Eres la suma de todos tus datos — abril 15, 2015

Eres la suma de todos tus datos

(Esta columna fue publicada originalmente en ColombiaDigital.net)

La geolocalización, el uso de Uber, el historial del buscador, todos los ‘me gusta’ y clics… En el Instituto de Internet de la Universidad de Oxford aprendí que la red es el paraíso del sociólogo por la misma razón que lo es para el publicista: los extensos datos de todo tipo de gente que se encuentran disponibles, gratis y a profundidad.

La economía de la información (de la cual el Internet es gran parte) utiliza nuestros datos personales como moneda: es el precio por utilizar los sitios web que nos prestan sus servicios gratuitamente”‘. Amazon ya conoce nuestros gustos y el algoritmo de Google los aprende con cada búsqueda que hacemos. Facebook vende nuestra edad y género al mayor comprador. ¿Esa chaqueta que buscaste alguna vez pero no compraste y ahora te persigue por cada sitio al que entras? Sí, intercambiaste tu información por ese servicio. Es parte del acuerdo.

Es tan difícil mantenerse por fuera de este esquema al navegar por Internet que una profesora de Stanford intentó esconder su embarazo de las compañías de mercadeo al no generar ningún tipo de récord electrónico durante nueve meses. Utilizó varios servicios de anonimato y tal fue su comportamiento que terminó en una lista negra por su ‘actividad clandestina’.

“¿Qué pasa cuando los algoritmos comienzan a predecir nuestras acciones futuras?”

Ethan Zuckerman, tecnólogo, fundador del blog Global Voices y profesor de MIT, se culpa a él mismo y a los demás pioneros de la red por este problema arquitectónico del Internet. Al enfocarse en liberar al individuo de los ‘gigantes’ corporativos y gubernamentales, estos académicos rebeldes crearon el Internet con un diseño tan descentralizado que ha resultado casi imposible de regular. ¿El problema? Gracias a esto mismo la prevalente forma de monetizarlo, o una de las únicas, es por medio de la publicidad o vendiendo la información de los usuarios. Eso termina costándole más al individuo y enriqueciendo a las empresas: todo lo contrario al propósito con el que fue concebido.


¿Por qué nos debería importar?

Los académicos y líderes de grandes empresas siguen hablando del abstracto ‘Big Data’ y del efecto que va a tener sobre todas las industrias. Pero lo que implica, es decir el proceso de recolección y las repercusiones de su uso, son difíciles de concretar.

Por el lado bueno, la habilidad de recolectar datos tan precisos crea una experiencia comercial mucho más personalizada para cada uno. Netflix ya sabe cuáles películas me gustan y con eso me dará sugerencias. En un futuro no muy lejano, el Internet de las Cosas permitirá este tipo de personalización en todo: desde almacenes que solo ofrezcan ropa afín con la talla y gusto de cada cliente, hasta la adaptación del termostato de la casa a la temperatura corporal de quien entre.

La preocupación entonces es ¿qué pasa cuando los algoritmos comienzan a predecir nuestras acciones futuras?

La primera realidad para tener en cuenta es que, aunque los algoritmos han progresado bastante, todavía sufren de una inhabilidad para llegar a conclusiones lógicas y contextualizar comportamientos o descifrar sutilezas del lenguaje. Por ejemplo, para mi tesis de maestría busqué y entrevisté a muchos blogueros del oriente medio. Durante los siguientes meses Facebook decidió que estaba interesada en sitios de matrimonios musulmanes y hijabs. Como esta hay muchas historias.

Ya existen varios centros de investigación estudiando los problemas éticos con el uso de los datos personales tales como el Data & Society Institute en Nueva York. Si ya se minan bases de datos para crear perfiles o generalizaciones, ¿qué otro tipo de deducciones están ocurriendo, y en qué industrias? Uno de los ejemplos controversiales en los Estados Unidos es la utilización de datos demográficos (como qué tipo de gente vive en un barrio) para elegir qué crédito bancario ofrecerle al cliente.

¿Qué hacer como emprendedores o consumidores de tecnología?

Por ende, nuestro valor en línea son nuestros datos pero seguimos regalándolos. El futurista y filósofo Jaron Lanier, en su libro “¿Quién es dueño de nuestro futuro?”, propone que si las máquinas aprenden, se pueden ir automatizando. Como vamos, muy poca gente, más que todo en Sillicon Valley, se está enriqueciendo, mientras el resto de nosotros perdemos nuestros trabajos. Ahora, no sé si estoy en total acuerdo con él y su teoría alarmista, pero sí sé el valor comercial que tienen nuestros datos. El perfecto ejemplo es el traductor de Google que se alimenta del contenido de los usuarios, del cual se prevé que eventualmente podrá reemplazar a los traductores humanos de la forma en la que ya estamos reemplazando a las disqueras, productores de música y las casas editoriales.

