Internet Futures: Spotlight on the technologies which may shape the Internet of the future

Report by Ofcom (UK): “Our lives have been profoundly impacted by the Internet and the web – these two inventions have made the world a more connected but complex place. Billions of people are now online, creating an extremely busy ‘global village’ where many services in communication, commerce, education, entertainment and beyond exist. Because of the rapid advancements of the Internet and the expansions in these services, innovations in communications have rolled out on a global scale. In fact, some of the biggest companies in the world today were founded on the Internet solely, so they have played an important role in advocating for improvements. Coupled with a wide range of other factors, such as the diverse pool of different users hence different needs, it is likely that the technology that drives the Internet and the web will continue to develop.

As the UK’s communications regulator, it is important that Ofcom is aware of new types of Internet technology that may affect the future. We will monitor and consider the effects that these developments may have on the communications services we use every day. This helps to ensure that we meet our duties competently and we continue to help people and businesses to get the most out of their services, as well as to protect them from any potential risks.

This report shines a light on the innovative, emerging Internet technologies that could shape our Internet in the future. We have selected a sample of technologies based on the responses we received to our call for inputs, and the discussions we had with thought leaders in both academia and industry. We will however continue to identify other important Internet technologies as they emerge and in sectors beyond those considered in this report…(More)”.

The Predictive Power of Patents

Paper by Sabrina Safrin: “This article explains that domestic patenting activity may foreshadow a country’s level of regulation of path-breaking technologies. The article considers whether different governments will act with a light or a heavy regulatory hand when encountering a new disruptive technology. The article hypothesizes that part of the answer to this important regulatory, economic, and geopolitical question may lie in an unexpected place: the world’s patent offices. Countries with early and significant patent activity in an emerging technology are more likely to view themselves as having a stake in the technology and therefore will be less inclined to subject the technology to extensive health, safety and environmental regulation that would constrain it. The article introduces the term “patent footprint” to describe a country’s degree of patenting activity in a new technology, and the article posits that a country’s patent footprint may provide an early clue to its willingness or reluctance to strenuously regulate the new technology. Even more so, lack of geographic diversity in patent footprints may help predict whether an emerging technology will face extensive international regulation. Patent footprints provide a useful tool to policymakers, businesses, investors, and NGOs considering the health, safety, and environmental regulation of a disruptive technology. The predictive power of patent footprints adds to the literature on the broader function of patents in society….(More)”.

Why You Should Care About Your Right to Repair Gadgets

Brian X. Chen at The New York Times: “When your car has problems, your instinct is probably to take it to a mechanic. But when something goes wrong with your smartphone — say a shattered screen or a depleted battery — you may wonder: “Is it time to buy a new one?”

That’s because even as our consumer electronics have become as vital as our cars, the idea of tech repair still hasn’t been sown into our collective consciousness. Studies have shown that when tech products begin to fail, most people are inclined to buy new things rather than fix their old ones.

“Repair is inconvenient and difficult, so people don’t seek it,” said Nathan Proctor, a director for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, a consumer advocacy organization, who is working on legislation to make tech repair more accessible. “Because people don’t expect to repair things, they replace things when by far the most logical thing to do is to repair it.”

It doesn’t have to be this way. More of us could maintain our tech products, as we do with cars, if it were more practical to do so. If we all had more access to the parts, instructions and tools to revive products, repairs would become simpler and less expensive.

This premise is at the heart of the “right to repair” act, a proposed piece of legislation that activists and tech companies have fought over for nearly a decade. Recently, right-to-repair supporters scored two major wins. In May, the Federal Trade Commission published a report explaining how tech companies were harming competition by restricting repairs. And last Friday, President Biden issued an executive order that included a directive for the F.T.C. to place limits on how tech manufacturers could restrict repairs.

The F.T.C. is set to meet next week to discuss new policies about electronics repair. Here’s what you need to know about the fight over your right to fix gadgets…(More)”.

Disrupting the Welfare State? Digitalisation and the Retrenchment of Public Sector Capacity

Paper by Rosie Collington: “Welfare state bureaucracies the world over have adopted far-reaching digitalisation reforms in recent years. From the deployment of AI in service management, to the ‘opening up’ of administrative datasets, digitalisation initiatives have uprooted established modes of public sector organisation and administration. And, as this paper suggests, they have also fundamentally transformed the political economy of the welfare state. Through a case study of Danish reforms between 2002 and 2019, the analysis finds that public sector digitalisation has entailed the transfer of responsibility for key infrastructure to private actors. Reforms in Denmark have not only been pursued in the name of public sector improvement and efficiency. A principal objective of public sector digitalisation has rather been the growth of Denmark’s nascent digital technology industries as part of the state’s wider export-led growth strategy, adopted in response to functional pressures on the welfare state model. The attempt to deliver fiscal stability in this way has, paradoxically, produced retrenchment of critical assets and capabilities. The paper’s findings hold important implications for states embarking on public sector digitalisation reforms, as well as possibilities for future research on how states can harness technological progress in the interests of citizens – without hollowing out in the process….(More)”.

