Robots are set to take Africa’s manufacturing jobs even before it has enough

Robots are set to take Africa’s manufacturing jobs even before it has enough
By Lynsey Chutel
Jul 26 2017

It was supposed to be Africa’s century, then the robots arrived.

The dawning of the fourth industrial revolution offered African countries the opportunity to take advantage of technological gains, leapfrogging their developed counterparts. As China did at the end of the last century, Africa could have taken advantage of relatively cheap, semi-skilled labor in its youthful population, finally diversifying the continent’s economies into manufacturing and services as engines for growth.

Instead, everything African workers could have done, robots can do better and faster. Industrial robots and artificial intelligence are increasingly threatening manufacturing in emerging markets. Economist Dani Rodrik calls this missed opportunity “premature deindustrialization” (pdf).

As African populations urbanize, seeking work in factories in the city, unlike Europe and North America’s industrialization, those jobs may already have been taken over by robots and other forms of technology, Rodrik posits. And it’s not just in factories, in service sectors, automation has created call-center jobs but it may also take them away, as the World Bank’s Digital Dividends study pointed out.

For now, Africa only has a regional average of two industrial robots per 100,000 manufacturing workers, according to the World Bank study. The continent could see its emerging markets shed jobs to automation far quicker than in countries like Japan, where the move toward automation has happened, ironically, more organically through local innovation rather than imported machinery.

The disruption introduced by smartphone apps like Uber offer a glimpse of what could happen in manufacturing. Industrial robots could have a far larger impact than a smartphone app, after all, it is far easier to build an app than a robot. Stoking the fear of robots on the continent is that they will take low- and semi-skilled jobs that should have employed Africa’s youthful and growing population, which brings with it a host of socio-economic challenges.

Take Botswana, the landlocked country known for diamonds and political stability. It’s also estimated that 18.4% of youth are unemployed, with some estimates rising up to about a third of young people. In mining, the country’s largest sector, robots are already going to depths that humans simply cannot reach, and bringing up tennis-ball sized stones.

The country has struggled to diversify its resource-driven economy to create jobs. In the retail and manufacturing sector, unions are already beginning to fear the coming of robots. They may know how to negotiate working hours and pay scales, but admit they are utterly unprepared for robots on the shop floor.

“There’s very little even unions can do,” said Dimpho Nyambe, the national organizing secretary for the Cashiers, Shop Assistants and Allied Workers Union in Botswana.

South Africa has been somewhat more successful at diversifying its resource-driven economy, but has already shed thousands of textile jobs to cheaper wages in Asia. Now, sewing industrial robots mean those jobs have little chance of returning, despite the government’s promises. The car-manufacturing sector, once the backbone of one of South Africa’s largest city, Port Elizabeth, also needs fewerhuman workers.


The future of fake news: don’t believe everything you read, see or hear

The future of fake news: don’t believe everything you read, see or hear
A new breed of video and audio manipulation tools allow for the creation of realistic looking news footage, like the now infamous fake Obama speech
By Olivia Solon
Jul 26 2017

In an age of Photoshop, filters and social media, many of us are used to seeing manipulated pictures – subjects become slimmer and smoother or, in the case of Snapchat, transformed into puppies.

However, there’s a new breed of video and audio manipulation tools, made possible by advances in artificial intelligence and computer graphics, that will allow for the creation of realistic looking footage of public figures appearing to say, well, anything. Trump declaring his proclivity for water sports. Hillary Clinton describing the stolen children she keeps locked in her wine cellar. Tom Cruise finally admitting what we suspected all along … that he’s a Brony. 

This is the future of fake news. We’ve long been told not to believe everything we read, but soon we’ll have to question everything we see and hear as well.

For now, there are several research teams working on capturing and synthesizing different visual and and audio elements of human behavior.

Software developed at Stanford University is able to manipulate video footage of public figures to allow a second person to put words in their mouth – in real time. Face2Face captures the second person’s facial expressions as they talk into a webcam and then morphs those movements directly onto the face of the person in the original video. The research team demonstrated their technology by puppeteering videos of George W Bush, Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump.

On its own, Face2Face is a fun plaything for creating memes and entertaining late night talk show hosts. However, with the addition of a synthesized voice, it becomes more convincing – not only does the digital puppet look like the politician, but it can also sound like the politician.

A research team at the University of Alabama at Birmingham has been working on voice impersonation. With 3-5 minutes of audio of a victim’s voice – taken live or from YouTube videos or radio shows – an attacker can create a synthesized voice that can fool both humans and voice biometric security systems used by some banks and smartphones. The attacker can then talk into a microphone and the software will convert it so that the words sound like they are being spoken by the victim – whether that’s over the phone or on a radio show.

Canadian startup Lyrebird has developed similar capabilities, which it says can be used to turn text into on-the-spot audiobooks “read” by famous voices or for characters in video games.

