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Year: 2020

01 Oct 2020
Are You Ready for Tech That Connects to Your Brain?

Are You Ready for Tech That Connects to Your Brain?

People are investing more time and money in personal technology, such as smart speakers, smart watches, wearables, and VR headsets. The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated our adoption of new technology and increased our reliance on it for social connection, entertainment, and educational experiences. As we spend more time at home, many of us are turning to technology to augment our reality. Wearables — such as smart earbuds, lenses, watches, rings, bracelets, and even fabrics — layer biometric data, audio interaction, and visual information over our lived experiences. As wearable technology becomes commonplace in our daily lives, there’s an even more intimate connection on the horizon with the rise of the brain-computer interface (BCI).

BCIs can connect to a human’s brain either internally or externally. They read the brain activity and process the activity into information, and can also communicate information back to the brain. BCIs have the potential to amplify human intelligence to superhuman levels, which is exciting for technologists and entrepreneurs, but begs the question: Are we, our businesses, and our technological systems ready for this change?

How do BCIs benefit us?

BCIs fall into two categories: invasive and non-invasive. Invasive BCIs are implanted into the brain and connect tiny electrodes to neurons to measure their activity. Invasive BCIs, like Neuralink, require brain surgery — doctors drilling into the skull to implant the device and high-precision surgery robots to correctly attach the microscopic electrodes to neurons. Invasive BCIs capture better data and can be implanted in various regions of the brain. Invasive BCIs have been effective in treating spinal cord injuries, controlling prosthetic limbs, and treating depression. Non-invasive BCIs require no surgery, but depend on noisier signals from electroencephalogram (EEG) and infrared devices worn on the head. AI is used to isolate the brain signals that the BCI devices capture, as well as synthesize signals back into the brain.

Examining the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

BCIs have brought about incredible advancements in the medical field, and have been largely funded by the Department of Defense through DARPA. DARPA’s Brain Initiative is working on an impressive breadth of BCI projects that aim to help the body heal itself, restore sensory deficits caused by injury, and augment military service members by allowing them to operate drones, silently communicate, and integrate into defense systems. Companies like Kernel, Qneuro, NeuroSky and EMOTIV are rapidly moving toward widely-available devices and less-invasive BCI methods. These companies are working to measure and assess brain activity for a variety of uses, from playing games and stress reduction to typing out words by thinking them. Muse is a commercially available device that uses EEG to record and display brain data as a meditation aid. Even Facebook has been developing a BCI implant that reads brain activity, and is able to decipher a basic set of words.

Recently, there’s been a lot of hype around Neuralink, Elon Musk’s BCI startup. Neuralink demonstrated their implanted brain device reading and writing information to pigs’ brains in late August. Many neurologists downplayed the company’s demonstration in the context of advancing neuroscience. While the electrode technology displayed was advanced, there was little discussion of how the company would make sense of brain activity. One of the main goals of the demonstration was to attract talent to Neuralink and increase interest in BCIs to advance neurology and hardware. Musk has promised that Neuralink would start human trials by the end of 2020 with the aim of treating people who have severe neurological disorders.

How might BCIs evolve?

In the distant future, if BCIs are successful at reading and writing information to the brain, and if humans adapt to the technology, we could experience some pretty amazing scenarios. Imagine having telepathic conversations with loved ones, instantaneously accessing superhuman computational power, playing back memories and dreams, or immersing yourself and every sense you possess into a virtual entertainment experience. These scenarios are currently influencing the work of researchers, technologists, and futurists. In her book Artificial You, researcher and futurist Susan Schneider imagines a “Center for Mind Design” as follows:

“Hive Mind” is a brain chip allowing you to experience the innermost thoughts of your loved ones. “Zen Garden” is a microchip for Zen master-level meditative states. “Human Calculator” gives you savant-level mathematical abilities. What would you select, if anything? Enhanced attention? Mozart-level musical abilities? You can order a single enhancement, or a bundle of several.”

In a recent episode of The Artificial Podcast, futurist and technologist Brian Rommele described his vision for “The Intelligence Amplifier”:

“Let’s call it a holographic crystal memory that can hold petabytes of data, meaning maybe three lifetimes worth of video. That’s what petabytes of data means — live video of your entire life. Not so somebody can see it, but so it can be interpreted by your intelligence amplifier. So, it can build context so that you can now be a stronger you, a smarter you, from the moment you’re born.“

These are optimistic visions of the future of BCIs where users are in control of their BCIs and any applications installed on them. But, there are many outstanding questions for how we could ensure a bright future: Who will own the data generated by our brains? Will brain data be bought and sold by data brokers like other personal information today? Will people be forced to use certain BCIs that surveil their brain activity (for example, to make sure you’re paying attention at work and school)? Will BCIs put peoples’ brains at risk of being hacked? As with all new technology, more of these philosophical questions will need to be investigated and answered before there is widespread adoption and use of BCIs in the future.

How can we prepare for the future of BCIs?

It’s impossible to predict what will happen in the future. As is the case today with modern technology, we can be sure we’ll continue to grapple with philosophical questions as BCIs and humanity evolve. Those currently working in the space already have discussions about BCIs’ impact and how they can help and hinder humans. The more intimate the technology becomes, the more magnified unresolved issues like privacy, security, and closed ecosystems become.

Reduce AI Bias

Wearables and BCIs provide users access to a wealth of information, but simultaneously gather an abundance of biometric and personal data about those users. The same artificial intelligence (AI) these devices use to amplify human intelligence is being leveraged by companies to make sense of all of the data captured. AI bias will become an even bigger problem as companies use this technology to automate more decision-making.

