miércoles, 12 de diciembre de 2018

EU & Blockchain: The beginning of a beautiful friendship

Blockchain, or more generally speaking, Distributed Ledger Technologies is seen as one of the key enabler technologies for digital transformation of economy and the society. Beyond its usage in criptocurrencies and other financial services, applications are emerged in other areas of the data economy. As a consequence, the European Council pointed in October 2017 this technology as one of the emergent trends that need to be address by the European Union.

After the political support, the European Commission took the usual steps in order to work on exploring the applications of any technology. On one hand, the EC set up an initiative to collaborate with the the private sector called the EU Blockchain Observatory, that aims to identify regulatory challenges related with DLTs and explore their different use cases. On the other, hand, the EC established a group for collaboration with the Member States, called the European Blockchain Partnership (EBP), mainly focused in discovery the application of DLTs in cross-border public services and the specification and implementation of a trusted, secure and resilient European Blockchain Services Infrastructure (EBSI) to support these services. 

The European Parliament has not been idle while the EC and the Member States were working in the EBPS and the EU Blockchain Observatory. After many working sessions, the Parliament has published in October 2018 a resolution called "Distributed ledger technologies and blockchains: building trust with disintermediation".  The resolution identifies many sectorial applications (energy, transport, healthcare, education, supply chains, creative industry, finances), describes the main elements of the DLT ecosystem (identity & trust, smart contracts, interoperability & standards, security), pushes for DLT public infrastructure, highlights its importance for SMEs (both as a tool for develop business opportunities and a financial mechanism) and concludes with listing policy actions to build up a blockchain-friendly Europe (strengthening skills, case-by-case regulation,  support R&D in the area and best practices exchange). 

So all the pieces are on the table for the next EU legislative period regarding blockchain. It´s time to take advantage of the Digital Single Market to develop an EU DLT policy approach and reap its benefits in the different economic sectors.

miércoles, 5 de diciembre de 2018

A digital phantom menace

Along the last years, Europe has been accused many times of sgital protectionism, particularly by US private and public actors. It´s  curious that both the current US President Mr. Trump) and the former one (Mr. Obama) has critised at one moment or other some of the policies developed in the Union to build the Digital Single Market. It may has something to do with the surge of lobby spending in Washington by the GAFA.

Although it may be difficult to determine what is digital protectionism, what it is true is the increasing difficulty of the GAFA to do business in Europe. Without being exhaustive, we have seen last year how new data protection rules has entried into force in EU, the finance ministers mulling with the idea of a Digital tax, a review of the audiovisual legal framework that aims to establish new obligations to Netflix-alike services and several antitrust investigations leaded by the European Commission are in different stages of its proceedings.

It would be an endless debate to discuss about the fairness of the above measures. While someone may call it to stifle innovation, others call it a mechanism to level the playing field. What it is true, it is that it is starting to float the idea of a partial or total shut down of GAFA services in Europe. The most clear and recent threat in this sense has come from Google, who has been ambiguous on the possibility to close down Google News in Europe in case the new EU copyright rules includes the so-call link tax. 

We should recognise that for many of us the GAFAs are so ingrained in our daily life that it´s difficult to imagine a life without them. However, it may not be a tragedy for EU it´s total shut down in Europe. As the Sweden example show us, it is possible to survive without, for instance, Amazon services. Furthermore, according with the results of the last DESI, Sweden is the second most digitally advanced country in Europe and 84% of the internet users shop online, well above the EU average and only overcome by UK.

So the menace of the shut down of GAFA service in Europe should not be as bad as it is feared, the Sweden example show us that there is life without digital platforms and also may have some postive effects in the digital performance of a country. The consequences, it the end, may be worst for the GAFAs than EU if the bluff is called.

miércoles, 28 de noviembre de 2018

"Lejos del corazón" - Lorenzo Silva

Lejos del corazón (Bevilacqua y Chamorro, #11)Lejos del corazón by Lorenzo Silva
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Como tantos otros, sigo leyendo y devorando cada nuevo relato de un caso de Vila y Chamorro. Y Lorenzo Silva, como ya hizo con la corrupción local en "Los cuerpos extraños" o el estado de la cuestión catalana en "La marca del meridiano", utiliza el trasfondo de las preocupaciones y actualidad como contexto. Toca en esta ocasión el lado alegal de Internet, que combina con los perennes negocios turbios de las mafias del Estrecho.