Although their intentions may be well-meaning, voice-morphing technology could be combined with face-morphing technology to create convincing fake statements by public figures.

You only have to look at the University of Washington’s Synthesizing Obama project, where they took the audio from one of Obama’s speeches and used it to animate his face in an entirely different video with incredible accuracy (thanks to training a recurrent neural network with hours of footage), to get a sense of how insidious these adulterations can be.


Lawsuit seeks Ajit Pai’s net neutrality talks with Internet providers

Lawsuit seeks Ajit Pai’s net neutrality talks with Internet providers
FCC accused of not complying with FoIA request for Pai’s talks with ISPs.
Jul 26 2017

The Federal Communications Commission was sued today by a group that says the commission failed to comply with a public records request for communications about net neutrality between FCC officials and Internet service providers.

On April 26, a nonprofit called American Oversight filed a Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) request asking the FCC for all records related to communications on net neutrality between Internet service providers and Chairman Ajit Pai or Pai’s staff. The group asked for “correspondence, e-mails, telephone call logs, calendar entries, meeting agendas,” and any other records of such communications.

The group also asked for similar records related to FCC communications with members of Congress, congressional staff, and members of the media. But American Oversight’s lawsuit against the FCC says the commission hasn’t complied with the requests.

“The FCC has made it clear that they’re ignoring feedback from the general public, so we’re going to court to find out who they’re actually listening to about net neutrality,” American Oversight Executive Director Austin Evers said in the group’s announcement of its lawsuit. “If the Trump administration is going to let industry lobbyists rewrite the rules of the Internet for millions of Americans, we’re going to make them do it in full view of the public.” (Evers was previously a US State Department lawyer.)

FCC repeatedly asked for delays, lawsuit says

American Oversight describes itself as an “organization committed to the promotion of transparency in government” that files public records requests to educate the public about federal government operations. The group’s complaint against the FCC in US District Court for the District of Columbia was detailed in a Gizmodo story and is available here.

“After initially agreeing to process American Oversight’s requests quickly, the FCC repeatedly delayed releasing the records even as the Trump administration continued its work to roll back the open Internet rules,” American Oversight said.

The FoIA law requires an agency to inform a records requester of the agency’s decision to grant or deny access to requested records within 20 business days and to release the records shortly after that.

The FCC repeatedly requested extensions after getting the FoIA request from American Oversight, the group’s complaint says. The nonprofit agreed to the first two extension requests, giving the FCC until July 24 to respond. The FCC asked for another one-month extension on July 21, but American Oversight refused to agree to a third extension.

Since the July 24 deadline passed, “American Oversight has received no further communication from FCC regarding the processing of its FOIA requests,” the complaint said.

American Oversight asked for a court order requiring the FCC to produce the required records within 20 days and to pay damages and court costs.


Corbyn and Sanders Show That Neoliberalism Has Failed to Privatize Hope

[Note: This item comes from friend Robert Berger.  DLH]

Corbyn and Sanders Show That Neoliberalism Has Failed to Privatize Hope
A generation trained to be selfish is anything but. 
By Ronald Aronson
Jul 26 2017

Since the Labour Party’s stunning performance in the UK elections of June 8, comparisons between party leader Jeremy Corbyn and Senator Bernie Sanders have come hot and heavy. It makes sense. After all, here are two old guys calling themselves socialists in the age of neoliberalism. They lead movements full of youthful enthusiasm—against austerity, inequality, and rule by the 1 percent, and in favor of a living wage, free higher education, and robust single-payer health care.

But the conversation tends to ignore the most significant thing that the left insurgencies in the United Kingdom and United States hold in common. A new consensus has emerged among young people that is definitely social democratic—as that term has traditionally been used—or democratic socialist—as Bernie and Jeremy have described themselves. By whatever name, young people are insisting on social solutions to social problems. This consensus rejects the privatizing and individualizing trends that have prevailed since the late 1970s.

Remarkably, this generation—raised, educated, and shaped to neatly fit what Zygmunt Bauman calls “individualized society”—is thinking, aspiring, and acting collectively. They are repudiating spurious but once-galvanizing Reaganite claims to limited government and personal responsibility, turning their backs on Margaret Thatcher’s goal of replacing the “collectivist society” with a “personal society.” In the latest election, the new social democrats/democratic socialists demonstrated that three decades of concerted effort have not changed “the heart and soul of the nation” in quite the way that Thatcher wished for.

They were brought up to be self-seeking entrepreneurs, not to feel responsible for each other. They were primed to accept that every last corner of the world, and their own lives, would be organized by the logic of the market. They were taught to see social contradictions as personal, not political problems—to live by Thatcher’s dictum that “there are individual men and women and there are families…. There is no such thing as society.” Yet, instead of becoming cynical free agents, young people are drawn to the sincerity of Corbyn and Sanders. Against the flashy marketing of their opponents, these men express the humility of old-fashioned values such as fairness and equality. As recent surveys show, young people raised to ensure capitalism’s future have become deeply skeptical of it and many are instead drawn to something called “socialism.”