En este contexto es importante crear una cultura digital ‘humanística’, o centrada en los humanos. No es solo pensar en innovación, sino en innovación que nos beneficie a largo plazo. El emprendimiento nacional es necesario para eso, al igual que legislar para proteger a los consumidores, pero más que todo es tener conciencia sobre qué servicios utilizamos, qué configuraciones de privacidad y concientizarnos sobre el valor de nuestra información personal.

Tenemos que tener en cuenta las consecuencias del uso tecnológico y ser participantes activos de las decisiones que se toman a niveles de las compañías que utilizamos. ¿Tiene sentido que desde Estados Unidos se decida qué hacer con nuestros datos?, ¿deberíamos estar pidiendo más de nuestros legisladores en cuanto al ingreso de compañías extranjeras?

A nivel personal hay varias medidas que se pueden tomar, pero son reaccionarias, incómodas y un poco alarmistas, como las de la profesora de Stanford. Existen varias organizaciones como accessnow.org o el Electronic Frontier Foundation, y aquí en Colombia RedPaTodos, que han recopilado información sobre el tema.

 

 

Build your own eco-friendly classroom — diciembre 9, 2011

Build your own eco-friendly classroom

Finally! We are live with our site. It’s a soft launch for now, and soon enough we will commence the hunt for possible contributors who wish to share their eco-knowledge with communities around the world.

 

What we want you to achieve with our site:

1. Follow our tutorials and build your own Eco-friendly classroom

2. Contribute your knowledge, whether it’s how to build a water-harvesting tool or a pedal-powered energy source,  in the form of easy-to-follow tutorials so others can replicate your great ideas.

3. Let us know how and when you have used our site to build projects in your community. We can learn from each other!

We want to thank the Youth Innovation Fund for choosing our project and believing in its potential. We also want to thank Anahuac University, their volunteers, Ana Ceci and Yuni for their great work in building the classroom and getting us involved. Xavi Potau for his great job building this beautiful site in Joomla.

We are still publishing tutorials from our Huixilucan prototype, so keep your eyes out for that.

Cheers!

India and ICT amazingness — noviembre 9, 2011

India and ICT amazingness

Those who know me know that I’ve had a slight obsession with India lately. There are various reasons for that, but the main one I believe is the inmense potential there is to make fanstatic ICT4D projects that could affect millions of people.

Why?

1. India has one of the most impressive cell phone penetration rates in the world

2. The techie knowledge and desire already exists…. and the shift is begining to go from back-end support for western companies to front-end entrepeneurship and development. Why shouldn’t all the next start-ups come from this giant?

Thomas Friedman’s Sunday http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/06/opinion/sunday/friedman-indias-innovation-stimulus.html?_r=4 column focuses on exactly that.  He talks to the CEO of Ekgaon, one of these many start-ups whose main purpuse is not to earn money, but to make the world a better place.  I am copying it here in case you don’t have access to the NYT premium content. How that is an issue is a subject for another blog post.

Meet Vijay Pratap Singh Aditya, the C.E.O. of Ekgaon. His focus is Indian farmers, who make up half the population and constitute what he calls “an emerging market within an emerging market.” Ekgaon built a software program that runs on the cheapest cellphones and offers illiterate farmers a voice or text advisory program that tells them when is the best time to plant their crops, how to mix their fertilizers and pesticides, when to dispense them and how much water to add each day.

“India has to increase farm productivity,” explains Aditya, “but our farms are small, and advisers from the Agriculture Department can’t reach many of them. So they go for hearsay methods of planting, which leads to low productivity and soil desertification.” Using cloud computing, Ekgaon tailors its advice to each farmer’s specific soil, crop and weather conditions. Some 12,000 farmers are already subscribing ($5 for one year), and the plan is set to grow to 15 million in five years.

He also lists Forus Health, and iXiGO.com, a travel site geared to people of all income levels– whether its a cheap bus ticket from Chenai to Bangalore, or a first-class trip to Paris.  

Do you know of any other Indian start-up or tech companies that are bubbling up to take over the central arena? Should silicone valley be scared? Should social entrepeneurship be the leading drive of new tech companies, especially those conceived in developing nations?

