The UK Labour Party is promising to provide free broadband internet to every British household by 2030 if it wins the 2019 election. To do this, the party would nationalise the broadband infrastructure business of BT and tax internet giants like Google and Facebook. Whatever you think of this plan, it at least reflects that the internet has become not only an essential utility for conducting daily life, but also crucial for exercising our political rights.
In fact, I recently published research that shows why internet access should be considered a human right and a universal entitlement. And for that reason, it ought to be provided free to those who can’t afford it, not just in the UK, but around the world.
Internet access is today necessary for leading a minimally decent life, which doesn’t just mean survival but rather includes political rights that allow us to influence the rules that shape our lives and hold authorities accountable. That is why rights such as free speech, free association, and free information are among the central rights included in the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And, crucially, everyone needs to have roughly equal opportunities to exercise their political rights.
Before the internet, most people in democracies had roughly equal opportunities to exercise their political rights. They could vote, write to newspapers or their political representative, attend public meetings and join organisations.
But when some people gained internet access, their opportunities to exercise political rights became much greater compared to those without the internet. They could publish their views online for potentially millions of people to see, join forces with other people without having to physically attend regular meetings, and obtain a wealth of previously inaccessible political information.
Today, a large proportion of our political debates take place online, so in some ways our political rights can only be exercised via the internet. This means internet access is required for people to have roughly equal opportunities to make use of their political freedoms, and why we should recognise internet access as a human right.
As a human right, internet access should be “free” in two ways. First, it should be unmonitored, uncensored, and uninterrupted – as the UN’s General Assembly has demanded in a non-binding resolution in 2016. Second, governments should guarantee a minimally decent infrastructure that is available to all citizens no matter how much money they have. This means funding for internet access should be part of minimum welfare benefits, provided without charge to those who can’t afford to pay for it, just like legal counsel. (This is already the case in Germany.)
A political goal
In developing countries, digital infrastructure reaching everyone might be too expensive to guarantee immediately. But with the required technology becoming cheaper (more people on the planet have access to a web-capable phone than have access to clean water and a toilet), universal access could first be guaranteed via free wifi in public places. Supply can start off in a basic way and grow over time.
Should everyone in Britain have free broadband in their homes? There are many good reasons to provide the best possible internet access to everyone, such as increasing economic productivity, sharing prosperity more evenly across the country, or promoting opportunities for social engagement and civic participation. And, as such, free broadband for all may be a worthy political goal.
But what is most important is ensuring that everyone has the kind of internet access required for roughly equal opportunities to use their political freedoms. Guaranteed internet access should be considered a human right in our virtual world, whoever ultimately pays the bills.
Around the world, trillions of dollars are spent each year building skyscrapers, highways, pipelines, schools, and countless other structures, and the resources that could be saved using advanced analytics, automations, machine learning, and other technologies that are available now is staggering. As a primary investor and procurer in infrastructure projects and the shepherd of national economies, governments have a clear incentive to help accelerate adoption within the construction industry.
New technologies can advance project outcomes in the construction industry. Governments are well-poised to cultivate greater adoption.
An industry notorious for cost and time overruns, the construction sector can capture significant efficiencies by adopting new technologies. While many executives acknowledge the potential of new technology, they often hesitate to risk multi-billion-dollar projects on applications they consider unproven. To create greater value from public and private spending on large capital projects, governments can help clear the path and bring new technologies to bear.
New technologies—advanced analytics, automation, machine learning, and the Internet of Things, for example—have delivered substantial benefits to industries at the forefront of adoption, particularly telecommunications and finance. And while these disruptive forces will eventually wash over every industry, the construction industry still lags.
Digital tools are already available, with $18 billion invested in construction technology between 2013 and early 2018. McKinsey research, however, finds that leaders struggle to adopt these applications—not because of cost concerns or lack of interest, but rather because of insufficient internal processes and risk aversion.
Pressing need for improvement
Using technologies to boost construction productivity can have a profound impact on public and private spending. In the United States alone, expenditures on construction reached $1.29 trillion in 2018, after rising an average of 7.4 percent annually over the previous five years.1 1.US Census Bureau.
The public sector accounts for a significant share of this total. Stripped of residential and private-use projects, construction expenditure on public infrastructure—for instance health care, education, and transportation—reached $334 billion in 2018 (Exhibit 1). Public spending will finance almost 80 percent of these infrastructure expenditures, by our estimates.
And the rise in construction spending is unlikely to abate soon. Increased urbanization is creating demand for projects that support denser population centers, such as transportation, power, and sewage. And in the United States, deteriorating public infrastructure must be addressed urgently. McKinsey research found that the country requires an additional $500 billion in infrastructure funding between 2017 and 2035 to meet its estimated requirements.
Amid this growing need, public and private projects have struggled to keep costs and construction times within original projections, especially for complex, high-cost projects. Early adopters have already begun to test new technologies to improve project outcomes. For instance, some companies are using wearable GPS devices or smartphone apps to optimize workflows and resources. Others have begun using virtual-reality systems for supervisors and crew to “walk through” processes to prepare sequencing, identify potential problems, and conduct safety trainings more efficiently.
Governments are well positioned to catalyze change
Despite these early efforts, many companies are reluctant to experiment in untested waters. This is understandable since billions of dollars and corporate reputations are at risk with these projects, and there is no room for do-overs. These hurdles, however, present a prime opportunity for governments to take the lead and break the inertia that slows the construction industry from entering a digital era.
