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Ought education necessarily to satisfy the requirements of work?

Posted By Esmee Wilcox, Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Esmee Wilcox inspects the usefulness of education in her ninth blog post for our Emerging Fellows program. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

A simplistic, causal relationship between success in work and learning falls down in our mid-21st century globally connected, digitally enhanced, rapidly automating world. The institutions, corporations and capital that determine whose work we are preparing people for, risk the perpetuation of global skills shortages and rising income inequality. In the latter half of this century, what might the purpose of education become, that more effectively addresses the issues we face and the modes of work we are choosing? Should we attempt to create such a system that spreads the risk, or accept unevenly distributed effects of enviro-economic disruptions?

 

We face a conundrum: complex issues such as moving to zero-carbon cities by 2030 require a level of critical thinking and innovation that will disrupt the modes of operating of government and the corporations that fund education. They will require longer periods of education – lifelong and life-wide – that may reduce short-term economic output. That disrupts the balance in the funding relationship between the young, the workers, and pension beneficiaries. Governments intervene to equalise access on the basis of accepted social norms. Yet are increasingly ineffective at reducing the polarising impact of parent income on childhood attainment.

 

We might imagine a system that redefines the purpose of work first. Where the norm becomes dynamic self-managed teams within organisations, and self-organised networks of freelancers without, which rebalance our ambition for individual status with collective value. Our need to travel, to eat, to care for our families is dependent upon our ability to align paid work with the rhythms of community co-operation. We might – looking to millennials now in the gig economy - see paid work as essential but secondary to the roles we take on in exchange not for currency but usable commodities.

 

A more efficient system – that educates more of the population to be capable of tackling tomorrow’s problems – would alter the balance of power away from near-term beneficiaries. Educational returns on investment no longer felt solely by profitability or tax revenues: but also by longer term, distributed social and community gains. Financing mechanisms no longer the preserve of government and corporations, but flourishing community interest bonds. Lifelong learning the norm, and not dependent on personal wealth, fit with government strategy, or sponsorship by large employers. Accessible through communities prepared to invest in long-term resilience, understanding the purpose of work as aligned with community impact.

 

Or corporations may continue to sponsor and polarise the deployment of mobile elite labour as effective in addressing their need for innovation and profitability. Governments may be less able to equalise access to education, with greater dependence on risky private financing, and a reduced democratic mandate to intervene. Even in highly planned, nationalist economies governments may justify focussing on elite education for the ‘greater good’. Or to diminish the impact of disposable income in exacerbating socio-economic advantages and access to learning.

 

Enviro-economic disruptions may force many of us to redefine the purpose of work and the values that we ascribe to it. Such that learning systems satisfy the requirements of the innovation, collaboration and community we need to succeed in the 2050s and beyond. We can look to communities and work organisations that are developing collaborative learning networks. Yet these are still an, albeit plausible, step-change away from funding mechanisms that achieve longer-term, distributed social and community outcomes. These may emerge through necessity in the development of closed-loop zero carbon systems in the 2030s. This could enable the purpose of education to shift away from the requirements of work to solving the issues raised by the complex problems we’re increasingly facing.

 

© Esmee Wilcox 2019

Tags:  education  government  work 

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The Bank of Facebook?

Posted By E. Alex Floate, Thursday, September 12, 2019

Alex Floate, a member of our Emerging Fellows program devotes his ninth blog post to Facebook’s digital currency innitiative. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

When Facebook first premiered their idea for a digital currency Libra in 2019, the reactions ranged from eye-rolling to predictions of a vast conspiracy to control the world. Most pundits could not understand how or why a social media platform would create or need a currency. The calls for regulation or legal action to disallow the notion were immediate.

 

However, within just a few years of introduction, more governments turned to nationalism or authoritarianism, and the Trumpian trade and currency wars of the early 2020’s disrupted global markets. Despite their mutual needs for trade and economic growth, the use of national currencies became a point of contention as the world fragmented into tribes.

 

The group most affected were entrepreneurs in the countries once called the third world. For them, globalization had brought a connection to the wider world of consumers, especially as 7G broadband and localized electrical grids were built out. The initiatives began by the Chinese in the 2010s to build out transportation infrastructure in Africa were bearing fruit by the mid-2020s. Small companies and farmers found they could directly market and ship to global customers. Into this currency void stepped the technology companies that were enabling the global marketplace.

