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Information and Communication Technologies

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

World of NewsThese are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.


ICT Facts and Figures – The world in 2015
ITU
The ITU ICT Facts and Figures – The world in 2015 features end-2015 estimates for key telecommunication/ICT indicators, including on mobile-cellular subscriptions, Internet use, fixed and mobile broadband services, home ICT access, and more. 2015 is the deadline for achievements of the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which global leaders agreed upon in the year 2000, and the new data show ICT progress and highlight remaining gaps. 

Focus on Private Sector: New tech shouldn’t mean no jobs
SciDevNet
The development anthropologist James Ferguson published a new book last week: Give a Man a Fish.  Drawing on research conducted across southern Africa, Ferguson argues the world has entered a new economic era in which many people, including able-bodied, working-age people, may not find paid work for large stretches of their lives.  The sources of this are twofold: demographic changes are increasing the number of working-age people in developing countries, while technological advancements that enable automation are shrinking the employment footprint of many sectors.
 

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

World of NewsThese are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

In international aid, people should be seen as consumers not 'beneficiaries'
The Guardian
A poor widow in rural Bangladesh can choose from many competing mobile phone operators, weighing the best rates and customer service in order to reach her decision. Why should she not also have the right to choose, or at least be informed about, which NGO builds her flood-resistant home and be given the right to seek redress if it is washed away next flood season.  For the billions of the poorest people around the world who rely on philanthropic aid to meet even basic needs, as the saying goes, “beggars can’t be choosers”. But why shouldn’t philanthropic programmes abide by the same consumer rights rules expected of a traditional business selling soap or toothpaste? Both are delivering products or services to people, be they wealthy or impoverished: the only major difference is who is paying for it.

Democracy Does Not Live by Tech Alone
Foreign Policy
Enthusiasm for reforming our democracies has been gaining momentum. From the pages of Foreign Policy to the colorful criticisms of comedian Russell Brand, it is evident that a long-overdue public conversation on this topic is finally getting started.  There is no lack of proposals. For example, in their recent Foreign Policy piece, John Boik and colleagues focus on decentralized, emergent, tech-driven solutions such as participatory budgeting, local currency systems, and open government. They are confident that such innovations have a good chance of “spreading virally” and bringing about major change. Internet-based solutions, in particular, have captured our collective imagination. From Pia Mancini’s blockbuster TED presentation to New Scientist‘s recent coverage of “digital democracy,” we’re eager to believe that smartphone apps and novel online platforms hold the key to reinventing our way of governance. This seems only natural: after all, the same technologies have already radically reconfigured large swaths of our daily lives.
 

Back to the future in Mongolia

Gonzalo Castro de la Mata's picture

‘Ger’ dwellings of the millennial Mongolian cultureAlthough by definition there are many anniversaries each and every year, 2015 stands out as it includes the 70th anniversary of the fall of Nazi Berlin and the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. It is also the year in which Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) had to return in “Back to the Future– II.”

Visiting the plains of northern Mongolia today is the closest thing to travelling in time. The most salient features in this otherwise flat and infinite landscape are the Gers (from the Turkish Yurt), traditional round structures made of wood frames covered with felt and animal skins. Over centuries, these structures have evolved to protect their inhabitants from the harsh winter weather.

Except by their size, today’s Gers are no different from those used by the Great Kublai Khan in the late 1200s. If you happen to have access to Netflix, you can watch the Marco Polo series and witness the portrayal of the 13th century events when the Khan ruled over a vast and powerful empire. According to this series, as well as to serious historical sources, the Gers used by the Great Kublai Khan before settling in present-day Beijing, were extremely luxurious and included gold service for their interminable dinner courses.

Quote of the Week: Ray Kurzweil

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Raymond Kurzweil"The reality of information technology is it progresses exponentially... 30 steps linearly gets you to 30. One, two, three, four, step 30 you're at 30.  With exponential growth, it's one, two, four, eight. Step 30 you're at a billion."
 

-Ray Kurzweil, an American author, computer scientist, inventor, futurist, and a director of engineering at Google
 

Is a Data Revolution under way, and if so, who will benefit?

Duncan Green's picture

RicardoFuentesNieva croppedGuest post from the beach big Data Festival in Cartagena, Colombia, by Oxfam’s Head of Research and paid up member of the numerati, Ricardo Fuentes-Nieva (@rivefuentes)

A spectre is haunting the hallways of the international bureaucracy and national statistical offices – the spectre of the data revolution.  Now, that might suggest a contradiction in terms or the butt of a joke – it’s hard to imagine a platoon of bespectacled statisticians with laptops and GIS devices toppling governments. But something important is indeed happening – let me try and convince you.

A new research report by ODI  “Data Revolution – Finding The Missing Million”  (launched yesterday in Cartagena during a Data Festival) tries to make sense of the coming data revolution, and what it means for international development. According to the authors: The data revolution is “an explosion in the volume of data, the speed with which data are produced, the number of producers of data, the dissemination of data, and the range of things on which there are data, coming from new technologies such as mobile phones and the internet of things and from other sources, such as qualitative data, citizen-generated data and perceptions data.”

