miércoles, 21 de junio de 2017

The end of romance

There was a era when everybody loves the GAFA (Google. Amazon, Facebook, Apple) and their descendants (as Uber, AirBnB, ...). Citizens appreciated then the services provided by the so-called digital platforms, it convenience, innovation and price. Governments didn´t paid them too much attention from the regulatory perspective as they were minor players in the economy, and also they liked to establish alliances and joint initiatives with them to obtain a seal of modernity.

But suddenly, it looks that the global romance between human beings and digital platforms has ended. To begin with, think-tanks that previously worked as the resounding camera of GAFAs speech about low-prices and high-quality services, are begining to write about their danger for competitive markets. Nobody would have imagined someone making such a bold proposal as the creation of global competition authority "to enforce competition law against companies engaging in cross-border business practices that restrict competition"  in the digital economy.

On the legislative activity, new rules are closer to be approved in Europe forcing social networks to curb the publication of inappropriate content on social networks. Even the past allies within the European Union are calling for these stronger rules in this area. Furthermore, it looks that the review of net neutrality in the US will  produce a new legal framework harming for its business models

Things are not better on competition regulatory field. Past investigations are being reviewed with a new perspective and fines are imposed for abusing its overwhelming position and knowledge of market. Furthermore, the interpretation of internet laws are begining to break the tabu of "platforms=mere conduit" and they are beging to be seen as sectorial companies instead of internet companies.

We are entering a new era. The GAFAs have disrupted markets and sectors and now a disruption wave of norms and regulations are beginning to menace with the disruption of the framework conditions that have served for their growth. But the real danger is perhaps on the making: the technology that will disrupt a world based on digital intermediaries, blockchain. There´s not loved that last forever.


miércoles, 14 de junio de 2017

"Contra el #running " - Luis de la Cruz

Contra el running. Corriendo hasta morir en la ciudad postindustrialContra el running. Corriendo hasta morir en la ciudad postindustrial by luis de la cruz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Empecemos con el yo confienso. A diferencia del autor, soy runner entre lesión y lesión. Adicto irredento, que cura la abstinencia forzosa con otras actividades con la natación o el ejercicio en bicicleta estática, ese soy yo. Si tambien lo eres, no descartes leer este libro. La provocación del título esconde una colección de artículos que realizan una radiografia sociopolítica completa de tu deporte favorito.

En el libro, habrá páginas que te refrescarán otras ya leidas. Las cifras económicas en que se materializa la creciente obsesión por el running ocupan páginas de periódico con frecuencia. De modo similar, habrás podido leer sobre los orígenes de la práctica deportiva dentro del tiempo libre resultante del establecimiento de límites a la jornada laboral. Sin embargo, existen menos análisis del impacto de la evolución urbanística de las ciudades sobre nuestras costumbres del ejercicio como pasatiempo.

Adicionalmente a los análisis históricos que han configurado la práctica urbana del running, el autor realiza la exploración del running desde distintos ángulos de las ciencias sociales. La perspectiva de género del running nos presenta la visión de la mujer deportista en la sociedad patriarcal y heteronormativa. La vida sana se descubre en otro de los ensayos como instrumento de configuración de una clase trabajadora productiva. No falta tampoco la inevitable visión próxima al ludismo de las interelaciones entre running y sociedad digital.

No nos retirará del running la reflexión política sino la decadencia física. Sin embargo, una óptica crítica nos ayuda a realizar la construcción personal del significado y razones nuestras costumbres.

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miércoles, 7 de junio de 2017

Collaborative Economy in EU: New steps but ... are they big enough?

Just in a week, the European Parliament will approve its report on a "European Agenda on the Collaborative Economy" (draft available here). The report is the reply to the European Commission communication with the same title published last year. The worries and concerns of both institutions have as a background the potential contribution of the collaborative economy to EU growth, between 160 and 572 € billion.

The Commision and the Parliament shared their opinion in many areas. Both institutions recommend taken a cautious approach to regulate  this new kind of business model. At the same time, they highlight the key issues to be watched in order to detect the need for regulation: Market access, liability, consumer protection, workers rights and taxation. The cornerstone on the decission to regulate is the distinction between professionals and non-professional service providers.

However, the Parliament introduces some critical remarks about the European Commission attitude to the issue. On one hand, it calls for a bigger clarification about the applicability of existing EU legislation to different collaborative economy models. On the othe hand, calls the Commission to be more active in the provision on guidelines, establishing principles and creating the right environment that allow the collaborative economy to flourish.

