miércoles, 26 de junio de 2019

Finishing the building of the European Data Space

Data is recognized as a critical resource for the development and grow of the economy in the forthcoming years. On one hand, there will be an infinite number of data sources, which grow is driving by the dissemination of the IoT. According to IDC, 41.6 billion IoT devices will generate 79.4 zettabytes of data in 2025. On the other hand, there will be a growing demand for data from AI applications across all the economic sectors. Only the market of AI in IoT Devices will reach $9.5B in North America by 2024 with 28.% CAGR. Therefore, we are getting closer to a perfect storm with a perfect match between supply and demand.

Europe has been building a shared data space for years based on legal certainty. Firstly, with the personal data and privacy framework which is now in its second generation with the GDPR.  Now, the free flow of non personal data regulation establishes a new legal innovation without possible comparison in other geographical areas. These two elements set up the the base for trust that allows to say that the free movement of data may be called already the fifth freedom of the European Union and underpins Europe position as worthy partner in the digital economy.

However, an unlimited space for the free movement of data has no sense without unleashing the sharing of data among private and public actors.  Regarding the public sector,  with the continuous exploration of new frontiers for the re-use of public sector data that has achieved a new milestone with the third version of the PSI Directive, it may be said that there is an unrestricted access to public data. By the contrary, B2B or B2G sharing of data its yet in its infancy. 

Regarding B2G sharing of data, there's a strong case for forcing the access from governments to certain data. Data held by companies can be very relevant to guide policy decisions or improve public services. The more the data the better the planning of public services based on evidence. Starting with the data generated by utility companies and ending with data from online platforms for mobility or housing services, the definition of an harmonized European legal framework for B2G sharing of data will unleash without doubt a new wave of sustainable growth in Europe and helps to achieve the SDGs.

More complex in the issue of B2B data sharing. On one hand, any hard or soft regulation measure should be based on voluntary schemes and linked with the different business model for sharing (such as monetisation/selling data, marketplaces/exchanging data, industrial platforms/joint ventures or opendata). On the other hand, as part of this data may be personal data any sharing of it should be based on consent from the sources. The respect for business models and the user privacy rights should be also combine with awareness-raising campaigns among companies on the benefIts of sharing data.

No Single Market would be possible without a Digital dimension and non Digital Single Market would be possible without a European Data Space. Therefore, the survival of Europe as a commercial power depends of deepening and strenghtening the efforts on data regulations beyond ensuring the flow of data  it´s needed promote flooding the channels of exchange with the data itself

miércoles, 19 de junio de 2019

Collateral damage of trade wars

There's a certain probability that in five years the inclusion of Huawei in the US Commerce Department entity list will be study as the black swan event for the OS market for smart devices. Until May 16th 2019, Android was the dominant player in the OS market for Smart Phones and other consumer devices (such as TVs). The maket share of Android on smartphone OS was more than 80% and there was not pesrspective of a viable alternative to it. This position was achieved not without a fierce battle, because we should remember than less than 10 years ago Android was a minor player in the same market.

But then, the unexpected happened. The second player in the smartphone market, Huawei, was banned to use Android and forced to look for an alternative. Based on its immense R&D force (the Chinese company spends more than 15 $ billion per year), Huawei announce that it would began to distribute its own OS less than month after, just in time to avoid (or at least, to make difficult) a massive abandonement of the Huawei Smartphone by users.

There are some people who predicts a Huawei´s failure in this challenge. The main error is the comparison with the fruitless trials of Amazon or Microsoft to compete with Google in the Smartphone OS market. On both cases, the companies made the same errors. They tried to build up at the same time a market share on devices and a market share on OS. Huawei already has a market share on devices. Furthermore, while Amazon/Microsoft were not playing for surviving, Huawei has not alternative but to battle until the end. In this circumstances, even the obstacle of not having Gmail, maps and other Google apps in Huawei´s smartphone will not be a a definite hurdle, because the alternative in not having anything at all.

The first hint that Google is worried about the unexpected competitor in the OS market is already on the table. The Google lobbyist machine are beginning to fight the ban with all its forces. Even the first sign of impact of these efforts has appeared with the doubts about Huawei´s blacklisting in some high US official.

Interesting months ahead in the Smartphone OS market for once in many years. The Google dominance of this sector maybe the collateral damage of the trade wars.

miércoles, 5 de junio de 2019

Disrupting supply chains

On May 16th, US Government introduced Huawei in the Entity List, a black list of companies that no American companies could supply specific items under EAR (Export Administration Regulation). This means, basically, the ban to supply the Chinese company any software or hardware product developed in the USA. However, this ban is not only for US-Persons but also for non US-persons. In the case of foreing products that contains US-products, the supply to Huawei is also forbidden in case they contain more than a de minimis amount of controlled US content are subject to the EAR (25% of the value). The best explanation I have found of these restrictions is in this post.

