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Latin America & Caribbean

Can Computers Outperform Humans?

Wolfgang Fengler's picture

The epic battle of man against machine has been fought on many occasions. One of the most memorable encounters was the chess game between IBM’s Deep Blue and Gary Kasparov. Deep Blue was the first computer to beat a reigning chess champion in 1996 (the machine still lost 2 to 4 after six games). A year later, at their “rematch”, the machine won on the overall score: 3.5 to 2.5.

However, it is surprising that, 18 years later, we still have not figured out the ultimate winning strategy in chess. Any game with limited combinations and full disclosure of information must have ‘safe strategies’ and can be ‘solved’ (as has happened with the game checkers in 2007). The solution, in chess, would from what we know today involve strategies whereby the white player would win or the black player would force a draw. Yet no human or super computer to date has managed to solve chess’ mathematical puzzle.  How much more computing power do we need to succeed?

Ecovia in Monterrey -- How Bus Rapid Transit is Transforming Urban Mobility

Shomik Mehndiratta's picture
Follow the author on Twitter: @shomik_raj
 

One of the shiny new Ecovía buses
Listening to Juan Ayala rave about how they only let the most talented bus drivers operate the shiny new buses on the Ecovía Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, we realized how fantastic our job is. Not only do we have the privilege to help plan and implement transformational projects such as Monterrey’s first BRT line, but we actually get to see the results of our work firsthand.

One should not underestimate the importance of Ecovía, a new 30-km BRT corridor crossing Monterrey from east to west. The original goal was to create a high-speed, high-quality mass transit system that could provide rail-like performance at a fraction of the cost. If the first six weeks are any indication, Ecovía certainly has achieved that. At 30 km per hour, the average travel speed of the BRT is close to double that of regular bus lines across the city; an influential local TV host found that end-to-end travel times on the system were over an hour faster than by private car; ridership levels are higher than what government expected for this still partial roll-out (35 of the scheduled 80 vehicles are operating); and in a recent survey, 75% of the sampled riders judged the overall system to be an 8 or higher on a scale of 10.

How are Financial Capability and Financial Access Linked? Insights from Colombia and Mexico

Miriam Bruhn's picture

Access to formal financial services has been expanding in recent years.  But as people start to use these services for the first time, it has become clear that the challenge is not only providing access to financial services, but also ensuring that people have the behaviors and attitudes to use financial products responsibly and to their advantage. If not, increased access to finance could potentially lead to over-indebtedness and even financial crises.

Two recent nationwide surveys of 1,526 adults in Colombia and of 2,022 adults in Mexico measure financial capability to provide insights on how people manage their finances. The term “financial capability” refers to a broader concept than financial literacy or knowledge alone. It covers a number of different behaviors and attitudes related to participation in financial decisions, planning and monitoring the use of money, and balancing income and expenses to make ends meet.

The financial capability surveys find for example that, in Mexico, many make financial plans, but far fewer adhere to them. Seventy percent of those surveyed say they budget, but just one-third reported consistently adhering to a budget. Similarly, just 18 percent knew how much they spent last week. In Colombia, while 94 percent of adults reported budgeting how income would be spent, less than a quarter of those surveyed actively monitored spending or had precise knowledge of how much is available for daily expenses.

A Fragile Country Tale: Restrictions, Trade Deficits, and Aid Dependence

Massimiliano Calì's picture

 Masaru Goto, World BankPart of the World Bank’s new vision is to step up its efforts to help fragile and conflict-afflicted states break the vicious cycle of poverty. But this is no easy task.
 
The destruction of productive assets and the restrictions on the capacity to produce are among the most severe economic impacts of conflicts and fragility. These effects explain why countries in conflict or emerging out of conflict typically have very large trade deficits. The productive sector is often particularly weak by international standards, so exports are low and domestic consumption has to rely on imports. Indeed, five of the ten countries with the largest trade deficit in the world (Timor-Leste, Liberia, the Palestinian territories, Kosovo and Haiti) are considered fragile by the World Bank and other regional development banks (figure 1).
 

Use, transparency and reuse – how the transport sector in Mexico is being transformed by open data

Shomik Mehndiratta's picture
Also available in: Español

Follow the author on Twitter: @shomik_raj

On a recent trip to Mexico City, I had the pleasure of participating in three events that really brought home the transformative power of the open data and open source eco-system that is becoming an ever more important element of our work in transport.

First I joined the Secretary of Mobility for Mexico City to inaugurate an open data-based system for alerting public transport users in this city of 8 million of any disruptions to the city’s multimodal transport system consisting of an extensive metro system, a suburban rail line, 5 lines of the Metrobus Bus Rapid Transit system (BRT), an electric trolley system, as well as a substantial publicly operated bus system.  The alert system was built using open-source software on an open standardized data set of schedules supported by the Bank last year (read more about that initiative led by my colleague Catalina Ochoa).  Not only does this service deliver value for Mexico City commuters immediately, but it also allows any other city that has its data organized in a similar standard GTFS (General Transit Feed Specification) format (over a 1,000 cities do) to use the same code developed for Mexico City off GitHub, a web registry.  Moreover, the open standardized formats let developers in Mexico City or elsewhere build apps that use this information. The market for these applications is potentially global, spurring innovation for user-oriented applications in public transport: there are already many hundreds of GTFS based applications.

Building pro-growth coalition for reforms: The Caribbean Growth Forum

Andrea Gallina's picture

Nighttime in St George's, Grenada

What does it take to make reforms work in small island countries?

At the end of June 2013, twelve Caribbean countries presented a roadmap for growth in three areas -logistics and connectivity, investment climate, skills and productivity- to a broad audience of private sector representatives, international development institutions, regional organization, civil society and media. That event culminated a 7-month long phase during which policy-making was not the result of close-doors meetings, but a process of intense negotiation, consultations, and consensus building among all actors of each Caribbean country’s societies. All of which was documented in real time and in a transparent fashion by each government. Yes, business was not “business as usual”.
 
Reforms priorities were agreed and a calendar for implementation brushed on a power point slide in the wonderful framework of five stars Bahamian hotel…After the workshop lights, projects and microphones shut down, many of us went home with a familiar sound in our ears: and now what? Was it another “talkshop”?

A Day with Brazil’s Innovative Bolsa Familia Program

Mohamad Al-Arief's picture
Field Visit to Escola Municipal Almirante Tamandare, Vidigal, Brazil

This week I’ve been participating in the World Bank’s South-South Learning Forum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where policymakers from 70 countries are sharing their experiences and discussing practical solutions for successful social protection programs.

EdStats: Big Data, Better Policies, Learning for All

Husein Abdul-Hamid's picture



Are we effective in presenting education data to help tackle the real issues that developing countries are facing? The education community continues to be puzzled by two realities: (1) crucial data is often not available and (2) available data is often hard to digest.

Prisons as places of inclusion

Sergi Perez's picture

Fotografía de la cárcel de Quencoro, en Cusco, Perú.

Visiting a prison does not leave you feeling indifferent. After exhaustive security checks, you find yourself amid a sea of personal stories – many of them tragic – and the statistics begin to take on a human face. Life in prison is much more difficult than we imagine: discipline, strict schedules, cells shared with up to 20 strangers and views of the horizon that end with a security fence.

Confirming the dreadful situation of most Latin American prisons is nothing new. Overcrowding and the lack of health strategies are, along with corruption and the absence of effective reinsertion plans, some of the challenges faced by authorities across the region.


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