Public expenditures account for a significant portion of non-residential, public-use construction projects, and government agencies work closely with private companies of all sizes to deliver these complex infrastructure projects. Such projects span a wide range of infrastructure, from roads to buildings to sewer systems (Exhibit 2). The government’s purchasing power touches every corner of the construction industry, while its regulatory power allows it to set standards that are most easily met using new technologies or even to mandate their use.
Our experience and research suggest five measures available to governments that can be powerful tools in accelerating adoption.
Set bold aspirations
At the outset, governments can articulate bold aspirations for the adoption and use of technology in public sector projects. Beyond increasing awareness, such public aspirations demonstrate the priority given to developing a more efficient construction industry through broader deployment of new technologies.
One approach would be to craft a digital construction strategy that encourages the use of new tools to reduce the time and cost of public works projects. For example, clear targets could be set for the use of pre-fabricated or modular components, enabled by digital collaboration tools such as BIM, that would reduce the instances of rework and change orders.
Some countries have already taken steps on this direction. In Ireland, for example, the National BIM Council published a national strategy for the construction industry in 2017 that included clear digital targets.2 2.National BIM Council, Ireland, Roadmap to Digital Transition for Ireland’s Construction Industry 2018-2021, December 2017. As part of its vision, the council strives to reduce project delivery times by 20 percent, increase construction exports by 20 percent, and cut capital costs by 20 percent, all by 2021 compared to 2018 levels.
Create meaningful incentives
Governments can also use their purse strings and tendering processes to create meaningful incentives for construction companies. For example, public grants could be offered to help companies adopt technologies that aid in project design and execution. National competitions and prizes that reward technology adoption in construction projects can also provide first movers with additional financial support, as well as publicly recognizing the importance of using technology to accelerate and bring down the costs of construction. Similarly, governments may consider publicly supported incubators that allow low-risk testing for new applications.
Further, public contracting agencies can insist that successful bidders incorporate digital collaboration tools into publicly-owned projects. For example, the Tennessee Department of Transportation recently announced it will require prime contractors and designers to use construction productivity software on all its projects, beginning with March 2019 contract awards.
In another example, the UK Infrastructure and Projects Authority estimated that public and private investment in infrastructure projects will total about $780 billion between 2017 and 2027 and pledged “to use its purchasing power to drive adoption of modern methods of construction.”3 3.UK Infrastructure and Projects Authority, Transforming Infrastructure Performance, December 2017. Among the announced measures, five major government departments will weigh offsite construction capabilities in assessing tenders for projects.
In addition to creating meaningful incentives to spur adoption, governments can help reduce the barriers and risks that are unique to these emerging technologies. For example, procurement or acquisition regulations often place a great deal of emphasis on a contractor’s past performance in future source selections. However, contractors that wish to pilot new technologies will not have as much experience or demonstrated cases as those offering traditional solutions. If this is seen as a major disadvantage, it could hinder the use of government procurement processes to encourage the adoption of new technologies. Re-thinking these guidelines to make allowances for emerging technologies, giving them time to establish a foothold, may be crucial to accelerated adoption.
At the same time, governments can consider assuming some of the contractor risks associated with trialing new technologies. In selected projects or portions of projects, for example, governments can offer to reimburse contractors if the new technologies fail to deliver projected savings. Such guarantees may sound bold, but they can be successful if focused on targeted project components, phases, or solutions with substantial long-term savings potential.
Measures can also be taken to increase transparency around the costs and progress of public projects. This transparency is supported by digital technologies that provide real-time information on the progress of major projects. In turn, increased transparency creates pressure to complete projects on budget and on time, which becomes easier when new technologies are deployed. The United Kingdom’s infrastructure initiative includes benchmarking tools that track cost and schedule during the life of a project. The system not only follows the progress of individual projects underway, but also assesses the impact of completed projects in their overall asset class, as well as movement toward network goals, such as customer satisfaction and performance, and national goals, such as reduced carbon emissions and economic development.
Ultimately, these benchmarks can be provided on online dashboards that allow the public and other stakeholders to monitor progress, increasing the pressure on construction companies to meet deadlines and costs. For now, like in the United Kingdom, the results of these benchmarking exercises are generally available in annual reports.
As with most industries, the construction sector will struggle to find the talent needed to use new technologies effectively. Governments can play a dual role in helping to meet this challenge. First, they can invest in training programs that not only build needed capabilities but also provide new opportunities to workers displaced by these technologies.
Singapore, for instance, includes construction in its $3.3 billion Industry Transformation Programme, announced as part of the country’s 2016 budget plan.4 4.Singapore Ministry of Trade and Industry, “Industry Transformation Maps (ITMs),” Oct. 31, 2016. In this effort, the government wants to train 80,000 workers in new construction technologies, such as design for manufacturing and assembly methods, integrated digital delivery, tools that enhance collaboration, and offsite construction, as well as green building capabilities. Structured internships and additional training for recent university graduates are two measures the country is using to reach this goal.
And second, governments can lead by example by building their own internal digital capabilities. Developing these skills—for instance by creating an advanced analytics group—would allow public agencies to use new technologies more effectively in overseeing projects and optimizing maintenance operations and to understand more clearly how new technologies can be deployed broadly in the industry.
March 12, 2019, we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the
“World Wide Web”, Tim Berners-Lee’s ground-breaking invention.
In just thirty years, this flagship
application of the Internet has forever changed our lives, our habits, our way
of thinking and seeing the world. Yet, this anniversary leaves a bittersweet
taste in our mouth: the initial decentralized and open version of the Web,
which was meant to allow users to connect with each other, has gradually
evolved to a very different version, centralized in the hands of giants who
capture our data and impose their standards.