Look around yourself and pick up any device that gives you access to digital services. Or think about any of the applications that you use on a daily base. Few of these products have been developed completely in just one country, usually all of them are made of different hardware or software components, each of them build up in geographical areas on different sides of the international borders.  So now imagine how difficult is to be safe  of not being breaking the restrictions if you are supplying a technological product. You would have to begin to made complex calculations in case you are using any US component. Therefore, the safe route is cutting relationships with Huawei if possible.

And this is what is happening. Important companies around the world are stopping to supply products to company for the fear of breaking the rule. Software and hardware products that are needed for Huawei products should be substituted by others. A complete redesigne and rebuild of the company flagship products will be needed. The lesson from this affair is how easy is to disrupt the supply chains even of the most powerful companies.

miércoles, 29 de mayo de 2019

The needed temporary status of self-regulation

Although we seen Internet as a massive service as quite recent and young, the truth is that its story goes back nearly thirty years old. The network and its services have evolved so quickly that even for those who lived the first years is difficult some times to appreciate how things have changed. Only for that reason is good to read books such as "The Age of Surveillance Capitalism", the one I´m currently reading. In particular, such a reading is good to discover the reasons why things have gone wrong in some aspects of how Internet is nowadays.

Without any doubt, the most hated feature of internet services is the eager for capturing our personal data. Certainly, the EU regulation such as RGPD has curtailed this trend, but things would be better for our privacy if the US would have a similar regulation. We see the later as an almost impossible event and some blame the different regulatory tradition of privacy of the situation. Nevertheless, the reason is completely different. As the author of the book mentioned above remember us, privacy was on the way of being strongly regulated before 9/11 happened, but the hangover of the worst terrorist attack ever in US soil changed everything. After the attack, the invasion of privacy by digital platforms began to be see as a useful tool for national security and everything on the US institutions rapidly forget the idea of a regulation. Obviously, platforms grasped the opportunity and went further on this area. Obviously, the platforms also quickly forget the self-regulation promises on the matter.

The lesson to be learnt of what happened is never to lose an opportunity to do the right thing on the regulation of digital platforms.

One of the most worrisome issues around digital platforms nowadays is their collaboration on spreading disinformation, particularly through target ads. After the evidence of the usage of this tool in some elections and referendums, the European Commission has tried to curve their use in the elections for the European Parliament. However, instead of passing a regulation the European Commission asked for voluntary measures from the platforms and a periodical review of their effectiveness. And apparently, things have worked.

Probably, now the temptation may be leave things as they are. That would be an error, now it´s the time to develop a regulation based on the lessons learnt instead of trusting that the self-regulations introduced will continue to work in the future. The sad tendency of human beings is to stop a voluntary costly behaviour when no one is looking. Therefore, we can expect that platforms would stop applying the non compulsory rules on place as soon as there´s no one watching thoroughly, and if you need to maintain your vigilance it would be better to do with the back of an actual regulation.

Self-regulation maybe a good temporary solution, but never a perpetual situation. If you have the evidences to regulate better take the opportunity to do it after you have tested the self-regulation measures for a while. Not taking the adecquate measures on the right time is certainly the door to future laments.

miércoles, 22 de mayo de 2019

Has Zuckerberg called for more regulation?

After many years fighting efforts to introduce regulations on the digital world, particularly the proposals in this area of the European Union, Facebook´s CEO surprised everyone with a call for a stronger regulation of the Internet. Zuckerberg pointed to four areas where he thought governments should focus their regulatory tasks: harmful content, election integrity, privacy and data portability. But what is behind this call? Has Facebook´s CEO be repented of the many scandals around the company that has been discovered the last year?

First of all, it should be highlighted the attention on the areas that Zuckerberg called to be regulated. There's no one of them where the EU has not developed policy-making efforts that Facebook has fought and accepted to comply with reluctancy. Furthermore, privacy and data portability of them is already regulated in Europe by the GDPR. Regarding harmful content and election integrity, the EU has established the framework for self-regulation that is moitoring closely in order to detect the need for regulation. Therefore, maybe Zuckerberg is uncomfortable with the close scrutiny in the latter two areas and what is calling is to a quick close of it before new areas of concern in them could arise.

Secondly, it looks that something is starting to change within the US legislative institutions. Various act proposals has arrived the Congress to be analysed related with algorithm transparency on the usage of personal data and the spread of disinformation. Therefore, Zuckerberg call for regulation maybe understood as an effort to mark the limits of the US regulatory efforts. Furthermore, the praise for the EU regulatory framework on privacy is nothing more than a call to copy this legislation in the US with any regulatory innovation that impose two different regulations in the two main Facebook markets and a race towards higher levels of privacy that may inflict more limits to the development of the company business.

