40% since 1980.

The benefits of the application of digital technologies to farming activities was analysed in the report "Precision agriculture and the future of farming in Europe". It contributes both to food security and safety and promote more sustainable  ways of farming. Precision agriculture may also help to completely reshape the social profile of the rural areas, as it eases the working conditions and paves the way to new business models.

However, the barriers to overcome to achieve the automatisation of agriculture are similar but bigger than in urban areas. On one hand, the adoption of broadband is smaller in rural areas. From the 300 million EU citizens living in rural areas, only 25% are covered by fast or ultra-fast broadband, compared to around 70% coverage in urban areas. On the other hand, the lack of digital skills is more acute.  

To sum up, while farming looks an ideal scenario for showcasing the main virtue of computer technologies (enabling doing more with less), there are structural burdens to overcome before unleashing digital transformation in rural areas.

miércoles, 17 de mayo de 2017

The weakest link

The new normal is an insecure digital world. We should better get used to it. The global attack suffered last friday by many companies is just the last piece of new on the issue. But along the last month we have also witnessed other cybersecurity incidents, like the hacking of computer resources related with the French President two days before his election. Both attacks look for the disruption of our normal life in its political or economical face.

While companies are spending more budget in cibersecurity, incidents are on the rise. In spite of the $75 Billion spent in  2015​ ​and the expectations of reaching a market size of  $170 Billion By 2020, all the technological solutions deployed look incapable of stoping cybercrime, which it is in its own a buoyant business that will reach $2 Trillion by 2019.

We should look to other points if we want to be effective in fighting cybercrime. To begin with, everything points that we have a great problem with the digital skills of people. The scale of last friday attack would have been lesser if a suspicious e-mail had not been open by so many people. But 44% of the Europeans probably do not have enough digital skills to distinguish between an economic proposition received by e-mail and a scam.

It is frequently said that a chain is as weak as the weakest of its links. The security chain is the best example of it, we can´t expect to live in a secure digital world without providing all the basic capabilities to walk safely on its virtual streets.

miércoles, 10 de mayo de 2017

#NetNeutrality : back to the trenches

Here we go again. As it was foreseen during the last US presidential election campaign and confirmed by media close to Trump just after the election day, the time is ripe for a review of the US net neutrality legal framework. Little more than two years after the last review, the Federal Commission of Communications (FCC) has published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) and asked for public comments on the issue.  

It is the story of a revenge. The open internet order was approved on February 2015 with a vote clearly divide along party lines, 3 to 2. One of the commissioners who voted against that order was the current President of the FCC, Ajit Pai. In his dissenting statement after 2015 vote, he clearly stated that there were no evidence for that decission. Furthermore, he hoped that the days of the open internet order were numbered and "the plan would  be vacated by a court, reversed by Congress, or overturned by a future Commission".  

The main rationale behind the new review is the lack of evidence of the 2015 open internet order, but also the harming effect of the order for the development of the broadband society in USA. In his speech announcing the NPRM, Ajit Pai underlined the success of the Internet growth since 1996 to 2014 and put on the table data about the decrease of investment in network infrastructure since 2014 (he said that among the 12 largest US Internet service providers, domestic broadband capital expenditures decreased by 5.6% percent, or $3.6 billion).

The efforts to prove the above two arguments are to avoid future court complaints to the forthcoming review based on the US 1946 Administrative Procedure Act that bans federal agencies making “capricious” decisions. The review of the net neutrality legal framework could be seen as a flip-flop movement based on political rationale, and therefore susceptible of anullment. We should remember that Internet giants stated their position about the review even before it was announced.

