miércoles, 13 de febrero de 2019

"Berta Isla" - Javier Marias

Berta IslaBerta Isla by Javier Marías
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Javier Marias fiel a su estilo y a sus fantasmas. "Berta Isla" es una continuación de su escritura hipnótico y ultra descriptiva que nos lleva a explorar de su pluma todas las posibilidades de una escena, un retorno a los escenarios de fondo conectados con las temáticas mas oscuras del mundo británico y las citas literarias. Y, como siempre, en primer plano los matices de las relaciones de pareja, plasmando en situaciones extremas lo que son las situaciones cotidianas del mundo compartido entre dos.

El centro de "Berta Isla" es el conocimiento imposible de quién convive con nosotros. Vemos del otro lo que nos enseña, lo que nos cuenta, pero siempre detrás puede haber un universo que desconozcamos. Tanto Berta, como, en menor medida, su marido Tomás se desconocen el uno al otro. Y la paradoja es cómo ese desconocimiento va en aumento a partir de que su relación se consolida en un proyecto de futuro. Sin embargo, ese desconocimiento creciente no impide que el amor entre ellos crezca, incluso en la separación eterna y la espera de un reencuentro que es el segundo foco del libro.

"Berta Isla" es, también, una actualización del mito de Penélope y Ulises. En la novela, Javier Marias bebe los vientos homéricos y construye una historia de espera femenina, magníficamente plasmada en la foto de su portada. La resistencia a creer en la muerte del ser amado aunque todo señale lo contrario, pero al mismo tiempo, el deber de seguir viviendo, seguir progresando en una vida independiente del otro.

"Berta Isla" es una novela que podría ser trasladada a cualquier escenario de fondo. Pero ahí también Javier Marias realiza una construcción perfecta. La conexión con una de sus anteriores novelas, "Tu rostro mañana", dota a "Berta Isla" del trasfondo del mundo del espionaje británico, incluida su relación con el mundo académico de Oxford tan querido para el autor.

Como siempre que uno acaba de leer una novela de Javier Marias, varías preguntas quedan en el aire. La primera, porqué no leí esta novela inmediatamente cuando fue publicada. La segunda, cuánto tiempo tardará en publicar Javier Marias su siguiente obra maestra. La tercera, porqué hay quien piensa que Javier Marías no se merece el Premio Nobel.

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miércoles, 6 de febrero de 2019

The dangerous path to AI based robo politicians

From sex to the elderly care sector and tv news anchors, news of AI-based robots able of taking by assault the jobs of the more diverse sectors important for human relationships catch our attention and capture our imagination. This kind of AI-based robot applications transport us to a future where humans may spend a relevant part of their days being satisfied in their need of a companion by not human beings. One very particular kind of this robot applications are politicians.

As politicians take decisions and develop actions that have the biggest influence in our daily life, the idea of being on the hands  of an extremely efficient and capable "being " maybe highly attractive. The idea of 24 hours, 7 days a weeks politician, always available to explain the decisions he/she/it takes on behalf of us, decisions which are based on evidence without spurious influences, is capable to attract many people. Furthermore, the debate is open in prestigious media such as The Economist. What many years ago would have been taken as a freaky debate has now been introduced in the political agenda.

However, it is surprising that the issue even can be seriously considered. There are well known the cases of the bias introduced in AI by the companies that design its algorithms and even if bias doesn´t exist it would be diificult to imagine to have the needed ethical capability introduce in the "politician algorithm". For instance, which should be the weight given in the algorithm to the goal of being reelected in comparison with the goal of protection of the general interest? In order to give a real life exmaple, which course of action would a robo-politician choose in an extreme social divisive situation as Brexit?

Maybe the reason the case why we admit robo politicians to be introduced in the political agenda is because we think that bias and a personal interpretation of the general interest already govern the actions of politicians. This would be a more dangerous sitaution that it looks at first sight, because it would mean just another triumph of the so-called far right populisms and those who rock their craddle. Furthermore, the opposite case, the possiblity of creating a robo politician without bias and guided by a perfect interpretation of the general interest would be equally danger, What would be elections for in that case?

As in other cases of AI applications, robo politicians looks as one of those paths that it would be better not to be explored. The seeds of a dystopian society are clearly embedded in the idea. However, we should be sure some one will go that way. 

miércoles, 30 de enero de 2019

"The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs. Private Sector Myths" - Marina Mazzucato

The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs. Private Sector Myths

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A must read book if you have a left-wing vision of the mission of the State. And if you don´t have it and you are open to new ideas, perhaps it would make you think about your own convictions. Because this book, as its subtitle said, is oriented to debunk some myths about the role that the public and private sector has historically played in making fly innovative ideas. Through a compilation of examples mainly from the digital economy, Marina Mazzucato put some prejudices upside down, showing that public sector has been behind of the inception of the more profitable innovations around us.

We can call the author´s theories as post-keynesians, as she does not only reivindicate the role of the State in economy as the one that makes counter-cyclic investments. The State should have also a role as the sponsor of those projects that the private sector does not dare to tackle due to its high initial investments. The author shows that this have been the case of renewable energy devices or the Internet (both as a network and some of the most succesful applications such as the WWW or the iPhones).