Companies developing AI strategies should seek talent from marginalized groups to develop data management processes and attempt to remove AI bias. For companies not currently developing an AI strategy, it’s important to begin thinking about how AI impacts your industry. Today, most AI is fairly invisible and many people are surprised to learn the extent to which AI is used for things like choosing mortgage borrowers, regulating traffic flow, and trading stocks. Imagine a future where we are aware of and have control of the decisions AI makes for us so we can understand why those decisions are made.

Promote Digital Security and Privacy

If our personal technology continues to require an internet connection, we’ll face significant security tradeoffs as any networked device poses a vulnerability for hackers to exploit. Companies need to radically rethink their approach to digital security as an exploited BCI could cost someone their life. Users want more transparency and control — personal AIs can be employed to help users monitor and manage their own security.

The large corporations that create and operate AI platforms and devices already gather, analyze, and sell our personal data. Will these corporations continue to have unfettered access to our data and how will we be further exploited if BCIs are realized and the data captured is increasingly more intimate? Our society is becoming increasingly aware of and vigilant about privacy overreach.

Companies should develop stringent digital security measures and evaluate their privacy practices with the future in mind. We all should push for stricter privacy regulations — especially since technology giants are already brokering our personal data for advertising and profit. It is up to us to imagine a future in which widespread use of BCIs is a reality and put practices in place now that ensure the security and privacy of our minds.

Look to the Humanities

There is an increasing technological wealth gap that divides the haves and the have-nots. As wearables and BCIs become more common in the workforce, schools, and our daily lives, they could widen the gap further by creating large technologically poor populations. As Stanford’s Sebastian Thrun has said: “Nobody phrases it this way, but I think that artificial intelligence is almost a humanities discipline. It’s really an attempt to understand human intelligence and human cognition.”

We need to take a deeper look at the future of personal computing to imagine how humans and machines will merge and the effects it will have on society. Companies should focus more on the so-called “soft skills” of psychology, sociology, and anthropology to understand the impact technology has on users. Technologists must move from the “move fast and break things” mentality towards a more thoughtful approach, researching how the technology created impacts users and society. It is up to us to shape a future in which humanity is a priority and not an afterthought.

We are on the precipice of major societal changes fueled by issues like the Covid-19 pandemic, climate change, and a stressed global economy. Many people are looking to technology like wearables and BCIs as a beacon of hope in these uncertain times. While it’s nice to imagine a future where a lot of society’s current problems are resolved using advancements in technology, it is up to us to ensure that we’re prepared. Let’s approach our future and new technology with both hope and thoughtfulness.

Source: https://hbr.org/2020/09/are-you-ready-for-tech-that-connects-to-your-brain

30 Sep 2020
Elon Musk: Neuralink brain implant will improve 'bandwidth' of human communication

Elon Musk: Neuralink brain implant will improve ‘bandwidth’ of human communication

We’re “already part electronic” due to our dependence on tech, the SpaceX and Tesla boss says in an interview with The New York Times.

Elon Musk’s Neuralink brain implant is currently being tested in pigs, but the SpaceX and Tesla CEO wants the brain-computer link device to supercharge human communication, he said in an interview with The New York Times published Monday. 

“We’re a 300 baud modem. Very slowly outputting information into our phone or maybe a little bit faster into a computer if you’re using 10 fingers,” he said on the Times’ Sway podcast. “And it’s just very hard to communicate. AI will diverge from us just because it can’t talk to us.”

Since we’re already so attached to our phones, computers and social media accounts, he reasons, putting a Neuralink chip in our brains wouldn’t be a huge change for humanity.

“It’s like you’re already part electronic, if you think about it. When somebody dies they still have their — these days, their electronic ghost is left around,” he said. “You know, their Instagram, Twitter or whatever. Facebook, their emails, their website — it’s all still there.”

Before it can improve the “bandwidth of our communication,” the device’s initial value will be in treating brain injuries, Musk said. But he noted that the project is still at “a very, very primitive stage.” Before it gets FDA approval, it’ll require intense examination to make sure it doesn’t have any adverse effects and is removable, he said.

During an event in August, Musk showed off Neuralink’s technology, which aims to build a digital link between brains and computers. A wireless link from the Neuralink computing device, which was surgically implanted into the skull of a pig named Gertrude, showed the animal’s brain activity as it snuffled around a pen. Neuralink has a medical focus for now, like helping people deal with brain and spinal cord injuries, but Musk’s long-term vision is more radical. He’s suggested Neuralink could be used for things like “conceptual telepathy” or people connecting to their own digital AI incarnations.

Source: https://www.cnet.com/news/elon-musk-neuralink-brain-implant-will-improve-bandwidth-of-human-communication/

29 Sep 2020
This study finds that those who retired early lost brain power

This study finds that those who retired early lost brain power

People who retire early suffer from accelerated cognitive decline and may even encounter early onset of dementia, according to a new economic study I conducted with my doctoral student Alan Adelman.

To establish that finding, we examined the effects of a rural pension program China introduced in 2009 that provided people who participated with a stable income if they stopped working after the official retirement age of 60.

We found that people who participated in the program and retired within one or two years experienced a cognitive decline equivalent to a drop in general intelligence of 1.7% relative to the general population. This drop is equivalent to about three IQ points and could make it harder for someone to adhere to a medication schedule or conduct financial planning.

The largest negative effect was in what is called “delayed recall,” which measures a person’s ability to remember something mentioned several minutes ago. Neurological research links problems in this area to an early onset of dementia.

