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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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How can we solve problems without a solution?

Posted By Robin Jourdan, Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Robin Jourdan checks the possibility of solving insolvable problems 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.

 

Labor and environmentalism are often portrayed at odds with democracy and capitalism. Is labor environmentalism compatible with democracy/capitalism? For over a century, labor championed an evolving environmental movement. Labor promoted conservation of the national resources and opposition to industrial exploitation of public lands for profit. Since World War II, labor union members linked the dangers of pollution in the workplace with the contamination of the surrounding communities. Labor unions were also essential organizers of the first Earth Day. Earth Day has grown to become the largest nonspiritual celebration. More than a billion people take part every year, stirring policy changes.

 

By joining forces, labor and environmental organizations had increased business regulation to protect workers. Until the mid-1980s. Industry's response exposed workers by using claims that lost profits could result in layoffs or complete shutdowns. Such assertions change the conversation for workers and union representation. This results in pitting jobs directly opposite to safety, health and environment. Today's business hostility and centralized government ambivalence create a formidable front to environmental quality. A response is birth of the green labor movement. Itself a new model, it holds promise to disrupt political alignments.

 

Union environmentalism that protects members from unsafe conditions has risen. This outcome has also benefitted the natural environment as a byproduct. Increased use of machine workers, especially in dangerous and hazardous situations may result in a whole new thinking. Globally today, nine out of 10 people worldwide breathe polluted air. The United Nations Environment is focusing on tackling the growing yet overlooked threat of air pollution. To a large extent, this a response to accelerating carbon emissions via increased energy demands, especially in China, India, and the US.

 

Beijing has shown what is possible to reduce air pollution and are increasing their actions and ambition for the next 20 years: a model for others to follow. World Heritage sites will face heightened threats; especially crucial to nations who value their long heritage. Going forward, leadership will be judged on its capacity to resist temptations to manipulate the system, versus commitments, met as a proactive and responsible role model. A wildcard is recently surfacing in the US as a group of young people have begun lawsuits over climate change inaction.

 

Today's technocrats can take advantage of their ability to consider and grow in the face of issues such as proper workforce planning for health issues. As the number of active workers declines, elderly non-workers' health issues will increase similarly.

 

New Environmentalists, new hope? Global leadership who take on fighting inequality, including that induced by climate change, will be rewarded. Efforts reversing climate change will be challenged by a more significant influence of urban areas. Ignoring climate change will come at a cost in the Trillions of dollars antithetical to capitalist goals.

 

Is labor environmentalism compatible with democracy/capitalism? Approaching tipping points at work in today's short-termism world can provide specific incentives. For an economic incentive market truth offers the highest reliability. For example, in the future, holding jobs hostage over environmental concerns will diminish as AI and machinery take over dangerous front-line work and lowering costs. This change could cause the market into a full-court press protecting Spaceship Earth. Problems without solutions may be only a temporal issue. Given additional information and evolution, even the toughest solutions can be found.

 

© Robin Jourdan 2019

Tags:  change  environment  society 

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Will the offline world really matter anymore?

Posted By Paul Tero, Thursday, August 8, 2019

Paul Tero a member of our Emerging Fellows program envisions the future of offline world in our social affairs. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

As we consider what life could be like at the half-way point of this Century, it is instructive to step back and view the flow of history. It is through an appreciation of how human affairs have changed, and what has driven those changes, that we can grasp what lies ahead. That we can begin to form answers to the questions at hand.

 

Questions such as: will the offline world matter in 2050? Will the teenage grandchildren of today's teenagers interact with the physical world as is currently the case? Will the limitations of our physical world be overcome by then? Will the digital realm be a greater source of influence than the temporal?

 

Prior to recent times, our lives were centred on the world of the atom rather than the world of the bit. It was solely in physical spaces that we built relationships, grew economies and exercised political influence. From the villages of the agricultural age to the cities of the industrial age, domestic, business and government activities were conducted exclusively through analogue means.

 

It is without question that we are in a period of transition. The balance is shifting from the physical to the digital. For although the online world is ubiquitous, we are still beholden to our physical world. Even though the domain names and the virtual properties they represent sell for millions, the power and opportunity that is afforded through the ownership of real-estate is even more significant. Even though a cadre of eminence grise wield the power of social media in commercial and political spheres, we still respond through our presence at the checkout or the ballot box. And even though the value of digital services is rising, our nations’ export earnings still tend to be dominated by that which can be carried in ships.