But the book tackle also one of the topics more cheerished by the letf-wing policies: the need of a more fair distribution of benefits. In spite of the economic success of the innovations mentioned above, few of this profits has returned to the State for promoting new innovations (some succesful and some not) or providing services to the citizens, particularly to those affected by the disruptions caused by the innovations. The author points to this failure of the innovation system and calls for the development of mechanisms to solve the problems (including some examples).

However, some times you may feel that the book is longer that needed. I also have that feeling. But thinking over it twice, I think that the lenght is fully justified: Without plenty details it would be an impossible mission to debunk the myths. The book is written not only for those convinced of the need of an entreperneurial state, but also for those who believe in the prevalence of the private sector over the public sector.

To sum up the author thesis that I fully share, "if governments are willing to take the big risks that business will not take, they are bound to fail sometimes and suceed others. But if they do not do it, they will not succeed at all". State has already playes this role and should continue that way. However, we should solve that "risk taking has been a collective endeavour while the returns has been much less colectively distributed".

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miércoles, 23 de enero de 2019

Forget your hopes, work is not going to disappear

Fear to automatisation is in the air. People are scared of losing their jobs due to increasing use of Artificial Intelligence, particularly with the integration of intelligent robots in the working place. According with the Eurobarometer on "Attitudes towards the impact of digitisation and automation on daily life",  74% of respondents expect that due to the use of robots and artificial intelligence more jobs will disappear than new jobs will be created and 72% of respondents believe robots steal peoples' jobs.  

This fears are mainly based in an Oxford University study wrote in 2013 that estimates a 47% of American jobs are at risk of automation, which methodology has been applied in different countries with similar results. Less known is the explanation of the study written by the authors in 2018, which among other things highlighted that this estimation does not mean an employment apocalypse, but only a hint of the scale of the changes that we are facing and the need to craft the appropriate response. As a matter of fact, something similar have happened since the beginning of the XX century with the workforce employed in agriculture, that has decreased from 40% of the population to 2%.

Evidences against the employment apocalypse scenario are beginning to emerge. In spite of its short base of respondents, there are interesting the conclusions of a recent study among American companies that have already incorporated AI as an enterprise tool. Far from diminishing the workforce employed, 40% have increased the number of employees and 34% have neither experienced a decrease nor an increase.

The above mentioned study is nothing more than the confirmation of a warning against neoluditism made by Gartner last year: The apocalyptic predictions don´t take into account how the technology and humans can work together to create new employment. Furthermore, the study also shows a that most companies had move from awareness and early-stage adoption of AI to implementation and determination of what value the technology provides, which also should have influence in a wise usage of AI beyond the mere substitution of humans by machines.

So it would be better to forget for good or bad about the end of work, it is not going to exist. Work is going to change, in the same manner that has evolved since the dawn of humanity, but it will continue to be our daily damnation

miércoles, 16 de enero de 2019

The inevitable rise of exoskeletons

According with the wikipedia, an exoskeleton (from Greek έξω, éxō "outer" and σκελετός, skeletós "skeleton") is the external skeleton that supports and protects an animal's body, in contrast to the internal skeleton (endoskeleton) of, for example, a human. However, technology is on the brink to introduce a substantial change on this definition, as in matter of years the so-called "powered exoskeleton" will be what we call simply exoskeleton. Soon, the wearable mobile machines that are powered by some kind of technology and provide limb movements with increased strength and endurance will be, at least, as popular as the crustacean shells.

Among the multiple fields of robotics development, exoskeletons look as an incomplete robots that in some manner can be fully and easily controlled by humans, and therefore raises less concerns. Perhaps, that is the rationale behind why exoskeleton sector is beginning to show its applicability in many fields. There are almost commercial projects for the usage in constructing areas and airports where are needed to move and lift big things or to practice demanding sports without tiredness, even for a less nice purpose as the usage at wars. Furthermore, these applications are thought to be the tip of the iceberg. According with ABI Research robotic exoskeleton sales will jump from $97 million globally in 2016 to $1.9 billion by 2025.

In the list of applications above, there has not been included one that raises may hopes: the usage of exoskeleton for therapeutic purposes, helping people with disabilities to walk and move again freely and by their own. ABI research predicts almost a quarter of the 100,000 exoskeleton suits sold in 2025 will be for people with disabilities. Nevertheless, the current prices, starting in 80,000 $ and beyond, makes that this humble forecast even quite high.

However, it looks that exoskeletons are beginning to enter in the health systems as another treatment in the list. In the USA, it looks it is starting its spreading, based as usual on the size of your purse. In a recent article, the wonders of the usage of exoskeleton in an American Hospital are combined with the description of the sad reality that the patient had to asked his mother for part of his inheritance in order to pay for it. In this side of the Atlantic, hopefully they will enter soon as part as the Public Health Systems. The German Government has already included an Exoskeleton model in the Official List of medical aids, which means a degree of obligation on insurers to pay.

