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Africa

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?

Guns, Drugs and Development

Laura Ralston's picture

Trafficking in West Africa

Trafficking is not new to West Africa, but its magnitude is. From Northern Mali to The Gambia, smugglers have traded fuel, cigarettes and staple food for decades. Longstanding trade routes and interregional tribal connections have allowed illegal cross-border trading to grow alongside traditional commercial practices.

What will Transformation do for Today’s African Youth?

Louise Fox's picture

Bapsfontein informal settlement Africa’s combination of urban, educated, unemployed youth and economies still dominated by a narrow range of commodities and the public sector has spurred many to call for structural shifts in production and employment as part of an inclusive growth strategy. A recent entry into the debate is the 2014 African Transformation Report, launched last week by the African Center for Economic Transformation (ACET).  As Homi’s and Julie’s post states, the depth, sophistication and pragmatism of the analysis are commendable. But if all the recommendations were implemented, what would they do for the employment prospects of today’s African youth? Not much. They would barely affect the job prospects of 90 percent of young people entering the labor force in this decade.

Depth in Africa’s Transformation

Homi Kharas's picture

Construction workers Africa is growing fast but transforming slowly. This is the message of the 2014 African Transformation Report, launched last week by the African Center for Economic Transformation (ACET). The report addresses a worry on the minds of many: in spite of impressive growth, the structure of most sub-Saharan African economies has evolved little in the past 40 years, with a poorly diversified export base, limited industrialization and technological progress, and a large informal economy whose economic potential remains mostly overlooked. In many African economies, manufacturing—the sector that has led rapid development in East Asia—is declining as a share of GDP. The worry is that without a major transformation Africa’s recent growth may soon run out of steam. The report argues that for growth to continue, Africa needs to invest in “DEPTH”–diversification, export competitiveness, productivity, and technological upgrading, all for the purposes of human well-being.

Is Inequality the Convenient Villain or a Misguided Obsession?

Jean-Pierre Chauffour's picture

Inequality is back in the news. In his 2014 State of the Union address, U. S. President Obama lamented that, “after four years of economic growth, corporate profits and stock prices have rarely been higher, and those at the top have never done better.  But average wages have barely budged.  Inequality has deepened.  Upward mobility has stalled.”   At the global scale, Oxfam is making the same point, noting in a recent report that the richest 85 people in the world own the same amount of wealth as the 3.5 billion bottom half of the Earth's population. Perhaps more surprising, the rich and powerful CEOs jetting to Davos earlier this year seemed to finally get it: capitalism cannot survive if income and wealth become concentrated in too few hands. Fighting inequality would therefore not only be the morally correct thing to do, it would also be smart economics.  And this is what a recent Staff Discussion Note from the IMF suggests: “inequality can undermine progress in health and education, cause investment-reducing political and economic instability, and undercut the social consensus required in the face of shocks, and thus tends to reduce the pace and durability of growth.”

What the 2004 WDR Got Wrong

Shanta Devarajan's picture

The three points made in my previous post—that services particularly fail poor people, money is not the solution, and “the solution” is not the solution—can be explained by failures of accountability in the service delivery chain.  This was the cornerstone of the 2004 World Development Report, Making Services Work for Poor People.  In a private market—when I buy a sandwich, for example—there is a direct or “short route” of accountability between the client (me) and the sandwich provider.  I pay him directly; I know whether I got a sandwich or not; and If I don’t like the sandwich, I can go elsewhere—and the provider knows that. 
 

Managing Natural Resources: Should we Really Listen to People?

Jacques Morisset's picture

SW-TZ0537a World Bank Few would argue against the need for policymakers to listen to people’s views when it comes to the good management of natural resources. Indeed, if there is one thing that has been stressed from the countless global experiences of mismanagement, it is the need to involve citizens in decision-making processes.
 