Last but not least, Zuckerberg has made a careful choice of the areas he has called to be regulated. On one hand, as we have described above, he has not called for the regulation of any area that has not be already regulated or close to be regulated. On the other hand, he has not included in his list other areas where regulation is started to emerge or to be studied that would really create a change for Facebook business model, such as the introduction of a more fair global taxing system that fits with the digital world or a review of the basis of competency rules and their adecuation to online platforms business models.

So as usually happens, the call for a stronger regulation of the Internet made by Zuckerberg should be called as such but on the other way around. What Facebook´s CEO is calling is to stop exploring which regulations are needed beyond the already discovered and establishing a limit for the focus of the regulations on technical issues without entering into the regulation the market rules. It´s not a call for a stronger regulation, but a call for not introducing more regulation.

miércoles, 15 de mayo de 2019

"Filek: el estafador que engaño a Franco" - Ignacio Martínez Pisón

Filek: El estafador que engañó a FrancoFilek: El estafador que engañó a Franco by Ignacio Martínez de Pisón
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Como Ignacio Martínez Pisón, descubrí la existencia de Filek en la biografía que Paul Preston escribió sobre Franco. Entre las mas de 1000 páginas de la monumental obra del historiador inglés, un párrafo esbozaba la historia de un hombre que en la primera hora de los cuarenta años de dictadura fascista se había atrevido a estafar a Franco. Irresistiblemente, la imaginación quedaba capturada fantaseando con las escenas en las que una persona le hizo creer al dictador que era combustible lo que tan sólo era agua con ingredientes vegetales.

Me era imposible no querer saber más de quién era Filek. Busqué infructuosamente algún relato más detallado que sólo ahora existe con la obra de Martínez Pisón. La biografía del timador permite entender cómo todo fue posible. En la corte chabacana de aduladores de un dictador cuartelero, era inevitable que no tuviera éxito un charlatan que hacia remontar sus orígenes al imperio austro-húngaro. La escalada de engaños que constituye la de vida Filek, no deja de ser un entrenamiento para llegar a la audacia del golpe final, forzosamente destinado al fracaso.

Y sin embargo, el libro me ha resultado decepcionante. El autor escoge el registro equivocado de una fría investigación académica para relatar la historia de Filek. No me cabe duda que un relato más novelado, con dosis de ironía y sarcasmo, hubiera permitido una explotación mayor de la biografía del timador. Ciertamente más inventado y menos riguroso, pero quien no hubiese disfrutado con un relato cáustico de un diálogo entre Filek y el dictador.

Un libro necesario, pero una oportunidad perdida. O quizás tan solo el primer paso para que alguien escriba la obra que la historia de Filek demanda.

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miércoles, 8 de mayo de 2019

It´s not EU cybersecurity, it´s EU strategic digital autonomy

Cybersecurity has climb to the category of a major concern in Europe in 2019. The European Union has adopted a in Q1 a Cybersecurity Act and it is working in building up a Network of Cybersecurity Centers to boost up the Cybersecurity industry, that jointly with the existing NIS Directive defines an extending cybersecurity legal framework. There´s also an expanding network of institutions to take care of the Europeans Cybersecurity, that some people fear have overlapping powers and may itself be the seed for cybersecurity gaps.

It looks also that there are some rationale and evidence for these concerns. The Huawei affair promoted by the Trump administration has provoked the adoption of EU coordinated measures to reinforce cyber security in the forthcoming 5G networks. It would not be strange that in order to keep geopolitical balance that some EU coordinated cyber security measures around cloud services may be promoted after the suspicion around Amazon has been raised by the German government. But are all these concerns really about cyber security or are cyber security concerns the proxy for other bigger concern?

The described cyber security concerns reflects not only policy-makers worries about trusted digital services, it reflects that Europe has lost any possible control of the digitalisation of its economy and society. The main EU networks manufacturers are Chinese, the most popular digital services among European citizens and companies are provided by US companies and there are not any popular end-user device designed and build within the Union borders. European companies have been totally wiped out of the list of the main tech companies, none of them are in the list of the 20 most valuable Internet companies or the top 10 electronics manufacturers.

The debate on EU cyber security strategy should be the tip of an even more important debate: EU strategic digital autonomy. Although it is still a concept on the making, the usual definition of the term "digital strategic autonomy" are the capabilities to protect its digital sovereignty. Setting up this EU digital strategic autonomy should be one of the goals of the forthcoming European Commission.

Europe has been successful in one of these capabilities to protect its digital sovereignty, the regulation of the digital space. Without any doubt, the European model of a regulated cyberspace has overrun the US laissez-faire model and it is behind the call for regulation of the digital giants. However, it maybe a temporary victory without if the EU is not able to build up the enivronment where tech champions can flourish in a quick manner. 