Exoskeletons look as the ideal spearhead for the introduction of robotics in society and economy. They are not only multipurpose, but also they can be considered more as a tool to augment human capacity than a substitute and they appear as less autonomous than robots, decreasing the fears to automatisation. The needed State intervention to make them affordable in some uses would also act as a driver to boost their production beyond the current predictions, and therefore provoke a general affordability. Maybe I´am wrong, but all the signs point to the rise of exoskeletons.



miércoles, 9 de enero de 2019

An EU digital start up strategy to fill up the digital single market

Many years ago, you began to buy the flats of a building. One day, you noticed you have acquired the whole building, so you would like to invite the people you like to come in and move freely inside it. But nobody came, because the internal walls that remains from the former flats make the movement quite difficult.  You remove the walls but there's still few activity inside the building because there are less people than needed to develop relevant activity within the building.

The story above is the story of the EU Digital Single Market. The EU have worked hard to eliminate the digital legal fragmentation within the EU, but once the barriers are almost removed we have noticed that there's still few activity within the Digital Single Market. There are few EU digital companies that can take advantage of the new distribution of the building,. So the moment have just arrived to boost the creation of companies to fill up the building. And therefore, this should be one of the pillars of the EU digital policy for the forthcoming legislative period.

The foundations to build on the results of the current EU start up strategy, the "Europe's next leaders: the Start-up and Scale-up Initiative". The initiative has deployed some instruments that have helped to promote digital entrepreunership and its scale up, but more efforts should be done. To begin with, the so-called "one top shop" should be reinforced with a significant participation of the Member States. And this will not be possible without developing a feeling of ownership through the development of an EU start up strategy based on the synergies with the national strategies.

There are other instruments that has been deployed in the last years and could be used to attract and retain digital talent in Europe. For instance, we are on the brink on the renewal of the EU Blue Card scheme that among other features will introduce a single EU-wide scheme and new rights for its holders and the families. The exchange of practices of Member States in the use of  these new tools for the promotion of digital entrepreunership would be ket to its global success in the EU.

And other instruments could be developed for the creation of real EU digital start ups. One via to explore is the adaptation of the Societas Europaea scheme to the needs of the start up or the creation of a similar instrument for this purpose.

But also, there is a need for funding instruments for start up projects. And the the next MFF should be the source of the funds. On one hand, programmes like Digital Europe or Horizon Europe could fund projects where start ups may take part. On the other hand, InvestEU is the ideal instrument to fund the creation and scale up of digital start ups through the creation of specific funds for this purpose.

The end of the Digital Single Market Strategy provide the rationale for a reinforcement of the EU digital start-ups strategie that reaps the benefits of the new scenario. Because without EU digital companies, the build up of the Digital Single market will have been in vain. And as we do not have digital companies, we will need to promote its creation and scale up.

miércoles, 2 de enero de 2019

"El orden del dia" - Eric Vuillard

El orden del díaEl orden del día by Éric Vuillard
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"El orden del día" es otro de los libros que figura en las selecciones de las mejores obras de 2018. La obra ha sido galardonada también con el prestigioso Premio Goncourt. Al autor hay que reconocerle el mérito de la selección de un tema, la habilidad para desarrollar un ritmo trepidante y la capacidad de mantener la atracción del lector, aunque el estilo resulte deslavazado en algunos pasajes.

Pero si algo destaca de la obra, es su trama, oportuna como pocas. Vuillard nos traslada a la Europa de los años previos a la Segunda Guerra Mundial, situándonos en dos momentos claves del nazismo: su asentamiento interno tras la ascensión de Hitler a la cancillería y la anexión de Austria y Checoslovaquia. El autor pone el foco en las responsabilidades de quienes están capacitados para ello no se opusieron, acusando con nombres y apellidos a quienes nunca pagaron por su falta de valor o por egoísmo.

Comienza y termina el relato recordando el papel de los grandes empresarios alemanes como aliados necesarios del nazismo. Primero, dando el apoyo económico para su máquina de propaganda. Después, participando en el esfuerzo bélico y obteniendo beneficios de la mano de obra esclava. Se disculpa con frecuencia al pueblo alemán de haber caído embrujado por la demagogia. Del mismo modo, hoy los populismos neofascistas aumentan sus votos con cantos de sirena, y podemos disculpar a sus votantes como víctimas de un engaño. Pero hoy, como ayer, nunca serán inocentes quienes les apoyan por el cortoplacismo de su interés personal.

En las páginas centrales, desfilan los cobardes. Vuillard pone en primer plano a aquellos políticos en Austria, Francia o Reino Unido que quisieron taparse los ojos. Todos ellos prefirieron pensar que al bravucón se le calmaba con una pequeña cesión, tampoco quisieron que esa cesión se prolongaba después en otra, y más tarde en otra. Hoy también vemos quienes apaciguan y contemporizan con los extremismos neofascistas, quienes también se darán demasiado tarde para todos que han sido devorados.

Una novela reseñable, pero nos deja el sabor agridulce de lo poco que se aprende de las lecciones de la historia.



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