miércoles, 22 de marzo de 2017

Robotics: State of the Art of the European debate

I am quite obsessed muy the topic of robots in the last weeks. And it happens the same to many people around me. The origin of the stir is probably the approval by the European Parliament of the call for Civil Law Rules for robotics (with an annex). Although the European Parliament does not have legislative initiative under the EU Treaties, its decission serves to definitively open the debate about the robotic society we are entering. The initial reference in the Parliament´s opinion introduction to our cultural references for robotics (Frankestein, Golem, ...) has contributed to draw the attention on the document.

The Parliament's resolution has a holistic approach. It starts with a call for a definition of smart robot, which describes in its features, and its cover the whole production value chain of robots (from research to its registration once it starts its working life and the need for standards in its production), the need for specific rules in some sectorial usage of robots (transport, health, ...), the exploration of a  comon framework for cross-cuting issues (liability, enviromental impact, ...) and the creation of new governace institutions (a European Agency). 

However, once more, the European institutions is losing an opportunity to prove its value for European citizens. The gap of the resolution stands in call for solutions for the citizens worries about robots, which are basically the rise of unemployment. Although the resolution calls for an analysis of the consequences of automatisation on employment, it doesn´t include any call to study concrete proposals as the basic universal rent or taxation of robots. And every day the papers give us some hints of the massive automation of jobs that is coming in every sector, from trucks to public sector. It looks that not everything can be solved providing new skills to the citizens.

Now it is the turn of the European Commission to answer to the Parliament's resolution. As a matter of fact, the communication "Building a Data Economy" published a month before highlights many times that rules for ownership, access and liability on data are closed linked to automatisation and robots. In a recent speech, the DG responsible on the topic announces a clarification of the European Commission position "either towards the end of this year or at the beginning of next year". Let´s hope that the forthcoming proposals will include also the societal perspective of the robotic revolution.

miércoles, 15 de marzo de 2017

Towards a biased automatisation

As times goes by, I feel myself more in the ranks of those who don´t think that robots will mean the end of work. The job posts will evolve in their tasks but that does not mean the end of all of them. Therefore, when we see a list of the works in risk of extinction we should interpret a list of professions that would change in their duties in order to survive. Furhermore, I find quite difficult a generalised automation due to the lack of intellectual resources to think on it.

However, it is undeniable that some jobs could perish or diminish the demand of the services associated to them. This is nothing new. Take the case of the smiths, the importance of their work and the need for them where drastically reduce with the decrease on the demand for horses shoes as a consequence of the disminution of horses at the first industrial revolution. What it is a change now is that every profession now is at risk of automatisation if we dedicated enough amount of intellectual resources to that aim.

So are we at risk of losing our jobs or not? The answer is yes and no. My thesis is that all depends if someone want to make it disappear. In the end, the jobs at risk will not be those we need to automatise but those someone decide to automatise. For instance, as some people hate the job security of public sector employees it is expectable works towards the automatisation of their post

The selective automatisation of jobs is not an isolated risk of the development of artificial intelligence. The bias will reach also to the different solutions adopted for the automatisation, because in the end algorithms are the fruit of human thinking. So it is correct that people in the last Davos meeting show their worries on the lack of diversity in AI workers and line of works. The risk is not automatisation but the biased automatisation.

martes, 7 de marzo de 2017

Digital Single Market Strategy: The review

The European Commission presented on May 6th 2015 the Digital Single Market (DSM) Strategy. Although the implementation of some the envisioned measures have not been as intensive or extensive as initially expected, the Commission can claim they have finalised its part of the job. In January 9th, the EC gave flesh to the last measures to be implemented.

In the never ending European policy making cycle, it starts now the period to review the implementation and delivery of the DSM Strategy. The starting point for this revision will be the next European Council to be held in March 9-10, According with the Bratislava Roadmap, the European Council will review in the meeting the "progress as regards delivering on the different Single Market strategies, including the Digital Single Market".

The formal review of the state of the art on the implementation of the sixteen measures included in the DSM could be done through the Legislative Trains page of the European Parliament. However, in that page you will only find (with a certain delay) the state of the art of what have been proposed, but not a compilation of the potential gaps of the strategy. There is not (as far as I know) a page open to homing this debate.