 

Although Facebook was the first to market with a digital currency, Amazon, Alibaba, and a few regional upstarts began using their positions as marketplaces to promote their in-house digital currencies as a means of global trade. They created means to earn additional currency, such as an exchange for personal information, reviews, actions as beta or market testers, or selling and buying on the marketplace. The member could earn additional Amazonians or Alibablers to spend within their respective marketplaces, and even at many outside venues.

 

As the reach of the tech companies expanded beyond supply chains and into services, the ability to negotiate paying for goods in services in their own currencies was greatly expanded. This allowed many companies to offer the option of being paid in corporate or domestic script. The corporate script became highly preferable as the companies offering it were able to better manage it for inflation and deflationary pressures. Additionally, by restricting it from most secondary markets the ability to manipulate the currency via speculation was taken away from those seeking to make money off other’s misery.

 

Companies also created a social scoring like the system China implemented in the late 2010s. This system was more reward than punishment and sought to incentivize behavior in line with the company’s values and social conscience. By allowing the company to track the individual throughout their day, including conversations and actions, the company could determine if they were acting as a good citizen of the planet.

 

When a person’s interactions were friendly, helpful, informative, and advanced civility or relationships, the score could potentially increase. Energy and water usage, recycling, using public or personally powered transportation were also monitored and properly rewarded. The opposite of these positive actions lowered the score. Higher scores were rewarded with extra currency, merchandise, or socially with offers of more prestigious jobs or responsible public positions. By 2040 these new scoring systems had replaced nearly all other methods of determining financial trust for an individual or organization.

 

By the year 2050, most smaller countries had outsourced their treasury functions to either Amazon or Alibaba. For most of these countries the new currencies offered access and stability and an opportunity to grow their economies. Entering the global marketplace on an equal footing allowed many countries to shake off the ‘third world’ label, and this was especially true on the continent of Africa.

 

© 2019 E Alex Floate

Tags:  digital economy  economics  Facebook 

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Who are the people democracy is supposed to serve?

Posted By Robin Jourdan, Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Robin Jourdan inspects the real audience of democracy in her ninth blog post for our Emerging Fellows program. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

In the past governments tended to serve the governors before the people. Inspired by Magna Carta in England, the US’s Bill of Rights serve as starting gates for the idea of government designed so that the people can exercise control over their governing representatives. Governance bending to build future strengths for all, rather than fortifying old victories took its first tentative steps.

 

A myth is that every generation’s youth go through non-political periods. This can translate into a cynicism about government; but not always. A “Youth LEAD” trend seems to be appearing with data points going back at least 50 years that show the youth of an area, region, and nations pulling together to represent their interests in environmental and climate actions. They acknowledge that problems are complicated; but angry over the inaction about the conditions they’re due to inherit.

 

Today, nearly half of the world’s inhabitants is under 30 years old. It’s known that educated, healthy, employed, and civically engaged youth drive economic growth, democracy, and prosperity. However, less than 6% of parliamentarians globally are under 35 years old. Young people are under-represented and excluded in policy related decision-making. Fewer than 2% of parliamentarians around the world are in their 20s and only 12% are in their 30s. In the early part of the 21st century, efforts have sprung up, Millennium Development Goals, to increase youth representation in advisory capacities, constitution reviews, reporting, and more. For example, since the Arab Awakening young people have remained politically active through “political movements” instead of engaging with and in political parties. The United Nations (Development Program) formally recognized that when young people engage in peace-building via new and mobile technologies, these can lead to non-violent change. A Nigerian Youth Agenda on political participation was developed to encourage collaboration. Bangladesh and Jordan launched similar actions with the assistance of the United Nations Development Program. Even with this progress, this generation at the beginning of the century have been left behind and denied opportunities. Some suspect there may be a far-reaching re-negotiation in the social contract between generations approaching.

