Current Affairs

The day that politics became part of consumer goods

Are the political party, the electoral platform, the electoral promises, the government objectives and / or the candidate’s experience and training important? Do we consider some of these variables when we have to vote? How much do we empathize with political candidates depending on the words they use, colors, how they communicate or their advertising spots?

Today politics have become a consumer good. It is a product that is created precisely with the goal of being consumed, being elected and meeting certain personal goals or a space. This is not new, but the turning point is when the image becomes more important than the content.

For the image to become relevant, it is necessary to have a team behind it that builds from zero a candidate. Therefore, candidates become mere products of a market that moves according to the demands and perceptions of civil society. This construction takes into account from the physical image, to speeches, verbal and non-verbal language, political discourse, and the actions they perform. Even though they are part of a political party, they seek to avoid being categorized merely in the party and reach as many spaces as possible. The parties are used as mere promotion platforms, losing the sense of belonging to it and generates a collective identity in which we know what to say and how to say it.

To achieve this, polls of public opinion on issues of interest are closely followed. The strategy is no longer based on purely political analysis, but also on marketing. It is important a strategy with a clear and persistent basis, but that also has the capacity to adapt to the fluctuations of everyday life. Precisely, the essence is creativity.

It is often said that brands in industry use marketing not only to meet needs but also to create them. Politics are beginning to use the same conception. Candidates respond to certain needs that civil society evidence, but candidates also through discourse create the imaginary collective of new needs that they and only they are able to satisfy. This becomes a key when people internalize that need. For this, the need must be well thought out, it must be deeply designed.

The media, although they are positioned as actors that objectively report reality, they are not. That is why politics uses them as a mechanism of transmission, not for official campaign advertising, but in daily programs, from news to programs of general interest. Today’s politicians must have the ability to interact with political analysts in the same way that journalists do. Why? Because the politics has become a show. It takes the politicians off the stage in which they develop their work, and they are humanized, but humanized as celebrities where everything they do is news.

A valuable example is Donald Trump, who was criticized and delegitimized in all major US media, while, at the same time, he was on the news every day. His strategy was to hold every day, to make his image the most seen and best known. It was more important to see him than what he really represented and said. Politics ceases to be an idea and a call to action, and becomes an acting role, where civil society plays the role of spectator vis-a-vis candidates and politicians who have the leading roles.

Furthermore, the new technologies of information and communication are being as important, like social networks that allow politicians to have a first-person link with their followers or even with their detractors. Although those who manage the networks are not the politicians themselves, the idea is generated that they are and that is a tool that brings that gap between governors and ruled closer.

Marketing is the central element that structures political campaigns strategies as a consequence of the increasing mediatization of politics. Today, more than ever, we can speak about the press or the media, understood in a broad vision of the concept to be able to be incorporated to the TICs, like the fourth power. That Big Brother who sees and analyzes everything, but with a subjective position.

It is in this way that politics gradually have become a spectacle, a show, a product that citizens consume, whether conscious or not. It will depend on civil society itself, citizens, on how to interpret this new face of politics. Now the question is: as citizens are we aware of this new policy role or do we consume it as if it was any product?

Chechnya: Rethinking the bonds that bind us

Leaving aside the need for subtitles in order to understand Russian, there is nothing keeping us from instantly empathizing with the words of Vyacheslav: one of the victims of the decadent state of the fight for human rights in the Russian Federation. A couple of months ago, hundred of men have been kidnapped, tortured and even murdered by Russian security forces in the Chechen region. All of them men suspects of “homosexual behaviours”. The first ones to report this terrible situation were members of Novaya Gazeta, a Russian organization specialized in human right investigations. A unique and discrete report, that follows the long tradition of censorship towards opinions that oppose the official ones, and particularly the ones calling out on the terrible state of LGBTG+ rights in the Russian Federation, fearing retaliation, kidnaps and more tortures.

Human rights organizations such as Amnesty International (1) and Human Right Watch have manifested their concern towards the situation and have called on the Russian authorities to set in motion investigations and programs to ensure victim’s safety. The level of disinterest and denial of the authorities is unbelievable. Everything comes together while hearing the terrible speech (2) of the head of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, who not only denied the existence of homosexuals in the Republic but also added that: “If there were, their families would take care of sending them somewhere they would never come back from.” The homophobia in the region reaches tremendous levels, with evidence of the so called honor murders in which the families are the ones who murder the victims, for putting on the tight rope not only their honor but also their most firm ideals.