Although ethics and European values should be at the center of European digital policy, there are not alone the decisive factor for catching-up US and China in the tech race. As Daniel Castro, ITIF vice president, wisely remember "You can have the more ethical race car driver, but if his car is not faster, you are going to lose". EU policy papers are beginning to be flooded of terms as Ethic AI or human-center data economy, but we should recognize that we are are definitively lagging behind and bet on policies for creating a EU fabric of digital firms. 

The building up of the EU strategic digital autonomy start with choosing the areas to compete with the other blocs. We should forget about Europe as a global digital competitor, neither US or China compete in every area. Although there are basic areas where Europe has to develop its own capabilities (AI, 5G or cyber security), the competition on services should be more focused, for instance forgetting about B2C and giving the battle in the digitalisation of transport or health.

The second step is creating a toolbox for promoting the development and scale up of companies in the selected areas. Europe has accumulated a set of best practices that should be connected in a coherent digital policy in order to help digital companies to flourish. The promotion of the digital talent in the nordic countries, the development of an effective high-speed connectivity policy in Spain, the promotion of digital entrepreunership in the United Kingdom or the boost towards Industry 4.0 are some of the successful models that may be replicated  in the other EU countries taking into account its own specificities. 

Beyond the toolbox to create and scale up companies, it is important to promote the connection and the joining of efforts among them. Both the big and small ones. This should be the main space for the European Commission efforts, with a wise use of the MFF instruments with a mix of the definition of Airbus-like projects in some services areas, the creation of funding instruments based on public-private collaboration and the elimination of barriers for digital enterpreuners mobility across Europe.

Digitalisation should be one of the central policies of the next European Commission. Europe is not only on the brink of losing definitively the tech race, it is on the brink of losing its strategic digital autonomy, and therefore its capability to be influent in the XXI century global policy. To avoid this destiny, we need to create a fabric of digital firms capable to compete in basic digital technologies and key services areas where competition is a real option. Maybe, it is the last call for a digital future in Europe.

miércoles, 1 de mayo de 2019

"Travellers in the Third Reich" - Juila Boyd

Travellers in the Third Reich: The Rise of Fascism Through the Eyes of Everyday PeopleTravellers in the Third Reich: The Rise of Fascism Through the Eyes of Everyday People by Julia Boyd
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fifteen years ago I read many books about the rise and fall of the Third Reich and their main characters of that dark period of European history, such as Kershaw´s biography on Hitler or the narration of that regime written by Michael Burleigh. I thought I would never pick for reading any other book related with that epoch until I saw in a shelf "Travellers in the Third Reich", but the promise of a narrative of the period trough the eyes of ordinary people was enough to convince me.

The book span Germany's history from 1919 to 1945 giving the testimonies of a collection of people who travelled those years for pleasure or business across the country, the majority of them from Britain and USA but also from places as remote as China. The selection of travelers done by the author includes people from many different backgrounds, from upper class and aristocrats to sportsmen, from religious ministers to journalists. This variety ensures a 360º perspective of what the world thought at that time of nazism and the list of events and milestones that paved the way to the Second World War.

From the pages of the book emerge a shameful view of Germany and the anglo-saxon world of that period. On one hand, a country fully anti-semitic with few exceptions that cheered and received warmly the measures to restraint jewish influence and economic power. On the other hand, a sympathetic view of the nazi regime shared by many British and American people that saw Hitler as a providencial man for Germany. In particular, the book is the accusation testimony of how the majority of anglo-saxon people chose not to see what was happened in Germany until it was too late.

However, examples of brave behavior may also be found in the book. Foreigners that help Jewish people to escape from the Reich putting their life at risk or journalist that desperately warned the world about the real face of the regime behind the image of being the lever for the courageous renaissance of a defeated country. It is easy today to be shocked by the fact that these people were a minority, but perhaps we should ask ourselves how many times we choose not to take such a brave stance about what daily happened around us.

From time to time, it is good to remember what happened in Europe between the two world wars. There are plenty of lessons of that period to be learned in order to avoid the repetition of that tragedy. Reading Boyd´s book is an usual but valuable manner to revisit that bleak period.

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miércoles, 24 de abril de 2019

Europe & Cybersecurity of 5G networks

Since the beginning of the year, there´s a growing concern of the cybersecurity of 5G networks in Europe. Perhaps, the best way to understand what has happened is a sentence that many time ago Bruce Schneier introduced in the quotes collection of the cybersecurity specialist,  "security is a mind state". Before US government began what we may benignly call a campaign on the need of a trusty 5G infrastructure, Europe had a blind trust in their network operators and their proceedings for infrastructure deployment. Now, this trust is broken, instability has been introduced in the European cybersecurity mind state and something has to be done to solve this trust crisis and achieve a new stable mind state.