 

What could change in the last half of this century is multi-tiered: from AI advances, security issues, to social media. Youths around the world will turn to smartphones rather than adults for what they need. Younger people use these fingertip tools for change and impact can only strengthen. Reforms for who government serves may be waged from the inside out and change the global narrative.

 

The end of the century may bring well-practiced socio-emotional skills and growth mindsets. Continuing the Youth LEAD trend of youth-motivated leadership, education, advocacy and development, has long-term potential to raise their global political power. Forward acting nations may pressure laggards by limiting access to their workforce. Instabilities for isolated regimes due to internal power struggles and energy could erupt into battles.

 

Going forward, if a business as usual approach continues, focus on skills-gaps and employment can go on to distract influencers, and a lack of real engagement with residents will continue in pockets. A grim retaliation could result. AI may diminish unwanted interactions with police due to autonomous mobility, but jobs may be even more scarce. Again, a distraction. To the second half of the twenty-first century, if people live longer, mixed with low pay, decreased employment opportunities, and constrained health care may strain even the most resilient of systems.

 

When in the past has one generation sacrificed for the benefit of future generations? Two examples: medieval cathedrals were built for future generations and fighting wars meant risking your life now to keep your country free for future generations. Wishful-thinkers may dismiss the trend for young people’s stand on environmental issues.

 

Alexis de Tocqueville pointed out that each generation must get the knowledge, skills, and traits of character that underpin a constitutional democracy. It’s relatively easy to produce competent people. Lobbyists today teach us an essential lesson about the service of democracy. Regardless of your side of an issue, they’ve figured out how to work the system for their sponsor.

 

Young people will continue to demand their right to a healthy inheritance when their elders fail to act on their metaphoric cathedrals. Knowledge and education can’t be sequestered anymore. Democracy is intended to serve everyone in its borders. Reality says it serves best those who take responsibility to make it work for today and tomorrow. Youth-motivated leadership and actions could reach a tipping point in this century to catch responsibility into their increasingly capable hands. Who is government supposed to serve? There are two kinds of people, those who focus on something to gain, and those treading water over something to lose. Democracy must move forward with its people and with energy, gusto and everything to gain.

 

© Robin Jourdan 2019

Tags:  democracy  governance  politics 

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Who and what is holding us back from a fully digital economy?

Posted By Paul Tero, Friday, September 6, 2019

Paul Tero a member of our Emerging Fellows program discovers the future of digital economy by adding one more piece to a series of blog posts devoted to this topic. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

Consider the fields of human affairs in which we are experiencing change. There’s environmental change, shifts in international and domestic politics, technological advances and the constant innovation in the health and human services sectors. Let us not neglect the spheres of finance, education, and governance. The list goes on. Trends, change and drivers of change. All threads in the dynamic tapestry of early 21st Century life.

 

In amongst all of these changes that we are witnessing this article is focusing on one thing. We are examining the unfolding phenomena of the digital economy. In particular, who and what is stymieing the realisation of a fully digital economy in the decades ahead. As we attend to this, we need to be mindful of our own responses to this particular phenomenon. Are we more sanguine, saying: “Yes, bring it on. We will be utterly enmeshed in a fully digital economy by 2050”. Or are we more phlegmatic: “Don’t know. We could be more reliant on the digital economy by 2050!

 

However, asking questions is the key to the examination of the digital economy. Questions like: Who benefits from the status quo and who loses if we go fully digital? What are the social, political, economic, legal, environmental or technological barriers to realising a fully digital economy? Are cultural worldviews and belief systems the obstacles in the path to building an economy that is fully digital?

 

Turning firstly to the status quo. Benefiting from the status quo are those whose influence, power and profit are founded on the world of atoms. If these attributes of prominence do not translate to the world of bits, change is resisted. Remember the retailers of a few years back? To them the internet was but a passing fad. They saw no need to embrace the digital economy.

 

Our reference point for an examination of the social barriers could be the introduction of Facebook. Once Metcalfe’s law kicked in, ordinary people could see the inherent value in sharing their lives online and overcame their reluctance to enter their personal and private details into the Facebook database. Turning to one potential aspect of life that could be with us in the time ahead: personal artificial intelligence assistants (we do have Alexa, Cortana & Siri now don’t we?). Our uneasiness with being second guessed ahead of time by artificial intelligence may be rendered moot because of the value and ease these new machines bring to our lives, relationships and careers.

