miércoles, 6 de noviembre de 2019

A Digital Welfare State for Algorithmic Natives

Some years after the first wave of Internet based digital technologies, we started to notice the appearance of a new kind of individuals that we called "digital natives". Their unadvertised emergence was a surprise for all the social and economic structures, from private companies to governments, who quickly need to develop measures and actions to serve their needs and satisfy their yearnings. Nobody expected that a new breed of applications may have such a global and quick impact on humanship, used to a slowest adoption of technologies.

Headed by AI, 5G and IoT, a new wave of technologies are starting to be massively available. Perhaps, some people may think the raise of these emerging technologies is nothing more than the evolution of the well-known Internet based digital technologies, and therefore with not significant different impact on population. For good or bad, this will not be so. The "algorithmic natives" will be masively exposed to intelligent machines (AI) in an ubiquity manner (5G) with all their acts and thoughts susceptible to be captured and handle by public and private third parties (IoT).

The reaction to the first wave of digital technologies based on Internet has been difficult. Digital giants have grown unleashed, many legacy companies have disappeared unable to understand the need to adopt the new technologies, people have painfully discovered their lack of skills to develop their jobs and governments have been mainly reactive and tackled the issues when the snowball was already mutated into an avalanche. 

Fortunately, things should not be same with the adoption of these new generation of digital technologies. The signs of change have been identified in the craddle. Although, we are still struggling to rein the consequences of the first wave, companies have understood the need to be early adopters of digital technologies and the so called "digital natives" are more capable to adopt innovations than their parents. Even governments and institutions have grasped the urgency to react quickly and that evidence based regulation should not be at odds with speed.

More complex technologies, but also a better prepared society to deal with them. The "algorithmic natives" may be more able to achieve and be provided with a digital welfare society than the predecesors "digital natives".

miércoles, 23 de octubre de 2019

AI will be replaced by AI

One of the main fuels that propels the dystopian visions of our future is the fear for the end of human usefulness in the working place. Although labor has been seen along the history of humanship as an ugly consequence of the original sin, it has also been the source of the daily resources needed for living such as food or housing. Therefore, the raise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) usage as a substitute for human labours at work has given way to a new wave of ludite movements. Nevertheless, in the same manner that the vision of the original ludism never got realised, neoludism may be equally wrong.

In spite of the dooming visions of the future of job, news of a different story are beginning to populate the media. On one hand, there are cases of the transformational usage of algorithms and automation for enhancing human performance and a betterment of decision making. One of my favourite cases is the usage of AI for helping social workers on welfare services to give better assistance to support claimants.

On the other hand, AI has started to show its limits for performing some tasks without any human assistance. For instance, fully algorithmic filtering of harming digital content or AI based profiling has collected a growing set of failures, sometimes due to the bias of programmers and other to the technology state-of-the-art. And it seems that this trend will continue in the future with the sophistication of content authoring tools and the rise of deepfakes.

In spite of soothsayers dark visions, a symbiotic relationship is arising between humans and AI based on cooperation rather than in competition. Gartner has called this model augmented intelligence  (yes, another AI), which is define  as a human-centered partnership model of people and Artificial Intelligence working together to enhance cognitive performance. According the same consultant firm, the new AI would have a market value of 2.9 $ trillion by 2021.

The rise of AI (augmented intelligence) as a replacement of AI (artificial intelligence) shows again the limitation of simple models based uniquely on technology. it is not the first case in human history, and it is almost sure that it will not be the last. New inventions are always and disrupted reinvented with its real usage.

miércoles, 16 de octubre de 2019

Towards the end of digital monopolies

This have been the "annus horribilis" for the great US technological companies, the so called GAFA (Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple). The multiple data breach scandals have ignited a general lost of confidence in the ability to preserve their users privacy, the impact of targetting political campaings in electoral process have spread the awareness of their big and unleashed influence power and their plans to extend their businesses to a growing number activty areas, such as finance, has raised the alarms about a possible capture  of the whole economy by the GAFA. It has been a slow process, but now there is a general feeling on the need that regulators around the world should act to rein on the digital plaforms.

Although the repetition of privacy scandals may be the issue that has captured the attention of the general public, for others it is only a symptom a of the illness which is their immunity feeling before any scandal due to their inmense market power. A growing number of economists and political experts point to their condition of oligopolies and monopolies as the root of the problem, in the same manner that happened with the robber barons in the change from the XIX to XX century.  For instance, in his last book, "The myth of capitalism", Jonathan Tepper has showed the evidences on how the rising market power of companies has always had as consequence less competition, lower investment in the real economy, lower productivity, less economic dynamism with fewer startups, less consumer choice, lower wages and more wealth inequality. According with his thesys, the GAFA are the last example of a long chain of monopolois/oligopolies and their effect.

