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Geek Heresy, by Kentaro Toyama: a book review

Duncan Green's picture

Gawain KripkeGuest post by Gawain Kripke, Oxfam America’s Director of Policy, on Kentaro Toyama's book Geek Heresy.

Geek Heresy book coverI love my smart phone. It’s awesome and it makes me more awesome. I honestly think that my life is much better with it than without. It makes me a better worker – able to review documents, communicate with colleagues, keep projects moving smoothly even when I’m out of the office.   It makes me a better citizen – I”m able to read news and events, can report emergencies and contribute to public safety and knowledge by feeding in through networks.  I think I’m a better parent – or at least it makes parenting easier.  All the logistics of picking up kids and changing schedules are greatly assisted by having my mobile phone.  It’s not cool to say so, but I think my mobile phone is a fundamentally empowering technology that helps make me a better person and helps me live a better life.

So, why shouldn’t mobile phones do the same for other people, including poor ones?  In researching this idea, I came across Kentaro Toyama.  I called him up, and in a long conversation, he batted down my fumbling ideas effortlessly and gracefully.  I didn’t know it at the time, but Toyama has emerged as a leading skeptic of technology-led concepts of development.  He’s now published Geek Heresy, a book that is worth reading, both for proponents and skeptics of technology in development.

Have technology and globalization kicked away the ladder of ‘easy’ development? Dani Rodrik thinks so

Duncan Green's picture

Dani RodrikEconomic transformation is necessary for growth that can lead to poverty reduction. However, economic transformation in low-income countries is changing as recent evidence suggests countries are running out of industrialization options much sooner than once expected. Is this a cause for concern? What does the past, present, and likely future of structural transformation look like? Read on to find out why leading economist Dani Rodrik is pessimistic and what some possible rays of light are. 

Dani Rodrik was in town his week, and I attended a brilliant presentation at ODI. Very exciting. He’s been one of my heroes ever since I joined the aid and development crowd in the late 90s, when he was one of the few high profile economists to be arguing against the liberalizing market-good/state-bad tide on trade, investment and just about everything else. Dani doggedly and brilliantly made the case for the role of the state in intelligent industrial policy. But now he’s feeling pessimistic about the future (one discussant described it as ‘like your local priest losing his faith’).

The gloom arises from his analysis of the causes and consequences of premature industrialization. I blogged about his paper on this a few months ago, but here are some additional thoughts that emerged in the discussion. He’s also happy for you to nick his powerpoint.

Dani identified two fundamental engines of growth. The first is a ‘neoclassical engine’, consisting of a slow accumulation of human capital (eg skills), institutions and other ‘fundamental capabilities’. The second, which he ascribed to Arthur Lewis, is driven by structural differences within national economies – islands of modern, high productivity industry in a sea of traditional low productivity. Countries go through a ‘structural transformation’ when an increasing amount of the economy moves from the traditional to the modern sector, with a resulting leap in productivity leading to the kinds of stellar growth that has characterized take-off countries over the last 60 years.

Simulated Manufacturing Employment SharesManufacturing has been key to that second driver. It is technologically dynamic, with technologies spreading rapidly across the world, allowing poor countries to hitch a ride on stuff invented elsewhere. It has absorbed lots of unskilled labour (unlike mining, for example). And since manufactures are tradable, countries can specialize and produce loads of a particular kind of goods, without flooding the domestic market and driving down prices.

But that very dynamism has produced diminishing returns in terms of growth and (especially) jobs. Countries are hitting a peak of manufacturing jobs earlier and earlier in their development process (see graph). And it could get much worse – just imagine the impact if/when garments, the classic job-creating first rung on the industrialization ladder, shift to automated production in the same way as vehicle production.
 

Media (R)evolutions: Emerging Markets to Lead Sales of Technology Devices in 2015

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.

2015 forecasts for sales of technology devices indicate global stability as the market remains at around one trillion USD, where it has hovered for the last three years. However, the forecasts also predict shifts at the country level as the top ten largest growth markets will increase by over $10 billion. Emerging markets, in which both volume and pricing contribute to positive sales, will dominate this growth. 

India will experience the highest growth rate, primarily driven by smartphones sales, followed by China. China's technology device market represents an interesting case study because it is predicted to grow by just $1.8 billion in 2015-- a mere 1% increase over the estimated 2014 total-- but that is still large enough for second place. 
 
