Technology

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.

Beyond our borders

Technology is the vehicle of how we should see the political landscape today ~ Peter Thiel (Co-Founder of PayPal)

Have you ever thought we live in a chaotic society run by politicians who are proud of their long-term lack of vision? There is a place where people have a vision, with idead to make our society more efficient and virtual at the same time.

A technology-driven society where bureaucracy and current political issues are problems of the past, that’s Silicon Valley. Populated by programmers, entrepreneurs and capital investors, those are the ones shaping this new world.

How is this ideal of society?

We can see an example. There are only 193 countries with more than 7 billion people. We have much more variety of smartphones models than countries with our culture and vision that we want to be part of. If there were hundreds of floating cities, we would choose according to our needs the one that suits us best. With how diverse we are, we should not be forced to choose something that does not culturally represent us. Peter Thiel and Patri Friedman (founder of Seasteading Institute) dream of living in a city where the laws are written by investors. It is not crazy to think this, since Tim Draper, founder of Draper University, proposes to divide the state of California into 6 smaller states, one of them being Silicon Valley. This idea of ​​decentralization is the new idea of ​​what the “new politics of tomorrow” should be. And this can be seen with, for example, Bitcoin, whose underlying structure is called the Blockchain. Basically, and broadly speaking, Blockchain is a network of connected computers where no one has a greater hierarchy over another, and this in addition creates transparency. Returning to the example of floating cities, which is a project of the Seasteading Institute, they will have the following characteristics:

  1. It will be easier for many people to join the country as the island will be in a protected area of ​​the sea of ​​a host country.
  2. There will be a political exchange, autonomous, for economic, social and environmental benefits with the country that covers the island
  3. Cities will be environmentally friendly, and may be reconditioned according to needs
  4. The price of the square meter will be similar for what is paid in cities like New York or London.

And you, will you be like those 1000 people who said they wanted to live on a floating platform?

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

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.

The digital era and education

The new digital era has made  the use of technology in education grow significantly in the last few years.

Many students over the world prefer to study with electronic books or with Internet searches, while educational institutions have adopted the use of whiteboards to teach, and Moodle platforms to follow assignments from teachers. Moreover, do not forget it is possible to pursue online degrees . It is a revolution of the digital age that is slowly leaving the libraries and newspaper archives where we used to spend hours looking information to study for the next exam.

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More ideas, less pets

We live in a time of radical change. Today, individuals use technology to exchange information in a way never seen before. Internet connectivity has altered the meaning of geographical distance and everything and everyone is knowable thanks to Google.

But perhaps the biggest change is the advent of social media. Social media and mobile technologies have accelerated the rate at which relationships develop, information is shared and influence takes hold. People now use social technology to help shape the world’s events and culture.

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The ethical cost of technology

The question of right and wrong is never black and white, but the general public associates the question of ethics in the same category. Type “right and wrong” in Google and it automatically generates “right and wrong ethics”. It was not too long ago someone asked me “what is the difference between ethics and morals in making decisions?”. According to the Oxford Dictionaries ethics are “moral principles that govern a person’s or group’s behavior” and morals are “a person’s standards of behavior or beliefs concerning what is and is not acceptable for them to do”. After examining this topic I came to the conclusion that the morals change ethics. Ethics are the derivative of morals. When technology is introduced to the question of ethics, it adds a new dimension to analyze.

As I was writing this topic, I was questioning the cost of each Google search I made to seek information on this topic. Currently, anytime theetica-tecnologia public uses Google they agree to give up information that Google can use for any commercial purpose. I cannot remember the exact number of Google searches I made today, but I bet it is over fifty. If every time Google gathers my search, location, language, links clicked, duration spent on link, and who exactly knows what else is collected; that makes me one valuable customer. The interesting part of this is that I am completely fine with this, because I agree to use this service free in exchange for my information. I find it fascinating that my information is in its own way a form of currency. Not only is my concrete information valuable, but my opinions provide another set of information. Even if my opinions change a month later, my opinion at that instant assists in creating information that someone saw value in.