La novela es, también, un ajuste de cuentas de Lorenzo Silva con la cara oscura de Internet. Pocos novelistas existen más combativos que el autor contra la distribución ilegal de sus obras en la red. Lorenzo Silva relata, deleitándose en el detalle, la estrecha relación entre apps gratuitas que ocultan recopiladores de información personal, mineros escondidos de bitcoin, redes de blanqueo de dinero y webs de enlaces ilegales a contenidos protegidos con derechos de autor. Son páginas profusamente documentadas en sus contactos con los técnicos informáticos de la Guardia Civil, un ejercicio de divulgación que agradecerán muchos de sus lectores.

Una gran novela de la serie de Bevilacqua y Chamorro, aunque no sea la mejor de ellas. La trama tiene la solidez que nos tiene acostumbrados Lorenzo Silva. Retratos perfectos de los delincuentes de turno y su entorno, en este caso tan diversos como frikis informáticos, escenarios de intercambios sexuales con pretendido alejamiento de la sordidez, patrulleras y voladoras que pueblan el Estrecho y barrios sin ley donde la solidaridad la crea el mercado negro.

Al terminar, una queda con el deseo de leer la siguiente entrega, el mejor signo que, tras veinte años de aventuras, nuestra pareja favorita de guardia civiles aún tiene casos por delante y malos a los que derrotar. El deseo de seguir cumpliendo los mismos años que Bevilacqua acompañado por su integridad.

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miércoles, 21 de noviembre de 2018

AI and human rights

There´s a race among the different economic areas for a quick and effective deployment of Artificial Intelligence. The promise of a new surge of productivity growth accompany Artificial Intelligence is fueling investments in all the continents. The promise is an increase of 14% on global GNP by 2030, the private investments for reaping AI benefits are expected to reach $232B by 2025.

Nevertheless, besides its economic benefits, AI is carrying fears of a soul-less world where human beings will be subdued to machines. These fears that are captured human imagination would almost be an unavoidable future without a general consensus of the limits to be respected. A well positioned forum to hold this debate are the United Nations, where documents as the report on AI implications for human rights published by the UN Special Rapporteur for the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression are debated.

The report focuses particularly on the impact of AI on rights to freedom of opinion and expression, privacy and non-discrimination. In order to begin from a right starting point, the report includes a definition of AI as a “constellation” of processes and technologies enabling computers to complement or replace specific tasks otherwise performed by humans, such as making decisions and solving problems. Another cornerstone of the report is the human responsibilty as central in AI development. The author highlights the human role in in the design of AI systems (by the definition of its intentions), deployment (through the modellation of algorithms and the procurement of data) and implementation (in the decision of how to apply its outputs).

In order to be effective, the reporter narrow the scope of its task to concrete applications of AI. However, the selection does not mean a reduction of the relevancy of conclusions of the report, as the applications chosen are "Content display and personalization", "Content moderation and removal" and "Profiling, advertising and targeting". It´s not needed to say that the above mentioned applications are present in the daily surfing of internet users.

The reporter raises concerns in several areas related to human rights. Firstly, for its impact on right to freedom of opinion and expression, as AI endangers individuals’ self-determination and autonomy to form and develop personal opinions based on factual and varied information. Secondly, regarding the right to privacy the reporter warns on the mass collection of data that once processes may drive to sensitive information about people. Last but not least, the reporter points to the threat of non-discrimination that poses AI.

Governments are pointed by the author as the main responsible for pushing towards a human-centric development of AI. But he also identified several tools that could help to enable a right regulatory framework for AI:
  • human rights impact assessments performed prior, during and after the use of AI systems;
  • external audits and consultations with human rights organisations;
  • enabled individual choice thanks to notice and consent;
  • effective remedy processes to end human rights violations.

To sum up, AI development should not only fulfill the principle of ethic-by-design, there is also a human right framework to take care of  and tools for its enforcement that governments could use.

martes, 13 de noviembre de 2018

"Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind" - Yuval Noah Harari

Sapiens: A Brief History of HumankindSapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have also fallen to read "Sapiens", one of those books that everybody has read or plan to read, one of those books that plays the role of the perfect gift for your brother or sister, one of those books that pops up time and again in family dinners. It´s not a perfect book, sometimes it is quite superficial and orther extremely presumptuous. However it is written in a highly readable style and it is a light manner to extend your knowledge on the human race.

For some people, the book will be expendable, but I have the feeling that for many more it should be a must read. Otherwise, the later would not have a panoramic landscape of what has made the humankind the master and commander of the earth. That is the great value of the book. For the majority of its readers it is their first (and probably last) meeting with how an once weak and vulnerable animal has been capable to overcome its limitations once and again through multiple revolutions of its lifestyle.