From my point of view, it doesn't matter now the origin of this trust crisis, although we should not forget it. The center of the US campaign for a trusty 5G infrastructure has been the manufacturer which provides a growing share of the current 4G infrastructure in Europe, which will be the base for the deployment of 5G networks due to the evolutionary approach of its architecture. Therefore, although the accusations may have the smell of the "weapons of mass destruction" campaign before the second Irak war, Europe can not afford doing nothing and wait to see how it happens the first real cybersecurity incident in its 5G networks.

Due to the tiny size of each European national telecom market, there´s no space for nothing different than a shared European solution to this crisis of trust. Although Germany or UK may lead by example (as they are doing) with different national proposals for security requirements for mobile telecom operators, Europe will be sidelined of 5G race without a shared approach to a security assurance scheme for 5G networks. GSMA has politely remembered during the last MWC with its called for a proportionate and risk-based, as well as common, consistent and agreed, security assurance, testing and certification regime for Europe. It was not a surprise that all the eyes turned to the European Commission to make a proposal for this shared approach to cybersecurity for 5G networks.

However, the European Commission may has chosen the long and winding road for cybersecurity on 5G networks in Europe. Although the recently approved European Electronic Communications Code allow the European Commision to adopt an implementing act establishing armonised technical and organisational measures to appropriately manage the risks posed to the security of networks and services, the Commission has chosen to adopt only a recommendation for Member States with a set of actions to assess cybersecurity risks of 5G networks and to strengthen preventive measures in the national sphere by June 2019, with a later exchange of best practices in order to build up by December 2019 a toolbox of mitigating measures to address the identified cybersecurity risks on 5G networks. It is pretty sure that all Member States will make their best, but it has to be seen yet if this cooperative path produce a coherent approach to cybersecurity of 5G in Europe on time. Just after the publication of the European Commission recommendation, a 5G expert warned in the Financial Times that "This timescale is incompatible with the EU’s other objective to be a leader in 5G".

And while Europe is lost like a modern Teseo in the cybersecurity labyrinth, their competitors reap the first successes. Since April 3rd, 5G reduced commercial offers are available in a reduced scale in Corea and USA who passionately dispute the glory of being the first. Each month of delay in the deployment of reduced commercial offers in Europe may mean a delay in having full commercial 5G networks in the Union by 2025. This might mean for Europe a huge economic impact in the future, as the European Commission has estimated benefits of €113.1 billion per annum from 2025 in Europe from the introduction of 5G capabilities.

Someone may think that the US offensive in favour of cyber security of 5G networks would have a collateral benefit for Europe on the manufacturer area. The first market analyzes published this year are looking to confirm this approach with the dethronation of Huawei as the first mobile provider and Ericsson´s leadership in the share of expected shipments of 5G equipment. However, the security assurance of 5G networks in Europe will imply the security testing and certification of all the providers, and it is still to be see if Ericsson or Nokia would pass an strict cybersecurity scrutiny like the one that Huawei is yearly passing at the UK government.

Europe began to lose its importance as a technological competitor on the race for 4G deployment. The delay in 4G an effective spectrum assignment in some European countries blocked a uniform deployment of 4G networks across the Union preventing network operators to take advantage of the scalability of the European market.  When everything was looking bright in 5G deployment in Europe, an slow reaction to cybersecurity deployment may strike a final blow on Europe dreams of catching up US and China in the digital race.

miércoles, 17 de abril de 2019

"La Red Purpura" - Carmen Mola

La Red Púrpura (Elena Blanco, #2)La Red Púrpura by Carmen Mola
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Cuando aún estaba deslumbrado por "La novia gitana", el anterior caso de la Inspectora Blanco, se publicó su continuación, "La Red Púrpura". No pude evitar aparcar por unos días la lectura que traía entre manos para ferozmente devorarlo. El libro tiene una arranque frenético, quizás uno de los mejores en la novela negra de los últimos años, pero que de modo incomprensiblemente pierde fuelle, La pérdida de velocidad y la falta del final excepcional que tenía "La novia gitana", lastrado por las altas expectativas que generó aquella primera parte, convierte la novela en un ejercicio fallido, aunque de modo aislado podría considerarse un libro aceptable.

La novela, a pesar del sabor a decepción que deja, tiene aciertos indudables. La autora perfila mejor los personajes secundarios en la Brigada de Análisis de Casos dirigida por la Inspectora Blanco y realiza descripciones precisas de distintos ambientes de los bajos fondos. También mantiene la importancia de la banda sonora musical en la novela , saliendo además del corsé de las canciones de Mina para explorar múltiples interpretes y estilos, aunque quizás es un recurso que podría tener un mayor desarrollo en la segunda mitad del libro. No obstante, algunos de estos aciertos queda nublado por la previsibilidad de alguna de las líneas narrativas y la explotación escasa que realiza de otras que quizás podrían haber dado mayor empaque al conjunto.