An interesting remark of the Parliament not including in the European Commission communication is the demand to develop the social face of the collaborative economy. Or what is the same, a return to the basics of collaborative economy encouraging non-profit and user-governed model that fosters the scalability of the social economy.

The report of the European Parliament brings Europe closer to enable the right environment for the collaborative economy. Nevertheless, we should reflect if it is needed so much time betwen steps. More than a year have passed since the European Commission published its communication. And while this debate goes, fragmentation is on the rise with different approaches to different sectors in different Member States. The uneven legal situation of Uber accross Europe is the most visible sign. The question is how much time do we have to solve the debate on collaborative economy in an efficient manner.

miércoles, 31 de mayo de 2017

Europe and the battle for digital standards

In our globalised world, the ability to communicate with each other underpin every process. The value of devices and applications depends it is capacity to conect with other devices and applications, creating complex global value chains. Standards are the critical element for enabling these communications, which are defined in the EU Regulation 1025/2012 as "a technical   specification,   adopted   by   a   recognised standardisation body, for repeated or continuous   application,   with which compliance is not compulsory".

It is easy to recognise the value of ICT standards in our interconnected world. The exponential growth on Internet adoption is based on the existence of a group of communication protocols, visualisation tools and personal computer platforms that have been adopted by a vibrant industry and allow consumers and companies to seamlessly enjoy a growing rank of digital services.

The value of ICT standards for policy making of any sector has been long recognised by the European Union. In 2011, the ICT Multi Stakeholder Platform (ICT MSP) was established. The central mission of the ICT MSP is the yearly development of "The Rolling Plan for ICT Standardsation", which provides an overview of the needs for preliminary or complementary ICT standardisation activities to be undertaken in support of EU policy activities. For each policy area, the rolling plan takes stock of the legislation and policy framework, the ongoing standarisation activities in standarisation activities and proposed new actions to be developed. 

The attention pays to ICT standards in the European Union has been strengthened since the launch of the strategy for a Digital Single Market in Europe. On one hand, we need standards to support the exchange of digital services and products within the internal market. On the other hand, there is a need to have a common European voice in the global ICT standarisation arena in order to reinforce the EU position in the digital sector.

On April 2016, the European Commission presented the communication "ICT standardisation priorities for the Digital Single Market". The document identifies five priority areas where improved ICT standardisation is most urgent to create a Digital Single Market: 5G, the internet of things, cloud computing, cybersecurity and data technologies. Besides the identification of these areas, the European Commision commits to monitor the works in the standarisation bodies and ensure that their roadmap and activities takes into account the growing need of ICT standards in the economy and society.

The importance of  ICT standards far from diminish will increased in the next years. Many more devices will be connected in the medium term with the rise of the Internet of the Things. It is expected that the IoT market will grow from an installed base of 15.4 billion devices in 2015 to 30.7 billion devices in 2020 and 75.4 billion in 2025. And these devices will be in use in almost every economic sector and social scenario: Manufacturing, health, cities, energy, ... Standards are needed to avoid vendor lock-in and guarantee consumer choice. Without ICT open standards there will not be open markets and trade barriers will flourish.  OMC agreements looks to avoid this situation.

The growing importance of ICT standards for keeping open the digital world has been recognised in recent international summits. For instance, on April 6 the digital ministers G20 countries highlights the importance of the creation of similar international norms and standards worldwide as far as possible, to enable the different systems to interact with each other and new value-generating networks,  across the borders of countries and companies. 

Could Europe be absent of the battle for the standardisation of the digital world? It would be the same as desisting of having a role in the future of the world.


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.

miércoles, 29 de marzo de 2017

Review of the Digital Single Market: looking for clues

The European Commission has started to give some disperse clues on its intentions for the review of the Digital Single Market Strategy. To begin with, it has confirmed in a publication on its website the publication of the review on May 2017. Although its has not provided a concrete date, it is for sure that we can expect the publication on the days inmediately before or after May 6th, a happy coincidence with the second anniversary of the publication of the DSM strategy.