Five hundred pages (footnotes and references included) is a short space to tell a story that spans across several hundred thousands of years, but in a well structured narrative in four stages, the author achieves his objective. By the end of the book, the reader have a basic knowledge (from the author perspective) of our first steps on earth as one of the many human species, the evolution from nomadism to sedentarism through the discovery of agriculture, how the humankind get connected thanks to imperialism and, finally, the unfinished era of an unended stream of scientific discoveries that may lead in the medium term to the definitive step of a self-designed race.

Of course the narrative has many gaps, from my point of view the most important is not paying enough attention to the Greco-Roman culture and the supposedly dark period of the Medium Age in Europe, and sometimes the author gives conclusions not based enough on evidences but on his own personal ideas. Nevertheless, that are the usual limits and downs of this kind of books that you should know before you invest in the effort of reading them.

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miércoles, 7 de noviembre de 2018

Zero rating for social good

It looks that debate around net neutrality has been opened again. To begin with, net neutrality deabate has entered in the mid-term elections debate in USA. It is expected also that that net neutrality will be one of the thorny regulatory issues when network slicing features will be deployed in 5G networks. Beside these new debates, it is the still open debate on zero rating services and their fulfillment of net neutrality principle.

One of the many faces of zero rating is the focus of this post. But let´s start with a brief reminder of the zero rating concept. Zero-rating is the practice of providing Internet access without financial cost under certain conditions, such as by only permitting access to certain websites or by subsidizing the service with advertising. As fixed internet services are based in flat rate, zero rating services are commercialised within the scope of mobile (broadband) data services. 

Obviously, there are uses of zero rating services that would violate net neutrality principle. Let´s say for instance the case of a vertical integrated mobile ISPs that offers its own VOD service including in its Internet service under a zero rating model and the rest VOD service under a normal tariff based on the usage. 

But there could be also cases where zero rating maybe used for social good that have not yet been fully exploited, particularly as a government tool for digital inclusion. A first possibiliy is applying zero rating for subsidising the access to digital government services. Although on a general basis could  be a complex kind of filtering due to the multiplicity of government web sites, a simplification for an specific kind of services as health services or to fulfill the yearly tax return it is feasible and it would mean relevant savings for the Treasure.

Neither has been explored the application of zero rating within the scope of the universal service, perhaps because mobile internet has not yet been saw as part of the universal service. And it may be so in the short term because the substitution of fixed connections by mobile access is a reality. A public subsidy for vulnerable people of a mail service or messaging service of their choice would probably be also within the respect of net neutrality spirit.

A last example of the usage of zero rating for social good is for promoting digital entrepreunership, connected with awards for solving social challenges. For instance, a government may sponsored the access to private services developed by start up companies presented within a call for projects. This model could help digital SMEs to be known among the general public and promote a level playing field between them and the digital giants. 

Almost any tool has a dual usage, one for good and one for evil. Zero rating is not an exception. Beside its usage by private companies to crowd out competition, governament should explore its usage as a tool for digital inclusion, both for citizens and companies.

miércoles, 31 de octubre de 2018

Beyond digital skills

Many times in the past I have written about the need to promote digital skills. In particular, I think that it´s highly important to provide policy makers with the digital skills (most red post of this blog)  they lack of. However, I think that once more it´s needed to think out of the box and we need to go beyond the trending topics. Although digital skills are needed to work and joy in the digital era, they are not the only skills that are needed for the digital era.

Particularly, ethical skills should be in equal foot of importance as digital skills in any skills development strategy, wether in the national/international level or in an education centre. Digital technology applications are colliding with the principles and values we wre taught in many areas every day. The crash could only be avoided if "Don´t be evil" motto goes beyond being a catchy phrase, continuouslly forgotten even by the digital company who promoted it, and begin to be infused in engineers DNA.

Although many times is tried to be hidden, engineers and digital companies have a responsibility in the consequences of their invention. In the past, IBM played a central role as an enabler of the holocaust promoted by the nazi regime. Today, Amazon, Microsoft and others are providing the tools for the implentation of Trump´s anti-inmigration agenda

It´s not possible to stop the bad usage of a technology, but it´s possible not to develop this bad usage. Killer robots will be used for war it they are developed, but its development could be stopped. In the same manner, technology could be used for good purposes as warning about the existance of gender divide at work. But an ethical approach to tech development it´s only possible if ethics are included as a core matter in enginneer training.

Digital skills are needed for humans in the digital world. Ethic skills are critical for the existance of a digital world.

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