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Digital Transformation Creates Digital Divide

Technological changes have caused disruption and transformation on a massive scale. Even something as innocent looking as the iPad or the iPhone have made a bold impact in the way people work, live and play. The problem with the march of technology is that a lot of people are getting left behind, causing a digital divide. This is not only true of developing countries but also true of long-developed industrial countries.

Niall Dunne, the Chief Sustainability Officer of the BT Group Plc., made a bold proposition in a recent weforum.org article – leveraging technology to bridge the widening “digital” gap in society. He explained that computers and other electronic devices have gotten faster, internet speeds are reaching highs of 23% speed increments on a yearly basis, and the price of technology in general continues to fall. Adjusted for inflation, the cost of computers has declined by 99.9% compared to January 1980 prices. Software prices have also decreased by almost the same percentage since 1980.

Amidst all these changes, there is now a growing group of people who are neither “blue collar” nor “white collar” workers. Dunne calls them the “no collar digital natives”. They have taken advantage of their grasp of technology and their ease of access to forge careers which did not exist as late as ten or five years ago.

Through all the rapid development, the real issue is that there are large swaths of the earth’s population who have not been able to keep up due to various reasons, including poverty, lack of infrastructure, as well as different priorities. The benefits of internet access are not being enjoyed by everyone. This is a concern because of the divide being created between those who are connected, and those who are not.


According to the weforum.org article on the digital divide highlights that “access to the internet is essential, but access is nothing without skills and empowerment”. According to the JRF (Joseph Rowntree Foundation), around 5 million adults do not have basic numeracy, reading and writing skills, and “a further 12.6 million adults lack basic digital skills” and this is in the UK, one of the most developed countries in the world.

“access to the internet is essential, but access is nothing without skills and empowerment”

It is not that the brakes should be put on progress, rather, equal opportunity and access should be addressed in order for the disconnected to catch up. The same technology which has fueled growth and change, and has pushed the arrival of the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”, can be used to bridge the divide. With creative use of technology, countries and people who do not have fast internet connection or have no internet connection at all, can be given the chance to join the revolution.

One way to do this is through the classroom. By empowering learners with the use of internet tools, computers, tablets and other devices to access the internet, the youth would be in a better position to thrive in the next wave of progress. In addition, new methods of studying and learning, and less of exam-focused instruction would enable more creativity to harness these tools for the future. This bold idea is inclusive in scope and can be replicated in other cultures with less internet infrastructure.

Develop the use of Data-Driven Public Policy Approach

Code for America, a non-profit organization with a mission to use technology to improve government services, advocates a bold idea: Suppose we use a user-centered, data-driven public policy approach.

In software and website development, developers use a systematic approach to product development and improvement. Typically, the developer provides a beta version to a limited number of users. In an iterative process, feedback from the users enables the developer to debug and restructure the product to meet the end users’ needs and preferences better.


“Making sausage” is the term frequently used to describe the political process engaged in developing data-driven public policy and in creating the associated laws necessary to implement and enforce those policies.

Most data-driven public policy is generated in a backroom somewhere, where particular special interests squabble to make their voices heard. The policy is rolled out when policymakers believe they have made the best “sausage” they can make. In many cases, the result is an imperfect policy wherein actual outcomes can deviate substantially from intended ones. Imperfect policy leads to imperfect laws.

User feedback - data driven public policy making

What would it look like to use a user-centered, data-driven public policy and lawmaking approach? A Code for America project provides a simple example. In the process of assigning students to public schools, the City of Boston decided to encourage more students to walk to school by implementing a policy, wherein ”students who applied to schools within their walk zone (1 mile for elementary school, 1.5 miles for middle school, 2 miles from high school) would be given more top priority in the school selection process.”

An app was created for parents to use to determine which schools within these radii were available for their child.  The parents were able to provide feedback, and through the comments, school department officials learned that some of the actual routes the children would have to take to get to the schools required many more miles than the policy intended. The policy was adjusted as necessary to fit reality.

This process can be used on a larger scale (think the Affordable Healthcare Act) to provide the feedback needed to fix defective law. After working with Tom Loosemore, a Code for America member, one UK policymaker came to this realization, “what I’m holding is 500 pages of untested assumptions.”