Why it matters
Cognitive decline refers to when a person has trouble remembering, learning new things, concentrating or making decisions that affect their everyday life. Although some cognitive decline appears to be an inevitable byproduct of aging, faster decline can have profound adverse consequences on one’s life.

Better understanding of the causes of this has powerful financial consequences. Cognitive skills – the mental processes of gathering and processing information to solve problems, adapt to situations and learn from experiences – are crucial for decision-making. They influence an individual’s ability to process information and are connected to higher earnings and a better quality of life.

Retiring early and working less or not at all can generate large benefits, such as reduced stress, better diets and more sleep. But as we found, it also has unintended adverse effects, like fewer social activities and less time spent challenging the mind, that far outweighed the positives.

While retirement schemes like the 401(k) and similar programs in other countries are typically introduced to ensure the welfare of aging adults, our research suggests they need to be designed carefully to avoid unintended and significant adverse consequences. When people consider retirement, they should weigh the benefits with the significant downsides of a sudden lack of mental activity. A good way to ameliorate these effects is to stay engaged in social activities and continue to use your brains in the same way you did when you were working.

In short, we show that if you rest, you rust.

What still isn’t known
Because we are using data and a program in China, the mechanisms of how retirement induces cognitive decline could be context-specific and may not necessarily apply to people in other countries. For example, cultural differences or other policies that can provide support to individuals in old age can buffer some of the negative effects that we see in rural China due to the increase in social isolation and reduced mental activities.

Therefore, we can not definitively say that the findings will extrapolate to other countries. We are looking for data from other countries’ retirement programs, such as India’s, to see if the effects are similar or how they are different.

How I do my research
A big focus of the economics research lab I run is to better understand the causes and consequences of changes in what economists call “human capital” – especially cognitive skills – in the context of developing countries.

Our lab’s mission is to generate research to inform economic policies and empower individuals in low-income countries to rise out of poverty. One of the main ways we do this is through the use of randomized controlled trials to measure the impact of a particular intervention, such as retiring early or access to microcredit, on education outcomes, productivity and health decisions.

Plamen Nikolov is an assistant professor of rconomics at Binghamton University, State University of New York. This was first published by The Conversation — “Retiring early can be bad for the brain“.

Source: https://www.marketwatch.com/story/this-study-finds-that-those-who-retired-early-lost-brain-power-11600790404

28 Sep 2020
Asia's digital economy needs consensus on tax

Asia’s digital economy needs consensus on tax

Over 135 countries, led by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), are working hard to build a multilateral consensus around international tax issues arising from the growth of the digital economy. This consensus is sought through the OECD/G20 Inclusive Framework on base erosion and profit shifting (BEPS).

The evolving debate around international taxation seeks to address two primary concerns. The first is profit shifting, which relates to differences in countries’ tax laws existing in the present system. The second concern is that the present system may require a more comprehensive overhaul to suit today’s globalised and digitalised economy.

The framework applies to all consumer facing businesses. Many people assume it is aimed at technology companies. On the contrary, it is a broad framework that recognises that digitalisation has transformed businesses and economies around the world. A large part of the current tax system was designed after World War I and includes approximately 3,000 bilateral treaties. Simplifying this complex framework is crucial. In addition, a modern global tax framework needs to reflect the interconnected and complex trade patterns that drive our globalised world. The original framework was built around single source products, and doesn’t reflect the international nature in the way goods and services are created and sold today.

Taxes must evolve with commerce

 

The OECD has recognised the need for progress and has indicated that a partial framework could be presented in October 2020 for discussion. However, there remain a few headwinds for getting this deal done. A global system that is fair and simple needs consensus. The lack of consensus and potential delays means that government revenues are impacted, and businesses are faced with increased uncertainty.

The adverse economic impact of Covid-19 has led to an acceleration in unilateral digital taxation measures by governments, creating double-taxation and administrative hurdles for companies, and leading the United States to threaten sanctions. This regressive unilateral thinking and protestations from countries large and small are threatening to undo the OECD’s global efforts and could do more harm than good.

Against this backdrop, the world is facing a digital tax deadlock today that could adversely impact economic growth, innovation and jobs unless government leaders return to the negotiating table to find a simple and equitable solution. The lack of coordination means that companies are holding back on plans to establish operations in new markets which has resulted in less jobs.

Pivot towards a digital economy

The digital economy has played a transformative role in the world’s response to the challenges faced during Covid-19. Emerging technologies have been developed and deployed at an extraordinary pace. Artificial intelligence (AI) and big data analytics have enabled innovative, rapid and wide-ranging responses to public health and essential service delivery.

In addition, Covid-19 has accelerated existing trends. With the traditional shop front temporarily shut, access to customers for most businesses has been aided by the digital economy. E-commerce, online education and tele-health services are examples of critical areas that have taken advantage of technology to adapt and thrive during these difficult times. As technology has formed the bedrock of several industries’ Covid-19 responses, more needs to be done to expand access to the digital economy, and not widen the digital divide. A lack of consensus on a global tax framework could widen the gap even further by restricting investments, cross border trade and access to innovations for many communities.

Certainty during uncertain times

The business community wants the certainty that an agreed global framework would bring. Fiscal consensus enables better long-term planning and a level playing field for firms operating across multiple markets. The cost and complexity of individual countries creating and applying their own rules ultimately hits the pockets of the consumer and could potentially dampen ambitions of companies to invest in future growth. This is not just an issue for established global companies. If you are a growing start-up operating across Asia, the cost and complexity of adhering to multiple and inconsistent rules might mean that you think twice about offering services to overseas customers.

