Technology’s Impact This Week: 17th September

This is the fourth of a possibly more regular commentary on the impact that information technology is having on society, based on recent developments. This post is based on items posted in my Twitter feed: @impactofinfo  Comments on its value and on how it might be improved are welcome to

The impact of information technology on many workplaces was widely discussed this week. Agriculture is a sector that has seen significant change already and much more is anticipated. This week we heard how drones, robotic sprayers and much more were impacting farming.

We also learned about how data, artificial intelligence and the internet of things are impacting manufacturing in a post from the McKinsey organisation. They provided some tips on how these technologies might be effectively applied.

Meanwhile the impact of technology on people at work continued to be an area of concern. New research appeared on how workers are being affected.  Collaboration between robots and workers at Amazon was described.

Nervousness about the power of large technology companies appears to be increasing. In both the US and the European community, measures to limit their freedom and control their impact were being debated. Washington was looking at tighter regulation of Facebook and Google, influenced by Russian influence in the presidential election. Steve case agued that the tech firms face a growing backlash about their failure to invest in middle America and Franklin Foer expressed concern in a new book.

Europe were discussing how the tech firms could pay more tax and pressured them to cull more illegal content. Internet political censorship continues to be discussed. Russia’s new theory of war was articulated – based on information technology. A new Twitter bot strategy was described.

Facebook announced plans to hunt for AI talent in Canada – the latest in a growing list of companies that are doing this.

Cryptocurrencies (such as Bitcoin) have attracted increasing attention with mining of bitcoins in China being detailed and a cautionary tale of the Dogecoin, which was created as a joke and attracted real investors. A local currency in Liverpool attracted attention – it was designed to spur local economic development, while caution about the digitisation of payments was urged.

The suburbs of the future are well described in an article that appeared this week. The impact that technology will have on suburban development is a very good example of how the world will change for many people in the not too distant future. Some Amish communities have started using cellphones and computers.

The UN released a new report this week that draws attention to the digital divide between developed and developing nations. This has been a concern for some years and this concern is continuing. Varying connection speeds and access to technology are argued to be hampering the benefits that developing countries gain. Advice was also provided on how data can be used to promote inclusive activity in organisations.

 Interesting items also appeared on the use of information technology in the horseracing world, the re-emergence of concerns about clowns in Australia and the website Mumsnet were alarmed by the increasing incidence of foul language in their discussion forums.  The promotion of products by celebrities in their social media feeds – which can allow them to make substantial sums of money.

Useful advice was provided on exploring cities using your smartphone. Happy travels.

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Technology’s Impact This Week: 10th September

This is the third of a possibly more regular commentary on the impact that information technology is having on society, based on recent developments. This post is based on items posted in my Twitter feed: @impactofinfo  Comments on its value and on how it might be improved are welcome to

Economic transformation of areas that have been badly impacted by technological advance is increasingly important. As automation and globalisation increase it is thought that many areas in many countries will require support to change, adapt and take advantage of the benefits that these developments offer. Alternatively, many express concern about the political instability that will result if government policy does not address this area. The importance of entrepreneurship in providing new jobs is widely recognised and one approach to its support was outlined this week.

Entrepreneurship’s role in developing countries as also discussed with arguments being made for support for local entrepreneurs rather than encouragement of development oriented entrepreneurs from developed countries with Harvard degrees.

Hurricane Irma drew attention to the debate on climate change and discussion of whether Irma and Harvey could be attributed to it. NPR had one contribution that says that attribution is clear and unequivocal.

Irma led to articles appearing in a number of technology oriented areas. The importance of cellular connectivity in emergency situations is highlighted by the efforts that providers now make to maintain and ensure the quick restoration of cell signals in a disaster. The technology that is now used for hurricane forecasting is extensive and a good summary of it was provided this week. Advice was provided on preparing for a natural disaster, particularly including personal technology.

Home robots have advanced significantly over the past year and Nicholas Carr (no known relation) discusses the form that they have taken. Most are stationery objects rather than the humanoid machines of science fiction.

Artificial intelligence has been regularly debated recently. Its impact on jobs and international politics were considered by Michael Osborne who says that 47 % of all jobs could be automated with serious political consequences. An article in Real Clear Defence looked at the impact of AI in the military, part of the wider discussion of the impact of information technology in modern warfare. EU defense ministers took part in their first ever cyber war game this week. IBM and MIT announced a 10 year, $240 million AI research partnership.

Automation’s impact on middle managers was argued to be liberating according to a piece from Insead professors.

Technology’s impact on human capabilities, the creation of “transhumanist” body modifications is an area that is receiving increasing attention as new capabilities emerge. What are the ethical questions associated with this and how should they be addressed?

Social media stardom and the creation of businesses and wealth as a result of this were highlighted in an article about Jake Paul who harnesses teen rebellion in pursuit of dollars. Personal privacy is an increasing concern for many users of social media and an art project this week drew to its severity. Instagram is especially popular at the moment and another art project drew attention to it.