Vyacheslav and the rest of the Russian citizens, share a culture, a language, and a history. They have lived surrounded by the same smoke. Regardless, an Argentine a thousand kilometers away with whom he doesn’t share almost anything, understands his perspective more clearly than the rest of those Russian citizens, who did not doubt for one second to shoot him, kick him in his ribs or yell at him: “Where are you going fagot?”. How can all the shared history and culture be forgotten only to focus on a much more irrelevant aspect of the identity, such as sexuality, that is currently the only bond binding Vyacheslav to that Argentine a thousand kilometers away.

Two persons, that apparently do not share anything, that live on two different sides of the Earth, that do not share the same language or think in terms of the same culture, can bond over one miniscule portion of their identity. That detail of our identity can be used to find a starting point, a place where we can begin building something together. This detail was more important than what the main pieces of anyone’s identity, like their national identity, their religion, their history or their culture were. How many details such as this can be found in order to build bonds that cross frontiers and challenge the limits settled by the most obvious and traditional pieces of our identity? It is important to take a moment to question and explore each of the things that influence our way of thinking. To go through that drawer full of little bricks, recognizing them and understanding why they are there and which role they play in our upbringing. By doing this we can find points in common with the rest of the people. We just need one shared detail, even though it is lost among thousands of other pieces that seem irreconcilable.

After reading about the situation in Chechnya, a quote I heard in a Ted talk a couple of years ago came back to me.

…because, aren’t you lucky that you don’t live in Uganda (3)

Privilege? Yes. Luck? Yes. But even if I lived in Uganda, Chechnya or Argentina, there are obviously bonds that bind people that go much further than geography, religion of national identity. Even though it is true that I do not live in Chechnya, and that I do not suffer first hand the terrible atrocities that Vyacheslav had to suffer, there is a bond that binds us and that allows me to share the suffering. The suffering that serves as power to make everything better, to fight for a better reality. The suffering that we both share but that the rest of the Russian citizens that perpetuate these atrocities don’t. The suffering that ignores frontiers and that allows us to cooperate regardless of our differences. Once more the national identity is diminished by another not so irrelevant aspect of our identity. Once more it comes to evidence that the traditional frontiers are left behind, that there are new ways of connecting thoughts and perspectives. It is a new way of understanding cooperation and building new starting points.

Diversity in tech and why we need it

It is a wide known fact within the industry of IT that there’s not a lot of diversity among people who build the internet. Why is this a problem and why should we address it?

Technology is everywhere. We use technology to communicate with our peers at work, with our families, with our friends. We use technology to search for information, we use it to get our news, we use it to learn and to grow. Being such an omnipresent factor in our lives, in everyone’s lives, it is imperative that technology is built for everyone. Moreover, it’s important that technology is built by everyone.

While it is true that most people are born naturally empathetic, there’s only so much our empathy can go. To give a silly yet relatable example, last weekend we forgot to purchase vegan sweets for an event. The reason being: it’s always been our (then absent) vegan friend who thought about those things. One can make an extra effort to be empathetic and walk in someone else’s shoes, but not sharing their reality only allows us to do it to some extent.

Of course, the lack of empathy when building a product can go beyond sensitivities and affect functionality as well. A clear example of that are facial recognition algorithms. Take the case of Joy Buolamwini, an African-American MIT student, whose face was not being consistently recognised by the face-detection algorithms she was using to complete her studies. In order to test her assignments, she even had to recur to wearing a white mask to increase contrast in low-light environments and have her face detected.

Does this mean that whoever created the face detection algorithms is racist, or that the algorithm has a racist bias? Not at all. Most face detection programs use artificial intelligence, where a neural network needs to be trained with a set of samples (in this case, faces), that will allow it to determine patterns to match against. The main cause for black faces not being recognised, or Asian eyes detected as closed, is that the set of samples used for training the neural network was not diverse enough.

While it can seem hard to, as individuals, influence how a phone screen blocker detects Asian eyes or how crime prevention algorithms identify suspects, the truth is that we all have a part to play. Diversity is key, and we all can start by encouraging others to become involved. Examples of this are Rails Girls and Django Girls among others, which are organisations aimed at increasing the proportion of women in tech, and Black Girls Code, which aims to increase the number of women of color in the digital space. Another great example is the Algorithmic Justice League, created by the aforementioned Joy to highlight algorithmic bias.