 

Given that the trees of tomorrow are todays seedlings, that the systems of tomorrow and the way things will be nascent today. What do we see around us? Today our social and retail transactions are dominated by ever-present digital transaction. And, as we grow more comfortable with its safety and ease, tomorrow digital transactions are more than likely to become ubiquitous in all other aspects of our lives such as our domestic, employment, health, romantic and spiritual affairs.

 

Today, most of us are generally free to live our lives free from statutory manipulation. But as we see administrations around the world learning to leverage digital tools to achieve social outcomes, opposing voices may well be reduced to obscurity. For even the phenomena such as the growing Tech-Lash or the various uprisings coordinated through social media will surely fade into impotence as the State develops and controls the digital-only narrative to maintain political control.    

 

And so, in the time ahead, it is conceivable that our lives may well be centred on the world of the bit rather than the world of the atom. It is more than likely that it will solely be in virtual spaces that we build relationships, grow economies and exercise political influence. Where we are headed, transitioning from the cities of the current information age to megapolises of the coming intelligence age it is quite reasonable to assume that all domestic, business and government activities will be conducted exclusively through digital means.

 

From our vantage point from which we have surveyed the sweep of history, we can indeed be confident of one thing. That the life that the teenage grandchildren of today's teenagers experience will be vastly different to our current reality. We can be sure that the offline world won’t be as ascendant in our social affairs. Nor as influential in the ebbs and flows of economic decisions and transactions. And finally, neither as significant for those actors that gain and wield political power. The dominance of the offline world is set to wane.   

 

© Paul Tero 2019

Tags:  digital economy  offline world  power 

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Has an Aging Population Impacted Corporate Shareholding?

Posted By Charlotte Aguilar-Millan, Monday, August 5, 2019

Charlotte Aguilar-Millan inspects the impact of aging on corporate shareholding in her 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.

 

Corporate shareholding is affected by what ideologies generational cohorts have. In the current year, 2019, we see Baby Boomers, those born between 1946-1964, at their peak corporate shareholding. This is because they are now at, or near, retirement age. Once retirement age hits, corporate shareholding starts to unwind as individuals cash in shareholding for retirement income. This is likely to peak for Boomers in the early 2030s. With this peak enters a new phase of corporate shareholding by Generation X, those born in 1965-1976, but more prevalently by Millennials, those born in 1977-1995. However, with this new phase of investing comes a different ethos. 

 

The term “ESG” - environmental, social and governance - was first coined in 2005 as a result of growing expectations that Corporates need more transparency and a documented moral compass. These new requirements ensured that Corporates had to demonstrate transparency including how they are responding to climate change as well as how they treat their workers. From 2005, this has grown to represent roughly 25% of all investing activities. Corporates have incorporated ESG into their operating model. An example of this can be seen from Tomás Carruthers, former CEO of Interactive Investor, who launched “Project Heather” in 2018. His aim is to build the first regulated investment exchange to be focused on businesses that are making measurable positive social and environmental impact.

 

The rise of ESG investing has not meant that the format of investing has remained consistent. Public trust between generations is in decline. Where Boomers were happy to select individual stocks from a stock exchange, Millennials do not invest in this manner. With the average age of homeownership increasing, in the UK it is currently around 32 years old, the point at which a Millennial can start investing in stocks and shares has shortened by a decade to their previous generation. As a result, Millennials seek to locate trustworthy investments given they have a shorter period than previous generations to save for retirement.

 

The growth in private equity is providing Millennials with this platform. Private equity backed companies in America grew by 300% between 2000-2018 while individual stocks declined by 43%. Millennials see that with private equity, an opportunity is given to smaller companies for growth without the time and expense drain of becoming listed. This in turn can stimulate the economy with innovative ideas that might not be realised without funding. Millennials have also seen the rise of the “unicorn” within private equity where a company is valued at over $1billion making it an enticing return opportunity. 

 

For markets to expect Millennial’s investing strategies to be the same as that of the Boomer’s is complacent. Millennials have grown up with a higher scepticism and lower trust environment than their previous counterparts. They are not expecting a golden retirement. Instead, they look to impact investing to create an ethical environment. With an aging population brings forth a new phase in those accumulating and investing wealth. This in turn will have a significant impact on corporate shareholding.  