Censorship of internet content has been associated with the growth of fake news and the rise of political populism and there is much debate over the policies that should be adopted. An interesting angle on this appeared this week when YouTube shut down North Korean propaganda channels. Many argued that this was removing a valuable source of intelligence on the regime’s actions.

Similarly, the position of the big technology companies on Chinese government demands has raised concerns about its democratic impact globally. Social media’s role in encouraging democracy was widely lauded a few years ago – now there is more scepticism. The politics of Silicon Valley were the subject of a study that was released, revealing that they were mostly left of centre with a few areas of exception. LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman is supporting anti Trump groups.

Digital technology’s impact on personal banking in developing countries has been seen as having a positive impact in recent years. The contribution that it might make, especially for the “unbanked” in developed countries was considered in the Economist this week.

The apps that teens and tweens are using today were described – valuable information for any of you with children of that age, as they head back to school.

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Technology’s Impact This Week: September 5th 2017

This is the second of a possibly more regular commentary on the impact that information technology is having on society, based on recent developments. This post is based on items posted in my Twitter feed: @impactofinfo  Comments on its value and on how it might be improved are welcome to

This week saw the conclusion of an important court case for workers in the European Community. Information technology has made it easier for employers to monitor the behaviour of employees, through the use of surveillance technologies, such as cameras and through accessing their online activities. The European Court ruled that there should be limitations on the monitoring of workers by employers, rejecting employer arguments. This is an important case in establishing appropriate use of technology by employers which will influence behaviour in Europe and also in other countries.

In Britain, the Trades Union Congress has argued that robotics and artificial intelligence should be used to reduce the retirement age. This is an interesting contribution to the debate on the societal implications of automation and the policy approaches to it that will be appropriate. It reflects a belief that there are potential  social benefits if governments adopt an approach to them that focusses on wealth redistribution. Meanwhile it was argued that adapting to new opportunities that technology offers will mean that fears of job loss from automation may be overly feared.

Elon Musk and others have argued that artificial intelligence poses many societal dangers. Proposals appeared this week for the regulation of AI which will likely continue to be vigorously debated as this area of technology advances.

An opinion article appeared this week suggesting that meaningful lives can be lived without being famous. It was argued that social media is contributing to the belief that fulfillment in life requires a high profile – being famous – and this reminder of the possibility of meaning in life without fame is timely. Some have also argued that smartphone usage by teenagers, presumably much of it engaged in social media, is detrimental to their welfare.

Taylor Swift’s careful management of her reputation on social media was reviewed in an article on CNET, which argued that she was manufacturing conflict to boost album sales. Authenticity in social media behaviour is usually thought to be important and this interesting reflection on the value of posting pictures of less interesting meals on Instagram is relevant.

The impact of information technology on cities is a very interesting area of discussion. Hurricane Harvey prompted an article which considered how cities could be better constructed, how better city design, taking advantage of information technology, can minimise the impact of future climate extremes. Advice was provided on staying connected during a disaster using a cell phone.

During last year’s US presidential election campaign Donald Trump argued that economic policy should focus on workers. In office his Labor policy appears not to be focussed on this however – rather the role of entrepreneurs in creating wealth and jobs is its objective. In the UK, government policy appears to be emphasising support for potential tech sector successes, a reversal of previous government approaches.

The political power of the tech sector was highlighted this week with information about the resources that they expend on lobbying – argued to make them more influential than the banks. As this post is being written, President Trump’s DACA decision is being discussed, which many tech companies have vocally opposed. Google’s influence over a think tank it funds caused concern.

Information technology offers the potential for significant benefits in education but also poses ethical challenges in some areas. Tech company efforts to sell their products in schools were questioned this week. We also saw the ‘work college’ model attracting renewed interest as a result of growing student debt.

The need to prepare for a more rapidly changing world appears to be valuable advice today. Amazon’s takeover of Wholefoods is seen as being a major disruption in the grocery business which will be very interesting to follow, given relatively little change in this sector as a result of technology to date.

Finally, a website has emerged for any of you who are thinking of running for political office. It lets you test the support that you are likely to receive. Good Luck.

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Technology’s Impact This Week: August 26th 2017

This is the first of a possibly more regular commentary on the impact that information technology is having on society, based on recent developments. This post is based on items posted in my Twitter feed: @impactofinfo  Comments on its value and on how it might be improved are welcome to

This week a book review in the Economist argued that the world is struggling with the impact of computers and networks on people’s lives. Change is happening more quickly and understanding of its impact is weak and fragmented. The importance of the people oriented contribution that liberal arts majors can make to our increasingly technology influenced world was recently discussed.  Over the past week a number of technology impact issues have been highlighted.

There is substantial debate over the impact that technology is having on jobs. Some interpretations of this are optimistic (usually arguing that good new jobs will replace disappearing jobs). Others argue that we face a dystopian future with quality of working life and personal incomes declining for many, while wealth is increasingly concentrated.

The impact of technology on the retail sector has been frequently discussed recently as more shopping is done online and many malls have deteriorated. Arguments were made on PBS, of how physical retail could respond with enhanced shopping experiences that would draw the public into physical stores.

