Emerging approaches for data-driven innovation in Europe


Report by Granell, C. et al: “Europe’s digital transformation of the economy and society is framed by the European strategy for data through the establishment of a common European data space based on domain-specific data spaces in strategic sectors such as environment, agriculture, industry, health and transportation. Acknowledging the key role that emerging technologies and innovative approaches for data sharing and use can play to make European data spaces a reality, this document presents a set of experiments that explore emerging technologies and tools for data-driven innovation, and also deepen in the socio-technical factors and forces that occur in data-driven innovation. Experimental results shed some light in terms of lessons learned and practical recommendations towards the establishment of European data spaces…(More)”.

The UN is testing technology that processes data confidentially


The Economist: “Reasons of confidentiality mean that many medical, financial, educational and other personal records, from the analysis of which much public good could be derived, are in practice unavailable. A lot of commercial data are similarly sequestered. For example, firms have more granular and timely information on the economy than governments can obtain from surveys. But such intelligence would be useful to rivals. If companies could be certain it would remain secret, they might be more willing to make it available to officialdom.

A range of novel data-processing techniques might make such sharing possible. These so-called privacy-enhancing technologies (PETs) are still in the early stages of development. But they are about to get a boost from a project launched by the United Nations’ statistics division. The UN PETs Lab, which opened for business officially on January 25th, enables national statistics offices, academic researchers and companies to collaborate to carry out projects which will test various PETs, permitting technical and administrative hiccups to be identified and overcome.

The first such effort, which actually began last summer, before the PETs Lab’s formal inauguration, analysed import and export data from national statistical offices in America, Britain, Canada, Italy and the Netherlands, to look for anomalies. Those could be a result of fraud, of faulty record keeping or of innocuous re-exporting.

For the pilot scheme, the researchers used categories already in the public domain—in this case international trade in things such as wood pulp and clocks. They thus hoped to show that the system would work, before applying it to information where confidentiality matters.

They put several kinds of PETs through their paces. In one trial, OpenMined, a charity based in Oxford, tested a technique called secure multiparty computation (SMPC). This approach involves the data to be analysed being encrypted by their keeper and staying on the premises. The organisation running the analysis (in this case OpenMined) sends its algorithm to the keeper, who runs it on the encrypted data. That is mathematically complex, but possible. The findings are then sent back to the original inquirer…(More)”.

Commission puts forward declaration on digital rights and principles for everyone in the EU


Press Release: “Today, the Commission is proposing to the European Parliament and Council to sign up to a declaration of rights and principles that will guide the digital transformation in the EU.

graphic showing pyramid with three layers on top democracy then rules and at the base cutting-edge technology
European Commission

The draft declaration on digital rights and principles aims to give everyone a clear reference point about the kind of digital transformation Europe promotes and defends. It will also provide a guide for policy makers and companies when dealing with new technologies. The rights and freedoms enshrined in the EU’s legal framework, and the European values expressed by the principles, should be respected online as they are offline. Once jointly endorsed, the Declaration will also define the approach to the digital transformation which the EU will promote throughout the world…(More)”.

The West already monopolized scientific publishing. Covid made it worse.


Samanth Subramanian at Quartz: “For nearly a decade, Jorge Contreras has been railing against the broken system of scientific publishing. Academic journals are dominated by the Western scientists, who not only fill their pages but also work for institutions that can afford the hefty subscription fees to these journals. “These issues have been brewing for decades,” said Contreras, a professor at the University of Utah’s College of Law who specializes in intellectual property in the sciences. “The covid crisis has certainly exacerbated things, though.”

The coronavirus pandemic triggered a torrent of academic papers. By August 2021, at least 210,000 new papers on covid-19 had been published, according to a Royal Society study. Of the 720,000-odd authors of these papers, nearly 270,000 were from the US, the UK, Italy or Spain.

These papers carry research forward, of course—but they also advance their authors’ careers, and earn them grants and patents. But many of these papers are often based on data gathered in the global south, by scientists who perhaps don’t have the resources to expand on their research and publish. Such scientists aren’t always credited in the papers their data give rise to; to make things worse, the papers appear in journals that are out of the financial reach of these scientists and their institutes.

These imbalances have, as Contreras said, been a part of the publishing landscape for years. (And it doesn’t occur just in the sciences; economists from the US or the UK, for instance, tend to study countries where English is the most common language.) But the pace and pressures of covid-19 have rendered these iniquities especially stark.

Scientists have paid to publish their covid-19 research—sometimes as much as $5,200 per article. Subscriber-only journals maintain their high fees, running into thousands of dollars a year; in 2020, the Dutch publishing house Elsevier, which puts out journals such as Cell and Gene, reported a profit of nearly $1 billion, at a margin higher than that of Apple or Amazon. And Western scientists are pressing to keep data out of GISAID, a genome database that compels users to acknowledge or collaborate with anyone who deposits the data…(More)”

UN chief calls for action to put out ‘5-alarm global fire’


UNAffairs: “At a time when “the only certainty is more uncertainty”, countries must unite to forge a new, more hopeful and equal path, UN Secretary-General António Guterres told the General Assembly on Friday, laying out his priorities for 2022. 