The Asia Internet Coalition (AIC) believes that all companies have a responsibility to pay taxes in compliance with the law of countries in which they operate, and members make significant economic contributions in the countries and communities where they do business. However, we believe corporate tax policies should not discriminate against companies and certain sectors and should be applied consistently in accordance with internationally agreed tax systems.

Path forward

At its core, the new rules being considered by the OECD are to decide how profits are divided among countries in an era of global commerce, and where the line between goods and services is increasingly blurred in an increasingly global modern economy. We believe this is for governments to decide. However, it is in everyone’s interests for new tax rules to provide long-term stability and certainty for businesses to continue to innovate and invest for the future.

Agreement built around the key principles of neutrality, efficiency, certainty, and simplicity will give governments comfort on revenues, businesses the ability to grow and invest for the future, and consumers an understanding of the impact on their wallets.

Harnessing the potential of the digital economy is essential in driving global growth. Working together to create an enabling and harmonised regulatory environment would go a long way towards achieving this. Going it alone does not lead to a more integrated digital economy for any country, it will likely lead to the opposite.

Source: https://www.bangkokpost.com/opinion/opinion/1991207/asias-digital-economy-needs-consensus-on-tax

27 Sep 2020
Scaling innovation could be the key to business success

Scaling innovation could be the key to business success

Innovation and scaling should be treated as two different beasts, Capgemini says.

Businesses are racing to innovate and adopt new technologies, but being unable to properly scale is hampering efforts to properly respond to both disruptions and opportunities.

This is according to a new report from the Capgemini Research Institute, based on a poll of 40 senior executives from global enterprises, which argues that large organizations must treat generating and scaling innovation as separate entities.

Innovating and successfully scaling innovation are two distinct functions, Capgemini says, and often therefore require a different mindset and skillset.

The problem lies in the fact that not many organizations make this distinction. Instead, innovation generation often focuses on high-impact, “blue sky” concepts and projects designed to solve an unmet customer need. Businesses seldom focus on viability and feasibility, which are vital.

“By treating scaling innovation as a separate discipline, organizations can ensure that they bring in teams or individuals that are more focused on the viability and feasibility of innovation right from the start of the ideation phase,” the report states.

Further, the report argues that the Covid-19 pandemic proved positive for innovation and scaling, because it instilled a sense of urgency.

“By continuing to model operations to a sense of urgency, organizations can apply the learnings from the pandemic period for the long term,” said the report.

“In these times of crisis, Capgemini has found that organizations have made significant strides to tackle bureaucracy, streamline processes, restructure workforces, and empower front-line leaders.”

Source: https://www.itproportal.com/news/scaling-innovation-could-be-the-key-to-business-success/

26 Sep 2020
Is The Digital Economy Green? AI, Blockchain, & Sharing Platforms

Is The Digital Economy Green? AI, Blockchain, & Sharing Platforms

Digital technologies have steadily woven themselves into the global economy, transforming the pace at which individuals are able to access and process information. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the digital economy accounted for 9% of the US gross domestic product in 2018. Now the 4th largest sector in the US, digital services are rapidly expanding our energy and environmental footprint while promising broad societal benefits. For example:

Can sharing platforms help reduce food waste?
Does ride-hailing generate more greenhouse gas emissions?
How much direct energy is needed to run blockchain applications?
What benefits can artificial intelligence bring to more traditional industries?
Let’s look into the research that the Project on the Energy and Environmental Implications of the Digital Economy produced to learn more about ways the digital economy is and isn’t green, shall we?

The Project research was a way to expand the understanding of the digital and environmental nexus, to estimate the impacts of real-world applications, and to propose governance options for the sustainable adoption of digital technologies.

Environmental Law Institute Visiting Scholar David Rejeski helped launch the Project 4 years ago and noted that:

“… governments are spending only a fraction of the funding necessary to unravel the environmental impacts of our digital lives. Our society needs to develop an empirical grounding for assessing both the positive and negative impacts of information technologies, especially as they become more ubiquitous and invisible.”


A series of research papers have been released, contributing important insights to an emerging body of knowledge on 3 key technologies:

Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Blockchain
Sharing Platforms

Artificial Intelligence & the Digital Economy

The chemical industry is responding to increased energy demand and environmental performance expectations by exploring the use of emerging technologies in the manufacturing process. AI is one of these technologies, which shows great potential in reducing the energy consumption and environmental footprints of the chemical industry. Researchers determined that, although AI shows great potential in enhancing the sustainability of the chemical industry, it is challenging to quantify the benefits and impacts of AI adoptions due to the lack of system analysis methods and assessment metrics.

Quantitative understandings of the benefits of AI adoptions are critical information for policymakers and early adopters of emerging technologies, whose investments are crucial. Addressing these methods and analysis gaps is critical for improving emerging technology adoption such as AI. The authors developed a framework to aid in quantifying and assessing the environmental impacts of AI in the chemical manufacturing industry, hoping to address the dearth of studies on the topic.

Blockchain & Challenges

Corporate decisions are driven by information. Information volume — big data — is growing quickly, bringing greater organizational challenges in making sense of information necessary for managing their networks and supply chains. Blockchain technology is a disruptive information-based technology incorporating characteristics of decentralized “trustless” databases and ledgers, allowing for global-scale transactions, process disintermediation, and decentralization among supply chain entities.

Blockchain technology can support information required for timely provenance of goods and services in a secure manner that is clear and robust enough to trust, creates more effective information flow in the supply chain, and evolves a product-based economy to an information-customization economy.