 

And what of the governing class and the way political life is conducted. Is it because of the Machiavellian dictum “never attempt to win by force that can be won by deception” that political barriers will remain? For with this category of barrier the perspective that “a fully digital economy is equivalent to full transparency” may well be the non-negotiable impediment raised by its stakeholders. An anathema to the political class.

 

And what of legal barriers? Consider the difficulties presented by cryptocurrencies, the machinations we have with privacy in a digital world, and the conundrums with copyright. And let us not forget the implications of RegTech, the jurisdictional challenges faced by taxation authorities in this digital world, and the quagmire at the interface of human bodies and technology.

 

Finally, there is who we are as individuals, as members of families, communities, tribes and nations. All revealing a rich and complex global panoply of worldviews and belief systems. We can conjure images of dystopia, pockets of doomsday preppers, and activists driving the techlash movement. All as symbols of resistance to a fully digital economy. And similarly we watch the countervailing forces of progressives and conservatives. Progressives seeking a better way, conservatives seeking to only incrementally improve the way things are. And then we have the reactionaries who are bent on impeding any forward movement that the forces of improvement show.

 

Given all this, is it any wonder that we have so far been able to thread the needle of change. Is it any wonder that the quality of so many parts of our daily life for so many lives is better than what it was decades ago? There is no single “who” or “what” holding us back from a fully digital economy. But there is this: a multitude of challenges that are to be overcome on our collective arc of accumulation.

 

© Paul Tero 2019

Tags:  digital economy  economics  finance 

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Is Regulation Destined to be Behind Corporate Change?

Posted By Charlotte Aguilar-Millan, Monday, September 2, 2019

Charlotte Aguilar-Millan inspects the relationship between corporate change and regulation in her ninth blog post for our Emerging Fellows program. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

The purpose of regulation is to enable the transparent and trustworthy operation of businesses. This includes the regulation of how employees are treated, regulation on where goods are received from and also regulation of the figures reported to shareholders. It is this last example which has come under a great deal of scrutiny in the past few years: the external auditing of accounts.

 

The purpose of an external audit is to provide an independent opinion to the shareholders on the truth and fairness of the financial statements. It provides accountability to the stakeholders the company about how the directors operate the company. The standards to which an audit is completed were first introduced nearly 100 years ago; the 1930s for America and 1940s for the UK. Since then, regulations have been tacking on new requirements but not overhauling old requirements to reflect how businesses operate in an age of very different technology.

 

Carillion, previously the UK’s second largest building company, collapsed in January 2018 as a result of soaring debt and cashflow issues. KPMG, Carillion’s former auditors, gave Carillion a clean audit opinion up until it’s collapse. According to the regulations, it would appear that Carillion did not raise any red flags. As the Financial Times points out “auditors who want to work for and retain a client — and its fees — may be less inclined to scrutinise”. All auditors are reliant upon the client to pay their fees, yet they must also retain objectivity and independence.

 

During 2018, the year Carillion collapsed, KPMG were fined £3 million and £4.5 million for the inadequate audits of Ted Baker and Quindell respectively. Yet no Partner in firm was fired, demoted or even struck off. This means that those involved are still able to provide an opinion on whether companies are operating appropriately. In the same year, KPMG’s divisions expanded (including audit by 8%) leading to a Partner profit share jump to over £600K per person.

 

Where the Partners are reliant upon their client’s long standing, it is little wonder that levels of scrutiny by auditors is put into question. Further, as demonstrated in the previous few years, there are no material consequences if they do not. The fines auditors have received represent a ripple in the ocean when compared to the profits they are generating. Public trust is at a loss. The private sector is not willing to be held accountable by their actions.

 

True independence should be demonstrated through a regulating body used to allocate audit clients to auditors. This should be based on experience, risk profile of the client and the resources the audit firm have available. Once an auditor is appointed, this should be fixed for a set number of years.

 

Currently the private sector can select an accommodating opinion and ditch those who do not align with their methodology. Further, the Big Four would no longer be able to cherry pick their clients. This was demonstrated in August 2019 with Sports Direct seeking new auditors with the largest 5 audit firms declining to tender.