 

© Charlotte Aguilar-Millan 2019

Tags:  aging  economics  shareholding 

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Will Fintech Change the World of Finance?

Posted By E. Alex Floate, Thursday, August 1, 2019

Alex Floate, a member of our Emerging Fellows program checks the possibility of changing the world of finance by means of fintech in his seventh blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

Fintech was coined as a phrase in the early 21st Century that described the internet enabled finance technology that began to appear. Later it came to describe the whole of the financial technology sector, and a buzzword analogous to ‘invest in us – we’re on the cutting edge’. Others then began to see fintech as a gateway to a post-capitalist system in which fintech will democratize finance and save the world in the process. These enthusiasts were literally banking on fintech igniting the forces of creative destruction that would bring down the old order of labor, land and capital and replace it a distributed tech model based on individuals, information and abundance.

 

Creative destruction is a concept dating back to Marx that capitalism will continually destroy the existing order to create new value and wealth. Creative destruction is caused by innovation which undermines the status quo, and de-values anyone or anything that continues following the old order, including skills, desires, function and capital. During Marx’s time this was the new industrial barons destroying the value and wealth of the landed gentry through commoditization. More recently technology entrepreneurs have unseated the established industrial conglomerates by expansive use of information.

 

Obsolescence and replacement are not confined to direct replacement of the new technology but can endanger whole systems. For example, the inefficient neighborhood grocery store within walking distance of its customers fell prey to the technology of the auto; it was now easy to drive to efficient and cheaper supermarkets. Now we see even those supermarkets and stores falling prey to the technology of the internet. Creative destruction in action. Is fintech a technological revolution causing the next evolution of capitalism?

 

That is the hope of those who see fintech as the democratizing influence on finance and capitalism. The use of fintech allows individuals around the globe access to information, platforms, cheaper capital, and stores of value without needing expensive intermediaries or even beholden to any one currency. By breaking the back of the old finance system, the new decentralized one will be distributed across the population. Fans of Austrian economics will rejoice as fintech skirts around regulations and allows individuals to choose where they access and store capital, at what interest rate they want, and in whatever electronic currency that best suits their needs.

 

But, fintech fans appear to underestimate the reaction that vested interests of governments, financial institutions and current technology leaders have in either blocking, slowing or hijacking this new round of creative destruction. Governments especially will see this new order as a threat that previous iterations of change lacked, as it will challenge their ability to regulate and exercise financial authority over their own economies. We are already hearing the mumblings about regulation of Bitcoin or attempts to thwart Facebook’s plan to create a digital currency. The fintech wars will truly be unleashed once a digital currency appears at enough scale to challenge the largest currencies. That most likely will be the Rubicon that needs to be crossed before governments fully assume a war footing.

 

Before that occurs though, the most likely scenario is an alliance of current financial powerhouses, tech companies and both groups pocketed lawmakers stepping in to create conditions that allow much of fintech’s promise to be purchased and assimilated. Until then fintech will be a race, not a war, to see how fast it can advance. The race will be to provide people the power of its promise before a behemoth financial Borg assimilates it and leaves the people as powerless as they were before.     

 

© 2019 E Alex Floate

Tags:  Economics  Finance  Technology 

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Will liberty evolve with governance?

Posted By Ruth Lewis, Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Ruth Lewis a member of our Emerging Fellows program checks the possibility of evolving liberty with governance in her seventh blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

‘Corporate Social Responsibility’, ‘Sustainable Development’, ‘Socially Responsible Investing’.  I am often struck by these sorts of labels that imply an intention to work towards a better world.  But have they become weasel words, marketing-driven subjective descriptions that may be co-opted by those without an obligation or a plan to implement firm or agreed objectives? How can we promote or evolve human rights or liberty universally, or create a governance framework to allocate responsibility that can be clearly understood and delivered?

 

Human rights and liberty may evolve in the future though the use of global standards, long-term commercial goals and non-financial societal measures. This view focusses on the social accountability of the individual entity – a person, corporation, government or NGO for their own actions and is in line with the human rights paradigm of self-governance. Within this type of governance framework, the behaviour of the entity is observed and measured to ensure accountability. Liberty may evolve with honest governance that provides education, a robust and enforced justice system, and which upholds free speech.