How can the very same young people trained for the capitalist maelstrom form a leftward political vanguard? Of course, the basis of a rebellion against neoliberal individualism has always been there, because nothing can efface the fact that we are fundamentally social beings. We remain so despite the virtual war carried out since Reagan and Thatcher against the collective side of our existence. While many in the older generation have learned to shift for themselves and ignore their social side, the younger generation cannot. The unrestrained harshness of the bottom line helps explain this turn, because rising inequality and economic insecurity have become especially intolerable to young people facing their future. In addition, at least two kinds of generational awareness have heightened their sense of social belonging: threats to the environment and global interconnectedness.

The perils of climate change predispose anyone growing up today to see herself as belonging to the ever-more-besieged natural world: linked with, dependent on, and worried about natural processes and beings everywhere. They increasingly live on the planet Earth.


A people-owned internet exists. Here is what it looks like

A people-owned internet exists. Here is what it looks like
The future of the internet is in peril, thanks to surveillance, net neutrality and other assaults. But there are communities that are building their own
By Nathan Schneider
Jul 26 2017

Like many Americans, I don’t have a choice about my internet service provider. I live in a subsidized housing development where there’s only one option, and it happens to be, by some accounts, the most hated company in the United States.

Like its monstrous peers, my provider is celebrating that Congress has recently permitted it to spy on me. Although it pretends to support the overwhelming majority of the country’s population who oppose net neutrality, it has been trying to bury the principle of an open internet for years and, under Trump’s Federal Communications Commission, is making good progress.

I can already feel my browsing habits shift. I’m reigning in curiosities a bit more, a bit more anxious about who might be watching. I’ve taken to using a VPN, like people have to do to access the open internet from China. And the real effects go deeper than personal anxieties. 

Although the fight for an open internet tends to have Silicon Valley tech bros at the forefront, it’s a racial justice issue; arbitrary powers for corporations tend not to help marginalized populations. It’s a rural justice issue, too. 

The big service providers pushing the deregulation spree are the same companies that have so far refused to bring broadband to less-dense areas. They are holding under-served communities hostage by proposing a deal: roll back rights to private, open media, and we’ll give you cheaper internet. Trump’s Republican party is taking the bait.

This is not a deal we need to make. It shouldn’t be necessary to choose between universal access and basic rights. But this deal has been a long time coming, thanks to long campaigns to convince us there is no other way. It turns out, though, there is.

Up in the mountains west of me, a decade and a half ago, the commercial internet service providers weren’t bringing high-speed connectivity to residents, so a group of neighbors banded together and created their own internet cooperative. Big providers love making their jobs sound so complicated that nobody else could do it, but these people set up their own wireless network, and they still maintain it. 

Of course, their service remains pretty rudimentary; the same can’t be said of Longmont, Colorado, a city 20 minutes from where I live in the opposite direction. There, the city-owned NextLight fiber network provides some of the fastest connectivity in the country for a reasonable price. In Longmont, all the surveillance and anti-neutrality stuff simply isn’t relevant.

“As a not-for-profit community-owned broadband provider, our loyalty is entirely to our customer-owners,” a spokesman recently told the local paper. “That will not change, regardless of what happens to the FCC regulations in question.”

Municipalities across the country, from Santa Monica to Chattanooga, have quietly created their own internet service providers – and for the most part residents love them, especially in comparison to the competition. 

A major reason more towns haven’t followed suit is that the big telecoms companies have lobbied hard to discourage or outright ban community broadband, pressuring many states to enact legal barriers. It’s happening again in West Virginia. But the tide may be turning. 

Consumer Reports has taken up a crusade against these restrictions. Colorado has one on the books, but jurisdictions can opt out by referendum. Following Longmont’s example, in the 2016 election, the citizens of 26 cities and counties in the state opened the door to building internet service providers of their own.

Local government isn’t the only path for creating internet service accountable to its users. On the far western end of the state, an old energy cooperative called Delta Montrose Electric Association has created a new offering for its member-owners, Elevate Fiber. It delivers a remarkable 100 megabits per second – upload anddownload – to homes for $50 a month. 

Electric co-ops once brought power to rural areas to people that investor-owned companies wouldn’t serve, and now they’re starting to do the same with broadband. The Obama-era FCC supported these efforts. Donald Trump has voiced support for rural broadband in general, but it remains to be seen whether that will mean subsidies for big corporations, whose existing customers despise them, or opportunities for communities to take control of the internet for themselves.

Whatever happens in Washington, we can start building an internet that respects our rights on the local level. What would be the best route for creating community broadband in your community?