 

By using an allocating intermediary, the private sector could make transparent their resource available, whilst also demonstrating objectivity where their fees are not reliant upon keeping the subject of audit placated. Reform from within the corporate sector has proven to be ineffectual. Only once external oversight is placed on corporates will they change. The only form of change that will boost corporate change is a true reform of regulation.

 

© Charlotte Aguilar-Millan 2019

Tags:  corporate  organization  regulation 

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Alternative Finance: Power to the people?

Posted By E. Alex Floate, Friday, August 30, 2019

Alex Floate, a member of our Emerging Fellows program devotes his eighth blog post to the possibility of establishing an alternative finance. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

Access to information creates an informed populace, makes people’s lives better and democratizes society. That was the idea behind the public library, and the mantra of idealists in the early days of the internet. Twenty plus years into that era we are still waiting on the full promise of a connected world. In the area of personal finance, we have seen small successes as banking, credit scoring, money and investment management have moved online. Increased access and information have been realized in these areas, and in some cases has brought investing and money management opportunities to people who never considered anything but savings account. However, these improvements have not brought life-changing experiences to most, and the economic paradigm we operate under appears to be more of the same, but with apps!

 

Where the most success has been achieved is with those who previously did not have access to mainstream banking or financial systems. Some of the early players, such as PayPal and Alipay created the means for moving money from one entity to another. Doing so allowed many who did not have conventional accounts to participate in the broader economy by having a cost effective alternative. Personal investing companies like Acorns are bringing saving and investing to the masses by stealthily increasing every transaction you make with your debit or credit card to the nearest dollar, then investing those extra pennies into exchange-traded index funds. The appification of finance is the first and most obvious sign that personal finance is changing, but there are bigger movements ahead.

 

Open banking is a new concept that relies on networks and the sharing of both personal and financial institution data across these networks. The goal is providing consumers with better information as institutions provide data about their services that conform to an unbiased and transparent standard. This allows for better competition between participating banks and institutions resulting in lower fees and borrowing costs for consumers. Conversely, institutions have access to the history of potential customers and allow them to more accurately configure and offer products based on the risk profile as seen through transactions, and not through 3rd party credit agencies.  

 

As the world becomes a global marketplace for finance, blockchain will be the technology that will facilitate it. Blockchain will be the means by which transactions are secured, trust is established, and value is traded. Currently we use intermediaries to reduce the risk of transacting with third parties, especially when crossing jurisdictions or borders. This raises the cost and complexity of those transactions which blockchain promises to reduce. This may even result in a complete remake of retail import/export chains as people are able to transact directly across borders. Additionally, blockchain coupled with open banking will elevate peer-to-peer lending to a level where nearly anyone with assets can participate in the capital income economy.

 

Empowering individuals is the promise and goal of personal fintech and alternative finance. However, as with any economic system there are issues and areas that the promise may not cover. How will the average person create value that can be leveraged across fintech and the web? Those with assets, products or services that are in demand will be poised to take the most advantage; those whose only asset is non-skilled labor will be left out. Although technology is just a tool, those tools enable humans to create and build better lives for the creator, owner and user of those tools. There is never any promise that a tool will bring universal prosperity, but we should be aware of the potential effects of any new technology. For these new financial tools and systems, we need to understand will they truly help the greater good, or just create another seemingly insurmountable divide in our society?

 

© 2019 E Alex Floate

Tags:  banking  Blockchain  finance 

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Could ‘cyber-humans’ have personal liberty?

Posted By Ruth Lewis, Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Ruth Lewis a member of our Emerging Fellows program inspects cyber-humans’ liberty in her new blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

Can we judge technologies to be helpful in promoting our personal liberty? Could they grant us physical or cognitive freedom to push the boundaries beyond our human limitations? Or may they actually undermine our liberty by inviting unwanted invasions on our privacy and coercion of our thoughts? What happens if the technology that we are considering is embedded within the body or the brain, effectively becoming part of our own bodies?

