Feb. 13: Internet shutdowns in Africa, French trolls and AI vs middle class

African countries’ internet shutdowns have economic consequences

The link between technology, international development and security is murky. The NYT has an article focusing on internet shutdowns in Africa – mostly with a security rationale, sometimes covering more political objectives. They associate shutdowns with authoritarian tendencies to thwart political dissent, but also point out the very tangible economic fallouts of such shutdowns: “Between July 1, 2015, and June 30, 2016, 81 short-term internet shutdowns in 19 countries cost at least $2.4 billion in gross domestic product globally” quoting a Brookings figure. Solutions to this issue at the intersection of tech, development and international security are very difficult to find – it’s also hard to dispute such behaviors when Western democracies increasingly curtail digital rights as well for security purposes. One answer is capacity-building for infrastructure, skills and institutions on cyber issues but it is a long-term project that the security and development communities need to develop together – a field that is barely starting today.

The troll army marches on the French election

Following Buzzfeed’s lead, Libération infiltrated some of the command and control centers of the Twitter troll armies focusing on the French election. Buzzfeed initially discovered a group of alleged Trump supporters directing their social media efforts towards France – with private chat rooms to coordinate operations and a particular attention to details: materials that have to be reviewed by nationals to avoid suspicions of foreign intervention. Libération is a left-wing newspaper with a fact-checking column that has recently been the target of such social media ops (part one and part two). What this means is that it’s probably necessary for political campaigns to have teams in place to counter such ops when they occur, but also probably campaign staff infiltrating such centers to be able to anticipate when they are starting and thwart them when they first start.

AI, automation and the middle class 

The last year has seen an intense rise in discussions surrounding the impact AI and automation are having on jobs. There are many good articles on this topic but this short WIRED piece goes straight to the point: “The AI threat is not Skynet. It’s the end of the middle class.” Indeed, AI researchers have been worrying on existential problems instead of concrete economic ones: a recent AI conference came up with the Asilomar principles addressing long-term catastrophic problems in AI but some participants wanted to discuss “fewer imaginary problems and more real ones” – an area where concrete policy options are still elusive. This long MIT Tech Review piece focuses on the pace of automation and its economic impacts – an area where MIT has been a pioneer for many years now – but with, again, very little policy recommendations. The most concrete document on this issues might be Obama’s December report on the topic, a must-read for anyone interested.

Have a unionized Monday!




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