If you feel identified with any of these stories, get involved. If you ever found it difficult to use an app or website due to your ethnicity, age or disabilities, get your community involved. Educate them, attract them to the industry. Increase diversity in the development teams and in the test groups. If you didn’t, if you’ve never had any struggles at all, make a special effort to become aware of social bias. Start by looking at your surroundings. Inspect the company you work at and analyse whether it’s diverse enough. Encourage diversity. Improve tech.

What would be of Sherlock without Dr. Watson? The case of data analytics.

Being able to tell a good story is as important as good data analysis.

Sherlock had the ability to analyze and put together odd pieces of events. But his findings were set on paper in a catching way by his friend Dr. Watson. Being able to tell a good story is as important as having the right data analysis to back it up.

Traditionally, concerns were focused on how to minimize data processing time and how to build a model with the highest predictive value. Today’s concerns are towards what actions can be taken based on predictive modelling and what constituencies will support or block implementation.

“Data, hardware, and software are available in droves, but human comprehension of the possibilities they enable is much less common.” Tom Davenport. HBR.

Data analytics is without question on the rise and it was enabled by technology. Today there are thousands of businesses that collect vast amounts of data but are at a loss when trying to put this information to use[1].

Why are both important?

In an organization efforts are aligned through its strategic objectives and in most cases data allows to measure progress in order to reach these objectives. Within the decision making processes in organizations people with tech and non-tech skills coexist and both are equally important. “Without data you’re just another person with an opinion.” As said by Deming.  But without a hypothesis/objective you’re just a person with data. Communicating proposals validated on data points and generating consensus throughout the organization drives meaningful new ideas. Enabling to leverage data in order to achieve business results and create insight.

When does analytics fail? The case of Netflix

A couple of years ago Netflix launched a $1 million prize for the team that could come up with an algorithm that improved by 10 points the current match making of recommendations.  So the algorithm was developed and there was a winner but it was never implemented because Netflix changed its service from DVD-by-mail to streaming.  Meaning the whole organization was changing and the algorithm developed was rendered useless in most part[2].

References:

[1] http://burning-glass.com/research/hybrid-jobs/

[2] http://techblog.netflix.com/2012/04/netflix-recommendations-beyond-5-stars.html

I Am A Feminist

We all remember Emma Watson’s speech in the UN in September 2014 when she presented the #HeForShe campaign (http://www.heforshe.org). She was the voice for millions of women who daily experience obstacles, discomforts, pressures and also violence to live in a macho society. It was a voice to bring to reason many people who unconsciously continued to proliferate this way of social organization where there are certain rights that are traditionally reserved for men.

I live in Argentina, a country where the numbers of violence against women are significant. In 2016 there were 327 cases of death due to femicide in all of Argentina. This figure shows that a woman died every 30 hours in Argentina for a case of contempt for the female gender. They are only the figures of the cases denounced and that they have proof that demonstrates the bond with femicide. The number would be higher if we took into account that not all cases are reported and not all femicides are declared. By the middle of this February the figure for 2017 highlighted a total of 57 femicides, implying that there is more than one case per day.

These numbers call to action. Argentina took the initiative, the Argentine women took it to the street putting a voice and a face to social patterns with which they did not agree. Although our society evolved in many respects, such as the law of equal marriage, however in other respects it remained stagnant. In 2015 the “collective cry against gender violence” is born, as the #NiUnaMenos (Not a woman less – http://niunamenos.com.ar) page says. This was born from a group of journalists, activists and artists who saw the need and they took the cause as their own to generate a collective campaign. A campaign that became successful because of the high degree of adherence of women and men across the country and even reached neighboring countries.

 

What is sexist violence?

I hear constantly many men take offense at hearing the use of “macho” to describe this type of violence, on the grounds that they are men who never offended or denigrated a woman. But do not we live in a society that for years was built under the domination of men, and why not say it, white men, who banished women and everyone they considered different from the spheres of power and decision-making areas? Do not we live in a society where women earn a lower salary than men despite having the same training and the same hierarchical position? Do not we live in a society where women are judged by how they dress, how they act and how are their sex lives?

The woman problem has always been a man problem.” – Simone de Beauvoir.