 

Wonderful advancements are currently occurring in the field of biomedical engineering, enabling people who suffer severe pain, limb loss, brain injury, neurological diseases or psychological conditions to be monitored and their conditions therapeutically managed. Symptoms of your bodily condition can be tracked through local or remote monitoring of sensors implanted within the body. With electrical stimulation applied automatically or manually as required. In today’s world these implants, called neuroprostheses, may save your life, or make life tolerable. These devices enhance the freedom of action of people who have limited or no mobility, giving them the possibility of aspiring toward an independent life.

 

Such current technologies are the basis for speculation about an evolution toward ‘cyber-humans’, when body and brain enhancement with intelligent implanted technology may be commonly available. This may be for therapeutic purposes, or to enhance and extend the brains’ cognitive or memory capacity. It may grant extraordinary abilities to see, hear, understand and communicate (even without voice). Enhancement may provide physical strength and endurance well beyond the means of a normal human being. The application for such devices, will grant the freedom of extra-human capabilities. When used for the greater good, they may overcome many help societal issues. However, with speculation, it is possible to imagine a number of future scenarios where the personal liberty of the individual with technologically intelligent implants may be challenged.

 

Imagine that you receive subliminal or overt messages into your brain implant that induce you to like or buy a new product, to influence you to behave a certain way or suggestions that may be against your natural inclination. This is not so far removed from current practices of media bombardment through broadcast or pop-up advertising, or even practices of ‘brainwashing’. With clever messaging, these inducements may be indistinguishable from your own ‘true’ thoughts. This manipulation of the mind may undermine your cognitive liberty to your own opinion, or against your ability to explore alternative points of view.

 

In another scenario, your implant may receive subliminal instructions to activate your limbs, causing your body to perform actions that were not of your own choosing. Would you be able to distinguish these actions as being incited from outside of your body? Would you be held accountable or even liable for your body’s actions if you were to perform a criminal action, when the instructions may have come from a foreign source? And how could you prove your innocence in such a circumstance, to prove no motivation, even if you had the physical means to harm other people or property?

 

In a third scenario, imagine that brain implants may provide significant uplifts in standard human capabilities, such as intelligence, memory, attractiveness or even inter-implant communication. Would you create a class of ‘sub-capable’ natural-form humans compared with the implant-enhanced? Would this mean that you should have the freedom or the right to be implant-modified, or alternatively to refuse modification, even if it meant that you may become part of the sub-class of ‘purely biological’ beings? And finally, after modification, would you have the right to turn off or even remove your cyber-modification, at a time or place of your choosing?

 

Technology itself cannot judge what is open or honest, what values are good and what are bad. These values must be defined within the ethics frameworks of the society that we live in, and then encoded within the rules of the technology. Our governance frameworks must above all anticipate and protect our established rights to liberty and self-determination, protect our privacy of thought and independence of deed, rather than recognise these factors afterwards.

 

Technology is to data what the human body is to the blood. Data and information exchange provide the lifeblood of the scenarios described above. In order to understand and analyse these scenarios, we need to understand how liberty will be affected by ownership rights to the data supplied to or extracted from the implants in body and brains of cyber-humans.

 

© Ruth Lewis 2019

Tags:  cyber-human  liberty  rights 

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Is automation the commons of the future?

Posted By Tim Morgan, Friday, August 23, 2019

Tim Morgan investigates automation as the new commons in his new blog post for our Emerging Fellows program. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

Elinor Ostrom is the only woman to win a Nobel Prize in Economics. She showed how the combination of shared governance and social feedback loops create stable resource management systems. She identified eight design principles which every stable local common pool resource organization follows. These promote shared social management of an economic resource, preventing the so-called “Tragedy of the Commons” of resource depletion.

 

Modern computing infrastructure is founded on use of openly shared code and community created protocols. This Free & Open Source Software (FOSS) ethos quickly expanded with the rise of the Internet to include writing, art, music, videos, and designs. Each license legally protects copying, modification, and use; but only if the resulting works also stay under the same open license. This guarantees that selfish actors can be legally punished if they try to hijack the works. It creates in-toto a classic self-governing common resource pool, ala Ostrom.