The rapid emergence of widespread social media usage has been accompanied by slower growth in understanding of social media appropriate behaviour.  Louise Linton’s initial post describing her lavish attire, followed by her treatment of a social media user who commented on this, prompted Lindy West to provide advice on “The Right Way to Brag on Instagram”.

Veteran newscaster Jon Snow, spoke at the Edinburgh Festival on the threat that Facebook poses to democracy, through its enablement of fake news. Snow argued for modifications to the relationship between Facebook and traditional news sources, based on maintaining the role that the media have historically played in public awareness of and participation in civil society.

Snow’s contribution is part of a wider debate on internet censorship and the internet’s role in the growth of extreme political views. While many social media and other technology organisations have either banned or limited the activities of racist groups in the wake of events in Charlottesville, others have argued that freedom of speech on the internet is being undesirably compromised by these actions. Methods to reduce online radicalisation have also been discussed. Useful advice on how to make fun of Nazis was provided by a town in Germany.

Government policy development has struggled to keep pace with rapid technological change. This has been acutely apparent in the cyber security and intellectual property areas. An interesting paper appeared which discussed the use of gaming techniques to support more effective policy development.

Awareness and, for some, concerns about the gathering and usage of personal data through social media and other online means appears to be growing. One article this week argued that data mining and its presence in organisational activity is likely to have a much larger societal impact in the future.

The University of Toronto’s Impact Centre produced a report on Government Venture Capital which looks at funding of tech startups to support their growth. There is much current debate on how the likelihood of them becoming mid to large size organisations can be increased – too many stall at a small scale and fail to deliver the economic and social contribution (especially good jobs) that it is thought they could. The U of T paper makes a useful contribution to this debate.

How technology impacts society was given a historical perspective by a BBC article this week. It looked at how electricity impacted the manufacturing sector, how this took time and imagination. The article suggests that the impact of the technologies that are appearing today, will take significant time to become fully apparent.

Elon Musk, along with 116 other experts called for a ban on killer robots this week, prompting consideration of the impact that information technology is having on modern warfare. There is substantial debate about the nature of the wars that will be fought and the role that technology has in shaping that.

Sexism in the technology industry has been often discussed in recent months and a study out this week provided much more detail than we had before on its nature.

Virtual reality is a rapidly emerging technology today. Much of this discussion has been on its entertainment impact, novel theatrical applications were described from the Edinburgh Festival this week. VR’s role in improving the lives of people who are terminally ill was also highlighted, demonstrating the many positive purposes that technological advance can have.

Finally, we also learned this week that taking photos during experiences is likely to make them more memorable – addressing the often argued topic of whether taking pictures during key moments is a good thing or not.


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My Big Data: Concerns, Opportunities and Policies

The Social Disruption Survey, conducted earlier this year and reported in this blog, identifies Privacy as, of the issues that it considered, the area of greatest public concern in the impact that information technology is having on society. Personal use of information technology has many benefits for many people. In addition to enabling global communications, it provides services that can greatly improve people’s lives.

Today, there is growing awareness that as usage of the internet and social media takes place, the companies that provide the communications tools that people use, the organisations that provide online information and services and the security services that provide public protection gather large amounts of data.

In previous posts in this blog on this topic there has been discussion of the public awareness of these data collection practices. We have seen research that shows most people are not aware of the extent of the information collected and are not comfortable with the level of control that they have over the data collection, storage and usage that is made of it by those who collect it, trade or sell it, combine it with other data and manipulate it. Public information campaigns have sought to inform the public about the extent of the data collection that takes place and personal risks that are taken when information is shared online. Schools have taught students about their responsible use of information technology.

We have also discussed the appropriate policies that governments and organisations might adopt in dealing with these issues. In Canada our system of federal and provincial Privacy Commissioners was established to provide public protection, education and guidance to government on appropriate behaviours and responses to the rapidly changing privacy environment. As with other areas of the social impact of information technology on society, the privacy area is changing faster than governments can deal with. There remain many areas of concern.

The Social Disruption Survey revealed public concerns about privacy in a number of areas. For University of Waterloo students “The impact of the internet and social media on my personal privacy ” is ranked fourth of the 25 social impact of information technology issues that were the subject of questions in the survey. “The use of my data by government” and “the use of my data by companies” were also indicated to be of significant concern to the students.

While fears exist about the impact that corporate and government use of data is having now and will increasingly have in the future, those bodies are increasingly seeing data as being very important to their future development. In a recent interview for the University of Waterloo, Hitachi’s Paul Lewis emphasised his view of the centrality of data to future business strategy. He argues that the combination of data with the Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence will transform business and government, enabling new products and services to be developed and business models to be revolutionised.

Public concerns about the increased use of data appear to be substantial. Increased focussing of marketing campaigns and product offering that data enables are viewed with suspicion and seen by many as overly manipulative.