Being a feminist is often misunderstood as to be against the male gender. But that comes from a high level of ignorance. According to the Oxford dictionary Feminism is: “the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes”, this means that women are equal to men, and do not want to subtract rights to men as many say. It is not a struggle of sexes, it is a question of gender ceasing to be seen as an impediment. As Emma Watson clearly explains:

For the record, feminism by definition is the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. It is the theory of political, economic and social equality of the sexes“.

But not only violence against women is seen in gender-based killings, it is seen in everyday actions. We live in a society that, although we fight continually and we rip our clothes to declare that we are open, that we do not discriminate and that we have tolerance, we are surrounded by prejudices. Violence does not necessarily occur in a physical form, there is symbolic violence, which is not minor, because it is the one that influences people and limits their way of acting in public spaces.

Men make the moral code and they expect women to accept it. They have decided that it is entirely right and proper for men to fight for their liberties and their rights, but that it is not right and proper for women to fight for theirs.”- Emmeline Pankhurst.

Symbolic violence is the one that constricts freedoms in an indirect way, which generates that the person restrains from certain actions because of fear or to avoid problems. That violence that occurs every day, is the one that causes the greatest damage. It is transmitted in the family, in education, in the media and in public spaces. It is our job to diminish it and make it disappear.

For now, it is more what was gained in law than in fact.

 

Challenges in the automotive industry’s business model

How have 21st Century technologies allowed companies in the automotive industry to change their business models?

Since the beginning of the 21st century new players from the technology and communications sectors are entering the automotive industry and dramatically changing its chain value and traditional business model.  The main segments that were altered significantly are production, sales experience, key partners, product innovation and R&D.  Today the companies that follow have a chance to leap at the front of the game and those ahead might stay behind if their business model is not flexible at its core.

1)     Transition from push production to demand pull and modular production

We have seen this change in an innumerable amount of industries but Dell is the first name to come in mind when talking about modular production.  The automotive industry has been taking in at a late stage technological advances that arise in other industries.   In this way production transitioned to offer products with attributes selected by the client, sometimes ordered through internet and delivered within 15 days; for instance, Toyota’s upstart Scion.

2)    Changes in sales experience

Car dealers as sale points are being swept out as in the case of BMW and Tesla.  BMW chooses to change the buying experience by introducing the ‘BMW product genius’ who will educate the customer on all the lines of products.  The motivation of ‘BMW product genius’ is not to sell (they do not earn commissions per sale) but to build customer loyalty.  It certainly takes after the service offered in Apple Stores.  As to Tesla S1 electric car sold directly to customers is more aggressive and is reprimanded by car dealers.  Not because they are direct competitors (Tesla’s sales represent 0.1% of US auto market) but because out of fear that other brands might follow.

Technology has disrupted the way people make their buying decisions; today people use platforms to determine who to trust and what to buy.  Above that, consumers today value innovation in automobiles.  They want to buy from the companies they perceive as brining new technology first to the market.

3)    Product Innovation and R&D: Sustainable cars, Electric cars, Autonomous cars

In the ‘2016 EU Industrial R&D Investment Scoreboard[1]’ 6 automakers are among the top 30 and the number of patent filings in the automotive industry also reflect an increase.  Volkswagen was the company with the highest investment in R&D worldwide, until it stated struggling after falsifying environmental testing protocols.  Innovation has become a top priority for automotive companies.  Today there are at least 50 hybrid models in the market whereas in 2001 there were only 2.

Focusing only on downsizing internal combustion engines and fuel efficiency may mean leading companies may fall behind innovative companies in the future.  Changes in their products must be timed as to gain acceptance and not lose their loyal customers.  

The main product changes from mechanical to hybrid to electric to partly automated which shifted the sales motto of ‘faster, stronger’ to ‘sustainable, innovative’.

4)    Shared ownership

Going a step further the ‘Car2Go’ by Daimler and ‘DriveNow’ by BMW services suggest no ownership.  Another different example is ‘Autolib’ where the service is run by the government, a key partner, and the company providing the cars is unknown to the public.

Altogether there is more to technology innovation than changes to the product itself.  It enables new business models and relationships between stakeholders.  The emerging model is still to come but it is certain it will be driven by technology.  The chain value and business model will be shifting as new stakeholders enter the industry with the advances in electronics, communications, alternative fuels and materials.

 

REFERENCES:

[1] https://www.iriweb.org/sites/default/files/2016GlobalR%26DFundingForecast_2.pdf

SOURCES:

Ø  www.forbes.com

Ø  www.bcgperspectives.com

Ø  www.bain.com

Ø  www.bloomberg.com

Ø  www.economist.com

Ø  www.kpmg.com

Ø  www.ibm.com

Ø  https://www.iriweb.org/sites/default/files/2016GlobalR%26DFundingForecast_2.pdf

 

 

The technological revolution: freedom or servitude?