Consequently, the publishing of data is a key agenda for multilateral agencies as well as NGOs. Access to information, including contracts and sharing agreements, is considered best practice. The direct distribution of some of the cash revenues from natural resources to citizens is also often recommended as a means to fight poverty more effectively and increase accountability of decision-makers and politicians. These are good principles based on participatory processes that form the backbone of democracy.

It is close to 18 months since massive reserves of natural gas were found in the south of Tanzania. Two industry giants (British Gas and Statoil) have already arrived in the country. The authorities, with the support of development partners, are busy trying to get all the right measures in place so Tanzania doesn’t suffer the well-known ‘natural resource curse’.
 
But does anyone know what Tanzanians really want and expect in terms of management of natural resources?

Three Changes to the Conversation on Service Delivery

Shanta Devarajan's picture

IN054S13 World Bank Back in 2003, when we were writing the 2004 World Development Report, Making Services Work for Poor People, we had no idea that it would spawn so much research, innovation, debate and changes in the delivery of basic services.  Last week, we had a fascinating conference, in collaboration with the Overseas Development Institute, to review this work, and chart the agenda for the coming decade.   Being a blogger, I wanted to speak about what WDR2004 got wrong, but some of my teammates suggested I should start by describing what we got right.  So here are three ways WDR2004 changed the conversation about service delivery (what we got wrong will be the next post).
 

Pushing the Envelope

Laura Ralston's picture

Giving Cash Unconditionally in Fragile States

2012 Spring Mtgs - Close the Gap There have been many recent press articles, a couple of potentially seminal journal papers, and some great blogs from leading economists at the World Bank on the topic of Unconditional Cash Transfers (UCTs). It remains a widely debated subject, and one with perhaps a couple of myths associated with it. For example, what is cash from UCTs used for? Do the transfers lead to permanent increases in income? Does it matter how the transfers are labelled or promoted? I am particularly interested in whether UCTs could be a useful instrument in countries with low institutional capacity, such as fragile and conflict-affected states (FCS).

Why UCTs in FCS? UCTs present a new approach to reducing poverty, stimulating growth and improving social welfare, that may be the most efficient and feasible mechanism in FCS. A recent evaluation of the World Bank’s work on FCS recognized, “where government responsiveness to citizens has been relatively weak, finding the right modality for reaching people with services is vital to avoiding further fragility and conflict”. Plus there is always the risk of desperately needed finances being “spirited away” when channeled through central governments. UCTs may present a mechanism for stimulating the provision of quality services, which are often lacking, while directly reducing poverty at the same time. As Shanta Devarajan’s blog puts it, “But when they (the poor) are given cash with which to “buy” these services, poor people can demand quality—and the provider must meet it or he won’t get paid.” We should explore more about this approach to tackling poverty: where and when it has worked, what made it work, and whether we can predict whether it will work in different contexts.
 

Time to Boost IBRD as well as IDA

Homi Kharas's picture

2013 World Bank / IMF Annual Meetings When the negotiations for IDA17 were wrapped up in December, there was great relief that IDA deputies were supportive of an IDA expansion despite their own significant budget difficulties. As part of that package, the World Bank Group itself pledged to give IDA $3 billion from profits.

This was a generous gesture by the World Bank (albeit a drop in the bucket of total aid), but how good was it for the global development effort? Consider the following—net disbursements of official grants and concessional loans (the category where IDA flows appear) have expanded from $39 billion per year in the 1980s (in constant 2005 dollars) to $85 billion in 2010 and 2011. In contrast, official non-concessional lending (the category where IBRD and IFC flows appear) has stayed steady. The latter was $15 billion in the 1980s and $22 billion in 2010/11. This picture is even more striking when considering the amounts in terms of recipient GDP. Grants and concessional flows to low income countries have gone from 3% of their GDP in the 1980s to 13% today, while non-concessional flows to lower middle-income countries (excluding India and China) have gone from 0.7% to 0.3% of their GDP. In fact, from 2000 to 2009, non-concessional flows to lower middle- income countries (and to developing countries as a whole) were negative, implying that developing countries repaid more to official development agencies than they received in gross disbursements.

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