As the Internet has been considered for long time as a permissionless innovation environment and the perfect model of the creative destruction dynamics, the view of people like Jonathan Tepper has taken some time to permeated in the society. But the evidence of the market dominance of the GAFA are there, for instance, Facebook and Google has captured 70% of the traffic and in US are the source of news to 70% of the pouplation , Amazon share on ecommerce is estimated on 45% and in the case of ebooks 90%. Tepper also collect evidences of their growing power effect on the economy, such as the lack of innovation (no relevant company has entered the digital market since 2008) or employment conditions (the majority of the people who work for this companies are not hired by the companies but for intermediary companies with low wages).

As a consequence of this climate, the debate is open on how to tackle the growing power of the GAFA. In the past, this debate was opend only in Europe but the forthcoming Presidential Elections has put the issue on the table also in US politics. Elsabeth Warren, who aspires to be nominated as candiadate to the US Presidency by the Democrats Partyhas proposed to break up the companies and reverse some the acquistions the have made in the last years. The symbolism of the idea has had as a consequence a great aceptation of it. Nevertheless, we should remember that in the Microsoft case that was not the solution adopted in 2001 but establishing regulatory conditions. The strongest evidence that the sentence of the Microsoft case works is that now exist the GAFA companies.

We can expect that the last months of this year and the next year will be decisive in the future of the digital economy. Whether the final battle against the digital monopolies is fighting with regulations or by breaking the companies is still to be decide, but it looks difficult that the market conditions will be same by 2021.

miércoles, 9 de octubre de 2019

"La playa de los ahogados" - Domingo Villar

La playa de los ahogados (Leo Caldas, #2)La playa de los ahogados by Domingo Villar
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

La segunda entrega de las aventuras de Leo Caldas es un salto de calidad en la obra del autor. Sin perder la gran habilidad para perfilar a los personajes que demostró en "Ojos de agua", las descripciones del entorno de la trama ganan en profundidad y realismo. Resulta imposible, por ejemplo, no sentirse ahogado por la claustrofobia de la vida en Panxon en el primer tercio de la obra. Tan sólo sigue sin convencer las forzadas apariciones fantasmagóricas de Alba, la pareja/ex-pareja del protagonista. Si en el primer caso de Leo Caldas eran innecesarias, en el segundo resulta incoherente temporalmente si se piensa en el lapso temporal de publicación entre ambas.

Adicionalmente a una novela negra, la obra es un ejercicio de realismo, en el que la vida de los marineros de bajura es mostrada en todas sus facetas. Las salidas al mar cuando apenas se anuncia el alba, las subastas en la lonja, las tardes de dominó y humo en un bar, la preparación de las redes para el día siguiente. Imposible no sentir tampoco conjuntamente con Caldas el mareo urbanita al navegar en un bote o la incomprensión y sorpresa de su ayudante ante las supersticiones de los hombres de la mar.

Existe en la segunda novela negra escrita por Domingo Villar un mayor dominio de la estructura de la obra. A diferencia de la anterior, no existe la sensación de precipitación en el desarrollo final que se experimenta en "Ojos de agua". A pesar de los múltiples giros inesperados que encuentra el lector en las páginas finales hasta llegar a la presentación de la resolución final del misterio, se percibe un autor que maneja firme las riendas de la trama. Con un argumento notablemente más complejo que en el anterior caso de Leo Caldas, se finaliza con un mayor deseo de abrir el siguiente capítulo de las aventuras de tan peculiar detective. Y es que a diferencia de la primera entrega de Domingo Villar, esta obra si es imprescindible lectura para el aficionado a la novela negra.

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miércoles, 2 de octubre de 2019

The end of self-regulation

The general framework for the development of the digital economy and society have been a self-regulatory environment. Certainly, there has been in place, mainly in Europe, some rules for protecting privacy and establishing some limitation for the usage of personal data, but even these are thought for a market of responsible actors with few instruments for enforcing its application. In spite of some minor conflicts, this framework was thought to be working until last year, when a chain of incidents, from Facebook relationship with Cambridge Analitycs to Amazon changes in its algorithms to favour its own products over the same of its customers.

In the same manner that we don´t trust that drivers will be responsible by themselves, we cannot expect that platforms and other digital actor would limit themselves on their business. In spite of their ostentiatious efforts to show their repentance, some times with promises of going beyond the law obligations and others with voluntary raids on suspicious activities on their platforms, the reality is that few things have changed. The evidences of the falsehood and temporary condition of the change commitments are the first leaks of abuse of power on the implementation voice assistant products.