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How neutral should the Internet be?

Allow me to introduce you first to how the internet works under the hood. Your local ISP (Internet Service Provider, like Comcast or Verizon) is just the last provider in a chain of entities that provide the infrastructure for internet. They usually buy their bandwidth and connections to other providers from a larger company (a ISP for ISPs). They are categorized in multiple layers, usually referred to as tier 3, tier 2, and tier 1 providers (roughly “local”, “regional”, and “global” respectively).

net-neutrality

Bandwidth is not as cheap as one may think. You pay for outgoing traffic from your network to another provider, usually one that sits one tier up. The more intermediaries the data has to go through, the more expensive it gets. I estimate that sending data to another computer in the same city is around 100 times cheaper than sending it across the globe, say, from South America to Asia, as that package will be passed around through a set of providers located in Europe or the US first.

It’s quite a complicated process (but it’s fully automated), and you could make an analogy with the international phone operators in the 1950s or 1960s, only that this time computers are the ones switching the lines around. A single company has no control over how the data will be routed. Your Tier-3 ISP doesn’t mind whether the tier 2 ISP will route your package from New York City to India: and it’s probably up to the Tier-1 provider to decide whether to go through Europe and Turkey or through California and China…

Netflix needs a lot of bandwidth. It has a cost effective strategy: placing servers close to your place to get better deals for bandwidth from the same local ISP that you have. This allows Netflix to provide a better service to you (being in the same region is not only cheaper, but faster, which means less waiting time before  stream your movie) and it is also more convenient for your ISP (they save costs in outgoing connections to their Tier-2 provider and instead relay traffic inside their own network).

Net Neutrality

So, what is net neutrality?

Stephanie Creets, blogger at SingleHop, has summed-up the essentials to understanding this controversial issue in a balanced way. This subject is related to what happens when the network is congested. The owner of an ISP gets to choose how to prioritize traffic when the network is overwhelmed. For example, in your company’s network, the network administrator probably decided to give priority to applications like Skype, in order to avoid having those horrible delays in the conversation that we all hate. ISPs come up with similar solutions.

The owner of a network decided then to differentiate between different kinds of packages. It’s analog to enabling a fast lane in a highway: prioritizing one kind of vehicles over others. This means, not all “packets”, not every activity that you need internet for, are equal.

Comcast is not only a Tier-3 provider. They are also a Tier-2 provider. They are the owners of their infrastructure, and they’ve cut a deal to give priority to Netflix connections in case there is a network congestion problem. This sounds good; since it will allow you to see your movies in great quality at 7 PM, the peak hour for network traffic. The bad thing is, giving priority to some kind of traffic means that another type of traffic will be slowed down (like, for example, your Skype calls). Enabling a fast lane means that there’s one less lane for the cars that don’t go into the fast lane.

So it’s as simple as that: differentiating amongst traffic, by enabling fast lanes, goes against “net neutrality”. Is that a good thing? That’s arguable. If you’re a Netflix user, it’s good because you’ll be able to stream your movies faster. If you’re trying to do something else, maybe it’s not so great.

What do you believe? Should law-makers demand a neutral, more equitative, behaviour from ISPs?

Thinking Together: Open Source, the culture of sharing and openness

Social entrepreneurship as a different approach to business has gained traction over the past two decades, but have you heard of “open” entrepreneurship? Many of you may be familiar with the concept of open source, which has been successfully applied in areas such as technology and knowledge management. I recently came across an organisation called Open Source Ecology, which has given me some new insights on the open sourcing, and how it represents a new way of thinking.

To explain the concept briefly and generally, open source promotes the free redistribution and availability to the public of a product’s design.  The idea is that the design is open to the general public to use and modify, free of charge. The term “open source” was coined shortly after Netscape announced in 1998 that it would freely provide the source code for its web browser. Today, the open source concept has evolved beyond software. For example, Wikipedia is a project that embodies open source principles in the field of knowledge management.  There has also been some progress in applying the concept to pharmaceutical development and scientific research.

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