Emerging Markets to Lead Tech Sector Growth in 2015
Infographic: Emerging Markets to Lead Tech Sector Growth in 2015 | Statista
You will find more statistics at Statista

What are the Limits of Transparency and Technology? From Three Gurus of the Openness Movement (Eigen, Rajani, McGee)

Duncan Green's picture

After a slightly disappointing ‘wonkwar’ on migration, let’s try a less adversarial format for another big development issue: Transparency and Accountability. I have an instinctive suspicion of anything that sounds like a magic bullet, a cost-free solution, or motherhood and apple pie in general. So the current surge in interest on open data and transparency has me grumbling and sniffing the air. Are politicians just grabbing it as a cheap announcement in austere times? Does it contain some kind of implicit right wing assumptions (an individualist homo economicus maximising market efficiency through open data)? And is there any evidence that transparency actually has much impact on the lives of poor people (after all, the proponents of transparency and results-based agendas are often the same organizations, so I hope they are practicing what they preach….)

I put these fears to three transparency gurus, and here are their fascinating responses, striking in their quality and level of, well, openness. It’s a long read, but I hope you’ll agree, a worthwhile one. Think we’ll just stick with comments on this one – doesn’t feel like a vote would be useful (but let me know if you think otherwise)

Quote of the Week: Roger Cohen

Sina Odugbemi's picture

“The modern world’s tech-giddy control and facilitation makes us stupid.  Awareness atrophies.  Dumb gets dumber.  Lists are everywhere – the five things you need to know about so-and-so; the eight essential qualities of such-and-such; the 11 delights of somewhere or other.  We demand shortcuts, as if there are shortcuts to genuine experiences.  These lists are meaningless.”

- Roger Cohen, A Columnist of The New York Times.
 

Do We Need Media-Free Zones?

CGCS's picture

Christine Lohmeier examines media-free zones within the context of ontological security. Christine is an Assistant Professor at the University of Munich and former CGCS visiting scholar. Her research interests relate to inter/transnational communication, media and collective memory and identity and belonging.

The recent New York Times article Step Away from the Phone! describes the growing trend of device-free-zones, a movement where people make a conscious effort to not use their mobile phone during designated times. The omnipresence of media has long been established among communication scholars. Many will not have missed the irony of letting a mobile phone, and perhaps in past decades a camcorder or camera, get in the way of ‘real-life’ face-to-face interaction.

There are many studies, theories and approaches to drawn on when trying to assess the value of media or device-free zones. Think of Sherry Turkle’s warning inquiry of whether we expect too much of technology and too little of each other. Or the insightful research by Melissa Gregg in Work’s Intimacy where she demonstrates how constant connectivity seems to make people feel obliged to work on a constant basis. One of the underlying questions, of course, is why is it so difficult to step away from the computer, the mobile phone, or the TV? One explanation for our media-saturated life might be the need for a sense of security and belonging, of community.

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 Future of News from 3 Silicon Valley Executives
The Dish Daily

"In a world transformed by the Internet and overrun by tech giants, the news industry has been irrevocably changed. Some lament, but few would argue. Those on the news side of things have been vocal for some time – analyzing and brainstorming, discussing and arguing – but we’ve not often heard what those behind the flourishing tech companies have to say.

Three notable Silicon Valley figures discussed the news industry with Riptide, a project headed by John Huey, Martin Nisenholtz and Paul Sagan and published by Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab." READ MORE 
 

Thanksgiving Woes? IBM and Big Data May Help.

Tanya Gupta's picture

In just about a week, on Thursday November 28, people all over the United States will kick off the "holiday season" with the celebration of Thanksgiving Day. While the day's significance is both historical and profound, in modern times it consists of a lot of shopping and a big meal with family and friends gathered around the dinner table. Pre-thanksgiving is a time to be on the lookout for creative new recipes.  Sure, we can get recipes from magazines, websites and friends and while they may be special, they will not be unique.  Wouldn’t it be nice to have an app that would create a special unique recipe just for you? A delightful recipe that has never been executed before.  Well the idea is not as futuristic as it sounds. It may be here sooner than you think.  IBM and big data have a lot to do with this particular innovation.
 
Can computers be creative?  IBM thinks they can.  IBM scientists Lav R. Varshney and other members of an IBM team, have used data sets and proprietary algorithms in the daunting field of the culinary arts to develop a computational creativity system. The data sets they have used are recipes, molecular level food related data and data about the compounds, ingredients and dishes that people like and dislike.  They then developed an algorithm that produces thousands or millions of new ideas from the recipes.  The recipes are then evaluated to select the best ones that combine ingredients in a way that has never been attempted before.  Humans can interact with the system by choosing a key ingredient and the kind of cuisine.

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