 

The infinite copiability of digital knowledge promotes a set of social values which govern the growing global knowledge commons. They assure that its value is always accessible to anyone with network access. Because data is cheaply and infinitely copiable, strong feedback loops reinforce using knowledge technologies for problem solving. This increasingly seduces the private sector into greater dependency and sharing arrangements instead of traditional ownership. The Public sector similarly becomes more permeable and malleable as it becomes more interconnected.

 

This growing automation-created knowledge commons is creating huge social, political, economic, and technological upheaval. We see authenticity and quality of experience replacing material ownership and cost as core product values. We see it using social pressure and economic engagement to solve problems like increasing ecosystem damage or socio-economic inequalities. We see it merging virtual and physical reality in the form of augmented reality, Internet-of-Things, haptics, robotics, A.I. knowledge assistants, and neural prosthetics. We see it spurring development of new materials, technologies, and processes for an emerging sustainable Circular Economy.

 

What we see is the emergence of an adaptive automation-enabled socio-economic system which uses all the levels of society together as an integrated whole. It is a new social ecology. It is rapidly iterating around its connections and knowledge space, trying to find complementary trophic-like flows between communities, institutions, markets, and the networks themselves via automation. Each sector is refocusing itself back into its core area of expertise in response. The Civic sector is increasingly refocusing on supporting families and local concerns. The Public sector is sluggishly refocusing on shepherding slower layers of society like infrastructure, public health, safety, and economic stability. The Private sector is reluctantly refocusing on creating customer value within a changing social context. The newest sector, the Social Commons, is emerging as the response mechanism for identifying and connecting areas of concern within the other sectors. It is the social governance arm of the global knowledge commons.

 

This rebalancing is moving civilization towards a biologically, socially, and technologically integrated system of systems. As each new sustainable niche evolves, we get closer to a globally sustainable whole. Our new global knowledge commons is not a single thing. It is an adaptive, integrated whole. Is automation the new commons? It is, but one we have never seen before. It is one that wants to look and act like nature itself: balanced, dynamic, adaptive, and evolving. It wants to be a new thing: an Abundant Commons.

 

© Tim Morgan 2019

Tags:  automation  commons  economics 

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Could the use of personal data decrease inequality?

Posted By Felistus Mbole, Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Felistus Mbole a member of our Emerging Fellows program inspects the role of personal data in decreasing inequality through her new blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

The one thing that defines the digital revolution we are in today is the enormous volume of personal data that is generated and collected each day. Data generation is growing at an exponential rate. This is supported by the ever-increasing computational power particularly in mobile devices. The use of smart devices is increasingly becoming part of our everyday lives. Through them, we are leaving a digital trail in almost everything we do. According to the Next Generation Data Analytics report, the big data market is expected to grow from USD 28 Billion in 2019 to USD 66 Billion by 2025. The trend is clearly upward. What does the continued generation and use of personal mean for economic inequality? Can the benefits of big data be made more inclusive?

The key drivers of the big data era are the growing number of mobile devices and related applications, and organisational shift from analogue to digital technologies. According to the World Bank, today more households in developing countries own a mobile phone than have access to clean water or electricity. Furthermore, close to 70 percent of the bottom wealth quintile in these countries own mobile phones. Businesses and governments are becoming smarter each day. They are developing algorithms which enable them to analyse big data and make predictions with a much greater level of precision than would be the case with huge national surveys. This is making decision-making easier.

Governments now have access to a mass of large-scale data sets, and new data sources on previously ‘unknown’ populations. They are using big data to cost-effectively make predictions that enable them to provide better services to their citizens. For instance, healthcare professionals can use big data to calculate someone’s chance of suffering from a given disease and thus provide timely or preventive treatment. Big data has been used to increase financial inclusion, improve education, respond to epidemics, and mitigate the impact of natural disasters. Businesses on the other hand are using data freely collected from individuals to provide services and products that are more targeted at their clients. Using algorithms, they can more accurately anticipate behaviour. They are driving our future behaviour. This form of surveillance capitalism is making data companies much more profitable and driving the inequality between them and the rest of society.