Al respecto del argumento, es ciertamente la novela extrema que vende su publicidad. Dependiendo del gusto de cada cual, algunos pasajes pueden resultar de violencia excesiva o necesaria para mostrar el mal en toda su crudeza. Me inclino por lo segundo. La incorporación, además, de un enlace de la maldad del presente con la perversidad del pasado, desmitifica la culpabilidad que algunos hacen recaer sobre Internet en exclusiva de la criminalidad actual. El mal siempre ha estado aquí mutando en sus medios para ser más efectivo.

"La Red Púrpura" calmará (y quizás colmará) el deseo de continuidad que abrió "La novia gitana", sin embargo no te hará desear un nuevo caso de la Inspectora Blanco.

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miércoles, 10 de abril de 2019

"La novia gitana" - Carmen Mola

La novia gitanaLa novia gitana by Carmen Mola
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Leí la novela llevado por las buenas críticas que circulaban sobre ella en varios periódicos. No decepciona. Una buena idea bien desarrollada, un ritmo adecuado y las adecuadas dosis de sorpresas propias de una novela policiaca que se adentra en la novela negra. Es la novela ideal para desconectar al final del día o en los tránsitos de un lado a otro a lo largo de la jornada. Sin embargo, tampoco es la obra cumbre y gran renovación de la novela policiaca que algunos dicen. Sin ir más lejos y acudiendo a novelas del mismo estilo recientes, está un peldaño por debajo de "El final del hombre", de Antonio Mercero.

Gran elección y perfilado de la protagonista de la historia. El retrato de la inspectora Blanco es el retrato de la soledad tan frecuente en los detectives protagonistas de las novelas negras, pero que por primera vez veo bien trasladado a una mujer. Sin duda, algunas de las características del personaje son un cliché de otros detectives celebres (alcohólica, atormentada, coleccionista de relaciones sexuales), pero la autora realiza un traslado valiente a una carcasa de personaje femenino, descubriendo de modo progresivo cómo ha llegado a ser quien es. La afición al karaoke bajo los efectos etílicos de la inspectora redondea un personaje con recorrido, y obliga a leer la novela escuchando las piezas musicales que canta o recuerda de Mina, como un elemento más que da contexto a la historia.

De la trama de la novela, poco puede contarse sin reventar su disfrute. Como toda novela negra, tiene los ingredientes de despiste adecuados para despistar al lector acerca de quién es el criminal buscado, que es ocultado tras velos plausibles, facilitando al mismo tiempo los detalles para que una vez descubierto resulte coherente su identidad. La autora realiza también una perfecta preparación subterránea del camino hacia el episodio continuación de "La novia gitana", que culmina con un final de la obra que actúa como un mazazo moral al lector.

Una novela para leer, disfrutar y que impulsa a leer su continuación, "La Red Púrpura", pero esa, será otra historia.

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miércoles, 3 de abril de 2019

"Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow" - Yuval Noah Harari

Homo Deus: A Brief History of TomorrowHomo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A lot of friends recommended me not to read "Homo Deus", but I did in spite of their critical view of Harari´s second book. Once I have finished it, I firmly dissent from their negative view of this essay. Of course, the book it is not as recommendable s Harari´s first book, "Homo sapiens", but probably this fact is due to the reason that it is a totally different kind of book. Do not be confused by the usage of the same didactic style, Harari´s second book a completely different kind of animal to the first one.

Yes, you can love "Homo Sapiens" and hate "Homo Deus". The first book is a review of human beings history, the kind of reading that helps you to fill the gaps in your culture and general knowledge. The later is a forecast of our collective future as an animal race, sometimes based on facts but the in great part based on the author personal ideology. Therefore, you might like the first book as a kind of history book and despise the second book as a mere exercise of science fiction. But you may also find both books readable and lightly enjoyable as it is my case.

The value of the Harari´s first book is to provide a landscape view of human beings history and what has made the humankind the master and commander of the earth, probably the unique for the majority of their readers. The value of "Homo Deus" is its invitation to reflect on our future, mainly on the impact of digitalisation and other high-end technologies on our social fabric and beliefs. Again, for the average reader of the book this may be the unique occasion when they think about these issues.

As a forecasting book, it is better not to spoil its content. However, it is needed to advance the final feeling you may feel flooded by pessimism once you have finished the book. In my case, I feel particularly worry with an undeniable fact highlighted by Harari that will frame our future: The decoupling between intelligence and consciousness. You may not be agreed with Harari´s design of the alternative futures for humankind, but this decoupling should concern you because, for instance, it is opening paths which could be fill of efficient solutions to problems but without taking into consideration the consequences for the social and economic environment.

Open your mind and read this book. Maybe, you will have a different perspective of what happens around you and its impact in the future.