“We face a five-alarm global fire that requires the full mobilization of all countries,” he said, referring to the raging COVID-19 pandemic, a morally bankrupt global financial system, the climate crisis, lawlessness in cyberspace, and diminished peace and security. 

He stressed that countries “must go into emergency mode”, and now is the time to act as the response will determine global outcomes for decades ahead…. 

Alarm four: Technology and cyberspace 

While technology offers extraordinary possibilities for humanity, Mr. Guterres warned that “growing digital chaos is benefiting the most destructive forces and denying opportunities to ordinary people.” 

He spoke of the need to both expand internet access to the nearly three billion people still offline, and to address risks such as data misuse, misinformation and cyber-crime. 

“Our personal information is being exploited to control or manipulate us, change our behaviours, violate our human rights, and undermine democratic institutions. Our choices are taken away from us without us even knowing it”, he said. 

The UN chief called for strong regulatory frameworks to change the business models of social media companies which “profit from algorithms that prioritize addiction, outrage and anxiety at the cost of public safety”. 

He has proposed the establishment of a Global Digital Compact, bringing together governments, the private sector and civil society, to agree on key principles underpinning global digital cooperation. 

Another proposal is for a Global Code of Conduct to end the infodemic and the war on science, and promote integrity in public information, including online.  

Countries are also encouraged to step up work on banning lethal autonomous weapons, or “killer robots” as headline writers may prefer, and to begin considering new governance frameworks for biotechnology and neurotechnology…(More)”.

Building machines that work for everyone – how diversity of test subjects is a technology blind spot, and what to do about it


Article by Tahira Reid and James Gibert: “People interact with machines in countless ways every day. In some cases, they actively control a device, like driving a car or using an app on a smartphone. Sometimes people passively interact with a device, like being imaged by an MRI machine. And sometimes they interact with machines without consent or even knowing about the interaction, like being scanned by a law enforcement facial recognition system.

Human-Machine Interaction (HMI) is an umbrella term that describes the ways people interact with machines. HMI is a key aspect of researching, designing and building new technologies, and also studying how people use and are affected by technologies.

Researchers, especially those traditionally trained in engineering, are increasingly taking a human-centered approach when developing systems and devices. This means striving to make technology that works as expected for the people who will use it by taking into account what’s known about the people and by testing the technology with them. But even as engineering researchers increasingly prioritize these considerations, some in the field have a blind spot: diversity.

As an interdisciplinary researcher who thinks holistically about engineering and design and an expert in dynamics and smart materials with interests in policy, we have examined the lack of inclusion in technology design, the negative consequences and possible solutions….

It is possible to use a homogenous sample of people in publishing a research paper that adds to a field’s body of knowledge. And some researchers who conduct studies this way acknowledge the limitations of homogenous study populations. However, when it comes to developing systems that rely on algorithms, such oversights can cause real-world problems. Algorithms are as only as good as the data that is used to build them.

Algorithms are often based on mathematical models that capture patterns and then inform a computer about those patterns to perform a given task. Imagine an algorithm designed to detect when colors appear on a clear surface. If the set of images used to train that algorithm consists of mostly shades of red, the algorithm might not detect when a shade of blue or yellow is present…(More)”.

Data Sharing in Transport


Technical Note by the European Investment Board: “Traveller and transport related data are essential for planning efficient urban mobility and delivering an effective public transport services while adequately managing infrastructure investment costs. It also supports local authorities in their efforts towards decarbonisation of transport as well as improving air quality.

Nowadays, most of the data are generated by location-based mobile phone applications and connected vehicles or other mobility equipment like scooters and bikes. This opens up new opportunities in public sector engagement with private sector and partnerships.

This report, through an extensive literature review and interviews, identifies seven Data Partnership Models that could be used by public and private sector entities in the field of transport. It also provides a concise roadmap for local authorities as a guidance in their efforts when engaging with private sector in transport data sharing…(More)”.

Breakthrough: The Promise of Frontier Technologies for Sustainable Development


Book edited by Homi Kharas, John McArthur, and Izumi Ohno: “Looking into the future is always difficult and often problematic—but sometimes it’s useful to imagine what innovations might resolve today’s problems and make tomorrow better. In this book, 15 distinguished international experts examine how technology will affect the human condition and natural world within the next ten years. Their stories reflect major ambitions for what the future could bring and offer a glimpse into the possibilities for achieving the UN’s ambitious Sustainable Development Goals.

The authors were asked to envision future success in their respective fields, given the current state of technology and potential progress over the next decade. The central question driving their research: What are likely technological advances that could contribute  to the Sustainable Development Goals at major scale, affecting the lives of hundreds of millions of people or substantial geographies around the globe.