Regarding the possible content of the review, I recently reviewed the forgotten gaps and missing links of the original DSM strategy. Apart from this review of the pending issues, the VP Ansip has identified in his blog two areas that is needed to work on: cibersecurity and digital health care. Regarding the first one, the VP highlight the need to review European capabilities to face cyberthreats, possibly strenghtening the role of ENISA (EU's agency for network and information security). As for the second priority, the EU Commission has already set up a task force to develop a new data-centric digital healthcare strategy

The EU Commission has published also a non-official paper called "Advancing Europe's Digital Future". The paper enlarge the objectives mentioned by Ansip with the need to invest in data and connectivity infrastructure, support startups and the development of the digital skills. It also defines another big project for Europe: Working towards automated and connected mobility. It is not a new great target, there is also a European strategy published by the Commision on 2016 with the focus on "services that can be readily deployed in the short to medium-run but display long-term benefits on road safety, sustainability and automation" 

All the topics above were present on the Digital Day in Rome. The program of this event oriented to celebrate the future of Europe on the 60th anniversary of the creation of the EU (originally European Coal and Stee Community), gives us a clue of another possible prioririty for the review: Europe as a global player in high performance computing




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.

miércoles, 1 de febrero de 2017

Artificial Intelligence: A story of police and thieves

There is an unstoppable move towards automatisation. Besides the routinary jobs that do not need special skills to be performed, news show us that even the more sophisticated jobs are not safe of not being taken by robots and algorithms. On one hand, the role of middle managers looks to be redundant soon in hedge funds firms where the every day decisions about investments decide the future of thousands and millions of jobs and people. On the other hand, "robolawyers" show their hability defending people in court in a more efficient manner than humans taking into consideration a huge pile of previous cases.

As times goes by, it looks that the expanding role of artificial intelligence is something more than the wish of geeks. IBM, Google and many others are getting ready for a near future where nearly every decision has something to do with AI. The global artificial intelligence market was valued at US$ 126.24 Bn in 2015 and is forecast to grow at a CAGR of 36.1% from 2016 to 2024 to reach a value of US$ 3,061.35 Bn in 2024. However, it should be highlighted that it will be difficult to confirm this predictions as AI it is more a feature than a product.

The case for AI is more than justified in massive services. Take the case of Facebook and its obligation to fight fake news that recently has been demanded by the roar of the society. The task to clean the facebook feed from fake news only in Germany requires daily 600 people to perform 2000 deletions. But the more massive the service the more critical is to eliminate any bias in automatisation, especially in the area related to freedom of expression. 

The more fields find an application to Artificial Intelligence the more it is needed to embed ethics in the role of algorithms. Furthermore, this brings a new paradox. If AI is pervasive in any process and decision, and it looks it will happen, the role of watching the ethics of algorithm ought to be encommended to other algorithms. As it was expected, some scientist are working on this issue also.

So algorithms and artificial intelligence looks at the same time as the problem and the solution. But better not to start with the question who oversees the guardian in the artificial intelligence world.

miércoles, 25 de enero de 2017

Three digital gaps to be filled in Europe

What should be the pillars of a successful policy for digital transformation? Maybe this is the question more hear in the management rooms of public and private sector. The digital basis set now will have a definite impact on the country or company for many years to come, so it is needed to identify a limited set of key projects which their development should be specially monitored. The approach to their identification can be more or less complex, a simple one could be the need to deploy the right infrastructures, set the conditions for a smart use of the available data and endow the population with the skills to use both.

Although it is not explicitly described in this manner, the above three pillars approach it is been followed by the European Commission in the development of its Digital Single Market strategy, the roadmap for Europe´s digital transformation.    Europe has major deficits in the three pillars that should be filled in order to ensure growth and jobs in the forthcoming years. The digital skills agenda, the roadmap for the Gigabit Society and the free flow of data initiative are the three levers that we should not failed to built up.

To begin with, it would be extremely difficult to take advantage of digital services and infrastructures without enough IT professionals and the population are not able to use the digital tools. The pool of digital talent will be irreparably empty if four of the major economies (France, Spain, Italy and Poland) are below the EU average percentage of IT professionals or if 40% of the EU population lacked the needed digital skills and 22% have no digital skills at all.

Regarding the network infrastructure, it looks that the deployment of NGA is steeping up in the last two years. However, there is still a major problem of adoption in an important group of economies and only 12 Member States are above the average. Among the laggers in the adoption of NGA we find again three major EU economies (Poland, Spain and Italy). Without the adoption of the current infrastructure no future jump to the Gigabit networks will be possible.