Between now and 2023, the global blockchain in supply chain market is estimated to reach a total valuation of $424 million and an over 48% growth rate. This substantial market growth will occur as a significant fraction of companies seeks to benefit from blockchain technology within their supply chain and its sustainability.

The authors determined that a deeper understanding of how these blockchain solutions are to be operated and by whom must be sought. They developed several propositions suggesting important links between organizational, technological, and external concepts for blockchain adoption. They also attempted to systematically investigate and prioritize the barriers to blockchain technology adoption in sustainable supply chains from the lens of 2 groups of stakeholders: organizations and supply chains.

Image retrieved from ftc.gov

Sharing Platforms & Green Goals

A series of different research studies analyzed the degree to which sharing platforms currently work toward green goals in today’s digital economy.

  • One paper sets out feasible paths for quantifying the GHG emissions impact of ride-hailing, a service that warrants consideration as a transportation mode and emissions source distinct from automobiles generally.
  • Another paper found that electrifying ridehailing vehicles would deliver 3X to 4X faster payback, environmental benefits, and greater life cycle cost savings compared to private vehicles.
  • Although there is a small yet expanding body of research focused on frameworks for building equitable platform cooperatives, there has been little to no work thus far examining how existing platform cooperatives actually operate and govern themselves, in reality.  A third paper described how truly peer-to-peer ridesourcing services are feasible and may have stronger incentives to reduce emissions from deadheading — completing a trip without passengers.
  • Researchers who had focused on the impacts and benefits of ride-hailing platforms discussed their results during an online webinar on Ride-Hailing & the Future of Sustainable Transportation.
  • Another paper reviewed the success of a peer-to-peer food-sharing app and suggests that the sharing economy may offer powerful means for improving resource efficiency and reducing food waste. The research team concluded that gaining a better understanding of supply, demand, user behavior, and network dynamics of food sharing platforms is an important step toward answering many open questions regarding the environmental impacts of sharing activities, their potential welfare effects, and the drivers behind their adoption — or lack thereof.

Final Thoughts about the Greening of the Digital Economy

The Environmental Law Institute, in partnership with the Center for Law, Energy & the Environment at UC Berkeley, and the Yale School of the Environment, formed this Project on the Energy and Environmental Implications of the Digital Economy. Supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, this research is at the core of ELI’s Innovation Lab, a venture focused on supporting high impact research that can drive improved environmental governance and performance.

Sloan Foundation program director Evan Michelson said,

“Digital technologies like blockchain and artificial intelligence have enormous potential to help decarbonize the energy system and address climate change, but only if we deploy them correctly. The key question is: How do we best develop 21st century technologies in ways that help move us toward a low-carbon future? There remain many unanswered questions that need more attention from scholars and funders, but these studies are an important step in improving our understanding of these issues.”

The Innovation Lab explores breakthroughs in science, technology, and policy that promises to reshape the future of sustainability; investigates feasible governance mechanisms; and works to build interdisciplinary communities of practice. In addition to exploring the relationship between the digital economy and the environment, the Innovation Lab is advancing an understanding of a future governance role of these technologies, with a particular focus on the role of algorithmic decision making. 

Source: https://cleantechnica.com/2020/09/21/is-the-digital-economy-green-ai-blockchain-sharing-platforms/

24 Sep 2020
Identifying Archetypes To Boost Digital Economies In The Middle East

Identifying Archetypes To Boost Digital Economies In The Middle East

Across the Middle East, restrictions put in place to ease the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic have begun to ease up. Students in many countries are returning to schools, business activity is on the rise in several sectors, and several markets have officially reopened for tourism. As we gradually transition to whatever this new normal will be, one major change in our society is the pervasive acceleration of information and communications technology (ICT), especially the use of technologies such as 5G, cloud computing, and artificial intelligence.

The pandemic has brought to light just how reliant our societies are on digital infrastructure, as well as the importance of technology innovation in helping humanity progress and overcome such events. If nothing else, 2020 has presented important learnings for governments throughout the Middle East in upgrading their national digital infrastructures. There is now considerable evidence available that investment in digital infrastructure can deliver strong fiscal multipliers and provide long-term returns on investment. Accelerating the transition to a digital economy will further boost industrial productivity, improve societal well-being, and benefit consumers via cost and time savings.

The worldwide digital ecosystem is estimated to be growing three times faster than global GDP. The digital economy, per the broadest of definitions, is estimated to be US$11.5 trillion, or 15.5% of world GDP. A recent study conducted by Oxford Economics and Huawei estimates that in a high-digitalization scenario, the global digital economy could grow to account for 24.3% of global GDP by 2025, which equates to $23 trillion. In terms of specific technologies, 5G is expected to influence two billion new users to come online worldwide and result in $2-4 trillion cumulative real GDP boost by 2030. At 70% adoption rate, AI is also estimated to contribute $13 trillion to $15 trillion (cumulatively from 2020) to global GDP by 2030.

While some countries in the Middle East are increasing investment in digital infrastructure, many are not able to fully benefit from such investments, which is affecting their wealth creation and prosperity opportunities. Governments must prioritize the implementation of pragmatic policies that maximize the benefits of new technology while ensuring that the inevitable short-term disruptions are mitigated.

With that in mind, governments will need to reconsider their approach to the ICT sector, particularly its governance. Developing the very best regulatory environment will help to ensure the sector grows and thrives in a way that benefits everyone– from ICT players to corporates to users. While most countries strive to achieve robust digital economies that can supplement GDP, there is no standard model to follow when it comes to building ICT capacity. A successful digital economy requires a wide range of infrastructure and capabilities.