We have poured our work, our hearts and a lot
of our lives out on the internet. For better or for worse. Beyond business uses
for Big Tech, our data has become an incredible resource for malicious actors,
who use this windfall to hack, steal and threaten. Citizens, small and large
companies, governments: online predators spare no one. This initial mine of
information and knowledge has provided fertile ground for dangerous abuse: hate
speech, cyber-bullying, manipulation of information or apology for terrorism –
all of them amplified, relayed and disseminated across borders.
control: between Scylla and Charybdis
Faced with these excesses, some countries
have decided to regain control over the Web and the Internet in general: by
filtering information and communications, controlling the flow of data, using
digital instruments for the sake of sovereignty and security. The outcome of
this approach is widespread censorship and surveillance. A major threat to our
values and our vision of society, this project of “cyber-sovereignty” is also
the antithesis of the initial purpose of the Web, which was built in a spirit
of openness and emancipation. Imposing cyber-borders and permanent supervision
would be fatal to the Web.
To avoid such an outcome, many democracies have
favored laissez-faire and minimal intervention, preserving the virtuous
circle of profit and innovation. Negative externalities remain, with
self-regulation as the only barrier. But laissez-faire is no longer the
best option to foster innovation: data is monopolized by giants that have
become systemic, users’ freedom of choice is limited by vertical integration
and lack of interoperability. Ineffective competition threatens our economies’
ability to innovate.
In addition, laissez-faire means being
vulnerable to those who have chosen a more interventionist or hostile stance.
This question is particularly acute today for infrastructures: should we
continue to remain agnostic, open and to choose a solution only based on its
economic competitiveness? Or should we affirm the need to preserve our
technological sovereignty and our security?
a third way
To avoid these pitfalls, France, Europe and
all democratic countries must take control of their digital future. This age of
digital maturity involves both smart digital regulation and enhanced
Holding large actors accountable is a
legitimate and necessary first step: “with great power comes great
Platforms that relay and amplify the audience
of dangerous content must assume a stronger role in information and prevention.
The same goes for e-commerce, when consumers’ health and safety is undermined
by dangerous or counterfeit products, made available to them with one click. We
should apply the same focus on systemic players in the field of competition:
vertical integration should not hinder users’ choice of goods, services or
But for our action to be effective and leave
room for innovation, we must design a “smart regulation”. Of course, our goal
is not to impose on all digital actors an indiscriminate and disproportionate
Rather, “smart regulation” relies on
transparency, auditability and accountability of the largest players, in the
framework of a close dialogue with public authorities. With this is mind,
France has launched a six-month experiment with Facebook on
the subject of hate content, the results of which will contribute to current
and upcoming legislative work on this topic.
In the meantime, in order to maintain our
influence and promote this vision, we will need to strengthen our technological
sovereignty. In Europe, this sovereignty is already undermined by the prevalence
of American and Asian actors. As our economies and societies become
increasingly connected, the question becomes more urgent.
Investments in the most strategic disruptive
technologies, construction of an innovative normative framework for the sharing
of data of general interest: we have leverage to encourage the emergence of
reliable and effective solutions. But we will not be able to avoid protective
measures when the security of our infrastructure is likely to be endangered.
To build this sustainable digital future
together, I invite my G7 counterparts to join me in Paris on May 16th.
On the agenda, three priorities: the fight against online hate, a human-centric
artificial intelligence, and ensuring trust in our digital economy, with the
specific topics of 5G and data sharing.
Our goal? To take responsibility. Gone are
the days when we could afford to wait and see.
Our leverage? If we join our wills and
forces, our values can prevail.
have the responsibility to design a World Wide Web of Trust. It is still within
our reach, but the time has come to act.
I can still recall my surprise when a book by evolutionary biologist Peter Lawrence entitled “The making of a fly” came to be priced on Amazon at $23,698,655.93 (plus $3.99 shipping). While my colleagues around the world must have become rather depressed that an academic book could achieve such a feat, the steep price was actually the result of algorithms feeding off each other and spiralling out of control. It turns out, it wasn’t just sales staff being creative: algorithms were calling the shots.
This eye-catching example was spotted and corrected. But what if such algorithmic interference happens all the time, including in ways we don’t even notice? If our reality is becoming increasingly constructed by algorithms, where does this leave us humans?
Inspired by such examples, my colleague Prof Allen Lee and I recently set out to explore the deeper effects of algorithmic technology in a paper in the Journal of the Association for Information Systems. Our exploration led us to the conclusion that, over time, the roles of information technology and humans have been reversed. In the past, we humans used technology as a tool. Now, technology has advanced to the point where it is using and even controlling us.
We humans are not merely cut off from the decisions that machines are making for us but deeply affected by them in unpredictable ways. Instead of being central to the system of decisions that affects us, we are cast out in to its environment. We have progressively restricted our own decision-making capacity and allowed algorithms to take over. We have become artificial humans, or human artefacts, that are created, shaped and used by the technology.
Examples abound. In law, legal analysts are gradually being replaced by artificial intelligence, meaning the successful defence or prosecution of a case can rely partly on algorithms. Software has even been allowed to predict future criminals, ultimately controlling human freedom by shaping how parole is denied or granted to prisoners. In this way, the minds of judges are being shaped by decision-making mechanisms they cannot understand because of how complex the process is and how much data it involves.
In the job market, excessive reliance on technology has led some of the world’s biggest companies to filter CVs through software, meaning human recruiters will never even glance at some potential candidates’ details. Not only does this put people’s livelihoods at the mercy of machines, it can also build in hiring biases that the company had no desire to implement, as happened with Amazon.
In news, what’s known as automated sentiment analysis analyses positive and negative opinions about companies based on different web sources. In turn, these are being used by trading algorithms that make automated financial decisions, without humans having to actually read the news.