These concerns are heightened by perceptions of the use of data by political organisations. While big data will transform companies it is also changing the way that politics is conducted. Use of personal data from social media and other sources in political campaigns is seen as being a threat to democratic processes, especially where it makes foreign political interference easier.

We are seeing a growth in interest in the use of data by companies, government and political groups who see their interests being advanced by it. At the same time we appear to be seeing increasing public concern about the collection and use of personal data. This is an area of potential conflict.

While public concerns are often about the misuse or abuse of the data that is collected from them, it is also important to note that data offers the opportunity to dramatically improve many people’s lives. These opportunities are discussed in many posts inside this blog and include improvements in healthcare, where health related research can be greatly strengthened leading to longer, happier and more productive lives. Gordon Feller’s interview for this blog highlights ways that data will impact cities, leading to better services and positive environmental impacts. Data collection in developing countries can improve the work of humanitarian development organisations. Many opportunities exist for using personal data to improve the quality of people’s lives.

Privacy advocates therefor face a dilemma. Use of the internet, social media and other forms of information technology results in the collection of data. Social media tools that are an important part of most people’s lives in developed and, increasingly, developing countries today have been created because of the commercial value that people create by providing their data when they use them. That is why they are mostly free for users.

Concerns appear to be increasing that data which is shared using social media tools is being used in inappropriate ways by companies, governments and others. Meanwhile, these organisations are increasingly seeing their use of data as being strategically important in their immediate strategic development and this is likely to result in new products and services that will themselves have personal and societal benefits. In addition to this, there are many areas of life where the purely social benefits of the use of data will be dramatic in the future.

Restrictions on the use of data are therefore the subject of extensive debate. Strongly restrictive policies may provide greater public protections but at the same time may result in lesser public benefit. Strongly open data policies may expose the public to unacceptable risks.

These issues were the subject of a book review in the New York Times recently. Amy Webb reviewed two books with opposing views on what should be done. Andreas Weigend, previously the Chief Scientist at Amazon, describes the processes that are used to collect data and how it is used. Weigend argues that the benefits that we get from sharing data should make us willing to share but that a set of rights should be established which provide us with protection. He argues that these rights should include corporate participation in privacy ratings that will indicate how our data is used and that the public should be able to control their own data – that there should be a right to “amend, blur and import or export our own data into any system we please.”

The opposite position is adopted by Kevin Mitnick – previously a hacker who served five years in jail for his hacking activities. Mitnick provides guidance on protecting personal privacy and provides a darker view of how personal data sharing creates vulnerability. Mitnick’s arguments lend support to policies for more restriction of corporate and government data usage.

This post has discussed current issues in Privacy, highlighting the growth in public concern alongside the growth in data focussed activities by companies, governments and other organisations. While substantial public benefits are emerging from the sharing of data, there are also significant dangers that public discussion should consider in efforts to influence public policy.

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The Socially Disruptive Impact of Information Technology Survey

The impact that information technology is having on society is wide ranging. As information technology enters more areas of peoples’ lives globally it is important to consider the nature of that impact. On this blog and in the University of Waterloo course that it supports (MSci 442, The Impact of Information Systems on Society) this impact is considered in a series of areas. These areas have changed in the seven years that the course has been offered, reflecting the fast changing technological environment.

The posts on this blog show that opinions and beliefs on the impact that information technology is having on society differ. Some people view technological change mostly positively, feeling that society is improved by it. Others take a negative view, believing that the impact of information technology is largely making the world a less desirable place in which to live. This debate is explored in detail on this site and in the Twitter feed that accompanies it and reports daily news in this area.

The Survey Content and Conduct

The survey that is discussed in this post was initially designed to understand and provide a basis for discussion of the views of students who were enrolled in MSci 442. 216 students responded to the survey, of 229 who were enrolled in the class. An opportunity also arose to conduct the survey with a very different group. 109 senior citizens in the small rural town of Erin, Ontario also participated who were members of the Extended Learning Opportunities group. This group meets regularly to hear invited speakers on a range of topics and were surveyed at one of these meetings. I am grateful for their participation.

The survey is designed to assess attitudes in key areas that information technology is impacting society today. These areas are:

Democracy: Whether information technology is improving or causing a decline in the practice of democracy today.

Globalisation: How information technology is facilitating globalisation and how it is impacting people in the world today.

Developing Countries: Is information technology improving the lives of people in developing countries or widening the gap between rich and poor?

How We Think: Is information technology making us less intelligent and violent? Is it changing the way our brains are wired and changing our behaviour in ways that are positive or negative?

Cities: Can information technology make cities better places to live? How can city planners, politicians and citizens make good decisions today that will impact life in the future? Is technology making people in cities more connected or more isolated?

Education: How will information technology impact education? Can online education achieve high levels of educational quality? Should we be concerned about the decline of the traditional classroom?

Warfare: Information technology is changing the nature of modern warfare. Wars are more visible to the public and information technology is influencing the way that wars are conducted. How is this likely to affect the world?