Fortunately, new regulation efforts are under development. As usual, Europe looks to assume a pioneer role with a so-called Digital Services Act with a yet unknown scope. It looks that the aim is the development of holistic framework that update ecommerce rules, freedom of expression and go deeper on the demands of transparency on algorithms.

However, it may be difficult to really enforced a new regulation environment without a capable human force for this purpose, both in size and skills. This requirement looks as the main weakness on the battle for reining on platforms. Not having rules is highly equivalent to having rules but no means to enforce them, and it doesn´t look at the moment that regulators are planning to grow in number and abilities.

We are entered into a new period of the development of digital economy and society. Governments has apparently understand they need to be more active than in the past. We still ned to see if their will is translated in actions.

viernes, 27 de septiembre de 2019

"Ojos de Agua" - Domingo Villar

Ojos de agua (Leo Caldas, #1)Ojos de agua by Domingo Villar
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Probablemente no es la mejor novela negra que en estos momentos pueda leerse, pero tiene la suficiente calidad para hacer pasar un buen rato. El autor traslada al lector a los paisajes de las Rías Bajas y el urbanismo imposible de Vigo, haciendo sentir la humedad y oler el salado del mar. En el primer plano, un crimen que rezuma ensañamiento y rencor, con el uso de un arma imposible.

Domingo Villa guarda en su relato la arquitectura clásica de las novelas de detectives, con una lenta trama que desvela los misterios en un sprint final. Sin embargo, quizás la aceleración final resulta demasiado brusca, lo cual no deja de ser comprensible en una primera novela. El autor plantea un trama ambiciosa y alambicada, que quizás en algún momento se le escapa de las manos.

El mayor acierto del novelista gallego son, sin duda, sus personajes. Cincela de modo perfecto el perfil de cada uno de ellos. No es solo la perfecta descripción de la melancolía vital del detective protagonista, Leo Caldas, y el espíritu mesetario de su ayudante incapaz de entender la perpetua ambigüedad gallega. Personajes secundarios, en forma de elegantes mujeres gallegas o tradicionales agricultores, se presentan en tres dimensiones ante el lector como si fueran seres con los que habitualmente departiéramos.

Un libro que, en definitiva, puede merecer una oportunidad como puerta de entrada a una serie. Está por ver si las siguientes entregas confirman las promesas.

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miércoles, 25 de septiembre de 2019

"The myth of capitalism" - Jonathan Tepper

The Myth of Capitalism: Monopolies and the Death of CompetitionThe Myth of Capitalism: Monopolies and the Death of Competition by Jonathan Tepper
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

From time to time a book on economy reaches a certain success among the general public. The popular success usually goes hand in hand with achieving influence among the elites as an inspirational book for public policies making. It was the case of Pickety´s "The capitalism of XXI Century" , and up to certain point "The myth of capitalism". Both books are complimentary visions of how growing inequality is taken place in our societies, although the author of the later saw both books as rival views on the issue.

The main topic of Jonathan Teper´s book is how monopolies/oligopolies kill competition and the impact of this situation on the economy, which are the decrease of innovation, low wages, high prices and the growing inequality. Across the pages of the work, the author provide evidences of this effects in the US economy that he sees as captured by oligopolies in almost all its main sectors. In particular, there´s a whole chapter dedicated to the digital sector which the writer sees as a sector where all the downsides of monopolies are more evident.

The book contains also an interest historic view of anti-cartel laws and policies. In the same manner that Piketty shows in his book how inequality has been historically linked to low growth, Tepper shows its link to the lack of competition. In a whole chapter devoted to this historic view, the author presents the inception of Anti-cartel laws due to the need to limit the politic power of big companies (not only to benefit consumers) and its complicated road to its actual enforcement on the last years of the XIX century and the beginning of the the XX century. This historic stroll is completed with the golden era of anti cartel policies between the II World War and the Reagan´s Presidency, which gave way to the decay of a real fight against monopolies. According with the views of the author, the stronger the anti cartel institutions, the more effective the laws and the bigger the competition and the lower the inequality.

Tepper gives also a warning on the dangers of an excess of regulations to fight monopolies. On one hand, the political power of monopolies/oligopolies allow them to capture the regulatory process and makes it plays in their favour. On the other hand, while the big companies like monopolies may fulfill any kind of regulation, the compliance with laws is more costly for small and medium companies, so the effect maybe a reinforcement of oligopolies instead of its limitation.

Apart from the interesting contents of the book, its style is accessible to any reader and it provides a summary of the main ideas of each. chapter at its end. So, even if you are not fond of economy books perhaps this one may be your cup of tea.

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