In fact, algorithms operating without human intervention now play a significant role in financial markets. For example, 85% of all trading in the foreign exchange markets is conducted by algorithms alone. The growing algorithmic arms race to develop ever more complex systems to compete in these markets means huge sums of money are being allocated according to the decisions of machines.
On a small scale, the people and companies that create these algorithms are able to affect what they do and how they do it. But because much of artificial intelligence involves programming software to figure out how to complete a task by itself, we often don’t know exactly what is behind the decision-making. As with all technology, this can lead to unintended consequences that may go far beyond anything the designers ever envisaged.
But the algorithms that amplified the initial problems didn’t make a mistake. There wasn’t a bug in the programming. The behaviour emerged from the interaction of millions of algorithmic decisions playing off each other in unpredictable ways, following their own logic in a way that created a downward spiral for the market.
The conditions that made this possible occurred because, over the years, the people running the trading system had come to see human decisions as an obstacle to market efficiency. Back in 1987 when the US stock market fell by 22.61%, some Wall Street brokers simply stopped picking up their phones to avoid receiving their customers’ orders to sell stocks. This started a process that, as author Michael Lewis put it in his book Flash Boys, “has ended with computers entirely replacing the people”.
The financial world has invested millions in superfast cables and microwave communications to shave just milliseconds off the rate at which algorithms can transmit their instructions. When speed is so important, a human being that requires a massive 215 milliseconds to click a button is almost completely redundant. Our only remaining purpose is to reconfigure the algorithms each time the system of technological decisions fails.
As new boundaries are carved between humans and technology, we need to think carefully about where our extreme reliance on software is taking us. As human decisions are substituted by algorithmic ones, and we become tools whose lives are shaped by machines and their unintended consequences, we are setting ourselves up for technological domination. We need to decide, while we still can, what this means for us both as individuals and as a society.
BIZTECH AFRICA in an article on a forthcoming Smart Cities Summit to be held in Algiers towards the end of this month introduced it as innovation & entrepreneurship ever-increasing role in the MENA region being at the fore-front of development.
It reads thus:
Innovation and entrepreneurship play an ever-increasing role in growing Africa’s emerging technology ecosystem. According to research by the GSMA Ecosystem Accelerator, over the past two years alone, Africa has seen the number of innovation hubs double. Whilst the big 3 cities – Nairobi, Lagos, Cape Town – have been dominating the Sub-Saharan growth narrative, the next wave of incubators are arriving from new ecosystem cities in North Africa. And the cities driving this growth, Casablanca, Cairo, Sousse and Algiers, are serious about generating sustainable operating models in the fast evolving ICT landscape to overcome core business challenges around viability, future-proofing the business and most importantly, producing continuous success stories.
According to the Disrupt Africa Tech Start-ups Funding Report 2017 , funding in African tech start-ups surged 51% to reach $195 million in 2017, as compared to figures of the same period in 2016. When it comes to funding, the majority of Africa’s tech hubs are grant funded by Governments and foundations, however there has been a growth of social ventures and a trend toward for profit and self-funded endeavours to fast track growth.
Rabeh Arezki, Chief Economist for Middle East and North Africa Region (MNA) at the World Bank stated, “When it comes to sustainable funding, African tech hubs tend to focus on demand-driven service models that solve problems and support the specific needs of an ecosystem. To succeed, a modern innovation hub needs to pinpoint a niche in growth areas and deliver that proposition. Key areas ripe for development are start-ups looking at improving Internet infrastructure, payment systems and education. These are the types of businesses we see succeeding.”
Eric Chan, Digital Investment Expert, Xona Partners remarked, ‘What’s important is that we are seeing the gaps in infrastructure that impact technology development, digital entrepreneurship, and innovation closing. What’s powerful is that technology hubs are facilitating the development of that infrastructure. A lot of hubs are driven by forward thinking, young entrepreneurs who are looking to improve their skillset. The hubs are filling those skill gaps which will only continue to progress the development of the local ecosystem in a positive way.’
Algiers has been claiming a highly favourable investment climate and hosting major regional events like the upcoming Global Smart Cities Technology and Investment Summit on June 27-28 2018, where 4,000 smart city leaders from around the world will discuss how smart technology and ecosystems, smart data and sustainability and the Government’s role in stimulating new technology are changing the landscape. Founder of Smart City Algiers, Fatiha Slimani said “Algiers smart city project is in a way our commitment to develop our city based on principles of durability, sustainability and innovation. We’re trying to find solution to what we call – the cascading technology trap – where technology moves way faster than policy makers’ decision making.”
Whilst awaiting this Algiers Smart Cities Summit, we would propose an article’s of Construction Week 2 imbedded videos posted on June 16th, 2018 on what is going on mostly in the Gulf region of the MENA’s east sprinkled with some news arising from Africa.
Smart city concepts are gaining traction in the Middle East.
A study by Report Buyer states that smart city initiatives are gaining traction in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) region due to increasing rates of urbanisation that have been placing pressure on city services. According to the United Nations, the urban population in the region increased from more than 20% in 1960 to about 45% by the end of 2015.
This article by Anthony Bartolo is about the Digital Transformation of all market sectors using Platforms in the context of the Middle East. Digital Platforms were in their worldwide application been copiously covered up until now. Could this essay published by TahawulTech be regarded as not only applicable to the Middle East but to the rest of the world.
There was a time when disrupting the status quo was the way to become a market leader. Now it’s simply a way of surviving. With the rise of the so called ‘platform economy’, it’s not just the likes of Uber and Amazon that are harnessing digital transformation – everyone is ‘moving fast and breaking things’, primarily to stave off competition and stay in business.