An easy way for the FCC to boost wireless competition

An easy way for the FCC to boost wireless competition
By Elizabeth Hyman and Matt Starr
Jul 26 2017

Everyone wants faster wireless speeds and broader connectivity. How many of us have shaken our fists in collective frustration when the speed of our devices hasn’t kept up with speed of our lives?

Of course, wireless and broadband connectivity is about much more than checking email on the street corner or accessing Facebook at the beach. It’s becoming a necessity for day-to-day life in America. It’s the engine driving the future of innovation, from Smart Cities and the Internet of Things to self-driving vehicles and streaming content.

Luckily, the next generation of wireless is on its way. Advances in broadband infrastructure and small cell technology have heralded the advent of 5G wireless, which will bring faster speeds, lower latency, and more capacity than today’s networks.

Companies like Verizon, Google and AT&T have been testing and deploying innovative broadband infrastructure to support 5G technology for more than a year now. But the effort to build the infrastructure to support that technology has been hampered by anti-competitive behavior and out-of-date regulations.

Most people may not realize it, but installing the physical infrastructure for a wireless world is laborious and methodical work. Internet service providers need to attach wires or fiber to actual utility poles. Those poles are often owned by either local utilities or legacy ISPs.

When a company deploys a network in a new market or expands a network in an existing one, it often needs to attach its wires to thousands of poles. Under current regulations, companies that are already on the poles must physically move their wires on the pole to make room for the new provider.

That process creates incentives for existing providers to block and delay new competitors in the market. Current rules require new competitors to wait up to five months before beginning the process of wiring existing utility poles. It can take even longer for large requests. The fines that legacy companies incur for needlessly dragging out the process have become, for some, the price of doing business.

The Federal Communications Commission is considering regulatory changes that would increase broadband competition, improve speeds, lower customer costs, and help pave the way for the next generation of both wired and wireless networks.

Increased broadband competition will not just make the average consumer experience more gratifying; building a nimble infrastructure today will power the jobs and innovation of tomorrow by providing all industries with the technological tools they need to compete on a global stage. And a national plan would help to bridge the digital divide by hastening broadband deployment in underserved communities — a priority identified by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai earlier this year.

As it considers these changes, the FCC should do what forward-thinking cities around the country have already done — adopt rules that speed up the process for attaching broadband wires and fiber to utility poles. Several cities in the U.S have implemented a process called “one-touch, make-ready,” which allows new broadband competitors to hire utility-approved contractors to do the work instead of having to wait for legacy companies to act. Such an approach would cut months off the pole attachment process, bringing new choices in broadband to consumers faster.


China’s “Minority Report” Style Plans Will Use AI to Predict Who Will Commit Crimes

[Note:  This item comes from friend Jennifer Snow.  DLH]

China’s “Minority Report” Style Plans Will Use AI to Predict Who Will Commit Crimes
By Karla Lant
Jul 25 2017

Crime Prevention

Authorities in China are exploring predictive analytics, facial recognition, and other artificial intelligence (AI) technologies to help prevent crime in advance. Based on behavior patterns, authorities will notify local police about potential offenders.

Cloud Walk, a company headquartered in Guangzhou, has been training its facial recognition and big data rating systems to track movements based on risk levels. Those who are frequent visitors to weapons shops or transportation hubs are likely to be flagged in the system, and even places like hardware stores have been deemed “high risk” by authorities.

A Cloud Walk spokesman told The Financial Times, “Of course, if someone buys a kitchen knife that’s OK, but if the person also buys a sack and a hammer later, that person is becoming suspicious.” Cloud Walk’s software is connected to the police database across more than 50 cities and provinces, and can flag suspicious characters in real time.

China is also using “personal re-identification” in crime prediction: identifying the same person in different places, even if they’re wearing different clothes. “We can use re-ID to find people who look suspicious by walking back and forth in the same area, or who are wearing masks,” Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics professor of bodily recognition Leng Biao told The Financial Times. “With re-ID, it’s also possible to reassemble someone’s trail across a large area.”

China is, in many ways, the ideal place to use this kind of technology. The government has an extensive archive of data from citizen records and more than 176 million surveillance cameras. In other words, China has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to big data, and can train its AI systems very effectively, without any meaningful legal hurdles.

AI And Safety

These aren’t the only ways that China is extending its AI capabilities. The government just revealed a massive, well-organized and funded plan to make China the global leader in AI by 2030. The nation deploys facial recognition in schools to counter cheating, on streets to fight jaywalking, and even in bathrooms to limit toilet paper waste. It should come as no surprise that the Chinese government would also employ these technologies to prevent crime — and maybe even predict it.

“If we use our smart systems and smart facilities well, we can know beforehand . . . who might be a terrorist, who might do something bad,” China’s vice-minister of science and technology Li Meng said to The Financial Times.