That said, countries often have scarce resources and finite funds. Choosing and prioritizing focus areas is therefore key. A good starting point for this is to identify a country’s ideal archetype, which will then help tailor the recommendations for digital policies to ensure they are best aligned with its needs.

An archetype approach allows a country to link ICT strategy to national development strategies, which leads to an “interaction effect”– interaction between ICT investment, infrastructure, skill levels, and policy environment. Reaching a minimum threshold allows the country to benefit sufficiently from returns to scale and investment in digital infrastructure.

To that end, seven digital economy archetypes have recently been identified in a report by Arthur D. Little and commissioned by Huawei. These include:

The model of being an “Innovation Hub,” conceptualizing and commercializing new technologies and solutions
An “Efficient Prosumer,” wherein there are niche players deploying solutions for a strong local industry
The “Service Powerhouse,” whereby a nation focuses on the development of software, content and service delivery, leveraging a surplus of skilled resources;
A “Global Factory” of ICT manufacturing with labor surplus and low costs;
A “Business Hub” that serves as a trading business center for the region, attracting talent and companies from different locations;
An “ICT Patron” which is high in ICT usage/consumption but with limited contribution to ICT value creation;
An “ICT Novice,” which as its name implies, is a beginner in ICT adoption and value creation.
The archetype approach to investing in ICT infrastructure can support the Middle East’s policymakers in their decisions. Identifying a country’s strengths, core capabilities, and unique differentiators will enable a focus on those assets that can contribute most significantly towards socio-economic growth. Investment in the right areas can also help to propel the transition from one archetype to another, in which ICT supports greater value creation.

Ultimately, countries throughout the Middle East will realize greater benefits of ICT investments if they develop their strategies in alignment with their most suitable archetypes. This framework can thus empower nations to leverage their inherent strengths while weighing in on their economic and technological realities, providing a solid foundation for building a greater, more digitally-empowered society.

Source: https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/355651

23 Sep 2020
A rapid rise in battery innovation is playing a key role in clean energy transitions

A rapid rise in battery innovation is playing a key role in clean energy transitions

Affordable and flexible electricity storage technologies are set to catalyse transitions to clean energy around the world, enabling cleaner electricity to penetrate a burgeoning range of applications. Between 2005 and 2018, patenting activity in batteries and other electricity storage technologies grew at an average annual rate of 14% worldwide, four times faster than the average of all technology fields, according to a new joint study published today by the European Patent Office (EPO) and the International Energy Agency.

The report, Innovation in batteries and electricity storage – a global analysis based on patent data, shows that batteries account for nearly 90% of all patenting activity in the area of electricity storage, and that the rise in innovation is chiefly driven by advances in rechargeable lithium-ion batteries used in consumer electronic devices and electric cars. Electric mobility in particular is fostering the development of new lithium-ion chemistries aimed at improving power output, durability, charge/discharge speed and recyclability. Technological progress is also being fuelled by the need to integrate larger quantities of renewable energy such as wind and solar power into electricity networks.

The joint study shows that Japan and Korea have established a strong lead in battery technology globally, and that technical progress and mass production in an increasingly mature industry have led to a significant drop in battery prices in recent years. Prices have declined by nearly 90% since 2010 in the case of lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles, and by around two-thirds over the same period for stationary applications, including electricity grid management.

Developing better and cheaper electricity storage is a major challenge for the future. According to the IEA’s Sustainable Development Scenario, for the world to meet climate and sustainable energy goals, close to 10 000 gigawatt-hours of batteries and other forms of energy storage will be required worldwide by 2040 – 50 times the size of the current market.

“IEA projections make it clear that energy storage will need to grow exponentially in the coming decades to enable the world to meet international climate and sustainable energy goals. Accelerated innovation will be essential for achieving that growth,” said IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol. “By combining the complementary strengths of the IEA and the EPO, this report sheds new light on today’s innovation trends to help governments and businesses make smart decisions for our energy future.”

“Electricity storage technology is critical when it comes to meeting the demand for electric mobility and achieving the shift towards renewable energy that is needed if we are to mitigate climate change,” said EPO President António Campinos. “The rapid and sustained rise in electricity storage innovation shows that inventors and businesses are tackling the challenge of the energy transition. The patent data reveals that while Asia has a strong lead in this strategic industry, the US and Europe can count on a rich innovation ecosystem, including a large number of SMEs and research institutions, to help them stay in the race for the next generation of batteries.”

The joint study follows the publication earlier in September of the major IEA report Energy Technology Perspectives 2020, which has deepened the IEA’s technology analysis, setting out the challenges and opportunities associated with rapid clean energy transitions.

As governments and companies seek to make informed investments in clean energy innovation for the future, sector-specific insights like those offered by the joint study will be highly valuable, including for helping bring about a sustainable economic recovery from the Covid-19 crisis. The innovation study provides an authoritative overview of the technologies and applications receiving research attention – and of those that are underserved. It also shows where they stand in the competitive landscape.

Innovation is increasingly recognised as a core part of energy policy, and this year the IEA has been introducing more tools to help decision-makers understand the technology landscape and their role in it – and to track progress in innovation and the deployment of technologies. This includes a comprehensive new interactive guide to the market readiness of more than 400 clean energy technologies.