We have been witnessing technological innovations since the beginning of the 21st century. However, if you thought the past 10 years were disruptive, the biggest transformation is yet to come – especially in the form of employee mobility. Various researches have proved that mobility increases employee satisfaction, and subsequently improves their productivity. It is estimated that by 2022, 42.5% of the global workforce will be mobile.
Employees will be able to work anytime, anywhere, and can use their smart devices for work as much as they use it for leisure. Blue-sky thinking? It’s already happening and smartphones with a network connection or a device that is connected to the Internet of Things (IoT) is the go-to implement for this ‘mobile-first’ workforce.
So how will this mobile workforce shape in the new digital platform economy?
Anthony Bartolo, Chief Product Officer, Tata Communications
Supply isn’t satisfying the demand
With mobility, suddenly employees are liberated from being tied to a physical workplace. Enterprises now have their own social media space, using functionalities such as crowd-sourcing and the shared economy to create new ways of working.
To meet the needs of this rapidly mobilising workforce, CIOs must focus on a mobile platform approach that enables access to a multitude of corporate applications in real time via mobile, irrespective of the location or network.
Yet communications service providers (CSPs) are lagging behind. Although there are about 900 network based mobile CSPs, there is a reticence to expose networks and services to access via application programming interfaces (APIs).
Existing and emerging enterprises are now hungry for that exposure. They want to use that capacity to mobilise their workforce and open up access to a vast range of rich mobile services on a global scale.
There is a way forward
The next step then is to move on from simplistic mobile services – where end users simply send a message or make a call – to something much more sophisticated.
If service providers are prepared to offer more advanced mobile network services, then it’s win-win for buyers as well as sellers. Enterprises will see a significant shift in what’s possible via mobile – be it richer unified communications and collaboration experiences or easy access to cloud-enabled services. Meanwhile, the new business models and services that are created, can give rise to billions of dollars of added value for the mobile industry.
To get there is going to require another shift in thinking, where employers and employees start seeing mobility in the same way they view the worldwide web or cloud today. All apps, content and services should be accessible via mobile, irrespective of location and without the high cost of data roaming.
As the world moves towards 5G, we will see new models being adopted by mobile communications service providers. Mobile services can be delivered in a way that reflects how the worldwide web is constituted – offering a consistent, seamless experience and on a global basis.
The time to deliver is now
Ericsson forecasts that by 2022, we can expect 6.8 billion smartphones subscriptions around the world along with 29 billion connected devices.
Mobile services need to start delivering to this vast market now. And CIOs need to know that they can rely on programmable, borderless mobile services without any of the cost, security or access constraints they face today. The mobile communications platform of the future can serve as an innovation engine for next-generation mobile services, while acting as a powerful new revenue stream for mobile network operators
“The way forward today is a community-driven, bottom-up approach where citizens are an integral part of designing and developing smart cities, and not a top-down policy with city leaders focusing on technology platforms alone,” said Bettina Tratz-Ryan research vice president, Gartner.
For smart citizens the focus is not just about the use of technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and smart machines, but the enhancement of services and experience. Therefore, citizen-government dialogue is a key component that will ensure that the right issues are tackled.
To keep pace with the changing needs of citizens, and the development of new business, cities are now striving to become not just smart, but also innovative. Machine learning and chatbots are being used to engage citizens or assets with their environment. Cities are building business and technology policies to assess the opportunities offered by potentially disruptive technologies like AI for elderly care, autonomous driving or delivery bots. In addition, there are emerging use cases for blockchain for transactions and in record keeping.
Tratz-Ryan also noted that changes in citizen mindsets mean that governments must change their mindsets as well. “Government CIOs today need to look at creating innovation strategies to attract new industries and develop digital skills. They need to look at changing their spatial planning, road infrastructure, data and service management.”
Gartner analysts recommend three key factors CIOs in local government should keep in mind: Firstly, they need to understand the problems that directly impact citizens and apply technology to solve these problems. Then, they have to be mindful of the digital divide and pay equal attention to the issues of citizens with fewer IT skills. Incorporating technologies such as natural-language-powered virtual personal assistants is a step in this direction. Lastly, CIOs need to create open data strategies guaranteeing access to all interested parties in a city. Open data portals allow industries and universities — as well as interested citizens — unencumbered access.
“The key to CIO success is building objectives by developing key performance indicators (KPIs) that detect stakeholder priorities and measure success and impact. The UAE, especially Dubai, is a perfect example of how incorporating these guidelines help in the execution of the of the smart city framework,” said Tratz-Ryan.
By 2020, two-third of all smart city execution strategies will incorporate KPIs to visualise the impact of mobility-related urban services.
“Business strategies must clearly focus on the development of a seamless citizen service experience through digital access to information and government services. While preparing for the World Expo 2020, the Dubai government is focusing on creating thought leadership by implementing the most innovative technologies that create new modes of transportation (Hyperloop), energy generation (in conjunction with Masdar), or health and safety experiences,” added Tratz-Ryan.
As foreseen by many, this article titled ‘Inside the dark web of the UAE’s surveillance state’ could only be an illustration of the UAE’s increasing involvement in regional tensions. This has as per the article been kicked off by the 2011 spring uprisings in the region but would signal the likelihood of a long period of severe frictions between the members of the GCC. In effect, the nationals as well as the foreign residents of this membership are closer to one another as flows after flows in all direction of social media commentaries could prove and ascertain their ethno-socio and business proximity. The UAE’s surveillance infrastructure by international cybersecurity “Dealers” could well have ignored that aspect of the populations.