One overall takeaway is that gradualist approaches will not achieve those goals by 2030. Breakthroughs will be necessary in science, in the development of new products and services, and in institutional systems. Each of the experts responded with stories that reflect big ambitions for what the future may bring. Their stories are not projections or forecasts as to what will happen; they are reasoned and reasonable conjectures about what could happen. The editors’ intent is to provide a glimpse into the possibilities for the future of sustainable development.

At a time when many people worry about stalled progress on the economic, social, and environmental challenges of sustainable development, Breakthrough is a reminder that the promise of a better future is within our grasp, across a range of domains. It will interest anyone who wonders about the world’s economic, social, and environmental future…(More)”

Enlightenment’s dimming light


Anthony Painter at the RSA: “…The project of the Enlightenment is dimming and more of the same values and the political economy and society they surface cannot enable us to resolve the global problems we face. One America is already too much and with China heading that way in consumption and environmental degradation terms the global impacts will be devastating. Something must evolve and fast if we are not to crash into these limits that have become apparent. COP26 was a step; many, many more are required. First there was the unravelling, but unless we face it then there will be reckoning – for many, though innocent, there already is.

There is a volume of documentary evidence behind the nature of these multiple crises. Whilst we should constantly remind ourselves of the depth of the challenge, and it is at scale, there are two urgent questions that are needed if we are to find a way through. In the words of Arundhati Roy, who do we want to be at the other side – through the portal? How do we travel with that sense of purpose and deep values as we confront the future? Survival requires us as societies to rapidly learn together and evolve.

To make the transition relies on developing three inter-connected and mutually reinforcing values: home, community and democracy. Through these we will develop a sense of the ‘lifeworld’ we wish to safeguard. The German philosopher, Jurgen Habermas, sees the lifeworld as a space of human interaction and civic community and see its interface with big systems of money and power – human creations but distinct forces from the ‘lifeworld’ – as the critical site of human progress and well-being. Creativity happens at the frontier between the lifeworld and big systems.

What is meant by ‘home’? Some elements of home are in proximity. They are our close relations, those we care for directly and receive care from, as deep commitment rather than reciprocated self-interest. Home is a state of what Michael Tomasello has termed, collective intentionality. Any account of the future will need to have a convincing account of close relations. Increasingly these relationships are mediated by technology and we need to develop a more conscious account of how technology can and should act as a bond rather than a thinner of human relations.

There are seemingly more distant aspects of ‘home’ too – most particularly the natural environmental into which we are woven. And there we have been committing acts of domestic harm: polluting the atmosphere, depleting the stock of species, and poisoning the water and the ground with toxic waste. This two century long destructive streak is now visible and realised. There is a common understanding that change must come: but how and how rapidly? How can we develop an even greater collective sense of the need for rapid and radical change? And how can we begin to evolve systems of money, power and technology to respond to this new ‘common sense’? How can our future be one that regenerates nature as well as ourselves?…(More)”

Artificial intelligence searches for the human touch


Madhumita Murgia at the Financial Times: “For many outside the tech world, “data” means soulless numbers. Perhaps it causes their eyes to glaze over with boredom. Whereas for computer scientists, data means rows upon rows of rich raw matter, there to be manipulated.

Yet the siren call of “big data” has been more muted recently. There is a dawning recognition that, in tech such as artificial intelligence, “data” equals human beings.

AI-driven algorithms are increasingly impinging upon our everyday lives. They assist in making decisions across a spectrum that ranges from advertising products to diagnosing medical conditions. It’s already clear that the impact of such systems cannot be understood simply by examining the underlying code or even the data used to build them. We must look to people for answers as well.

Two recent studies do exactly that. The first is an Ipsos Mori survey of more than 19,000 people across 28 countries on public attitudes to AI, the second a University of Tokyo study investigating Japanese people’s views on the morals and ethics of AI usage. By inviting those with lived experiences to participate, both capture the mood among those researching the impact of artificial intelligence.

The Ipsos Mori survey found that 60 per cent of adults expect that products and services using AI will profoundly change their daily lives in the next three to five years. Latin Americans in particular think AI will trigger changes in social needs such as education and employment, while Chinese respondents were most likely to believe it would change transportation and their homes.

The geographic and demographic differences in both surveys are revealing. Globally, about half said AI technology has more benefits than drawbacks, while two-thirds felt gloomy about its impact on their individual freedom and legal rights. But figures for different countries show a significant split within this. Citizens from the “global south”, a catch-all term for non-western countries, were much more likely to “have a positive outlook on the impact of AI-powered products and services in their lives”. Large majorities in China (76 per cent) and India (68 per cent) said they trusted AI companies. In contrast, only 35 per cent in the UK, France and US expressed similar trust.

In the University of Tokyo study, researchers discovered that women, older people and those with more subject knowledge were most wary of the risks of AI, perhaps an indicator of their own experiences with these systems. The Japanese mathematician Noriko Arai has, for instance, written about sexist and gender stereotypes encoded into “female” carer and receptionist robots in Japan.

The surveys underline the importance of AI designers recognising that we don’t all belong to one homogenous population, with the same understanding of the world. But they’re less insightful about why differences exist….(More)”.