We live today a period of acceleration of time and complexity of the space. The moment when a new type of society is born. This is reflected in the constant transformations, both from the macro point of view, at the state level and the global order as well as in the micro level: attitudes or way of doing things in everyday life.

The application of technological advancement holds many advantages but also many challenges. Within the first thing we can list advances that have been simplified, improved and even prolonged human life. On the other hand the risks of this fourth revolution are not only challenging but also dangerous.

The application of the technological revolution to the labor market represents a serious challenge to the quality of life of millions of workers. It is a global risk the concentration of wealth in hands of a global minority. Today we live in a structurally unequal world, where a group of hundred people concentrate the same percentage of wealth that half of humanity, 3.5 billion people.

Technological developments and their profits concentrated in few hands will only lead to the end of society as we know since such conditions can not sustained in the medium and long term. Technology has increased the gap substantively. It has left many out of the benefits from the technological revolution and  it has concentrated the fruits in a few hands.

The concentration of wealth and high levels of inequality are contrary to liberal democratic state. But this is not the only thing that affects the state as we know

The real challenge of this new revolution is considering the human being in the heart of it. Scientific progress and technology development is meaningless if it is not serving humanity.

It is therefore essential the role of governance, both local and international, to guide the changes in benefits of all and thus enable sustainable development in the medium and long term. It depends on this a successful and fair transformation of our world.

Finally doing an analysis of our current situation, we are not very encouraging in the short term as global structures and effectiveness of state for allocating resources does not work properly. Perhaps the complexity of today’s world and the resurgence of anti-establishment and extremist elements can be understood from a model that does not answer to the needs of the human being.

In the policies adopted at regional and global levels we will see if the challenges become or not a opportunity to live in not only a more efficient but also more fair world. The fruits of innovation belong to humanity.

MERCOSUR is dead

With more than 1 million square kilometers, with a GDP of more than 4 trillion dollars and with a population of approximately 275 million inhabitants, MERCOSUR is characterized by a history of impulses and stagnation. After being born as a process that was disruptive for the time, and especially, to mark the end of the confrontation thesis between the two biggest countries of South America, MERCOSUR has been losing its impulse.

During the month of March 2016, MERCOSUR had its 25th anniversary, an event that was little promoted, which happened almost unnoticed for civil society and to which governments did not give much importance. The media, although they did not refer to this anniversary as an event of transcendence, recalled it in their publications with titles that reflect a pessimistic perspective: “25 years of MERCOSUR and very little to celebrate” (La Nación, Argentina https://goo.gl/s2ju3R), “A sad regional birthday” (El Observador, Uruguay https://goo.gl/ENlIOL), “MERCOSUR will celebrate 25 years of creation and will be without pain or glory” (ABC , Paraguay https://goo.gl/VxSKNE) or even Globo (Brazil https://goo.gl/YrL3E7) detailed that: “… the anniversary comes amid the political crisis in Brazil and the wear and tear of the bloc”. However, there were two optimistic headlines: “MERCOSUR, 25 years of success” (La Razón https://goo.gl/3oomlE) in Bolivia, which is currently in the process of joining, and Telesur (https://goo.gl/fNrXXI): “MERCOSUR celebrates 25 years betting on economic integration” highlighting the progress in social and cultural issues.

However, the current situation shows that there is a crisis and an opportunity for the process of integration. There are two possible ways, self-criticism and call to action, or resignation. The international system up to 2016 demonstrated the importance of every State to belong to broad integration processes and to large trade blocs, since it increases the possibilities of commercial transactions, with enormous political and economic opportunities. But last year was a turning point in the history of integration. The Brexit and the election of Donald Trump to the US presidency who withdrew the country from the brand new Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) shows an uncertainty in the economic, geopolitical and also social area, especially after a time when diplomacy and international negotiations had created a conducive environment for the trade blocs, from the Trans-Pacific Partnership itself to the Pacific Alliance, in an attempt to focus the world economy on Asia-Pacific, which is interpreted as the engine of the international economy in the next years.

