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When Robots Attack!

Tanya Gupta's picture

Robots have been a part of our mythology for thousands of years, the emphasis alternating between their positive transformative power over human society and acting as agents of great destruction.  Our image of robots has been shaped to a large extent by Hollywood and literature.  Celluloid robots in Star Wars, 2001 Space Odyssey, Robocop, Star Trek and many of Isaac Asimov’s novels have become a part of the human story.  Off-celluloid, robots have been helping our society in concrete ways (for example police work (bomb disposal), infrastructure projects etc.).  However when Watson won Jeopardy it brought artificial intelligence and robotics a new kind of attention.  People started to wonder if robots could replace humans.  When we think of robots we think of self driven cars, household robots or even warrior robots.  However, in our view, the influence of robots and Artificial Intelligence (AI) is more subtle and their presence more ubiquitous than one would think. One such impacted sector is the agriculture sector (in the US) which is on the cusp of a massive transformation, as it moves from mechanization to automation. When rolled out and commercialized (soon) this massive scale of automation will have a significant impact on US farming and on immigration for sure.  But does this also impact the development landscape? If so how?

Agricultural robotic systems have been implemented in fruit and vegetable harvesting, greenhouses and nurseries. Harvest Automation, for example, has developed the the HV-100, a 90-pound robot for commercial nurseries that can pick up and rearrange potted plants. There are quite a few silicon valley startups that are contributing to this revolution in the region known as “America’s Salad Bowl”, around Salinas Valley. California, where Salinas Valley is located, produced $1.6 billion dollars worth of lettuce in 2010 and 70%+ of all lettuce grown in America. Lettuce Bot, a new robot developed by Stanford engineers Jorge Peraud and Lee Redden, both from farming families from Peru and Nebraska, can “produce more lettuce plants than doing it any other way” (Yahoo Finance).  Lettuce Bot’s innovation is that while attached to a tractor, it takes pictures of passing plants and compares these to a database. When the weed or a lettuce head that is too close to another one is identified, a concentrated dose of fertiliser is sprayed. A close shot of fertilizer kills the errant weed or lettuce head but actually feeds the further off crops at the same time.

Learning from Data-Driven Delivery

Aleem Walji's picture

Given confusion around the phrase “science of delivery,” it’s important to state that delivery science is not a “one-size-fits-all” prescription based on the premise that what works somewhere can work anywhere. And it does not profess that research and evidence ensure a certain outcome.
A few weeks ago, the World Bank and the Korea Development Institute convened a global conference on the science of delivery. Several development institutions assembled including the Gates Foundation, the Grameen Foundation, UNICEF, the Dartmouth Center for Health Care Delivery Science, and the mHealth Alliance. We discussed development opportunities and challenges when focusing on the extremely poor, including experiments in health care, how technology is reducing costs and increasing effectiveness, and the difficulty of moving from successful pilots to delivery at scale.
The consensus in Seoul was that a science of delivery underscores the importance of a data-driven and rigorous process to understand what works, under what conditions, why, and how. Too often in international development, we jump to conclusions without understanding counterfactuals and assume we can replicate success without understanding its constituent elements.

Media (R)evolutions: In Five Years, Most Africans Will Have Smartphones

Kalliope Kokolis'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.

This week's Media (R)evolutions: In Five Years, Most Africans Will Have Smartphones

Moneyballing Development: A Challenge to our Collective Wisdom of Project Funding

Tanya Gupta's picture
The biggest promise of technology in development is, perhaps, that it can provide us access to consistent, actionable and reliable data on investments and results.  However, somewhat shockingly, we in development have not fully capitalized on this promise as compared to the private sector.  Would you invest your precious pension hoping you will get something back but without having any reliable data on the rate of return or how risky your investment is?  If you have two job applicants, one who is a methamphetamine addict and the other is one who has a solid work history and great references, would you give equal preference to both?  If your answer to either is no, then take a look at the field of international development and consider the following:
  • Surprising lack of consistent, reliable data on development effectiveness: Among the various sectoral interventions, we have no uniformly reliable data on the effectiveness of every dollar spent.  For example of every dollar spent in infrastructure programs in sub-Saharan Africa, how many cents are effective? Based on the same assumptions, do we have a comparable number for South East Asia? In other words why don’t we have more data on possible development investments and the associated costs, benefits/returns and risks?
  • Failure to look at development effectiveness evidence at the planning stage: Very few development programs look at the effectiveness evidence before the selection of a particular intervention.  Say, a sectoral intervention A in a particular region has a history of positive outcomes (due to attributable factors such as well performing implementation agencies) as opposed to another intervention B where chances of improved outcomes are foggy.  Given the same needs (roughly) why shouldn’t we route funds to A instead of B in the planning stage? Why should we give equal preference to both based purely on need?