Source: https://moderndiplomacy.eu/2020/09/23/a-rapid-rise-in-battery-innovation-is-playing-a-key-role-in-clean-energy-transitions/

21 Sep 2020
Math Shows How Brain Stays Stable Amid Internal Noise and a Widely Varying World

Math Shows How Brain Stays Stable Amid Internal Noise and a Widely Varying World

Whether you are playing Go in a park amid chirping birds, a gentle breeze and kids playing catch nearby or you are playing in a den with a ticking clock on a bookcase and a purring cat on the sofa, if the game situation is identical and clear, your next move likely would be, too, regardless of those different conditions. You’ll still play the same next move despite a wide range of internal feelings or even if a few neurons here and there are just being a little erratic. How does the brain overcome unpredictable and varying disturbances to produce reliable and stable computations? A new study by MIT neuroscientists provides a mathematical model showing how such stability inherently arises from several known biological mechanisms..

More fundamental than the willful exertion of cognitive control over attention, the model the team developed describes an inclination toward robust stability that is built in to neural circuits by virtue of the connections, or “synapses” that neurons make with each other. The equations they derived and published in PLOS Computational Biology show that networks of neurons involved in the same computation will repeatedly converge toward the same patterns of electrical activity, or “firing rates,” even if they are sometimes arbitrarily perturbed by the natural noisiness of individual neurons or arbitrary sensory stimuli the world can produce.

“How does the brain make sense of this highly dynamic, non-linear nature of neural activity?” said co-senior author Earl Miller, Picower Professor of Neuroscience in The Picower Institute for Learning and Memory and the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences (BCS) at MIT. “The brain is noisy, there are different starting conditions – how does the brain achieve a stable representation of information in the face of all these factors that can knock it around?”

To find out, Miller’s lab, which studies how neural networks represent information, joined forces with BCS colleague and mechanical engineering Professor Jean-Jacques Slotine, who leads the Nonlinear Systems Laboratory at MIT. Slotine brought the mathematical method of “contraction analysis,” a concept developed in control theory, to the problem along with tools his lab developed to apply the method. Contracting networks exhibit the property of trajectories that start from disparate points ultimately converging into one trajectory, like tributaries in a watershed. They do so even when the inputs vary with time. They are robust to noise and disturbance, and they allow for many other contracting networks to be combined together without a loss of overall stability – much like brain typically integrates information from many specialized regions.

“In a system like the brain where you have [hundreds of billions] of connections the questions of what will preserve stability and what kinds of constraints that imposes on the system’s architecture become very important,” Slotine said.

Math reflects natural mechanisms

Leo Kozachkov, a graduate student in both Miller’s and Slotine’s labs, led the study by applying contraction analysis to the problem of the stability of computations in the brain. What he found is that the variables and terms in the resulting equations that enforce stability directly mirror properties and processes of synapses: inhibitory circuit connections can get stronger, excitatory circuit connections can get weaker, both kinds of connections are typically tightly balanced relative to each other, and neurons make far fewer connections than they could (each neuron, on average, could make roughly 10 million more connections than it does).

“These are all things that neuroscientists have found, but they haven’t linked them to this stability property,” Kozachkov said. “In a sense, we’re synthesizing some disparate findings in the field to explain this common phenomenon.”

The new study, which also involved Miller lab postdoc Mikael Lundqvist, was hardly the first to grapple with stability in the brain, but the authors argue it has produced a more advanced model by accounting for the dynamics of synapses and by allowing for wide variations in starting conditions. It also offers mathematical proofs of stability, Kozachkov added.

Though focused on the factors that ensure stability, the authors noted, their model does not go so far as to doom the brain to inflexibility or determinism. The brain’s ability to change – to learn and remember – is just as fundamental to its function as its ability to consistently reason and formulate stable behaviors.

“We’re not asking how the brain changes,” Miller said. “We’re asking how the brain keeps from changing too much.”

Still, the team plans to keep iterating on the model, for instance by encompassing a richer accounting for how neurons produce individual spikes of electrical activity, not just rates of that activity.

They are also working to compare the model’s predictions with data from experiments in which animals repeatedly performed tasks in which they needed to perform the same neural computations, despite experiencing inevitable internal neural noise and at least small sensory input differences.

Finally, the team is considering how the models may inform understanding of different disease states of the brain. Aberrations in the delicate balance of excitatory and inhibitory neural activity in the brain is considered crucial in epilepsy, Kozachkov notes. A symptom of Parkinson’s disease, as well, entails a neurally-rooted loss of motor stability. Miller adds that some patients with autism spectrum disorders struggle to stably repeat actions (e.g. brushing teeth) when external conditions vary (e.g. brushing in a different room).

Source: https://neurosciencenews.com/math-internal-noise-16796/?fbclid=IwAR0UIjZwPJ7XAlHpobyzJwNF267StISiPyVcXBHTfIb6UywrAyJ4dWZItjw

20 Sep 2020
Blockchain-secured land entices real estate investors

Blockchain-secured land entices real estate investors

In the “real” world, real estate has historically been seen as a viable investment. Individuals and corporations usually purchase land and property either for development or to sell at a higher price in the future.

With the world becoming increasingly digitized, it appears that the trend of ascribing significant value to land and property has been spreading to the virtual scene. At the intersection of emerging tech like virtual reality and blockchain, developers, investors and hobbyists alike are creating a vibrant virtual real estate market.

While VR provides the tools to visualize these digital spaces, blockchain technology is acting as a base layer for the monetization of virtual real estate. With the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic causing a pivotal move toward more digital forms of human communication, interactive virtual worlds may provide a safe space for the preservation of numerous social constructs.

Second Life and Linden Dollars

Virtual real estate is by no means a recent phenomenon. ity simulators like SimCity have been around for decades. In 2003, a 3D virtual environment called Second Life arguably kickstarted the monetization of virtual real estate as users rushed to acquire digital land using the platform’s native currency, Linden Dollars. Second Life’s run was before the advent of Bitcoin (BTC); nevertheless, the project saw users buy, sell and lease properties, as well as run businesses on virtual land.

