Rohan Samarajiva, Author at LIRNEasia — Page 20 of 182


It’s been a few years since LIRNEasia had funded research on waste management. But that does not mean that the knowledge that was accumulated has gone away. In the context of increased salience of knowledge on waste management, Human Capital Research Team Leader Sujata Gamage has been much in demand. Here is a voice clip, in Sinhala, that was broadcast and is making the rounds in social media.
It’s not possible to give people what they want from ICTs (connectivity, quality, low price) without investment. So we are always happy when investment in telecom increases, especially in countries where the sector has been starved of investment for long like Myanmar. But we have to keep in mind that what the sector produces is not internationally tradeable (except for roaming services). The consumption occurs within the country. It contributes to the advancement of all other sectors, and thus indirectly to growing the entire economy including exports.
Professor Gregg Vanderheiden has a record of achievements in enabling the differently abled to use technology such as personal computers and automated teller machines. Through Raising the Floor, an international organization that he established, Professor Vanderheiden is working on an ambitious initiative to create a platform that will make it possible for various interfaces to “morph” into forms accessible to users with disabilities (which includes many people who are not so identified ordinarily). For the interfaces to be fully responsive to the unique needs of each of the users, the platform would have to know about their preferences and behaviors. Raising the Floor is taking the issues of putting in place strong safeguards for these data and to ensure that harms are avoided. For this purpose, they convened expert groups in Geneva and Washington DC.
I’ve been working on privacy since 1991. I guess when one has been engaged with a subject deeply, one escapes the bubble effect: that of believing that one particular issue/value is paramount. But I interact with many people now, who seem to think that privacy is a paramount value even if some of the “safeguards” they want to put in place would basically make it impossible to use big data for the public good. Humans understand through analogical reasoning. So perhaps understanding about what we want to do with big data for the public good can be understood by this analogy with medical research using leftover materials from medical procedures?
In 2008-10 LIRNEasia completed a research project on knowledge to innovation, that had a major focus on solid waste disposal. Following the garbage landslide just outside Colombo a week ago, the country has been aflame in debate on solid waste management. The PI of the solid waste project was invited to participate in a TV talk show two days ago. Her principal point was that there were too many government entities involved. Now we see the President making the same point.
Six years ago, we were discussing how to accelerate app development in the context of a proposal we submitted to infoDev. Instead of giving the grant to us, they chose to give it to some Pakistani government outfit where the entire thing was still-born. But the relevance to the question of what comes after the smartphone is a conversation I had with Sanjiva Weerawarana, one of Sri Lanka’s ICT leaders. It is easy now to talk about how popular smartphones would be. But back in 2011 it took some foresight to claim as Sanjiva did that smartphones would dominate the marketplace.

What is innovation?