 

A normalised common good for a community may develop where that community can be defined as ‘Earth’. We refer to all citizens of our planet as a global community, with all inhabitants enjoying equal human rights. The problem comes when human rights, as benefits or interests imposed by government or international rules, clash with human responsibility.

 

Responsibility is related to a duty or obligation for moral or legal purposes, and is assigned to you as a role. Moral responsibility or duty are concepts from a time before the Enlightenment, when civic virtue and social values were pre-eminent.  Duty ethics implies living by a set of rules, according to your duty to the society that you live in. This world view defines each person’s place in a hierarchy, whether as a ruler, religious leader or supplicant. These ethical theories are more powerful when considering a governance system that will care for a common good, such as our environment, or a social institution such as a culture or country.  The cultural aspect of the welfare of the community is dominant, over the rights or wishes of the individual.

 

Within a governance system that is respectful and nurturing to the individual and community, duty ethics can promote liberty.  However, in some cultures past and present, the governance system may be more concerned with enforcement of a defined duty within a social hierarchy, and may suppress individual liberty or exploit a person or a community for the ‘good’ of the hierarchically superior state.  Where this happens, there may be no recognisable individualism or recognition of human rights, as it is beyond the duty paradigm.

 

How do we morally reconcile egalitarian concepts of liberty and human rights with hierarchically-based duty and moral responsibility to ensure universal and equitable governance? This question underpins many global challenges that we face today, including care of our environment, responsible development of technology and natural resources, improving the living conditions for third world communities or ensuring inhabitants of our world are free to choose their own religion, lifestyle or family groupings.

 

The solution is to carefully integrate both liberty and duty ethics with an equal recognition of both, for the healthy functioning of the individual within the society that they live in.  Equitable governance will promote both liberty and duty in both a rational and a spiritual sense, looking at both short to long term development, and taking account of both high and low-level issues, complexities and inter-relationships.

 

Governance where the governed have input in shaping the governance and policy development process is a difficult process of finding consensus and reconciling many different points of view. The key is to follow an agreed framework that is able to benefit and validate all of these viewpoints within open and honest channels of communication, with a consideration of societal or collective normative values for the common good, truth and values.  Example frameworks that have been developed for this type of framework include ‘Communitarianism’ and ‘Commoning’.

 

An immediate need is common governance of the world’s natural environment.  A purely liberty-based view of governance based on ‘human rights’ may look to exploit the ecosystem for economic growth.  This may subsume all other considerations, including our duty to protect nature or our responsibility to preserve the world’s ecology for future generations.  The common and integrated view of environmental governance based on equivalent ‘rights’ and ‘duty’ allocates custodianship of countries and corporations for natural resource development, and specific responsibility for any social and ecological damage caused by economic production or consumption. This custodianship includes the duty of current generations to conserve the global environment for future generations. There are signs that future legal international frameworks will normalise explicit intergenerational environmental responsibility in equal measure to the legal status of human rights to ensure accountability for externalities of economic development, together with defined plans for delivery.

 

Technology can be used as an enabler of open and honest channels of communication and facilitate the transition from the extremes of individualistic liberty and hierarchical duty to a framework of the common good and universal governance. But how can technology judge what is open or honest?  And what if the technology includes artificial, autonomous systems or augmented intelligences that need to be factors within the framework of defining the common good?

 

© Ruth Lewis 2019

Tags:  governance  liberty  rights 

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Is there a role for social entrepreneurs in the public sector?

Posted By Esmee Wilcox, Friday, July 26, 2019

Esmee Wilcox devotes her seventh blog post in our Emerging Fellows program to the role of social entrepreneurs. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

Governments may support social entrepreneurs as instruments of social policymaking, verified by citizens own confidence in their capacity to deliver reductions in inequalities. But present day institutional structures disproportionately eases existing capital into the public realm and influences strategic policy-making. Instead, how might social entrepreneurs lead the dialogue on the shape of the public realm and the relationships between government and enterprise over the next 30 years. What forms ought to be displaced? What new roles ought social entrepreneurs play? What would the benefits be of working towards this future?

 

We are presently focussed on the current resources at the disposal of the public sector. The generational and debt imbalances are driving an exclusive preoccupation with the financial costs of social support. The consequences of under-investment in public assets are not yet creating solidarity between those capitalising on the current system and those bearing the brunt of building the new system at scale.