A New Tool Shows How Google Results Vary Around the World

Article by Tom Simonite: “Google’s claim to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” has earned it an aura of objectivity. Its dominance in search, and the disappearance of most competitors, make its lists of links appear still more canonical. An experimental new interface for  Google Search aims to remove that mantle of neutrality.

Search Atlas makes it easy to see how Google offers different responses to the same query on versions of its search engine offered in different parts of the world. The research project reveals how Google’s service can reflect or amplify cultural differences or government preferences—such as whether Beijing’s Tiananmen Square should be seen first as a sunny tourist attraction or the site of a lethal military crackdown on protesters.

Divergent results like that show how the idea of search engines as neutral is a myth, says Rodrigo Ochigame, a PhD student in science, technology, and society at MIT and cocreator of Search Atlas. “Any attempt to quantify relevance necessarily encodes moral and political priorities,” Ochigame says.

Ochigame built Search Atlas with Katherine Ye, a computer science PhD student at Carnegie Mellon University and a research fellow at the nonprofit Center for Arts, Design, and Social Research.

Just like Google’s homepage, the main feature of Search Atlas is a blank box. But instead of returning a single column of results, the site displays three lists of links, from different geographic versions of Google Search selected from the more than 100 the company offers. Search Atlas automatically translates a query to the default languages of each localized edition using Google Translate.

Ochigame and Ye say the design reveals “information borders” created by the way Google’s search technology ranks web pages, presenting different slices of reality to people in different locations or using different languages.

When they used their tool to do an image search on “Tiananmen Square,” the UK and Singaporean versions of Google returned images of tanks and soldiers quashing the 1989 student protests. When the same query was sent to a version of Google tuned for searches from China, which can be accessed by circumventing the country’s Great Firewall, the results showed recent, sunny images of the square, smattered with tourists.

Google’s search engine has been blocked in China since 2010, when the company said it would stop censoring topics the government deemed sensitive, such as the Tiananmen massacre. Search Atlas suggests that the China edition of the company’s search engine can reflect the Chinese government’s preferences all the same. That pattern could result in part from how the corpus of web pages from any language or region would reflect cultural priorities and pressures….(More)”

Search Atlas graph showing different search results
An experimental interface for Google Search found that it offered very different views of Beijing’s Tiananmen Square to searchers from the UK (left), Singapore (center), and China. COURTESY OF SEARCH ATLAS

How can governments boost citizen-led projects?

Justin Tan at GovInsider: “The visual treat of woks tossing fried carrot cake, the dull thuds of a chopper expertly dicing up a chicken, the fragrant lime aroma of grilled sambal stingray. The sensory playgrounds of Singapore’s hawker centres are close to many citizens’ homes and hearts, and have even recently won global recognition by UNESCO.

However, the pandemic has left many hawkers facing slow business. While restaurants and fast food chains have quickly caught on to food delivery services, many elderly hawkers were left behind in the digital race.

28 year-old Singaporean M Thirukkumaran developed an online community map called “Help Our Hawkers” that provides information on digitally-disadvantaged hawkers near users’ locations, such as opening hours and stall information. GovInsider caught up with him to learn how it was built and how governments can support fellow civic hackers…

Besides creating space for civic innovation, governments can step in to give particularly promising projects a boost with their resources and influence, Thiru says.

Most community-led projects need to rely on cloud services such as AWS, which can be expensive for a small team to bear, he explains. Government subsidies or grants may help to ease the cost for digital infrastructure.

In Thiru’s case, the map needed to be rolled out quickly to be useful. He chose to build his tool with Google Maps to speed up the process, as many users are already familiar with it.

Another way that governments can help is through getting more visibility to these community-led projects with their wide reach, Thiru suggests. Community projects commonly face a “cold start” dilemma. This arises where the community tool needs data for it to be useful, but citizens also hesitate to spend time on a tool if it is not useful in the first place.

Thiru jump started his tool by contributing a few stalls on his own. With more publicity with government campaigns, the process could be sped up considerably, he shares….(More)”.