The actions towards a review of the net neutrality legal framework could be detected even in Europe. Although the European Electronic Communications Code proposed by the European Commission does not include any article related with net neutraility, we can not discard future legislative projects on the matter in Europe. Net neutrality has been included among the topics of the consultation on the future of the Internet launched by the European Commission

Without any doubt, the next months we will see announcements and press releases from both sides of the net neutrality battle camp. The fragile peace of the war between digital platforms and telecom operators for the dominance of the Internet has been broken again.


miércoles, 3 de mayo de 2017

"El monarca de las sombras" - Javier Cercas

El monarca de las sombrasEl monarca de las sombras by Javier Cercas
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Sigo los libros de Javier Cercas desde su primera novela, "Soldados de Salamina". Tras aquella obra maestra, no creo haya alcanzado la misma capacidad de emocionar al lector excepto en "Anatomía de un instante". No obstante, su habitual fórmula de la descripción aséptica de una historia combinada con mostrar sentimientos del autor hacia los personajes centrales ha producido otras obras interesantes, como "El impostor". En "El monarca de las sombras" intenta repetir el modelo, pero queda a mitad de recorrido en el camino de causar sobresaltos en los sentimientos.

El fracaso de "El monarca de las sombras" radica de una parte en la desgana. Cercas confiensa sus dudas iniciales en contar la historia, y no parece que las dudas se disipen en ningún momento. Se mantiene desde comienzo a fin un sentimiento de verguenza hacia una historia familiar que repudia, conteniendo al autor de volcar sus emociones, probablemente por temor a causar daño a los familiares vivos que consideraron un héroe al monarca de las sombras. Hay demasiada contradicción entre los valores del autor y el protagonista del libro y un exceso de relación con él que le impide ser sincero.

De otro lado, "El monarca de las sombras" no deja de ser un historia demasiado cercana a muchos como para llegar a interesarnos. Las grandes novelas son historias que nos enriquecen mediante la sorpresa, a través del descubrimiento de situaciones en su mayor parte alejada de la cotidianeidad. Sin embargo, el monarca es un personaje demasiado conocido, al menos para una parte importante de los lectores de Cercas, de aquellos que rondamos los cincuenta años. Aquella guerra nos dejó a todos historias cercanas de fantasmas cosanguineos de los que se huye.

Quizás el tiempo haga que "El monarca de las sombras" una obra más apreciada.

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miércoles, 26 de abril de 2017

Digital transformation of sectors (I): Tourism

It is said that digital technologies are changing any economic activity. This is something more than a common place. This is the first post of a new serie. I plan to review some legacy activities beyond the usual suspcts (government, manufacturing, ...) and shortly review the impact of the digital transformation on them. Let´s start with tourism, and next post with farming. After that we will see the next ones.

The World Tourism Organization (WTO) defines tourism in 2015 as "“a social, cultural and economic phenomenon which entails the movement of people to countries or places outside their usual environment for personal or business/professional purposes”. As a consequence, the digital transformation of tourism has two main drivers. On one hand, the growth of people´s personal hiperconnectivity due to the spread of smartphones as a personal and professional tool that is always at hand. On the other hand, the digital transformation of the places where they move to, which is symbolized in the creation of smart cities and communities underpinned by IoT, broadband and cloud infrastructure and the digitalisation of any kind of companies established in the place and their products and services. 

Digital transformation of tourism is characterized by the creation of data ecosystems, with data flows originated by the actors mentioned above.  The visitor, destination community and companies takes advantage of the data in the three stages of the touristic activity. Before the travel, with the anticipation of the tourist needs based on the previous activities of other travelers and the information on the personal demands of the tourist. During the travel, enhancing the experience of the tourist with constant flows of information and refueling the infirmation database of the destination and its companies with the personal digital footprint of the individual. After the travel, enabling travelers to share their travel experiences so that they can help other travelers.

Sharing the information and knowledge build on top of this data could benefit equally all of the actors with the transformation of tourism in an interactive activity based on co-creation and co-production paradigms. On one hand, tourist has access to personalized and context awareness services and products. On the other hand, the visiting community makes a better allocation of resources for the benefit of residents and visitors through real-time monitoring. Last but not least, firms and companies improve its economic sustainability with access to relevant information.