 

Social entrepreneurs are already operating in the public realm, creating political legitimacy through a more direct, meaningful and beneficial relationship between consumers, participants and communities. This challenges the legitimacy of public institutions that – for risk of often abstractly defined failure and the strength of existing capital – are unable to disrupt their organising models. Social innovators also challenge the redundancy in hierarchical, standing organisations that are able to deliver financial accountability and steady-state services but not adapt to the creativity and ingenuity required in tackling today’s social issues.

 

If we are to change the system within which public benefits are produced we need to secure changes to the scale at which they are addressed, the accountability models that are used, and the ease with which collaborations can happen. In the latter half of this century we might imagine changes that fundamentally alter all three of these conditions favourably towards social entrepreneurs, and allow them to play a more strategic role in the public realm.

 

Health technology social enterprises, collaborating with self-organised long-term condition community interest companies, are already displacing the power of the capital resources tied up in private insurance and hospital trusts. In this way they are changing the scale of public policy-making from one based on the social structures of government institutions, to one that forms around the social structures of the agents of change.

 

Automation ought to enable accountability for public resources to get in step with the complexity of social issues being addressed, away from reductionist approaches. In removing the need for labour intensive financial management that perpetuates inflexible, hierarchical organising models. In enabling evaluation frameworks that represent, and don’t distort, the reality of the production of social outcomes. In lowering the transaction costs of work collaborations, the forming and reforming of work vehicles as issues of public interest change.

 

We can imagine the effect being to free up public sector organisations to focus on the complexity of social issues that will need to be addressed in the latter half of this century. The concern for inequalities manifesting more in basic access to food, energy and water with more of us living in precarious circumstances. Without a vision of how to tackle these types of issues, with newfound freedoms the public sector might simply freeze. Or the dominant position of existing capital might entrench itself.

 

Social entrepreneurs might seek clues for extending their political legitimacy now in their ability to straddle, influence and mobilise across the public sector, with capital, and in communities. Working with communities to deliberate and create a sense of agency over the use of their collective data assets, drawing in capital investment in ‘healthy-creative’ economic infrastructure on the communities’ own terms.

 

Social entrepreneurs might play a much more influential role in the public realm in this future, creating new notions of what a public good is, and how to measure, account for and create them. A future where hierarchies are redundant and social capital is in ascendency. What other paradigm shifts might the rise in public influence of social entrepreneur’s result in?

 

© Esmee Wilcox 2019

Tags:  entrepreneurship  public sector  society 

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Will technology fuel or quench capitalism?

Posted By Felistus Mbole, Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Felistus Mbole a member of our Emerging Fellows program inspects the dual role of technology in her seventh blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

We are living in a technological era like no other. The latest forms of internet and communication technology has made the world a global village. People can connect in real time across the globe. It is only three decades since the worldwide web came into being and roughly half of the global population has internet access according to UN’s International Tele­communication Union (ITU). Technology today is synonymous with internet and digital connectivity. Our lives have become so centred around internet connectivity and the opportunities that this creates.  It is hard to image life without digital communication. Will this new wave of technology quench or fuel capitalism?

 

The connectedness through digital technology has had clear benefits for society. Digital technology has possibly brought greater development than any other technology before it. It has enabled unprecedented levels of communication and the accompanying economic, political and social benefits. For instance, more people in Africa today have access to mobile phones than electricity. Mobile money is becoming a way of life for many, with about half of Kenya’s GDP estimated to be driven by it. This said, a significant digital divide, that is the gap between people who are digitally connected and those who are not, exists. The main reason for this digital divide is the cost of access in terms of data or airtime and the digital devices. Other reasons are poor connectivity and lack of digital skills.

 

Technology has long been established as a key driver of income inequality. In the emerging digital global economy, the economic gap between those digitally left behind and the owners of the technology is growing. The benefits of digital technology seem to be consolidated in the hands of a few. Digital technology has the power to change the market structure in a manner unlike any other technology. Disruptive digital innovations have changed the functioning of markets, resulting in the emergence of new dominant players with substantial long-term rents. Copyrights and intellectual properties out of these innovations give innovators an edge that their competitors cannot easily bridge.  It is a case of the winner taking it all, at least in the short-term. The impact of digital technology on society has been profound. Six of those on the Forbes list of top ten billionaires globally have made their wealth out of digital technology. They have mined their wealth out of data, the new oil.