The platform soon declined, as other immersive and interactive virtual real estate projects emerged. However, at the height of its popularity, Anshe Chung, a “Second Lifer,” became a millionaire from selling digital real estate.

Virtual land as a commodity

With the coming of blockchain technology, VR platforms like Somnium Space and Decentraland enable users to acquire and monetize plots of virtual land. Recently, Whale — a nonfungible token vault — became the second-largest holder of virtual land in The Sandbox game.

Binance Launchpad hosted The Sandbox initial exchange offering back in August with the token sale event raising about $3 million. Binance is also an investor in the project, having bought over 4,000 Land tokens earlier in September.

Commenting on the growing popularity of virtual real estate, Joseph Madding, a marketing and PR consultant at The Sandbox, remarked that investors are becoming more open to the idea of digital land as a viable investment, telling Cointelegraph:

Virtual Real Estate is definitely becoming more popular. Over the last 10 weeks, we’ve seen over 1,000% more users interacting with our Telegram chat, Discord, Twitter and other social media platforms and have expanded our community management to match the increasing demand. In terms of virtual land as a commodity, we’ve seen our LAND that originally sold at roughly $370 resell for over $2,000 for what we would sell as a small estate. That’s astonishing and shows huge community interest for our NFTs.”

Indeed, the rush for virtual land assets is only the latest in the established trend of digital real estate selling out quickly. In March, VR world Somnium Space sold 110 Ether worth of virtual land in the first week of a planned, 10-week offering at the time.

Upon opening its platform in February, Decentraland saw users purchasing millions of dollars’ worth of digital acreage. In 2019, a portion of the “Genesis Plaza” estate in the Decentraland metaverse called Estate 331 sold for about $80,000, becoming the second-most expensive NFT of 2019.

Expanding digital property landscape

While it is common to see projects pursuing the tokenization of real-world commodities, the emerging virtual real estate space is creating a self-contained digital economy. With blockchain technology as a base-layer, these platforms can monetize digital land, enabling users to trade assets within the metaverse.

Apart from early adopters acquiring virtual land in the hopes of seeing assets appreciate over time, some individuals and organizations have been developing these assets. The process works similarly to real-world real estate development with the establishment of commercial and residential complexes, industrial zones and parks, among others.

Part of the allure driving the desire to own virtual land appears to be based on optimistic projects about the viability of VR technology. According to a study published in August, the combined VR and augmented reality market is estimated to be worth $20.9 billion by 2025, with companies in China and India expected to drive this significant growth in the next five years. Head-mounted displays are becoming increasingly popular among game developers and enthusiasts alike. With advances in 3D technology, manufacturers are becoming better at creating HMDs that deliver a more immersive and interactive VR experience.

Meanwhile, for blockchain projects, in general, scarcity plays a major role in driving value for their native tokens. As is the case with the real world, for real estate holdings to remain valuable, virtual land on these metaverses needs to be finite.

The monetization of virtual real estate also offers another tangible use case for NFTs. Digital land developers are creating malls, boutiques, shops and other retail outlets where they sell electronic merchandise like fashion items, rare cards, concert tickets, etc. For game developers, the marriage of VR and blockchain technology is creating the opportunity to enjoy “all-digital” gaming. Commenting on the benefits of fully digital environments, Madding argued:

“As a game developer, virtual real estate provides a nearly no-risk platform for publishing your games. With NFT technology, you’re not publishing on just an App Store anymore and you’ll have true ownership over the space in which you design and publish your game. As a consumer, owning LAND feels like buying any physical video game, and if you find yourself wanting to do something new, you can either design something completely new with our free tools, or you can resell the digital real estate just like you’d sell any physical copy of a game.”

Life after COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic brought about sweeping changes to human interaction, and the utilization of virtual forms of communication has taken center stage. As shutdowns continue across the world, organizations have been utilizing electronic video conference solutions for meetings. Tech giants in the United States have even issued work from home orders with reports of the practice expected to continue regardless of whether scientists come up with a vaccine for the coronavirus.

Conferences and meetups are a ubiquitous occurrence in the crypto and blockchain space. However, due to COVID-19 restrictions, it was not possible for people to physically attend many such events in 2020.

To navigate this hurdle, organizers and attendees flocked to the virtual realm, sporting creative avatars to discuss important issues in the industry. These events pushed the boundaries of electronic interaction from utilizing third-party messaging services to people interacting in a fully digital space.

According to Madding, the established social construct is becoming more open to digitization: “As the years go by, large social events like we see in Epic Games’ Fortnite may certainly be more and more common, and we hope to lead the way and see these amazing social spaces sprout up in our Metaverse.” For Artur Sychov, the founder and CEO of Somnium Space, the appeal of virtual real estate has been growing, telling Cointelegraph:

“We do see an increased interest in Somnium Land Parcels (PARCEL) because more and more people realize real use cases they can deploy and use those parcels for. Examples are talk shows, art galleries, cinemas, fitness clubs, crypto exchanges and more are already deployed inside our virtual reality world.”

As developers create more immersive and interactive virtual environments by solving issues such as display latency, it may become possible to have almost every social activity taking place in the digital space. Such solutions might even tie-in with the growing NFT marketplace for items like concert and theater tickets.

Source: https://cointelegraph.com/news/breaking-virtual-ground-blockchain-secured-land-entices-real-estate-investors