2016 October


Since the middle of October, we have been engaged in the dissemination of the findings of our research on online freelancing. Our audiences have been current and potential freelancers and the objective has been awareness raising. But we’ve been thinking about the broader implications as we formalize our dissemination strategy. The World Bank’s 2016 WDR entitled Digital Dividends, has many important and relevant insights, including: Better skills will help many workers cope with the effects of internet-enabled automation. But changes in the labor market also require rethinking social protection and tax systems.
An interesting discussion of the effects of communication technology on political polarization includes this nugget Although technology has contributed to polarization, it may also help rescue us. For example, Facebook has automated story selection for its custom news feed; for political news this tends to foster an echo-chamber effect. However, Facebook data scientists have found a better source of diversity: almost 30 percent of hard-news reports originating from friends reflect opposing views. Even better, individuals are likelier to engage with information like this when it is presented in a social context. I found this especially interesting because our surveys show that Facebook is by far the most common source of information at the bottom of the pyramid in our part of the world.
My daughter took this picture outside a hotel in Havana in the evening. She says it was like this around all hotels with Internet and WiFi.
One of the main objectives of our joint effort with the Jaffna Managers’ Forum 18-19 October was to raise the awareness of Jaffna youth about the potential of online freelancing as a gateway to the service sector and to entrepreneurship. Suthaharan Perampalam communicates the findings from our research in a Tamil weekly, read in Jaffna.
Earlier in October I had the pleasure of moderating a high-powered panel on ICTs and SDGs at the Annual Conference of the International Institute of Communications in Bangkok. The video of the session is below. The Video of Session 2 (58 minutes).
Now that we’ve had some time to figure out 4G/LTE, we got to start on 5G. But it seems it will be some time before the standards will settle, according to the NYT. You may soon start hearing a lot about 5G, or the fifth generation of wireless technology. This technology is expected to leap ahead of current wireless technology, known as 4G, by offering mobile Internet speeds that will let people download entire movies within seconds, and it may pave the way for new types of mobile applications. Yet many challenges exist before 5G becomes part of our daily lives.
I was competitively selected to attend the Self-Organizing Conference on Machine Learning 2016 organized by OpenAI which was held in San Francisco on October 7-8, 2016. OpenAI is a non-profit artificial intelligence (AI) research company initiated by Elon Musk and top research scientists in AI and machine learning (ML) to promote safe and friendly AI. Since its inception in late 2015 the company has attracted top researchers and scientists from both industry and academia to work on most interesting problems of AI. The Self-Organizing Conference on Machine Learning 2016 was an experimental gathering that OpenAI organized for the first time to promote collaboration amongst AI/ML researchers, overcoming the overheads of a conventional academic conference. This is how they presented the motive behind organizing this event.
  eZ Cash organized an event titled FreelancerSL 2.0 at Dialog auditorium on 23rd October 2016. The aim of this event was to educate the local freelancers about the opportunities on freelancing and on how to get in to online freelancing. LIRNEasia’s shared key findings of the nationally representative survey conducted among 16-40 year olds on the level of awareness of online freelancing and willingness to involve in online freelancing. In addition, we highlighted the opportunities available for freelancers and the challenges online freelancers face in Sri Lanka.
As part of the Inclusive Information Society research, we at LIRNEasia were in the process of interrogating the labor force and related data. Then there was this headline about there being no need for one million jobs when only 400,000 people were unemployed. Two days later, the op-ed refuting the absurdity of comparing one million over five years target with a static unemployment figure was published. As can be seen, having the data ready was extremely helpful for the quick response. If we are to escape from the middle-income trap and get established on a high-growth trajectory, it is imperative that all sectors of society understand the importance of creating jobs with the characteristics demanded by our young people and by the women who are sitting out the job market.
Iraq has engaged Cisco to build a terrestrial optical network up to Turkey. Dubbed as “The Iraqi National Backbone” it will reach most major Iraqi cities. It will be available to the public as the new official internet service provider (ISP) for Iraq. The new network is an alternative to existing submarine networks that reached the Middle East from Europe either via the Suez Canal, or by a longer route around the Horn of Africa. It will offer the highest capacity and lowest latency of any Europe-Middle East communications solution.
Presented at FreelancerSL 2.0 Dialog Auditorium 23 October 2016
Last week, there was a two-day gathering of young politicians from Finland and Sri Lanka outside Colombo, in Usvetakeyiyava. The only common factor was age. Both sides had multiple political parties represented among them. I was asked to discuss the current political and economic situation in the country. I discussed some of the key challenges that we face, but which our political system does not give much weight to, except perhaps the first two, since 2015.
Jaffna Management Forum (JMF) – 18th October 2016 Jaffna Advance Technical Insitute – 19th October 2016
One member of the above-capacity audience at the Jaffna Managers’ Forum event on “Online freelancing as a gateway to the service sector” wanted to know why we were not providing detailed, how-to instructions on the use of Fiverr and similar platforms. He appeared to have trouble with the concept of a think tank that was simply raising awareness based on research findings, which had nothing to sell. Suthaharan Perampalam, who did the heavy lifting on this first initiative of the dissemination of the findings of our inclusive information society project, responded along with the Leader of the Opposition of the Northern Province legislature, Mr Thavarajah, and the questioner was satisfied. The starting point of our dissemination effort in Jaffna was the low level of awareness of online freelancing in the Jaffna District (19%) versus 26 percent awareness for the entire country and over 40 percent in the Wayamba Province. Jaffna has always been known for its emphasis on learning.
The two-day workshop (Oct 17 & 18, 2016) in Moratuwa, invited Sarvodaya members from Batticaloa, Colombo, Gampaha, and Kegalle Districts. These participants have first-hand experience responding to the 2016 Western floods & landslide and the 2015 Northeast floods, in Sri Lanka. The objective was to share their tacit knowledge on taking a holistic and practical approach to responding to crises. Then give them the tools to analyze the experience to develop the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) themselves. To that end, we applied community engagement social practices methods for analyzing the knowledge to realize the design parameters for developing the Sarvodaya Disaster Response SOP.
I was invited to speak to the staff of the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission in Seville last Tuesday (11th October 2016). Their colleagues from Ispra, Italy joined in via video conference as well. I talked about LIRNEasia’s experiences and lessons in leveraging big data for public purposes. The slides that I used are available HERE.