Jobs and the Economy: Migration of jobs to lower wage economies, increased automation and legal and illegal immigration are impacted by information technology. What is the nature of these impacts and what are appropriate government policies in dealing with them?

Privacy: There is widespread concern about the impact of the internet of privacy and this is an area that is changing rapidly. Should we be concerned and what should be done?

These areas informed the design of the survey which is designed to understand the extent of popular concern in the areas that are described above and improve our knowledge of how information technology is disrupting society. This disruption is often argued to be widely felt. Some argue that it is having widespread political impact and has influenced votes that have been and are being cast in many countries today. Better understanding of the nature of the concerns of people today is important.

The survey had two parts. The first part asked respondents whether they thought that the overall impact that information technology would have in the areas that were listed above would be positive or negative. This allowed us to understand overall attitudes towards information technology and to identify general areas of concern.

In the second part of the survey more detail was considered. A range of 25 possible areas of concern from the 10 broader areas were identified and assessed. Areas of relative concern were discovered and the results of the two survey groups were compared. This section also provided initial indication of areas that it may be important to focus on in future studies.

The Survey Results

In the first part of the survey the respondents were asked whether they thought the impact of information technology was Mostly Good or Mostly Bad. A five point scale was used to assess this with a response of 1 indicating mostly good and a response of 5 indicating mostly bad. These were the responses of the Waterloo and Erin groups:

Here we can see that the areas of concern of the two groups are very similar. They have the last concern about the impact that information technology will have on Education and the most concern about Modern Warfare and Privacy. It is interesting that these items are rated in a similar order by both groups. Apart from a difference over Developing Countries and the Development of Cities, the ratings are in the same order for both groups. This suggests that both generations have similar perceptions of the impact that information technology is having.

In the second set of questions we can understand perceptions in more detail. We can identify areas of less and greater concern and better understand the variance between the two groups. We will first look at the concerns and their severity for each group and then consider the areas of variance between them.

These questions used a different scale which was intended to provide more detail on the extent of any concern that may exist.  In this case the five point scale used  1 for Very worried and 5 for Not at all concerned.

The Waterloo student group responded to the survey as follows. The survey question response averages are arranged in order of severity of concern, with colour coding used to indicate areas of more serious concern:

This chart shows that the Waterloo student group had only two areas, of the 25 in the study, that they had serious concern about, the impact of fake news on democracy and the use of social media by terrorist groups. Concerns also existed in other areas, as can be seen in the chart but only two areas appeared to be especially troublesome. Interestingly, there were three areas where there appears to be minimal concern: increasing international content in the goods and services that I purchase, increasing international content in the media that is watched / read by people in my country and information technology use in university teaching. The area of least concern to the students was the impact that IT was having on their education.

When we examine the areas of concern for the Erin Seniors group we can now see some differences.

Six areas of more serious concern appear in their survey results:

  • Use of social media by terrorist groups
  • Violence in video games
  • The impact of fake news on democracy
  • Cyber warfare
  • That governments are using information technology to influence elections in other countries
  • The gap between incomes of people in rich and poor countries

These results indicate greater levels of concern by the Erin Seniors group about the social impact of information technology. Further study of the results in this area will indicate areas of higher and lower concern. The Erin Seniors group had just one area of relatively little concern – Information technology use in university teaching.

We then examined the differences between the two groups by identifying the areas of most difference between them.  We looked first at the areas where the Erin Seniors group were significantly more concerned than the Waterloo group. These areas were:

  • Violence in video games
  • Use of social media by political organisations and groups
  • Social media’s (Facebook, Twitter etc.) use of algorithms to select the content that you see
  • Cyber warfare
  • Use of social media by terrorist groups
  • Drone use in modern warfare
  • Increasing international content in the goods and services that I purchase

The overall variances, ranked by magnitude, are provided in the following chart:

The Waterloo Student group were not significantly more concerned than the Erin Seniors group about any area of the survey.  There was slightly greater concern about the impact of the internet and social media on my personal privacy and that people are less intelligent because of their use of the internet but this difference in concern was less than in any of the areas in which the Erin Seniors had significantly more concern.


This appears to indicate that the Erin Seniors group, while sharing the overall areas where concern is greater with the Waterloo Student group as indicated in the first set of questions in the survey, have significantly more concern when we look at specific aspects of the impact that information technology may be having. Concerns amongst the Waterloo Student group are lower when we look at specific areas. This may indicate that while the overall perceptions of the role that information technology is playing in society are mostly positive, there are specific areas of substantial concern that need to be addressed by governments and companies, especially those companies in the information technology sector.

Further work is being don to understand the survey findings and this will be reported when it is completed. This work will include efforts to conduct the survey with other groups in society, to develop further understanding of the impact that information technology is having.




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Jobs and the Information Technology Enabled Economy

The impact that information technology is having on the working lives of global citizens is a major concern in most developed countries today. Although job numbers are little changed from the past in many countries, statistics show issues with job security and income levels. Job contracts have weakened from the employees’ point of view (working hours have become less certain with zero hour contracts for example) and income levels have been stagnant for many people for many years.