Privacy is so 20th Century

Sina Odugbemi's picture
Modern life is life on the grid: credit cards, smart phones, internet connections, social media presence and so on. And here is the truth: Life on the grid is life in a fishbowl erected on stilts in a bazaar. As a result, something that we once thought was important to us as citizens is not simply lost, it is irretrievably lost: it is the idea of privacy.

The concept of privacy itself is notoriously difficult to define. In reading around the subject, I found this description of it by Larry Peterman in a 1993 essay in The Review of Politics titled ‘Privacy’s Background’:

We look upon the private as that part of our lives insulated against the communal or public broadly constructed, protected from unwarranted intrusion by others, including political authorities, and the place where, in the last resort, we can clothe ourselves in anonymity.

I think that is exactly right. It is what Grant Mindle, in an earlier essay, calls ‘concealment and seclusion’ that protected place where we can have parts of our lives that will not leak into the public arena.

Weekly Wire: the Global Forum

Kalliope Kokolis's picture

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


Is There a Link Between Digital Media and Good Governance?

"CIMA announces the release of its most recent report, Is There a Link Between Digital Media and Good Governance? What the Academics Say, by media development consultant Mary Myers. The report investigates whether there is a link between new digital technologies and good governance and what, if any, are the connections between digitally equipped populations and political change. It approaches these questions by examining what some key academics say on the matter. This paper is a follow-on from a previous CIMA report by the same author, Is There a Link Between Media and Good Governance? What the Academics Say, which profiled a number of key academics and their research on the links between traditional media and governance. This report turns, instead, to digital media and brings a selection of some key academic writing to a non-academic audience."  READ MORE

Lessons on Development from the Immigration Queue

Tanya Gupta's picture

For those who work and live in Washington DC, flying into Dulles airport at the end of a long journey only to be greeted by long queues at immigration is never easy.  One hears a lot of complaints about immigration processes and it is human nature to talk about it when the government does something wrong rather than when things go right.  Global Entry - an initiative of the US Government (Customs and Border Protection) - a neat way to avoid the long line - is getting it exactly right.  I recently signed up for the Global Entry Program that allows travelers returning to the US, a quick entry back through fewer checks at immigration.  In my case, I got through immigration at Washington Dulles in 15 minutes from landing to a taxi!

The Global Entry Program is a great example of using technology to spur innovation and efficiency in the public sector in the following ways:

Weekly Wire: the Global Forum

Kalliope Kokolis's picture

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

Africa Renewal
Africa Wired

"The country that gave the world two groundbreaking innovations in technology: M-Pesa, a mobile banking system, and Ushahidi, a platform for crowdsourcing information during disasters, is now taking its technological talents to new heights. The East African nation of Kenya has just started construction on a 5,000-acres piece of land in Konza, about 60km south of Nairobi, to turn the savannah area into ‘the most modern city in Africa’.

Using the same company that designed Brooklyn’s Barclays Center in New York City, SHoP Architects, Kenyan authorities want to transform Nairobi’s Konza City into Africa’s technology hub, dubbed Silicon Savannah, similar to California’s Silicon Valley. The designers told the UK’s Financial Times that ‘the scale of the project compares with creating another Manhattan, central London or inner-city Beijing.’"  READ MORE

Open Data, Open Policy: Stepping Out of the Echo Chamber

Milica Begovic's picture

Recently, I participated in several events that look at the space between empowered government (gov2.0) and empowered citizens (citizen2.0 both individuals and civic groups and NGOs).

One discussion was around tapping into networks of empowered citizens clustering around different issues for open policy making (Masters of Networks, Venice) and another on getting human-readable stories from data (Open Data on the Web, London).

Then, there was a question on how open data and modern technologies can improve environmental sector governance (#ICT4ENV, Cetinje), or strengthen political transparency and accountability (Point 2.0, Sarajevo).

Different countries, different venues, different leading institutions – but a common set of issues that I struggle with and that, I hope, will emerge as topics in some future events (one of those, shaping up to be the policy making 2.0. deluge in Dublin, is coming up this month).

Weekly Wire: the Global Forum

Kalliope Kokolis's picture

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

The Geography of Twitter: Mapping the Global Heartbeat

"My colleague Kalev Leetaru recently co-authored this comprehensive study on the various sources and accuracies of geographic information on Twitter. This is the first detailed study of its kind. The detailed analysis, which runs some 50-pages long, has important implications vis-a-vis the use of social media in emergency management and humanitarian response. Should you not have the time to analyze the comprehensive study, this blog post highlights the most important and relevant findings.

Kalev et al. analyzed 1.5 billion tweets (collected from the Twitter Decahose via GNIP) between October 23 and November 30th, 2012. This came to 14.3 billion words posted by 35% of all active users at the time. Note that 2.9% of the world’s population are active Twitter users and that 87% of all tweets ever posted since the launch of Twitter in 2006 were posted in the past 24 months alone. On average, Kalev and company found that the lowest number of tweets posted per hour is one million; the highest is 2 million. In addition, almost 50% of all tweets are posted by 5% of users. (Click on images to enlarge)."  READ MORE