Let´s think in the potential gaps. Regarding the first pillar, the European Commission has made complete proposal in order to provide better access for consumers and businesses to digital goods and services across Europe. Nevertheless, the end of the antitrust competition inquiry into the e-commerce sector opened by the DG COMP will pave the way for new proposals. The deliverable of the enquiry will be avalaible in the first half of 2017 jointly with more legislative proposals on e-commerce.

As for the second pillar of the DSM strategy, there are a couple of open chapters. On one hand, after the publication of its communication on Digital Platforms, the European Commission open an assessment of online platforms in order to find if it is needed to make proposals to tackle the role intermediaries plays in the protection of intellectual property rights. On the other hand, in the same communication, the Commission anounce a targeted fact-finding exercise on B2B practices in the online platforms environment. Therefore, it could be expected some legislative proposals regarding online platforms. Linked with this pillar, the EC has also launched the idea of creating some kind of cybersecurity labelling scheme for IoT.

Finally, the third pillar of the DSM could be enlarged in several manners. Firstly, with the presentation of some proposal to improve the European ICT standardisation system. Secondly, with the presentation of a legislative proposal to promote the free flow of data as it is insinuated in the recent communication "Building the Data Economy". And last but not least, we can not discard a review of Reuse of PSI legal framework.

Beside these "natural" enlargements of the DSM strategy, other issues could be part of the review of the EU digital strategy. The European Parliament has put on the table several topics as robots or the usage of electronic means to reinforce democracy in Europe. There are still strategic gaps regarding topics like Smart Cities or IoT in the European Union broad view of the digital future.

A new digital policy cycle, a new era for debates.

miércoles, 1 de marzo de 2017

The environment and the digital transformation

One of the legacies of the first days of the tech revolution is the generalised idea that the digital transformation of the economy and society would have a positive impact on the environment. The demateralisation of products, telecommuting and the shift from content property to content access are supposed to be factors that decrease the carbon footprint of human beings.

On the positive side, ICT decrease the environmental cost of collaboration among people in distant places. The GeSI report concludes that "increased use of information and communication technology (ICT) such as video conferencing and smart building management could cut the projected 2020 global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 16.5%, amounting to $1.9 trillion in gross energy and fuel savings and a reduction of 9.1 Gigatonnes carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e) of greenhouse gases".

However, the reduction of the carbon footprint produced by ICT has a consequence an increase of its weight in the global footprint of the humankind. In its classic book "How Bad Are Bananas? The Carbon Footprint of Everything", Mike Berners-Lee (yes, the brother of the web inventor) estimated that the world's data centers in 2010 accounted for 130 million tons of CO2e, which it is equivalent to a quarter of a percent of the world's global total. Berners-Lee projected that the world's data centers will produce 250 to 340 million tons CO2e by 2020. Obviously, it would be worst without the usage of ICTs, but this figures are a call to invest in greener datacenters.

But it is also time to think in how our daily relationship with the digital technologies has an impact on the environment. As the average user consumes the major part of its connected time surfing its facebook account or searching in Google, at least each of us are generated around 2 kg of "digital" CO2 per year (269 grms from Facebook usage and 1,46 kgrs from Google usage). The figures are not so high if we thought  that the impact of boiling the water for our daily cup of coffee or tea is around 14 g of CO2 (5 kg of CO2 per year). 

Nevertheless, in other human customs it is not so clear that the digital transformation of our daily behaviour has a positive impact on the environment. This doubts are especially high in the shift from ownership to access in contents in products such as books and music. It is estimated that an e-reader has an enviromental impact equivalent to 30-60  paper books. Therefore, the positive or negative impact will depend on the lifetime of the e-reader (around three years) and the average books per year we read. Something similar could be said about music streaming. As the streaming of an album 27 times consume the same amount of energy as producing and shipping a CD, we can conclude that it would be better to buy our favourite records than listen them in Spotify.

Is this piece of writing a luddite call? It was not my intention. I consider that my personal and working life would be harder without the technology and will have a bigger impact in the environment. However, things are not so obvious as  look and sometimes we should think twice about the digital transformation of our habits if we would like to be respectful with the environment.

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.
palyginti kainas