The keys for a successful transformation of tourism in a place it is two-fold. Firstly, the integration of tourism on top of the smart city or community as another service, taking advantage of the infrastructure already in place as a distinguished activity. Secondly, taking into consideration of the tourist as a differentiated profile of citizen to serve in both public and private digital services, to begin with with the extensive usage on multilinguism.

The revolution of transport makes places physical closer for tourist. Digital technologies extends the time of tourist experience beyond the timespace we visit the place and makes more intense our experience with visiting blending physical and virtual worlds. To sum up,  changes completely the dimensions of travelling.

miércoles, 19 de abril de 2017

"The Establishment", Owen Jones

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Owen Jones book is focused on the description of what he calls UK´s establishment, "the powerful groups that need to protect their position in democracy" from the control and check-and-balance mechanisms that exits in UK´s democracy. However, the book does not sound as a local book. With other actors and a different importance of each establisment´s subgroup within the power map, the establisment exists in every country. Therefore, some of the pages of the book would sound familiar to you.

To begin with, the composition of the establisment is similar in every country: media groups, think-tanks, rich families who have been rich for centuries, ... with similar abhor for the state and its mechanisms to ensure redistribution of wealth such as taxes. Patterns may sound familiar in some of the practices develop by each country establishment: newspapers that set up the framework in any policy debate according with the limits previously defined, police "trained to treat working people as the enemy within", dependance of the powerful groups on the largesse of the state, government´s lack of accountability, revolving doors between public and private sector, ...

But it is not a rare coincindence that establisment composition and practices are familiar for those who read the book outside UK. As Owen Jones warns, the "ideas of the establishment coincided with the interests of corporate power regardless of national boundaries". Globalisation has help to spread establishment ideology at the same time that the later has been the main tool for expanding the former, creating a virtuous circle that has fuel the worldwide hike of inequality. The author also reflects how it is emerging a global tiredness among the lower classes that is feeding a right-wing populism, that curiously does not defy the establishment power but underpins its force.

However, Owen Jones finalised giving a glimpse of hope. As the establishment footprint is global, it is also global the resistance to it. So it finalised with a call to develop a global movement that defies this free-market consensus with a new consensus based on the general interest and a more fair distribution of wealth.

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miércoles, 5 de abril de 2017

Saving the web

Some weeks ago, Tim Berners-Lee published one of this articles that must be read, several times, infinity times. The founder web enumerates the three trends that are killing the web: the lost of control of personal data, the easiness of spreading misinformation and the lack of transparency of online advertising (note: I have slightly changed the last one. Mr. Berners-Lee only pinpoint to political online advertisig, but as we see later the problem is in any kind of ads).

The three trends enumerated above also compose a virtuous circle. Our personal data helps to design algorithms to disseminate news that are wisely used by those who want to spread misinformation, who funded their activity with online advertising that fuels the business of trading personal data. On one hand, this fact makes the trends stronger, but, on the other hand, makes them easy to fight: Combat one of them with all your strength and you would kill the three

We have tried in vain to fight the loss of control of personal data. Create people  awareness on this issue has proved to be an impossible mission. Services in exchange of data are widely spread because people prefers to pay with this new currency than with actual money. Equally difficult is fighting the spread of misinformation. As the spread of "good" and "bad" information can not be separated, we can not fight against this part of the circle. Fighting the lack of transparency in online advertising is the unique option, but also the wiser option: follow the money is always a good strategy. 

Although Google and Facebook made some vague promises about cutting the flow of advertising to fake-news sites after the US election, it looks that politicians are not going to rest their faith for tackling the issue in self-regulation. Firstly, UK MEPs and Her Majesty Government criticised the lack of transparency of the ad distribution in Google for their customers. Afterwards, EU consumer authorities announces some kind of measures designed to make social media giants like Google, Twitter and Facebook abide by EU consumer laws.

It will take time to assess the effectiveness of this new strategy. Maybe it is the last opportunity to preserve non-commercial side of Internet, its role as a communication tool among humans.
palyginti kainas