As more bold policymakers recognize the value of not only using technology to enhance productivity but looking beyond the technology to incorporate a data-driven public policy approach and lawmaking society can only benefit from better policy and better law.

 

Reference: 

  1. Jennifer Pahika, “Beyond Tech: Policymaking in a Digital Age,” Code for America (blog), Medium, March 30, 2017, https://medium.com/code-for-america/beyond-tech-policymaking-in-a-digital-age-2776b9a17b69

Future of Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency Hangs In The Balance

Despite bitcoin’s recent successes, there’s a war breaking out in the community which threatens the digital currency’s future. Transactions have become time consuming and problematic which could turn customers off, and serious issues have arisen over the best way to deal with it.

According to Business Insider, developers and stakeholders are locked in a battle over how best to scale the network, stating that “bitcoin is in crisis”.


Problems recently faced were down to the currency becoming so popular that the software can’t handle the traffic flying through it. The war brewing is focused around what’s the best cause of action to take to ensure the currency can flourish and continue to grow.

‘average time it takes to complete a bitcoin transaction is 13 minutes’

Business Insider breaks down the complex logistics of where the issues lie: “Bitcoin transactions are processed in so-called “blocks” that involve complex cryptography to verify and set the transactions. But as the currency grows and more and more transactions take place, the one megabyte size limit on blocks that is built into the system is becoming an issue, causing delays in processing transactions. A purchase might take hours to confirm, making it unwieldy for real-world use.”

The average time it takes to complete a bitcoin transaction is 13 minutes, and companies including Bitpay and Coinbase are increasing the cost of their administration services to cater for the antiquated and time consuming transaction process.

Experts say that if bitcoin is to become a commercial success, then these issues need to be ironed out for long-term growth. However, although the community is in full agreement that a revamp is needed, there is massive divide over what is the best course of action for an effective streamlining process.

The two opposing arguments derive from ‘Bitcoin Unlimited’ and ‘Segregated Witness’. Both organizations have proposed updates to the bitcoin network that could change its functionality, both notions are innovative but can’t co-exist. The two ideas could theoretically form two different digital currencies.

Bitcoin transactions are stored in “blockchains”, which is a series of blocks of transactions linked together. The entire transaction history of all bitcoin can be viewed on the blockchain. The new proposals suggest the best method is a “hard fork” which would split this chain in two, producing a new chain of transactions splitting from the original one. The issues arise as to whether it should be a centralized or de-centralized system.

To understand this, you should also understand bitcoin mining, which is where the “miners” mine through the transaction data to verify the transaction and are in return rewarded with newly issued bitcoin. This incentive allows people to give up their computer power to make a more centralized system work.

Bitcoin Unlimited would allow miners to increase the block size as and when required, which would effectively give them control of the Bitcoin network. Miners argue this is important, they state that “the programming of bitcoin limits the lifetime supply of bitcoin to just 21 million. Once they are all in circulation, miners will need some sort of incentive to process transactions — hence control of fees,” Business Insider writes.

Bitcoin transaction overload
Re-working the make-up of transactions

Segregated Witness is proposing a different system which is favored by many bitcoin developers, and keeps the currency more de-centralized.

Segregated Witness wants to rejig the makeup of transactions, “stripping out some details such as signatures. It would also add some extra functionality, including possibly moving some transactions off-chain in a way that might not benefit the miners. This solution would keep control over the bitcoin network de-centralized.”

The sell and draw of bitcoin to date has been the fact that it works independently of any bank, financial organization or any source of centralized source of power or control. Experts state that keeping the system as a more de-centralized body will work in its favor.

The US Securities and Exchange Commission recently rejected an attempt by the Winklevoss brothers to launch a Bitcoin exchange tracker fund (ETF) which would have revolutionized the currencies commercial reach, and diversified it from a de-centralized system.

Bitcoin is constantly looking at innovative ways of becoming a more commercial entity, one that not only revolutionizes online payments and currencies, but one that will be adopted by everyday citizens without fear of losing their ‘bitcoin’. Time will tell, but one thing is certain bitcoin is certainly a safe and viable option for businesses to look at for streamlining their payment systems.