According to many analysts, nowadays MERCOSUR is the moment of the ‘Black Swan’. This theory develops the possibility that unexpected situations lead to a rebirth of the bloc after a long hibernation in an unpredictable and uncertain international political and economic context. Among other things, this new impulse is brought about the emergence in Latin America of a new integration process, the Pacific Alliance, which calls itself as an innovative process which follows the patterns of the new international system focus on the new center of geopolitics and world economy. In contrast to MERCOSUR that was born in 1991 inspired by neoliberal ideas, after the change of political climate there were only advances in the social, cultural and, in some cases, political areas.

MERCOSUR needs to adapt to the new regional and international situation. Since it was born in the 1990s in a neoliberal context, it developed in the 2000s in a political climate framed in the ‘turn to the left‘ and is now in a different regional climate with the so-called ‘turn to the right‘ (1), into an international environment where it seems that the status quo is going to have an unpredictably change. This is precisely one of the weaknesses of the MERCOSUR project; it depends almost exclusively on ideological complementarity, extreme inter-presidentialism and pro-tempore presidencies pendulums. However, it should not be forgotten that this harmony between governments and presidential diplomacy is the success factor of the bloc (2), a bloc that does not fit the models of classical integration, because there is neither a significant institution nor a supranational level. We could say that MERCOSUR follows its own model (3) which is precisely the cause of its progress but also of its obstacles. There is no single model for the integration and cooperation processes, because each one is adjusted to its member’s reality (4). MERCOSUR was born with the deficiency that it followed the priorities and objectives of the governments of turn, reason why before each political change, MERCOSUR is stalled.

If we see the present, it is possible understand that after the first phase of economic complementation the bloc did not have more advances in that field, but it did cross with strength the 2008 crisis that was originated in the developed countries, the congruence of the politics of the ‘Turn to the Left’ made it advance in the social and cultural level, and the leadership of Brazil, on the one hand at regional level, on the second hand as an emergent power (5), gave some dynamics to the process but that could not cross political climate changes.

Nowadays, MERCOSUR is immersed in a crisis, but it is not the only integration process that is on crisis, even the European Union (EU) which is considered the deepest process of integration and the example to follow, is in its greatest crisis (6), or the Trans-Pacific Agreement which few months after seeing the light, goes through its first moment of darkness. However, MERCOSUR is marked by a change of political conjuncture of the ‘turn to the right‘, the strongest partner, Brazil is in a social, political and economic crisis, Argentina is politically divided but in a stable situation, Uruguay is in a cautious mode, Paraguay is expectant of the Bolivian incorporation to be able to increase the commercial flows and thus to leave the mutual geostrategic prison, and the most problematic partner, Venezuela, that after Chávez’s death, the country entered a political-social crisis that divides the country and makes the member be suspended from the bloc, but having the pro tempore presidency, a big deprivation.

That is why MERCOSUR is dead, because the bloc is experiencing a credibility and survival crisis. It was unable to adapt to the new era, to the new international and regional reality, and neither was there political efforts to have an economic deepening. It is necessary that the projects transcend political administrations and be guided by the wishes of the people, which at first are forgotten. Furthermore is needed a common external agenda, because that was built for the majority partners (Brazil and Argentina) for the benefit of their own interests, which sometimes are not complementary and even hurt the smaller partners. A common agenda would give the bloc the tool to go on new international negotiations, deepen current alliances and having a voice in international forums. With Brazil immersed in its internal sphere, it would seem the moment for Argentina to be the leader of the process, but for that to happen it must prioritize the interest of the bloc to the national interest, and generate instances that allow a better complementation after the changes of the administrations.

Between the 20 and the 24 of March, the XXVII Round of the Committee of Bi-regional Negotiations between MERCOSUR and the European Union will be held in Argentina to promote stalled trade negotiations. But the bloc also has several open fronts, negotiations with the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), and the rapprochement with Korea, China and Japan. In a Multiplex World, all actors have the potential to increase their international insertion, if they maintain a clear strategy (8). It is time to see if MERCOSUR can achieve this strategy.

 

(1) Carné, Jonatán. “¿América Latina da un Giro a la Derecha?”, SABF Blog, 2016, http://blog.sabf.org.ar/2016/04/06/america-latina-da-un-giro-a-la-derecha/

(2) Malamud, Andrés. “La diplomacia presidencial y los pilares institucionales del MERCOSUR: un examen empírico”, Revista electrónica “Relaciones Internacionales”, 2010.

