General


It is increasingly common to read/hear references to the Big Five (Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft) as the entities shaping our virtual experiences, and perhaps the trajectory of human development. But why are Alibaba and Tencent not included in this conversation? This Digital Asia Hub piece provides a valuable corrective: The attributes, connections, and behaviors we capture in our data — and how we model them — shape what our AIs value, and how they behave, i.e., their culture.
Just yesterday, I wrote about the new regulation being rolled out by Facebook. Here is a description by Farhad Manjoo of the nuts and bolts of its operation. The people who work on News Feed aren’t making decisions that turn on fuzzy human ideas like ethics, judgment, intuition or seniority. They are concerned only with quantifiable outcomes about people’s actions on the site. That data, at Facebook, is the only real truth.
Appears Myanmar will have two mobile money services in operation by end 2017, raising interconnection issues for which there still is no regulatory mechanism in place. The new mobile money services, M-Pitesan, will enable the telco’s customers to send money instantly within the country. Customers will also be able to buy airtime for themselves or others, said Jacques Voogt, Chief M-Commerce officer for Ooredoo Myanmar. Since the entry of foreign telecom players in 2014, Myanmar has seen its mobile penetration cross 90 per cent. With about 77 per cent of the population lacking access to banking, mobile money services offer an opportunity to drive financial inclusion in the country.
We have been an open research organization from the outset. Now our funders have made it a requirement. The principal rationale is that we want our research to be used. The nationally representative survey referred to below, by the authors of a major Gates funded study on mobile financial services, is our 2016 survey. Our research team conducted a country-level diagnostic that leveraged data from the Central Bank, Ministry of Communications, the three telecommunication companies operating in Myanmar, Facebook, Viber, a nationally representative Information and Communication Technology survey of 7,500 households, and recent census data from the UNFPA.
Facebook has published a 13-page “white paper” on the ways by which its platform has been, and continues to be, used for information operations by various actors including state actors. The document presents certain remedial actions being taken by Facebook, most relying on anomaly detection techniques from data analytics and natural language processing. Providing a platform for diverse viewpoints while maintaining authentic debate and discussion is a key component of Facebook’s mission. We recognize that, in today’s information environment, social media plays a sizable role in facilitating communications — not only in times of civic events, such as elections, but in everyday expression. In some circumstances, however, we recognize that the risk of malicious actors seeking to use Facebook to mislead people or otherwise promote inauthentic communications can be higher.
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.
We have argued that zero rated services that don’t discriminate against providers of similar content are less problematic than the ones that do. So, for example, a zero-rated service that allows users to stream music for free without discriminating based on who provides (produces, distributes or aggregates) the music is less problematic because music from any content provider has an equal chance of being streamed, as long as the users like it, without interference from a gatekeeper. The Netherlands courts appear to agree – today they ruled that T-Mobile’s zero rated music service is allowed, even though it is against the country’s net neutrality rulings.   More info at mobileworldlive.com  
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.
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.
LIRNEasia is looking to fill a vacancy on a multi-country survey research project. The full job description is available here. The deadline for application is 23 April 2017.
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.
LIRNEasia has a culture of internal colloquia – either pertaining to one’s research or of general interest. This is good because it forces some of us to read. And think. Once ingrained, it lingers on subconsciously, is applied (if and when applicable) or in the least provides perspective. Either way, the outcome is positive.
More media in India are picking up on the importance of what we’ve learned about BharatNet. Voice and Data used information from the BharatNet study for a piece published on April 06, 2017. BharatNet (formally the National Optic Fibre Network) was meant to provide broadband internet to rural villages in India. While the existing network itself has issues, last-mile connectivity has been completely missed. LIRNEasia went in to look at the potential role of institutions to fill the gap, and found a serious lack of awareness and no significant middle-mile connections.