Expectations of continuously rising income levels and standards of living have not been realised and this has caused social discontent that has been reflected in political voting behaviours. Millennials have entered the job market from school or university and had difficulty getting good jobs with positive career prospects. This has led to significant levels of discontent.

At the same, wealth distribution is becoming a greater concern. Reports have emerged showing that concentrations of wealth are increasing with the rich getting significantly richer, resulting in calls for action to more equitably distribute the existing wealth. This demand is featured within some of the solutions that are proposed for dealing with the economic disruption caused by information technology. In this post, wealth distribution is not the main focus but it will be referred to as we consider policy responses to job related issues.

The way that information technology impacts the economy and peoples’ lives is widely debated. This debate is important because it influences the government policies that will be adopted to deal with it. If it is believed that information technology’s facilitation of globalisation is at the root of the economic difficulties that people are facing today then policies designed to tackle this will be more likely to be adopted by global governments.

There are three main approaches that are taken to understanding the economic impact that information technology is having today. First, there are those who believe that information technology has enabled globalisation which has made it easier for companies to locate more of their activities in developing, lower wage economies and therefor to reduce the number of people that they employ in developed countries where wages and other employment costs are higher.

The globalisation argument lies at the heart of policies that have been supported by populist politicians in North America and Europe. It was a key argument used by those supporting Brexit in the UK and Donald Trump in the US. It is used to argue for protectionist measures that increase import restrictions and limit the ability for domestic companies to move jobs abroad (for example to Mexico or China).

Opponents of this approach argue that globalisation is having much less impact on jobs than is assumed by those who are in favour of globalisation. These opponents argue that automation is likely to have a significantly larger impact and that this is where policy efforts should be directed.

Part of their argument also says that tackling the employment issues in the economy through protectionism will make the problem worse. For decades now, government economic policy in most nations and the establishment of global trading blocks such as the European Union, have been based on the benefits of international trade.

International trade is based on the theory of Comparative Advantage. This theory states that everyone benefits from trade where countries concentrate their economies on activity that they are better than others at, and then trade with each other. Statistics show a clear relationship between economic openness, trade and economic growth in countries. Countries that have been more open to trade have strongly benefitted.

While economic growth continues to be stronger in countries that trade more, a new difficulty has arisen that did not exist before, which is influencing the current debate: although trading countries economies have continued to strengthen, the benefits of the growth that has occurred have been unequally distributed. Some sections of the population have prospered and others have suffered as information technology has influenced employment disruption. While overall national economic growth has continued, many people have continued to suffer job related difficulty.

Information technology has influenced disruption through globalisation. Jobs have moved from developed countries in more traditional industries – especially manufacturing, and they have been lost to automation. At the same time, job growth has been in skill and geographical areas that are less suited to the people who have lost their jobs. Adjustment for many will require retraining and a willingness to physically move to where the new jobs are located.

Those who are opposed to protectionism as a policy response to the situation that many people face today argue that automation is a greater threat than movement of jobs to lower cost economies. They argue that automation is likely to reduce the amount that this will happen in the future and that evidence is already emerging of some jobs returning to developed countries and being done by robots.

If these arguments are correct, protectionism may only make things worse. Reducing international trade does not just result in less jobs moving to other countries but also results in increased costs for domestic companies. A car that is wholly made in the US with no imported components would be much more expensive than it is today, resulting in US cars being more expensive in export markets and higher prices for domestic consumers. The argument here is that protectionism will cause job losses in industries where costs increase and higher prices for domestic consumers, resulting in declining living standards.

The alternative view argues that the impact that information technology is having on jobs should be met with policy that supports economic adjustment. Some argue that the jobs that are moved abroad, or which disappear as a result of automation, will be replaced by new jobs – that the period that the economy is going through at the moment is temporary. Those who support this point of view cite historical examples of major economic change where this has occurred.

Others argue that government support for adjustment is necessary. Providing access to education and training opportunities that will enable people to gain the skills needed for the new jobs is usually at the heart of policies to support adjustment.

There is some debate over whether enough jobs will be created in new employment areas for people who lose their jobs in more traditional areas. Some believe that while new jobs will be created, we are entering an era of less than full employment, where many people won’t be able to get jobs. This has led to discussion on the Universal Basic Income, which is being trialled in some areas at the moment.

It is also important to refer to the concentration of wealth. Some argue for wealth redistribution that will support adjustment within the economy.

This post has explained the debate over the economic impact that information technology is having today. This debate is of critical importance in most countries and is strongly influenced by beliefs about the impact of globalisation and automation and the ability for the economy to replace lost jobs with jobs that will enable most people to have a decent quality of life. Support for policies to address the problems that people face today is based on these beliefs.


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Cyber Warfare

Patrick Tucker describes the use of cyber tactics. Shortly after the fall of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, US forces sent text messages to insurgent fighters which told them to assemble at a certain point (eg. a street corner). When they arrived at the meeting point, US forces had their response ready. This simple use of electronically based communications in the practice of war is an early example of how cyber warfare is emerging as an element in modern warfare.