Google launches new search tool to help combat food insecurity

Article by Andrew J. Hawkins: “Google announced a new website designed to be a “one-stop shop” for people with food insecurity. The “Find Food Support” site includes a food locator tool powered by Google Maps which people can use to search for their nearest food bank, food pantry, or school lunch program pickup site in their community.

Google is working with non-profit groups like No Kid Hungry and FoodFinder, as well as the US Department of Agriculture, to aggregate 90,000 locations with free food support across all 50 states — with more locations to come.

The new site is a product of Google’s newly formed Food for Good team, formerly known as Project Delta when it was headquartered at Alphabet’s X moonshot division. Project Delta’s mission is to “create a smarter food system,” which includes standardizing data to improve communication between food distributors to curb food waste….(More)”.

Realtime Climate

Climate Central …:”launched this tool to help meteorologists and journalists cover connections between weather, news, and climate in real time, and to alert public and private organizations and individuals about particular local conditions related to climate change, its impacts, or its solutions.

Realtime Climate monitors local weather and events across the U.S. and generates alerts when certain conditions are met or expected. These alerts provide links to science-based analyses and visualizations—including locality-specific, high-quality graphics—that can help explain events in the context of climate change….

Alerts are sent when particular conditions occur or are forecast to occur in the next few days. Examples include:

  • Unusual heat (single day and multi-day)
  • Heat Index
  • Unusual Rainfall
  • Coastal Flooding
  • Air Quality
  • Allergies
  • Seasonal shifts (spring leaf-out, etc.)
  • Ice/snow cover (Great Lakes)
  • Cicadas
  • High local or regional production of solar or wind energy

More conditions will be added soon, including:

  • Drought
  • Wildfire
  • and many more…(More)”.

The Switch: How the Telegraph, Telephone, and Radio Created the Computer

Book by Chris McDonald: “Digital technology has transformed our world almost beyond recognition over the past four decades. We spend our lives surrounded by laptops, phones, tablets, and video game consoles — not to mention the digital processors that are jam-packed into our appliances and automobiles. We use computers to work, to play, to learn, and to socialize. The Switch tells the story of the humble components that made all of this possible — the transistor and its antecedents, the relay, and the vacuum tube.

All three of these devices were originally developed without any thought for their application to computers or computing. Instead, they were created for communication, in order to amplify or control signals sent over a wire or over the air. By repurposing these amplifiers as simple switches, flipped on and off by the presence or absence of an electric signal, later scientists and engineers constructed our digital universe. Yet none of it would have been possible without the telegraph, telephone, and radio. In these pages you’ll find a story of the interplay between science and technology, and the surprising ways in which inventions created for one purpose can be adapted to another. The tale is enlivened by the colorful cast of scientists and innovators, from Luigi Galvani to William Shockley, who, whether through brilliant insight or sheer obstinate determination, contributed to the evolution of the digital switch….(More)”.

Tech for disabled people is booming around the world. So where’s the funding?

Article by Devi Lockwood: “Erick Ponce works in a government communications department in northern Ecuador. The 26-year-old happens to be deaf — a disability he has had since childhood. Communicating fluidly with his non-signing colleagues at work, and in public spaces like the supermarket, has been a lifelong challenge. 

In 2017, Ponce became one of the first users of an experimental app called SpeakLiz, developed by an Ecuadorian startup called Talov. It transforms written text to sound, transcribes spoken words, and can alert a deaf or hard-of-hearing person to sounds like that of an ambulance, motorcycles, music, or a crying baby. 

Once he began using SpeakLiz, Ponce’s coworkers — and his family — were able to understand him more easily. “You cannot imagine what it feels like to speak with your son after 20 years,” his father told the app’s engineers. Now a part of the Talov team, Ponce demos new products to make them better before they hit the market. 

The startup has launched two subscription apps on iOS and Android: SpeakLiz, in 2017, for the hearing impaired, and Vision, in 2019, for the visually impaired. Talov’s founders, Hugo Jácome and Carlos Obando, have been working on the apps for over five years. 

SpeakLiz and Vision are, by many measures, successful. Their software is used by more than 7,000 people in 81 countries and is available in 35 languages. The founders won an award from MIT Technology Review and a contest organized by the History Channel. Talov was named among the top 100 most innovative startups in Latin America in 2019. 

But the startup is still struggling. Venture capitalists aren’t knocking on its door. Jácome and Obando sold some of their possessions to raise enough money to launch, and the team has next to no funding to continue expanding.

Although the last few years have seen significant advances in technology and innovation for disabled people, critics say the market is undervalued….(More)”.