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miércoles, 27 de marzo de 2019

Expanding the debate: Digital Ethics

According with the Cambridge dictionary, "ethics" means set of beliefs about what is morally right and wrong. Therefore, the term "AI Ethics" means the set of beliefs about what is morally right or wrong to do using AI technology. "AI ethics" has become one of the central elements of the debate on AI development and deployment, at least in Europe, Between the US entrepreunerial vision and the Chinese state-leading conception of AI, an ethical AI has emerged as the cornerstone for the European vision.

Certainly, it should be a central debate of AI development which are the non-technical limits on all the elements of the value chain, from the design of products to its usage without forgetting its construction. However, the debate is incomplete. Why we should ask ourselves only about "AI ethics" and not open a broader debate on "digital ethics"? Computers have been around us since the 70´s of the last century and massively since the year 2000, so perhaps it is high time to open the debate on "digital ethics". Even more, perhaps the root for the global mistrust and neoluddism is the absent of this debate in the last years.

Ethical questions and issues do not raise only from the usage of AI. The massive development of disruptive technologies poses question to us at every moment if we stop to look around.  Is it within the ethic limits the commersialisation of DIY-neurohacking devices without a knowledge of the long term effects over the brain? And what about the massive deployment of IoT based sensors around the city and capturing citizens generated data without their previous knowledge and consent? Or have we thought in of the implications in third-world countries of the constant renewal of en user devices without imposing circular schemes of manufacturing? Only three examples of dilemmas, and we have not included yet any related with the digital services we daily use.

Another unbalance of the articles and papers of the debate on AI ethics is its usual focus on the design of products and services. It is obvious that the deployment digital ethics should start by making it a boardroom issue. We would not have our democracies at risk now without an executive that had decided many years ago that digital targeting marketing was a good product to offer to anyone, included those with obscure political intentions. But the responsibility on digital ethics is spread across the whole digital value chain.

Sometimes, when we think in digital services as Facebook or Google we tend to personalise them end-to-end in their CEOs. Few times we think that these and all the products could not exist without the existance of engineers who has worked in their construction or marketing specialists who have design clever advertisement campaigns. The universalisation of digital ethics are also their responsibility. Microsoft workers provided an example to follow in this field with the letters they wrote to the executive staff signalling their unhappiness with some contracts won by the company to develop applications for the Army and the Immigration Control Agency. The message of the workers was clear "we refuse to create technology for warfare and oppression". Perhaps someone should think of including ethics in the engineering curricula.

Last but least, we consumers have also our share of responsibility on digital ethics. Maybe sometimes we have as an excuse not knowing all the implications of choosing one product or service, but even sometimes we fully understand them and we still use services that are based on precarious work due to its cheapness. Nevertheless, the starting point for demanding consumers more responsibility on digital ethics is a requirement for better and clearer information on products anda services to their manufacturers.

Digital ethics should neither be limited to one technology nor be the responsibility only of the boardrooms of tech companies. A wider debate should be opened and all the actors be provided with the right tools to be aware of their share of responsibility.

miércoles, 13 de marzo de 2019

Huawei War in movie mode

I am totally sure that in a few years time the controversy around 5G security will be remember among the first technology battles between USA and China, but surely not the last one. The time will say if we will remember the controversy as an equivalent to the Cuban´s Missile Crisis  or to the Weapons of Mass Destruction theory that paved the way to the 2nd Irak War. Or what it is the same,  as an episode where the US Administration provided evidences of a great conspirancy against world´s peace of a rivalry country or as the day that a  forgettable US  President tried to drive the whole world in a war without any real evidence.

We can compare this war with past wars and tactics, which give us a better view of the main actors. As i have already mentioned, it is difficult to say if US or Huawei are on the right side of the war, but you can find reasons to suspect from both.

To begin with US, we can start with the incident that start openly this war. In the manner of the I World War, a Sarajevo alike incident was suffered by an ally (the arrest of Huawei´s founder by Canada) and after that US started to scale-up the war. In this war, as what happened in the 2nd Irak War, US is pressing their European allies looking for a domino effect. So far without success, but another coincidence with the 2nd Irak War is that the sole declaration showing concerns about Huawei has came from Commissioner Ansip (an Estonian), part of the so-called new Europe.

Huawei for its part has not been waiting stoically the blows. Clearly, its tactics has been oriented to avoid the domino effect in Europe. And the main focus of its actions has been UK. Maybe, watching the interview with Huawei´s owner and the reference to their investments in UK (which are really huge), someone has remembered the scenes of the Godfather where Brando remember to someone all the things he has done for him. Probably, it is coincidence that the cautious position of UK on banning Huawei has been heavily disseminated around the same days.