(3) Bizzozero, Lincoln. “Los primeros 20 años del Mercosur: del Programa de Liberalización Comercial al Plan Estratégico de Acción Social”, Revista Densidades, 2011.

(4) Peña, Felix. “Los 25 años del Mercosur y opciones en el camino de su evolución futura”, Newsletter, 2016.

(5) Carné, Jonatán. “¿Qué pasó con las potencias emergentes? El Caso de los BRICS.”, SABF Blog, 2016, http://blog.sabf.org.ar/2016/07/06/que-paso-con-las-potencias-emergentes-el-caso-de-los-brics/

(6) Domínguez, Emiliano. “La encrucijada europea: ampliación y Brexit”, SABF Blog, 2017, http://blog.sabf.org.ar/2017/01/30/la-encrucijada-europea-ampliacion-y-brexit/

(7) Acharya, Amitav. “From the Unipolar moment to a Multiplex World”, YaleGlobal Univertisty, 2014.

Our Digital Golden Age

By 2030, it is predicted that 2 billion jobs will disappear, approximately 50% of the jobs on the planet. What does that mean for our lives in just 13 years? Will we be ravaged by unemployment and social inequality? Or will we have entered a golden age of development?

The classical period of Greece (4-5th century BCE) was a cultural explosion that saw extensive development in philosophy, science, architecture, art, theatre, literature and the creation of the political system known as democracy. It was a period of intense creative production that arguably shaped the development of the western world as we know it today.

The catalyst that drove the birth of this period was a transition from subsistence agriculture and every man for himself, to the development of coinage, collective abundance and the merchant class. Here we see diversification of social, economic and political models. Above all, we see the development of the concept of leisure time. Naturally, how can a man who needs to work a farm develop time to ponder the ways of the world? He needs someone to work the farm instead. Enter slavery. With the hard work of the day covered, the man has more time to manage his farm and consider other things. The concept of work and leisure arrives and we have the beginnings of a new system of hierarchy: those who have free time and those who do not.

In the absence of a second wave of slavery, what could disrupt our economic and social system in such a significant way, what could free up our labour force to such an extent? Look around and you can start to guess: the development of AI and chatbots, driverless cars, IoT, wearable technology. In our modern world, humans are not required to do the work, we automate. Enter the robots.

It is estimated that by 2030, we will lose 2 billion jobs across the globe. Most of these jobs will be in unskilled labour. More and more jobs will require less human input because a robot can do the work better. Will this be a tragedy for unskilled workers? Or will our new found abundance of leisure time re-organise our world to engage more with abstract and creative thought? Will we move from working because we have to earn money to engage with our current economic model, or will we move to people working because they want to, because they feel passionate about something, because they have a talent?

Gallup has been measuring employee engagement in the USA since 2000 i it notes consistent numbers when it comes to employees who are active, enthusiastic and committed to their work. That number is 32%, with a global average of just 13%. The rest of employees, the other 68-87%, are significantly less productive but still paid alongside their highly engaged and productive colleagues.

Unhappy employees are not only disruptive to workplace flow, they can also put pressure on our health care systems. Ground breaking research in 2012 from the Carnegie Mellon University, was able for the first time to provide evidence that continuous psychological stress significantly contributes to higher rates of illness as the body’s inflammatory response is reduced. What would it look like for our health care systems if we were able to reduce the number of people being treated for stressed related illness?

In preparation for a digitally driven world, Finland has commenced a trial of the universal income where 2,000 selected unemployed citizens are receiving a living wage. They will continue to be paid this wage even if they find employment. At the World Government Summit in Dubai, Elon Musk warned that governments will need to start looking seriously at universal income as more jobs become automated. However, he expressed concern that the greatest challenge would be for people to find meaning in a world where so much of our purpose is derived from our employment.

So, here we are, at a pivotal point of time. Thirteen years away from 2 billion fewer jobs. We are on the cusp of something new, a time that will require changes to our economic, social and political systems. Will we respond fast enough? Will we embrace leisure time and shift our economic and political systems to suit? Will we adjust what we have or are we on the verge of creating something new? If our technology is already developing at an exponential rate, what new innovations will we uncover when we have more time to create?

Perhaps we are on the verge of our next creative cultural explosion. Enter 2030, the dawn of our next golden age.