The recent US election has illustrated the range of elements that comprise modern cyber warfare. While it may initially be thought that cyber warfare is focussed largely on events on the physical battlefield, we now understand that cyber warfare also includes a wide range of activities that are designed to undermine governments and other authorities, create social and economic instability and create conditions that enable the objectives of the attacking nation or group to be achieved. Russian cyber warfare which was directed at the US political process was intended to destabilise the political system and undermine the legitimacy of democratic government. A weaker US would allow the Russians to achieve their political aims more easily – such as in the middle east.

Previously in this blog we have considered the approaches that governments should take to modern warfare generally. It was argued that the internet  and information technology had influenced changes in the nature of modern warfare – while conflicts between countries would still exist, many are now arguing that insurgencies, such as Daesh or the Islamic State were likely to be more common. Approaches to this new situation were the subject of debate in military and political circles. Some argued for a Fourth Generation Warfare approach that emphasised the political impact of military activities while others focussed on applying information technology to make physical fighting forces more effective. Known as Net Centric Warfare, this approach applied technology to better integrate battlefield resources and in the creation of military hardware that would reduce troop and civilian casualties through better targeting and remote operation.

Developments continue in the application of technologies in both of these areas and these approaches are also evident in the areas that cyber warfare activities might be focussed on. Before we consider this we will look at an overview of the various forms that cyber warfare might take beyond the battlefield.

The battlefield remains an important aspect of cyber warfare, and it is the focus of much work today as most modern militaries are actively developing capabilities in it. Concerns exist about how enemies might use battlefield cyber warfare and development is taking place in offensive and defensive cyber warfare capabilities.

Cyber warfare is usually thought to have two main forms, espionage and sabotage. Espionage is the gathering of information from an enemy or target that will provide the receiver with an advantage, either in military or other areas that will assist the achievement of political objectives. The hacking of government or corporate data or that of political parties would be included in this category and there are many examples of this today.

Cyber sabotage is offensive cyber activity that is designed to cause damage or destruction which itself will assist the achievement of political objectives. This might include activity to affect Iran’s nuclear capability (as happened with the Stuxnet incident), to disrupt electrical, water or other utility services or to undermine political systems (such as with the disruption of electronic voting systems through a Denial of Service attack).

There are many motivations for cyber espionage and sabotage. These include military objectives, designed to weaken the enemy military forces and support the achievement of military objectives and civil objectives, designed to damage or destroy communications and other utility infrastructures. Debate exists on the extent of the vulnerability of civil infrastructure to cyber attack, some people believe that this type of attack is easier and more likely than others. In any case much work is currently under way to reduce vulnerability in both military and civil areas.

Hacktivism is also an area of cyber warfare focus. This is politically motivated activity that seeks to access and release politically sensitive information (such as with WikiLeaks) and could include sabotage.

Private sector cyber crime is also an area of vulnerability. Use of cyber activity by organisations to gather commercially confidential and sensitive data from competitors and potentially to damage their operations is also an area of concern, which many organisations are addressing today.

Of increasing additional concern is the impact that cyber warfare is having on democracy.  Writing in The Atlantic, Moises Naim says that modern democracies are now more vulnerable to cyber attacks from authoritarian governments such as that of Russia. Citing the report of the US intelligence community that concluded that the Russian use of cyber warfare had worked to:

“undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency.”

Naim argues that the democratic freedoms that exists in the US, combined with social media caused this result. By taking advantage of the free flow of information to leak information and spread misinformation the Russians were able to achieve their objectives. This success has led to increased potential for this type of activity from authoritarian regimes in the future, as the US intelligence services report:

“We assess Moscow will apply lessons learned from its Putin -ordered campaign aimed at the US Presidential election to future influence efforts worldwide, including against US allies and their election processes.”

With elections due in many European countries over the next year this is an area of some concern and causes Naim to argue that action to counter the threat that is posed is urgently needed.

Measures to deal with the threats posed by cyber warfare are currently being developed. At the same time, cyber warfare itself is changing very rapidly. Development of approaches and resources for dealing with current cyber warfare threats struggles to keep up with the changing nature of the threats posed. This is the subject of advice that is provided to the new US Secretary of Defense, James Mattis in a recent article in The Hill. Gary Brown of the US Cyber Command and Kurt Sanger of the Marine Corp argue that dealing with cyber attacks has the following options: coercing adversaries (persuading them not to launch the attacks), creating an environment that incentivizes self restraint, aggressive cyber acts and seeking verifiable non aggression accords (treaties or agreements that restrict the use of cyber warfare).

Microsoft’s President and Chief Legal Officer has called for the creation of a digital Geneva Convention which would control the way that nations wage cyber war. This would limit the impact that cyber war would have on civilians and curtail its impact on companies. It would limit the creation of cyber weapons.

It is argued that the cyber arms race has already started, that a full scale cyber war could start easily and be very difficult to stop.