The role of technology companies in making connectivity work for everyone in future is likely to remain. Yet the reality is that business decisions on investments are driven by the need to optimise returns. Thus, despite the dividends highlighted here, a digital divide between the rich and the poorer in society who cannot afford the latest technology is likely to persist. The poor and the digitally excluded have less or incomplete data which makes them excluded from services whose design is informed by machine learning. Additionally, the algorithms can be discriminative and biased. For instance, health insurance services algorithms use historical data which could have biases. Credit scoring algorithms use residential location and type of work which could further entrench one’s economic situation. These could sustain the prevailing global inequalities.

The economy of the future will be digital. Based on the current trajectory, big data and machine learning is likely to increase. As the revolution of big data and artificial intelligence takes root, there will be loss of jobs. The poor in society who do not have the requisite digital skills to engage in this big data economy are likely to be disadvantaged and excluded economically. This could increase global inequality. The digital divide between the richer and the poor could be closed by addressing the non-digital or analogue elements behind it. Adapting the skills of workers to the digital economy, the nationalisation of data, and effective regulation of business to ensure digital inclusion would help address this digitally driven inequality.

© Felistus Mbole, 2019

Tags:  data  inequality  technology 

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Ought poverty necessarily lead to exploitation?

Posted By Esmee Wilcox, Friday, August 16, 2019

Esmee Wilcox takes a new look at poverty and exploitation in her new blog post for our Emerging Fellows program. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

Talk of exploitation and poverty reminds us of the worst of sexual crimes, human trafficking and gang violence.  However, the absence of access to commonly held resources, and the consequential lack of agency are perhaps more ubiquitous experiences with interest right across the political spectrum. OECD reports on declining social mobility. Mainstream economists describing opaque but intentional market interventions that obscure the drivers of structural inequalities.  Populist movements berating the unequal ‘burdens’ of social support put upon the middle classes.  These all raise questions about purpose. Taking this discussion out to 2050, we might be asking very different questions about what poverty means, the choices we have to make, and ultimately, who gets to choose?

 

By 2050 more of us may be living in more precarious circumstances, with fewer assets such as insurance or meaningful currency to smooth the impact of economic and environmental shocks.  In these circumstances there may be more interest in universal socio-economic support mechanisms instead of activated or conditional ones.  Our atomised view of resilience shifting as our taken for granted capital disappears.  Our interest increasing in access to richer education that enables agency in public life. Socio-techno movements that question market interventions becoming more influential.   The absence of effective governments organising at the national level may lead to place-based communities holding and developing their social capital and assets that necessitate an economically inclusive approach to function.  Low or absent incomes might be more ubiquitous as more of us experience shocks that push us into this bracket.  Where there is a reciprocal relationship between the social capital, with agency in-built, and the human capital required in the self-organising of these systems, this might redress traditional capital inequalities that lead to exploitation.

 

The solidarity required in this future goes counter to political philosophy that individualises people’s capacity to leave precarious circumstances. That sees self-reliant communities as motivated, organised ones, decoupled from any precondition of ownership or influence over assets.  That courts low-income hard-working families by distinguishing them from elites and poor.  Who, through disproportionate political influence and access to resources, bear responsibility for under-investment, wage stagnation and lower their quality of life.  The extension of this political dynamic out to 2050 might be an acceptance of the consequences of enviro-economic shocks as self-determined.  Less acceptance of divergent circumstances, reducing the pool of who gets support.  The data about the myriad of perceived choices – consumption patterns, pro-social and risky behaviour, responses to genome profiles – reflecting a deterministic, causal view of complex circumstances.  The dominant political system codified and entrenched in the gate-keeping AI’s values.

 

In spite of this narrative about individualism, there is some evidence that citizens’ views about welfare policies are more mixed and influenced by a rich history of social attitudes, experience of distributive policies and expectations of governments. This might give us more hope of a space where inclusive social movements could expand.  Who gets to hold, organise, and make use of local community assets – as resources that are key determinants of health, education and wealth – might be a less controversial space to move to shared agency.  However, if we are to imagine a system where poverty need not lead to exploitation, it must also disrupt the personal realm: individual agency equated with current capital assets exchanged for the collective ability to produce.  In the transition to this type of future, what might influence access to other life-course determining assets such as education?

 

© Esmee Wilcox 2019

Tags:  agency  exploitation  poverty 

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