Disinformation Era

Imagine the following situation: it’s Tuesday, it’s late, and you’re just arriving home. The day has been dreadfully long, so you choose to browse your favourite social network to unwind for a while. Your feed is full of the same old: funny jokes about the latest mediatic politician, videoclips of some corny pop artist, memes about some Turkish chef, and an avalanche of baby pictures and first wedding anniversary memorabilia. You scroll, scroll, scroll, until you find a video of a cat. Now, that’s relaxing.

This behaviour is hardly surprising. The excess of information creates an overload of our receptors, causing us to shut down our senses. There is so much of it around, that it really is an effort to take it all in. We tend to absorb only the information that’s preprocessed, the easy bits. This could be tightly bound to the fact that laziness is an evolutionary trait in humans[1]. We’re built to save energy in a calorie-restricted environment. Of course, that’s not our current reality, but the evolutionary trait still remains.

Which leads us to the main causes of disinformation: the lack of diversification and the lack of verification of sources.

Let’s start with lack of diversification of sources. Believe it or not, there are people who rely exclusively on social media to keep informed on current events. Facebook, Twitter, even 9gag! One of the main issues with this approach is that the information found on such media is highly biased. The feed is composed by people we choose to follow, people we choose to befriend. With that in mind, the information and points of view we will be presented with are limited.

“Tell me who your friends are, and I’ll tell you what you know”

Not only are we conditioned by our choice of people to follow, or people to be friends with, but also social media will keep feeding us only a subset of the available information. Social networks will determine what to show us in our main feed based on what we have searched, what we have liked, and whose profile we’ve opened in the past[2], thus creating a retro-feeding loop of related content. We’re therefore being presented only with information that an algorithm calculated that we’ll like. The posts we see, the ads, and clickbaits, all relate to our history and encase us in a pattern which in itself provides the algorithm with more detailed information about our perceived preferences.

In addition to that, some social networks give you the option of hiding a certain type of posts, either by author or, more dangerously, by content similarity. In this case, people choose to ignore information. Of course, you might want to block content from someone you dislike (just unfollow/unfriend them, trust me on this one), but an alternative reason for it might be that the information we’re wanting to block makes us uncomfortable. We experiment cognitive dissonance: mental stress caused by holding two contradictory ideas simultaneously[3], or when being presented with evidence that contradicts our beliefs. The ways of solving this discomfort is by either changing our beliefs, which is the most difficult and unlikely solution of all, ignoring the new information that causes our discomfort, or seeking sources that coincide with our beliefs and allow us to deem the new evidence erroneous. This last solution is what is called Confirmation Bias[4].

This ultimately leads us to the second main cause of disinformation: the lack of verification of sources. On one hand, our need to get rid of our cognitive dissonance through confirmation bias will predispose us to believe whatever sides with our beliefs, regardless of the source. We will gladly accept the words of whoever confirms our theories and ideas, even when we might be wrong (there are still people who believe the Earth is flat). It’s quite unlikely for someone to seek alternative sources of truth, trying to find points of view that contradict our truth. On the other hand, our lazy nature will lead us to believing any plausible information presented to us blindly, without going to the extent of cross-reference checking with reliable sources.

Of course, not all the information we find on the Internet is true. The best way of finding reliable information is by consulting reliable sources. A potential sources reliability ranking could be the following (from most to least reliable):

  1. Official documents, laws, and decrees (true by their enunciative nature)
  2. Scientific papers (highly reliable due to the supporting research and scientific evidence, slightly less reliable because each research opens the challenge of disproving it)
  3. Highly renowned newspapers (you would expect serious newspapers to verify their sources and have editors who make a sanitization of the publications)
  4. Less renowned newspapers (articles are less serious and sometimes more oriented at sensationalism)
  5. Social media (absolutely unreliable, where every John and Jane can write whatever they please)

In this schema, information can only be as reliable as the least reliable source that’s been quoted as a reference (i.e. if a major newspaper shares news from a less renowned newspaper, the information will only have reliability of level 4). With this in mind, anything found on social media has to be regarded as highly unreliable information. And yet, some people end up believing even the most ridiculous Alternative Facts[5].

While there doesn’t seem to be a way of fixing the disinformation globally, there is a way of solving it on a personal level: inform yourself, look for reliable sources that confirm what you have read or heard, look for alternative points of view, try to avoid the confirmation bias. If you’re too lazy to do it on your account, get a reliable fact checker (like Chequeado.com or Politifact). Do not stay with the apparent truth.

Keep informed.

 

[3]: Festinger, L. (1957). A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance. California: Stanford University Press.