This post has discussed recent developments in information technology and modern warfare. Over the past year Cyber warfare has gained significant attention, especially as a result of the activities of the Russian government in the US election. Concerns about the impact of cyber warfare on democratic countries have been discussed and the dialogue on responses to this has been introduced.


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Interview With Anant Agarwal, CEO edX

Interview with Anant Agarwal, Chief Executive Officer of edX. Founded by Harvard and MIT and now with global university partners, edX provides quality online education worldwide. This interview with the University of Waterloo’s Peter Carr, discusses edX’s work delivering high quality online education, and the future impact of technology on traditional universities.

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Better and More Education Using Information Technology

Education is vitally important today. This is not a new statement – it has been argued for thousands of years. Education enables people to be productive, get jobs and participate in society and most people have recognised this. Today, these arguments are still true but they have been added to with others that were perhaps less important in the past.

The knowledge economy needs people with higher levels of education. as developed country economies have reduced the extent to which they are based on manufacturing and towards services and technology, more jobs have required more education. This has been one of the main factors behind the growth of the education sector. More students have completed high school and more have gone on to get bachelors and, increasingly, masters degrees. Programmes in universities and colleges have grown quickly.

Today there are two new factors that make education even more important. As technology has increased the pace of change in most countries, the nature of work has also been rapidly changing. While manufacturing jobs have been in decline for many years, automation is resulting in further decline in manufacturing and service jobs . It is thought that automation will accelerate in future years, resulting in significant employment disruption for many.

Job related disruption is expected to increase as a result of automation and other technological change based on artificial intelligence and the proliferation of the internet of things. A range of political responses to this situation are possible. Some populist movements have argued that governments should introduce barriers to trade and immigration that are based on the incorrect assumption that job loss and change is largely based on the expansion of globalisation. Statistics show that much of the change that has occurred is based on automation and that trade and immigration restrictions that are proposed are likely to make the situation worse.

It now appears clear that the technologically based disruption that people in most countries are experiencing today is not a temporary phase that will eventually be resolved with minimal government action. We are now recognising that governments will need to act to help their populations adapt to the new economic and social environment, to develop new policies that will ensure appropriate distribution of wealth and provision of services and support that minimise exclusion. Political discussions are now taking place in these areas.

Education will be a critical element. Education is necessary to enable people to acquire the new skills that the new jobs that are emerging will require. New skills are needed in technological areas as well as in the areas that are necessary for the creation of new businesses – entrepreneurship will be especially important as a key element in the ability for economies to change.

Education will also be important in broader social areas as economies and societies change more rapidly. People will need skills that enable them to adapt more easily, to understand the changes that are taking place in their lives and participate in the positive development of  civic society.

The changes that are occurring in the world today make education ever more important. Conventional thinking suggests that doing more with the  same or less resources will lead to a decline in quality. That was the way that we used to think about manufacturing and service operations. That belief has now been modified to understand that our approach to operational design, including our use of information and other technologies, can enable more to be done with less. But, we have to be careful how we do this in education.

Demand for post K – 12 education has increased in recent years. many more people are obtaining degrees and pursuing other programmes of study. At the same time supply of education has also been expanding. Most existing universities have increased their enrolments and new providers have entered the market. Some of these have maintained a traditional classroom model while others have applied information technology and offered courses online. It has been argued here that more education is necessary for the technology enabled world that exists today and which will increasingly feature in the future and information technology is likely to have an important role in its provision.

Previous posts in this blog have considered the application of technology in education and introduced the importance of pedagogy – the approaches that are taken to education design and delivery. We have seen that different beliefs about effective learning methods will lead to different course designs in the physical classroom and in online courses. The way that information technology is applied will reflect these beliefs and create limits on and possibilities for the pedagogies that are can be applied in different classroom and online learning environments.

In traditional universities information technology is now widely available. Most will have a Learning Management System, usually from Blackboard, Moodle or Waterloo’s Desire2Learn. Often support for the use of the LMS in classroom based courses is provided and many professors have developed and are offering courses that are wholly or substantially online. Students find the flexibility that is offered by online courses attractive.

The impact that online courses will have in traditional universities is as yet uncertain. Will we see the decline of the traditional classroom, will there be growth in support services for online learning, how might the application of technology support and strengthen the whole university, its research, teaching and administration?

New learning organisations are also emerging. Online universities, offering whole degree programmes are now common with a range of pedagogical approaches and a resulting range of quality. Students also now have access to new sources of online learning, some free like the Khan Academy or at low cost such as MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) with very large numbers of students taking each course. Questions exist about the business models that will be successful for MOOCs and there is some uncertainty about their sustainability, but they present new options for significantly expanding the availability of education.

The debate on the application of information technology in the higher education world has many aspects to it. First there is the debate over pedagogy – which learning models are most effective and then what will the impact of technology be on these. In the traditional classroom model, information technology is believed by some to be a threat to educational quality. In other pedagogical approaches information technology offers substantial potential for the creation of high quality online education.

The need and demand for more education at an affordable price will strongly influence the growth in the use of information technology in education.

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