This article is written by Joe Odell, press officer for the International Campaign for Freedom in the UAE. It was published by the Middle East Eye and is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.
The above picture taken on January 11, 2018, shows the skyline of the Dubai Marina (AFP)
The nuts and bolts of the Emirati surveillance state moved into the spotlight on 1 February as the Abu Dhabi-based cybersecurity company DarkMatter allegedly stepped “out of the shadows” to speak to the international media.
Its CEO and founder, Faisal al-Bannai, gave a rare interview to the Associated Press at the company’s headquarters in Abu Dhabi, in which he absolved his company of any direct responsibility for human rights violations in the UAE.
Established in the UAE in 2015, DarkMatter has always maintained itself to be a commercially driven company. Despite the Emirati government constituting 80 percent of DarkMatter’s customer base and the company previously describing itself as “a strategic partner of the UAE government”, its CEO was at pains to suggest that it was independent from the state.
According to its website, the company’s stated aim is to “protect governments and enterprises from the ever-evolving threat of cyber attack” by offering a range of non-offensive cybersecurity services.
Seeking skilled hackers
Though DarkMatter defines its activities as defensive, an Italian security expert, who attended an interview with the company in 2016, likened its operations to “big brother on steroids” and suggested it was deeply rooted within the Emirati intelligence system.
Simone Margaritelli, also a former hacker, alleged that during the interview he was informed of the UAE’s intention to develop a surveillance system that was “capable of intercepting, modifying, and diverting (as well as occasionally obscuring) traffic on IP, 2G, 3G, and 4G networks”.
Although he was offered a lucrative monthly tax-free salary of $15,000, he rejected the offer on ethical grounds.
Furthermore, in an investigation carried out by The Intercept in 2016, sources with inside knowledge of the company said that DarkMatter was “aggressively” seeking skilled hackers to carry out offensive surveillance operations. This included plans to exploit hardware probes already installed across major cities in order to track, locate and hack any person at any time in the UAE.
In many respects, the UAE’s surveillance infrastructure has been built by a network of international cybersecurity “dealers” who have willingly profited from supplying the Emirati regime with the tools needed for a modern-day surveillance state
As with other states, there is a need for cybersecurity in the UAE. As the threat of cyber attacks has increased worldwide, there have been numerous reports of attempted attacks from external actors on critical infrastructure in the country.
Since the Arab uprisings of 2011, however, internal “cyber-security governance”, which has been utilised to quell the harbingers of revolt and suppress dissident voices, has become increasingly important to the Emirati government and other regimes across the region.
In the UAE, as with other GCC states, this has found a legislative expression in the cybercrime law. Instituted in 2012, its vaguely worded provisions essentially provide a legal basis to detain anybody who criticises the regime online.
A network of Emirati government agencies and state-directed telecommunications industries have worked in loose coordination with international arms manufacturers and cybersecurity companies to transform communications technologies into central components of authoritarian control.
In 2016, an official from the Dubai police force announced that authorities were monitoring users across 42 social media platforms, while a spokesperson for the UAE’s Telecommunication Regulatory Authority similarly boasted that all social media profiles and internet sites were being tracked by the relevant agencies.
Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan of Abu Dhabi meets with US President Donald Trump in Washington in May 2017 (AFP)
As a result, scores of people who have criticised the UAE government on social media have been arbitrarily detained, forcefully disappeared and, in many cases, tortured.
Last year, Jordanian journalist Tayseer al-Najjar and prominent Emirati academic Nasser bin Ghaith received sentences of three and 10 years respectively for comments made on social media. Similarly, award-winning human rights activist Ahmed Mansoor has been arbitrarily detained for nearly a year due to his online activities.
This has been a common theme across the region in the post-“Arab Spring” landscape. In line with this, a lucrative cybersecurity market opened up across the Middle East and North Africa, which, according to the US tech research firm Gartner, was valued at $1.3bn in 2016.
A modern-day surveillance state
In many respects, the UAE’s surveillance infrastructure has been built by a network of international cybersecurity “dealers” who have willingly profited from supplying the Emirati regime with the tools needed for a modern-day surveillance state.
Moreover, it has been reported that DarkMatter has been hiring a range of top talent from across the US national security and tech establishment, including from Google, Samsung and McAfee. Late last year, it was revealed that DarkMatter was managing an intelligence contract that had been recruiting former CIA agents and US government officials to train Emirati security officials in a bid to bolster the UAE’s intelligence body.
UK military companies also have a foothold in the Emirati surveillance state. Last year, it was revealed that BAE Systems had been using a Danish subsidiary, ETI Evident, to export surveillance technologies to the UAE government and other regimes across the region.
‘The million dollar dissident’
Although there are officially no diplomatic relations between the two countries, in 2016, Abu Dhabi launched Falcon Eye, an Israeli-installed civil surveillance system. This enables Emirati security officials to monitor every person “from the moment they leave their doorstep to the moment they return to it”, a source close to Falcon Eye told Middle East Eye in 2015.
The source added that the system allows work, social and behavioural patterns to be recorded, analysed and archived: “It sounds like sci-fi but it is happening in Abu Dhabi today.”
Moreover, in a story that made headlines in 2016, Ahmed Mansoor’s iPhone was hacked by the UAE government with software provided by the Israeli-based security company NSO Group. Emirati authorities reportedly paid $1m for the software, leading international media outlets to dub Mansoor “the million-dollar dissident.”
Mansoor’s case is illustrative of how Emirati authorities have conducted unethical practices in the past. In recent years, the UAE has bought tailored software products from international companies such as Hacking Team to engage in isolated, targeted attacks on human rights activists, such as Mansoor.