 

Data is the lifeline of global capitalism today. It is the oil that lubricates the current economy.  A lot more data traverses the globe each day than goods and services combined. Big data companies such as Google and Facebook collect huge amounts of data from the population at minimal cost and sell it to others at a fortune. The data collected from the public can be used to improve services and products, making them more targeted and relevant. It can be used by security agents to fight crime and terrorism. Data has also been used to monitor and manage health related challenges. Data has however, been used to predict behaviour and worse still, to nudge human behaviour into the most profitable outcomes for business. Shoshana Zuboff terms this kind of data usage ‘surveillance capitalism’. It is not about the clients but centred on the business, promoting capitalism. Initially, it was individuals under surveillance. Now it is communities and soon it will be the whole of society.

 

Based on the current trajectory, technology will fuel capitalism even further in future. The progression towards a more connected world and artificial intelligence will generate massive amounts of data. This will present greater opportunities for capitalism and promote higher levels of inequality if unchecked. We are likely to see emergence of more stringent data protection regulations in future in an effort to guard against abuse of data. Innovation is good for the economy. Appropriate tax and innovation policies can help make the benefits of technology more inclusive. These could act to quench the fire of capitalism.

 

© Felistus Mbole, 2019

Tags:  capitalism  equality  technology 

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Who owns an automated society?

Posted By Tim Morgan, Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Tim Morgan published his seventh blog post in our Emerging Fellows program by inspecting the ownership of automated societies. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

Ownership is not a single concept. We see the accumulated layers of different ownership modes in many societies across history. The possessive “MINE!” of a child is our earliest form of ownership. In turn, acceptance by those nearby transforms a claim to a personal possession into socially recognized ownership. Land and tax records written on clay, skins, paper, and even the ancient Inca’s “talking knots” created a recorded form of ownership. Later, printing made that form more complex and flexible, enabling ownership modes such as stock corporations and fiat money. Telegraphs and telephones made negotiation or sale of recorded assets even more dynamic, complex, and widespread. New forms of ownership always co-emerge with new communication modes, building on top of earlier modes.

 

We are now in the era of accelerating digital communications and automation. Ubiquitous information technologies have strained to breaking intellectual property concepts like copyright, trademark, and patents. Courts, legislatures, and media struggle every day with automation’s effects on ownership. What new ownership mode is emerging along with networked automation?

 

Online gamers sometimes use an early Internet slang term which rhymes with “owned” when they decisively win: pwned. Unskilled “script kiddy” hackers boast of “pwning” a website or computer using off the shelf hacker tools. To be pwned is to be dominated by someone online. This “leetspeak” term has softened over time to mean clear, decisive winning over a situation or person. Powerful online businesses operate with a similar dominance-as-owning-dynamic. Google overwhelmingly owns online search in the West with Baidu owning China’s search market. Amazon and Alibaba own online product sales worldwide. Facebook and WeChat respectively own social media. Pwning a market goes beyond mere monopoly. Businesses that successfully use automation to establish market dominance become a de facto infrastructure for other’s services and products. Automation platforms are creating a new layer of economic and social infrastructure.

 

Platforms create increasing automation dependence as capabilities increase. Doctors adopting new AR/VR surgical tools quickly find that they are owned by the supplier when they lose critical capabilities after an unexpected software update. A small company’s sales can disappear overnight if their search rankings drop to the second page on Google or Amazon for no apparent reason.

 

Platform-based businesses feel like they are pwning everyone. They are wrong. Networked elements within a long-marginalized Civic sector are beginning to connect to a growing Social Commons sector. Global green initiatives are reshaping popular sentiment, policy and infrastructure. Activists are using corporate-created social media to force social conscience back into corporate governance. Each sector is increasingly leveraging automation created by the Private sector to influence the social values of society. This in turn influences the services offered on Private sector platforms. The local Civic sector and the global Social Commons sector are beginning to team up via automation. They are slowly shifting the balance of values flowing through automation and into society.

 

Who owns an automated society? It is those who best exploit the potentials of automation and consciously shape them to change society. The Private sector currently controls the automations which are driving social change, but not for long. One thing the Internet era has taught us is that those who pwn everyone today are certain to be pwned tomorrow.

 

© Tim Morgan 2019

Tags:  automation  ownership  society 

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