Last but not least, there is the question of data. The benefits from having quality network infrastructure and the people with enough digital skills is reaping from the smart exploitation of data. But taken advantage of the data pool of an organisation or country is based in its free flow and established rules for its access and sharing, as well of its usage as a currency in transactions.

Infrastructure, data and skills make a virtuous circle for the development of the digital economy. Other factors as cybersecurity or applications are important, but there are not as critically essential to set the wheels of growth and jobs in motion.

miércoles, 18 de enero de 2017

Are we facing the tip of a failed state?

As times goes by, it looks that the trend of outsourcing the censorship digital news is being consolidated. I am not a fan of any kind of censorship in any media, but for those case if is needed I see it as a mission that should be under severe control of governments. However, what started with the "right to be forgotten", later was extended with the "Code of Conduct on illegal online hate speech". In both cases, digital platforms are the final court for deciding on the retirement of contents from the network.

The collaboration with the platforms is probably a pragmatic approach, but what scares me it is the lack of transparency on the process. From time to time, Google publishes results of the application of the "right to be forgotten", and as fas as I know there is not an independent review of the report. Recently, during the review on the compliance of the code of conduct on illegal hate speech the results were criticised by the European Commission due to its dissapointing results, but the report was not completely published neither we have data from the platforms on the issue.

Outsourcing the patrolling of contents have also other downsides. Although the code of conduct has a wide scope, combating "public incitement to violence or hatred directed against a group of persons or a member of such a group defined on the basis of race, colour, descent, religion or belief, or national or ethnic origin", the platforms could pick and choose their favourite targets. For instance, a couple of days after the review they team up to develop automatic solutions to combat the spread of terrorism apology, but no other form of illegal hate speech.

Therefore, it seems governments are unable to combat illegal hate speech and reinforce freedom on the network, while at the same time the help of the industry is far from be effective in all the areas. And the same it´s happening with other kind of illegal activities. Furthermore, the help of platforms to combat all these illegal activities is reduced to those areas they like to combat. We are growingly missing the tools to make effective parts of the law in the network.

A failed state is defined as a state “whose central government is so weak or ineffective that it has little practical control over much of its territory; non-provision of public services; widespread corruption and criminality; refugees and involuntary movement of populations and sharp economic decline”. Some thinkers are begining to ask themselves if the Internet has not become a failed state. And it is the right question. What is the same as as asking for the sustainaibility of the network because no failed state could last.

miércoles, 11 de enero de 2017

5G in EU: Do we really have a plan?

One of the more pronounced phrases among the European technological sector is "Europe is lagging behind". Europe was once the home of the most important technological companies, now there is no remain of a European company among the 15 largest ICT companies. There are many reasons for the sectoral European decline, but perhaps the main reason is the decline in the European dominance of the mobile scenario. Europe was the home for GSM invention but,  it has been a follower of 4G deployment since the start of it. Both the global ICT decline and the mobile decline has happened in the same time space.

The rationale described above has a clear implication: Europe has to base the recovery of its technological force in winning the 5G race. Therefore, it looks sound that the European Commission has set as one of the strategic targets for the telecommunication sector "uninterrupted 5G coverage for all urban areas as well as major roads and railways". However it is worrisome that it has not set a this deadline in the press release, except for having "commercially availability of 5G in at least one major city in each EU Member State by 2020", which is a previous promise of the telecom sector. The ambiguous target has been set for two years after the forthcoming Korean trial in 2018 Olimpic Games.

Nevertheless, the Plan for 5G in Europe published by the European Commission gives more space to optimism. There we can find the missed deadline for the "uninterrupted 5G coverage for all urban areas as well as major roads and railways" in 2025.  Also there are a mix of actions that foreseen boosting investments (through the review of the regulatory framework), the creation of a 5G ecosystem (through the continuation of the actions within the H2020) and the works in the standarisation area (through establishing 5G as one of the standardisation priorities for Europe).

However, although the plan looks sound, there would be need concrete actions from Member States. The European Commission just only encourage the Member States to develop its national plans by 2017, but the support and pressure for its development from Brussels looks short. No clear incentives for this purpose are defined, like for instance taking out of the national deficit accounting the government support for 5G deployment or the relax of State Aid ruling in this area.

The 5G Plan for EU have shadowy and bright sides. Good central planning for some measures but improvable basis for the real deployment. We should wait and see its real impact, alas it could too late to rectify if something goes wrong.





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