Posted on April 20, 2017  /  1 Comments

Having just heard from a funder with the word innovation in its name that a concept note in disaster risk reduction that we submitted was not innovative enough, I’ve been thinking about this slippery term. Then comes along the NYT tech columnist Farhad Manjoo: There is a rich history in this industry of taking someone else’s idea and adding your own spin on it to improve tech for everyone. Apple’s Steve Jobs and the team behind the original Mac were inspired by a bunch of ideas floating around tech research circles, including at Xerox PARC. Then Microsoft’s chief executive, Bill Gates, saw the Mac’s success and — by creating a new business model for the PC industry — he ushered in an even bigger deal: graphical computers that could get cheap enough for most people to own. Or look at the smartphone.
Preparing for a session of the Privacy Advisory Group of UN Global Pulse and the UN Privacy Policy Group on 17-18 April, I had cause to reflect on some moves to develop new definitions (sensitive data, meta data and micro data). I may change my mind after listening to the deliberation, but here’s my starting position: Definitions are developed with some purpose in mind. A definition that is appropriate for one purpose may not be useful for another. Definitions embody assumptions and agendas. I believe that personally identifiable information (PII), a venerable category of data deeply embedded in privacy theory and practice is the only category of data requiring hard protection.
With massive numbers detailed in the Mobile World Live report, Tanzania is the current success story in mobile-led financial services. What caught my attention was the need for interconnection rules if the market has four suppliers. World Bank country director for Tanzania, Somalia, Burundi and Malawi, Bella Bird (pictured) said: “The mobile money revolution has made a tremendous impact on the lives of millions of people who can now send and receive money and thus save at low cost. With more effort, the remaining one-third of Tanzanians could also have access.” According to the latest GSMA Intelligence statistics for Tanzania, by the end of Q1 2016 there were four competing mobile money services available in the country.
We at LIRNEasia have been promoting cell broadcasting for a long time. It is immune to congestion, message over it can be specific to location; and it does not require prior registration of numbers. It has thousands of “channels” and can therefore handle multiple languages, including those of tourists who are visiting. Therefore, we are very happy that Canada, which has supported our disaster risk reduction research is the latest country to get behind cell broadcasting: The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) today directed all wireless service providers to implement a wireless public alerting system on their LTE (long-term evolution) networks by April, 2018. This system will allow emergency management officials, such as fire marshals and police agencies, to warn Canadians on their mobile devices of dangers to life and property.
In the course of preparing for a talk, I was entering household expenditure data on communication-related activities into a spreadsheet that contained data from the 2009-10 Household Income and Expenditure Survey (HIES). In the three years since 2009-10 many things have happened to expenditure patterns, but one thing jumped out. In 2009-10 a household reported an average expenditure of LKR 382.72 outside the home per month. In 2012-13, this had declined to LKR 17.
The following story about Ethiopia, a country still listed as a least-developed country (LDC), wanting to put up its own communication and earth-sensing satellites caught my eye, because this is a perennial story in South Asia. In January the government said it would launch a Chinese-built civilian satellite from an overseas rocket pad within the next five years. It would be designed to Ethiopian specifications and used to monitor crops and the weather, and doubtless to spy on neighbours, too. The government also wants to reduce reliance on foreign telecoms by launching its own communications satellite. In putting its own satellites into orbit Ethiopia would join the select club of African nations that have already done so.

Misconceptions about ICT, Part 2

Posted on April 4, 2017  /  0 Comments

This post is part of series of responses to observations made during a discuss on the “Aluth Parlimenthuwa” show on TV Derana. Read Part I here. In Part 2, I address policymaker misconceptions about the contributions of ICT to economic growth. In the talk show, at around the 29th minute, the policymaker refers to a study that claimed that 10 percent growth in broadband penetration would result in some x percent economic growth. This is most likely the widely cited 2009 econometric study by Christine Qiang and Carlo Rossotto which claimed 0.
The Department of Census and Statistics has published the preliminary results of the 2016 Computer Literacy Survey. The survey has its beginnings in the e Sri Lanka initiative which supported the initial iterations starting from 2004. This is the sixth in the series. One expects indicators such as literacy and device ownership to increase every year. But not in 2016.
In our formal submission to the PUCSL in 2013, we highlighted the urgency of connecting the two grids. The case was made in public and private. Obviously we welcome the statement below, despite the fact that “plans are underway” is a favorite weasel phrase of the Sri Lankan bureaucracy: Plans are underway to connect Sri Lanka’s power grid with the Indian power grid to boost power generation within the next five years. “The Sri Lankan government is already having talks with the Indian government on this project,” according to Chairman of the Electricity Board (CEB) Anura Wijayapala. Full report.
LIRNEasia Research Fellow Grace Mirandilla Santos has had the opportunity to identify the top consumer issues at the first Telecommunications Summit organized by the newly created Department of Information and Communications Technology recently. She writes about it in TelecomAsia: Although I’m very passionate about consumer woes—and it’s very easy to get carried away—I showed the results of studies and analyses by third (mostly disinterested) parties, as researchers are wont to do. I gathered statistics from Akamai Technologies, OpenSignal, The Economist Intelligence Unit, ITU’s Broadband Commission, and Measuring the Information Society reports. For validation, I threw in some of my own research done for LIRNEasia and a latest collaboration using Big Data analytics. What was common in these studies was that the country’s internet service is improving, but continues to be one of the slowest and most expensive in the region.