The war is still going on. We will have yet to see some more battles of it. It is difficult to say if we will know who is right or wrong anytime soon. However, we what is sure is that we will still have to watch interesting episodes, it is advisable to have at hand some popcorns and your favourite soft drink.

miércoles, 6 de marzo de 2019

Algorithm transparency regulation

Europe has become the greatest Silicon´s Valley regulator. The Digital Single Market Strategy which started its implementation in 2015 has contributed to slash the fragmentation of the digital rules in Europe, and this achievement has been reached mainly through the definition of common rules for online businesses. As the main digital businesses in the world are located in Silicon´s Valley, the main outcome of the Digital Single Market is thirty new regulations which will have impact in the GAFA´s business models. 

And the impact of the new EU regulations will be global, not reduced to Europe. Now, the GAFA´s could threat with the abandonment of EU markets and how the rules stifle innovation, but its the result of their success in their lobby activities in Washington. As Washington has renounced to the regulation of the GAFAs, the EU has filled the void in a manner less beneficious to their interests. This is a lesson the have learned and since one year ago we have seen a less aggressive approach to regulation form the GAFAs: You cannot avoid indefinitely regulation so it is better to lobby for a friendly one than for not having any one at all.

One of the main worries of firms, consumers and citizens is the transparency of the algorithms at the core of GAFAs and other online platforms. There's not a neo luddite movement strong enough which directly calls for not using platforms and the platform dividend is recognised by its users. However, there´s a strong desire for the tools that allow a bigger knowledge on their algorithms and a validation of its fair and ethical design.

The Digital Single Market has made some progress also in the area of regulated algorithm transparency. On one hand, the right to explanation included in the Article 22 of the GDPR obligues platform to have at hand an explanation on how personal data affects the conclusion achieved by an algorithm. On the other hand, the P2B relationships regulation introduces the obligation to disclose the main parameters the platforms use to rank goods and services on their site.

However, there are still many other kind of algorithms not cover by the obligations of transparency included in the above EU regulations. Some of them as important as the work allocation algorithms used by Uber or Mechanical Turk, for instance. Even if we manage to regulate a new handful of types there would be more kind of algorithms unregulated than regulated. Therefore, the solution should be a flexible and holistic regulation, but soft enough for not stifling innovation.

One possible solution is taken the approach follow for the regulation of the pharmaceutical industry, with the creation of protocols and guidelines for the development of algorithms and agencies that may analise their design and the fulfillment of them within the respect of the commercial secret. The debate may be if a unique agency would be enough for the regulation of such as transversal matter as algorithms or we would need specialised agencies for each economic sector.

But all of this maybe the work for the renewal of the renewal of the digital single market strtaegy.

miércoles, 20 de febrero de 2019

AI and SDG in least developed countries

In 2015, the United Nations published the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a roadmap to guarantee a sustainable future by 2030. These goals range from ending hunger and poverty over realizing sustainable energy and gender equality to preserving our biodiversity. The tech community received the SDGs with a certain discomfort because, after an intense debate, there were not a specific goal for technological development.

In spite of the disappearance of technology from the front line of the SDGs, connectivity was immediately seen as a key driver for achieving the SDGs. Furthermore, increasing access to internet  and the proportion of global population covered by a mobile network were among the indicators and targets for the 9th SDG (9.c & 9.c.1). But until now, no other kind of technology different to connectivity were linked with achieving the SDGs. 

Everything has changed with the recent rise of interest for AI. Besides the debates on AI and ethics or AI and jobs which are happened in developed countries, ITU and UN organisations are pushing the debate on "AI for Good". The aim is to identify impactful AI solutions able to yield long-term benefits and help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. And there is not a lack of them. AI applications focused in healthcare, energy, agriculture, education and environmental protection. are blooming.

Undoubtedly, the usage of AI technology is surrounded by fears. We demand explainability and robustness of AI, we demand and ethical approach to AI. But the approach is completely different when you are fighting malnutrition or pandemias. In a more pragmatic view, their users claim that "We don't really need to understand these systems fully so long as the outcomes are good." Perhaps, it ís the only possible approach for the usage of AI to the achievement of SDGs in least developed countries. However, in the production side of the AI systems in the developed countries we have the obligation to guarantee this goodness.  As citizens of developed countries, we should be vigilant that AI is not used by our government as a tool for neo-colonialism taking advantage of the needs of the Least Developed Countries.

miércoles, 13 de febrero de 2019

"Berta Isla" - Javier Marias

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

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

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

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

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

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

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miércoles, 6 de febrero de 2019

The dangerous path to AI based robo politicians

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

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

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

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

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

miércoles, 30 de enero de 2019

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

The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs. Private Sector Myths

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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

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

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

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

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

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miércoles, 23 de enero de 2019

Forget your hopes, work is not going to disappear

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

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

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

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

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

miércoles, 16 de enero de 2019

The inevitable rise of exoskeletons

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

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

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

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

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

miércoles, 9 de enero de 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

miércoles, 2 de enero de 2019

"El orden del dia" - Eric Vuillard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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