What about ICT to help gender equality? — septiembre 23, 2011

What about ICT to help gender equality?

 Only 1% of the world’s wealth belongs to women.

Of all the gender-related statistics I have heard lately, that one shocked me the most. Most of the world’s wealth come from developed nations, meaning that in the countries where women already have access to education etc. there is barely anything to show for it.

Yet in developing nations it is still worse, with women of course being treated as half a person in more than one respect. We all know that gender equality is smart economics, but in which ways can we achieve tangible results?

Today I was lucky enough to attend a panel where Naila Chowdhury, the CEO of Grameen Solutions, spoke about the role of ICT to achieve gender equality in the developing world.  In villages with no electricity, a solar-powered cell phone was given to a woman. She became the only one who could communicate with other villages, find out the price of the produce they grew, and it therefore eliminated the middle man who would take some of the profit.

I am a firm believer of communication technology to further development. It is the easiest, fastest most effective way of providing practical information, and we need to continue to find ways of exploring it.  Do you know of any other organizations that are focused on this?

 

 

 

Aps and more aps… all on DCTech — septiembre 13, 2011

Aps and more aps… all on DCTech

After the DCTech meetup last night I felt predictably overwhelmed in the amount of people, and inadequately underwhelmed with the lack of diversity in presentations. It was a mobile themed- meetup, yet everything circulated around smart phone aps only, ignoring the vast majority of both the industry and users world-wide who are still using and will continue to use regular cellular phones for the foreseeable future.

Don’t get me wrong. I have an iPhone, and I love and depend on aps. The presentations made by the lively Fastcostumer‘s Stephanie Hay,  and the amazing idea of the musicians turned techies with the album, “National Mall”, locational aware music only audible from the green memorial-ridden space, were quite innovative , imaginative and surprising. I cannot wait to go for a run (ok, ok, a walk… Who am I kidding?) around The Capitol and try it out.

Another highlight was the politically incorrect, foot-in-mouth moment by Dalpha Kalman from GetSurc, who expressed that half of their developers “are in Israel, which is apparently now the Mecca of technology”… sigh. I felt what we in Spanish call “pena ajena”, best translated as feeling embarrassed for someone else. She was quickly corrected by @Peter Corbett “You mean the Jerusalem of technology.” Oh my…

Yet besides the new aps on my phone and the cameo by the DC mayor, I was not feeling at all inspired. Yes, having an ap to help you find parking spaces and one to book taxis are both very valuable assets.Yet I wonder how much energy, if any, is spent by the dc tech community on innovation geared toward economic development. Is it sad that I expected DC to be a melting pot of social work, maybe even international one, with technology? I still ponder , as mentioned in my previous post,

Information dissemination? Corruption hot lines? Remittances? Post-conflict monetary aid via text messages? This realm is not particularly untapped,  but its advancement should not be left in the hands of development agencies, whose focus will never be on innovation. They are doing well in supporting already existing technologies and products, but bureaucracies are rarely the breeding grounds of new ideas.

Hopefully there will be a DCTech meetup more on the Tech4Dev fashion, and I can see the bureaucrats and non-profits  instead of the MBA GW students sharing ideas with the tech community. This IS DC after all…

Cell phones as tools for transparency — septiembre 8, 2011

Cell phones as tools for transparency

It is great to be constantly thinking of new projects. A few of my friends and I had thought about using the technologies we constantly use for more frivolous things, such as text voting and crime mapping in the US, to corruption hunting and bad service deliveries.

Artas Bartas, from Estonia, came up with an Android app for it called Bribespot. According to mobile active, they developed it during Garage48, an event where people pitch and develop apps in 48 hours. It has already been downloaded 600 times, with 700 submitted reports from around the world.

The app allows you to report an instance of corruption and maps it, with the purpose of bringing  awareness to government officials and to the public. I think the most effective thing it does is actively shame those involved. People may stop accepting bribes if they know that they could possible be posted online.  The idea reminds me of my favorite mayor Antannas Mockus’ way of shamming traffic violators with mimes in the streets of Bogotá. People are more scared of being ridiculed than of monetary punishment!

This is a great idea, but again, the concept needs to be adapted to local technologies. Most people in Africa, where corruption is prevalent, do not have Android phones. The more robust text-messaging system should provide the same or similar results. I cannot tell you our idea, because my team members could kill me. But think about it… what ICT tools could be used for transparency and to end corruption?