The operations of DarkMatter, as well as the installation of Falcon Eye, suggest, however, that rather than relying on individual products from abroad, Emirati authorities are now building a surveillance system of their own and bringing operations in-house by developing the infrastructure for a 21st-century police state.
The situation in the GCC countries is improving after moves to compromise were made by all parties. Business as usual is soon to be had and in so doing the Internet of Things (IoT) would be top of everyone’s agenda, public and private organisations alike. This has like everywhere else the potential to unlock in the GCC region up to 11% driving all economic growth in every country, according to A. T. Kearney’s latest report on the IoT in the GCC for a brighter, more sustainable future. AT Kearney is an American global management consulting firm that focuses on strategic and operational CEO-agenda issues facing businesses, governments and institutions around the globe.
The local media have profusely covered this topic for some time, and according to the above report, the GCC’s governments have before the Qatar crisis started, been investing in it mainly within their respective policies of diversifying their economies or as a help towards that goal away from dependence on oil. Investing in IoT does offer a variety of avenues for economic growth. It has also the potential to address many of the region’s challenges to the point where per the same report, the region’s IoT solutions market would, by 2025, be worth $11 billion, thus generating potential value for the economy anticipated to nearly $160bn.
IoT in the GCC for a Brighter, more Sustainable Future
The Internet of Things has the potential to unlock up to 11 percent in incremental GDP, driving growth and prosperity across the region for the next decade.
Citizens in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have long enjoyed a standard of living known to be among the best in the world, thanks to the region’s wealth of abundant natural resources. However, the slump in oil and gas prices has shed light on a number of challenges and calls for transformational efforts from governments, businesses, and individuals.
Low oil prices may mean the region’s governments will struggle to balance their budgets and find the resources needed to address other issues. For example, serving the region’s young, ambitious population will require generating a plethora of attractive jobs and providing the education needed to bridge any skill gaps. Healthcare will also be in the spotlight as the population has an array of health issues, including high rates of adult obesity. In addition, energy and access to water could become more challenging as the region has high rates of consumption. For example, per capita water consumption in the United Arab Emirates is about 80 percent higher than the global average.
The region’s governments know they need to wean their economies away from oil to ensure continuity in high standards of living, and they are making progress in their diversification and transformation efforts. Large investments in innovation, such as Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund infusing money into Uber and Softbank and the anticipated launch of the $1 billion e-commerce company Noon, are testament to the importance of innovation on the business and national agendas of GCC countries.
The Internet of Things—the exponentially growing ecosystem of connected devices and systems—offers a major avenue for innovation and has the potential to address many of the region’s challenges while also spurring economic growth. The seamless combination of embedded intelligence, ubiquitous connectivity, and deep analytical insights creates a platform for unique and disruptive value for companies, individuals, and societies.
Here we discuss what IoT is, how it can transform major business sectors across the region, and what it will take for companies, governments, and the high-tech industry to attain the ultimate connectivity—bringing together the tremendous potential of this unifying phenomenon.
Lots of writing on the subject is regularly being produced such as this brilliant essay on the potential impact of the 4IR on human mobility or transhumance. This latter would always be there as a natural breathing valve of an economy and the advent of Artificial Intelligence as a major segment of the anticipated Fourth Industrial Revolution would presumably help make it more as it were manageable, if not more controllable. .
The Fourth Industrial Revolution is unfolding at a time when human mobility is increasing and, in many instances, becoming more precarious. Last year, the world saw 250 million international migrants, only 21 million of whom qualified as refugees under the UN Refugee Convention. Within countries, the rate of internal migration from rural areas to cities has also been increasing, with urbanization estimates reaching 66% by 2050.
Indeed, there are 270 million internal migrants in China alone. Considering existing migration trends, the impact of more extreme weather on economies and livelihoods, and countries’ constraints in dealing with migration effectively, we simply cannot afford to overlook the potential of Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies in supporting safe, orderly and regular migration.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) represents new ways in which technology becomes embedded within societies, for example through robotics, artificial intelligence, and nanotechnology. The 4IR has implications for global migration in a multitude of ways, some of which have been experienced in the past. Concretely, the 4IR has the potential to create business and job opportunities for migrants that never existed before, especially if they receive the right training, for example, on robots and their myriad set of applications. It also opens avenues for entrepreneurship, since migrant entrepreneurs are at the forefront of technological innovation (Elon Musk, for example, is a migrant).
At the same time, disruptions to the labour market inherent in any industrial revolution have generated a high level of distrust and scepticism around the benefits of migration. Indeed, lower-skilled workers are positioned to lose their jobs in the face of labour-saving 4IR advances, and migrants are not only at risk of this, but also blamed for precipitating lower labour standards by accepting less attractive employment.
But the 4IR is also changing migration and perceptions of migration beyond the implications observed in the past. From migration management and border control to directing migration flows and facilitating migrant integration, we should expect to see significant changes to migration policies and practices in the coming decade as a result of specific 4IR technologies.
Here are some examples:
Applying drone technology
We have already seen the way in which digital and smartphone technology has altered the migrant experience: two of the first questions migrants and refugees ask when arriving in a new country are how to get a SIM card and where to connect to WIFI. Smartphones are now seen by migrants as essential tools in navigating challenging journeys safely and preparing support networks for their arrivals.
While migrants and refugees use GPS and social media communications applications to monitor and decide on their migration paths, international organizations and NGOs are increasingly using drone technology in humanitarian activities. In fact, the usage of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs, or drones) has increasingly been recognized as an essential tool for humanitarian action since drones are particularly useful for mapping, delivering goods to remote locations and assessing and monitoring damage and change. They have increasingly been deployed for humanitarian purposes since 2013 when the United Nations launched its first surveillance experiment in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Rwanda.