For the numerically minded (I proudly include myself in this group) this is a rather welcome transformation. Data, data everywhere – but then why haven’t we, number geeks, solved all of the world’s problems yet?
 

Media (R)evolutions: mobile vs. desktop web traffic

Roxanne Bauer's picture

New developments and curiosities from a changing global media landscape: People, Spaces, Deliberation brings trends and events to your attention that illustrate that tomorrow's media environment will look very different from today's, and will have little resemblance to yesterday's.

Mobile phones have received a lot of attention over the past few years, with predictions that they will overtake the desktop computer by 2017.  But is this mostly hype?  As societies around the world become increasingly involved in the mobile web, desktop computing still accounts for a large portion of internet activity. 

Desktop computing, with large screens and stationary set ups, are fundamental to many businesses.  They allow users to operate multiple screens and work over long periods.  Desktop usage grows from early morning and stays high until mid-afternoon, presumably demonstrating that many people work on computers as part of their jobs. Mobile phones, on the other hand, allow mobility and are perfect for shorter periods of activity.

Time Spent on the Internet by Country
 

Weekly Wire: The Global Forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
 
World Press Freedom Index 2015: decline on all fronts
Reporters Without Borders
The Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index ranks the performance of 180 countries according to a range of criteria that include media pluralism and independence, respect for the safety and freedom of journalists, and the legislative, institutional and infrastructural environment in which the media operate.  The 2015 World Press Freedom Index highlights the worldwide deterioration in freedom of information in 2014. Beset by wars, the growing threat from non-state operatives, violence during demonstrations and the economic crisis, media freedom is in retreat on all five continents.
 
Discontent with Politics Common in Many Emerging and Developing Nations
Pew Global Research Center
People in emerging and developing countries around the world are on balance unhappy with the way their political systems are working. A recent Pew Research Center survey finds that, across 31 emerging and developing nations, a median of 52% are dissatisfied with their political system, while 44% are satisfied. Discontent is particularly widespread in the Middle East and Latin America, where about six-in-ten say their system is not working well. The opposite is true, however, in Asia – a median of 60% are either very or somewhat satisfied with their political system.

Technology Alone Will Not Save the World: Lessons from the 2015 Gates Letter

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture

Melinda and Bill Gates have made an annual tradition of publishing their thoughts on international development and its key challenges. Given the substance, I assume these letters reflect an annual manifesto for the organisation they head, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF). Last year, I wrote about how the Gates Annual Letter was disappointing, perhaps not in the context of what the BMGF itself does, but what it ought to be doing, given its $42 bn muscle and its influential promoter, Bill Gates.

This year, the letter makes four “big bets” for 2030: child deaths will go down by half, and more diseases will be eradicated than ever before; Africa will be able to feed itself; mobile banking will help the poor radically transform their lives; and better software will revolutionise learning. In short, fast-tracking the identification ­technological fixes and expanding their reach over the next fifteen years will deliver a better world.

Unfortunately, these bets seem to me to be wildly optimistic. I may be quibbling, but from what we have learnt from research, there seem to be many reasons to suggest that we should be cautious with our optimism regarding what we can achieve with technology. The complexities of working on power, politics and implementation find no mention in the letter. Let us look a little more closely at each one of the bets to find out why that matters so much.

Weekly Wire: The Global Forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

Many in Emerging and Developing Nations Disconnected from Politics
Pew Research
In recent years, high-profile protest movements have erupted in several emerging and developing countries, roiling, and sometimes overturning, the political status quo in Tunisia, Egypt, Turkey, Ukraine, Brazil, Thailand and other nations. Millions have demonstrated, and activists have pioneered new forms of online engagement.  However, a recent Pew Research Center survey finds that many people in these nations remain relatively disconnected from politics. Although most vote in elections, few take part in other forms of political participation.
 
21st-century censorship
Columbia Journalism Review
Two beliefs safely inhabit the canon of contemporary thinking about journalism. The first is that the internet is the most powerful force disrupting the news media. The second is that the internet and the communication and information tools it spawned, like YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook, are shifting power from governments to civil society and to individual bloggers, netizens, or “citizen journalists.”  It is hard to disagree with these two beliefs. Yet they obscure evidence that governments are having as much success as the internet in disrupting independent media and determining the information that reaches society. Moreover, in many poor countries or in those with autocratic regimes, government actions are more important than the internet in defining how information is produced and consumed, and by whom. 
 

#4 from 2014: How User-Generated Crisis Maps Save Lives in Disasters

Jing Guo's picture
Our Top Ten blog posts by readership in 2014.
This post was originally posted on February 26, 2014

 

YouTube, Wikipedia, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, blogs… This list could easily go on and on for paragraphs. Today, we are so immersed in social media that we can hardly go a day without reading or watching user-generated online content. Videos like “Charlie Bit My Finger” make us laugh. Free lessons on Khan Academy, which were originally started by a hedge fund analyst at home, help us learn.

But user-generated online content is not all about entertainment and free classes. Crisis maps on crowd-sourcing platforms like OpenStreetMap and Ushahidi have demonstrated a less expected yet significant capacity of user-led content creation online:  it saves lives in disasters.

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