A.I., A.I., captain!

Joseph Stiglitz, he of former World Bankiness, haver of the 2001 Nobel Prize in economics who warned that globalization was taking place at the behest international conglomerates rather than “forces,” now comes to light his hair on fire present similar cautions about Artificial Intelligence:

“Artificial intelligence and robotisation have the potential to increase the productivity of the economy and, in principle, that could make everybody better off,” he says. “But only if they are well managed.”

Beyond the impact of AI on work, Stiglitz sees more insidious forces at play. Armed with AI, tech firms can extract meaning from the data we hand over when we search, buy and message our friends. It is used ostensibly to deliver a more personalised service. That is one perspective. Another is that our data is used against us.

“These new tech giants are raising very deep issues about privacy and the ability to exploit ordinary people that were never present in earlier eras of monopoly power,” says Stiglitz. “Beforehand, you could raise the price. Now you can target particular individuals by exploiting their information.”

It is the potential for datasets to be combined that most worries Stiglitz. For example, retailers can now track customers via their smartphones as they move around stores and can gather data on what catches their eye and which displays they walk straight past.

The data farming of which we are all willing seeds know no boundaries, recognizes no politics and sees only profits. Shaded with the camouflage of complexity, it is a winning hand. Are we up for the ‘boring overwhelming’ of taking on the Tech giants? Wait, let me come in again…

Image: Warehouse operated by Amazon, via The Guardian

The Foreign(ness of) Aid

From LG&M, Americans still in a rage about issues of which we are greatly uninformed. Which is different from uniformed, though there is probably an appropriate  jumper or pants suit:

The weekend before President Clinton’s State of the Union Address, the Wall Street Journal assembled a focus group of middle-class white males to plumb the depth of their proverbial anger. These guys are mad as hell. They’re mad at welfare, they’re mad at special-interest lobbyists. “But perhaps the subject that produces the most agreement among the group,” the Journal reports, is the view that Washington should stop sending money abroad and instead zero in on the domestic front.

“a poll released last week[1995, ed.] by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland which stated that 75% of Americans believes that the US spends “too much” on foreign aid, and 64% want foreign aid spending cut. Apparently a cavalier 11% of Americans think it’s fine to spend “too much” on foreign aid. Respondents were also asked, though, how big a share of the federal budget goes to foreign aid. The median answer was 15%; the average answer was 18% the correct answer is less than 1%. A question about how much would be “too little” produced a median answer of 3%–more than three times the current level of foreign aid spending.

Wisely transferring money from rich people or countries to poorer people or countries is one of the keystones to good public policy. To the extent we care about it, it’s one of the ways we construct an equitable society and definitely one of the ways we do things like secure the peace (Marshall Plan), bribe the enemy (Iraq) and otherwise incentivize behavior on the part of our strategic partners (examples too numerous to list). This goes doubly for trying to effect lower CO2 emissions around the globe. But we only need to look to the above to see how far the rock will fly.

And while we also spend money in a multitude of horrific ways around the globe, the idea of climate debt was a subject of some contention at COP15. Grist hits a good tee shot on the subject.

The climate pollution already in the atmosphere has “locked in” a certain degree of climate change. Since rich nations produced the bulk of historical pollution, they bear the bulk of the responsibility for the damages that result. Those damages will fall disproportionately on the world’s poorest countries, which bear the least responsibility. Given the situation, rich countries are obliged to help poor countries pay to adapt to climate change and mitigate its effects.

How we get on the green from there, well… it’s an open question as to whether the debt model is the right one. But how ever we come to frame climate justice – and it’s going to be Orwellian orchid sex if there’s ever been any – it must result in the further collapse of the detachment and separation model featuring the highly useful us/them split, of which climate change is the biggest harbinger of all time. It’s why we hate it – odorless, borderless and raceless.