Governments are also aware of the potential use of drones for migration management. Starting in 2005, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) began to use drones domestically in an effort to track migration across its borders; there are now plans to equip the border service with smaller, lightweight drones capable of identifying individuals using through facial recognition or other biometric technology within a three-mile range. The idea is to enable CBP agents to launch and track multiple humans on foot, horseback or in vehicles.
Meanwhile, the European Union has also taken steps to invest in a fleet of drones with video, infrared sensors and chemical detection to provide real-time data on migrant flows. In the Mediterranean, drones have already been used by European government and NGOs to facilitate the rescue missions of migrants.
Thus, the potential for drones in the realm of migration is promising and still largely to be explored. However, this type of tracking raises a number of ethical issues frequently flagged in debates around balancing national security interests with individual rights and freedoms. In particular, the use of drones for migration surveillance challenges individual rights to privacy and is seen by critics to undermine civil liberties more broadly. Legal scrutiny around the use of this technology must go hand in hand with its deployment.
How AI can strengthen migration policy
As in many areas, policy on migration lags behind technological trends in ways that undermine the potential gains of the phenomenon. Artificial intelligence (AI) or machine learning applied to relevant migration questions could help illuminate successful approaches to anticipating migration flows, harnessing skills, and better understanding the power of remittances. AI machine learning has the potential to use a wealth of data, frequently crowdsourced or publically available, to look for data patterns and correlations that may indicate future human mobility flows.
This type of analysis starts from examining historical and current migration patterns and understanding related triggers. It can move policy makers closer to unravelling complexity around the origin of migration flows. If the data is high quality and appropriately incorporates the possibility of a political, economic and/or social “disruption” that might change the predictive trajectory, applying machine learning to migration trends could help map future migration flows. The result could help countries and communities prepare migrant integration strategies more effectively.
Likewise, these predictive maps could provide helpful information in further managing migration flows. Coupling these migration data with labour market information, such as skills gaps, could provide migrants with a better idea of where their skills would be valued, and therefore where to plan their moves. Supporting migrants to make informed decisions about migration is perhaps the next stage of evolution of “chatbots” that have supported refugees arriving in Europe. The potential for better matching skills or opportunity and human resources offers to create a new narrative around migration and its potential benefits.
At this stage, there have been some attempts at using artificial intelligence for migration-related matters, largely in crisis situations. One of the first examples of this was Ushahidi, which used real time, crowdsourced reports from Facebook and Twitter to develop a crisis map after the Haiti Earthquake in 2010. Artificial intelligence and machine learning have since been applied to various crises settings, such as Nepal, and even to help victims cope psychologically with the effects of war, such as in Syria. However, there remains incredible opportunity to elucidate trends that could lead to better migrant integration and outcomes for society.
AI could be also a crucial part of the activities implemented by organizations during displacement or after settlement in new countries. For example, running mandatory AI-based skills assessment and offering training on such technologies and assistance on entrepreneurship for migrants and refugees could unleash their full potential, helping them to rebuild their lives. It could also counterbalance the perceived precipitation of labour standards, since migrants would not work on precarious and low-productivity sectors that largely mismatch their skills, but would allow them to help the host country to prosper.
How Fintech supports integration
As migration around the world increases, one of the most pressing needs is for the availability of a full range of cost efficient, convenient financial services to assist effective integration of migrants in host nations.
However, in many countries the financial services sector is not even able to serve the needs of many of its own citizens, and the situation for many migrants is even worse.
Migrants face hardships across many fronts – from the basic opening of bank accounts without the required documents for KYC (Know-Your-Customer requirements) to difficulties receiving or sending money, and often at exorbitant rates. Migrants are often not able to have access to convenient ways to pay bills, access insurance, or even obtain credit or loans to improve their lives or invest for the future – all these services remain a dream.
The 4IR, for the first time, presents a significant opportunity to include migrants in the financial system quickly and efficiently in a way that has not even been experienced by many of the host countries’ own nationals. Technological solutions pave the way to both disrupt the way traditional financial services have been delivered and at the same time enable banks to innovate and provide exciting new products and services to address real customer needs.
Much of the early innovation has come from Fintech companies that are disrupting the traditional way of doing things. Transferwise, originally a payments company, has recently created a borderless bank. Alipay and Tencent have led a financial revolution in Asia and innovative companies like Lenddo use big data and AI to allow financial institutions to deliver products and services to underserved markets in a sustainable way.
Some governments such as India and Estonia are also leading the way with their government led digital initiatives resulting in fast-growing financial inclusion. Also, some international organizations, such as UNCHR in partnership with IrisGuard and Cairo Amman Bank in Jordan, are using innovative hi-tech solutions such as iris recognition to secure access of refugees to financial assistance, not only including refugees in the financial system but also increasing the efficiency and efficacy of humanitarian aid.
The opportunity exists – and it will be interesting to see how other countries can learn from these examples and whether incumbent banks and other financial institutions can deliver services to the growing number of migrants that demand them; or whether it will take disruptive Fintech companies or innovative international organizations and governments to grant access to critical services that are taken for granted by many of us.
Smarter migration through the Fourth Industrial Revolution
In the past decade concern over the risks of migration have often made it harder for people to grasp the potential benefits. The 4IR offers a unique opportunity to expand and recreate such cases of success, assisting the host society and migrants to thrive together.
In considering future applications of 4IR technologies, there are definite ethical issues, like data privacy and margins of error, with which to contend. However, the promise of smarter migration is one which the international community, individual nations and businesses need to realize in order to achieve a more peaceful and sustainable world.