It was so good to be in Macau and Shenzhen recently in my role as a member of the Advisory Board of the United Nations University Computing and Society Institute. During my visit, colleagues at the Institute had arranged for me to participate in Teledifusão de Macau (TDM)’s prime time Talk Show with Kelsey Wilhelm. This was a great opportunity to share some of my current thinking about the interface between digital technologies and humans, and Kelsey made sure that it was a lively and fun half hour discussion – really grateful to him for this!
The show is now available on YouTube, and begins with an overview of the current state of ICT for development, before going on to discuss
- ways through which people with disabilities can be empowered through the use of technology,
- the importance of new technologies being inclusive, because otherwise they lead to new inequalities,
- working “with” the poorest and most marginalised rather than for them,
- the role of new technologies such as AI and blockchain in serving the interests of the rich rather than the poor,
- cyborgs and the creation of machine-humans and human-machines, and finally
- some of the ethical issues that need to be discussed if we are to balance the benefits of new technologies whilst limiting their harm.
I very much hope that what I have to say is thought-provoking and interesting. We need much wider public debate on these issues!
EQUALS is a global initiative committed to achieving gender equality in the digital age. Its founding partners are the ITU, UN Women, UNU Computing and Society (UNU-CS) institute, the International Trade Centre, and the GSMA, and it has been a real privilege to work with colleagues from these organisations and other partners over the last 18 months to try to help forge this partnership to reduce the inequalities between men and women in the digital age. There are three partner Coalitions within EQUALS: for Skills (led by GIZ and UNESCO); Access (led by the GSMA); and Leadership (led by the ITC). These are supported by a Research Group, led by the UNU-CS. The picture above shows the first Principals meeting held in September 2017 at the edges of the UN General Assembly in New York.
Despite all of the efforts to achieve increasing female participation in STEM subjects, in employment and leadership positions in the ICT sector, and in the use of ICTs to help towards women’s empowerment, most of the indicators show that gender digital inequality is increasing. At the broadest level, this means that most of the initiatives undertaken to date to reduce these inequalities have failed. Business as usual is therefore not an option, and the EQUALS partnership is intended to encourage committed partners to work together in new ways, and on new initiatives, to help deliver Sustainable Development Goal 5, to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”.
The first face-to-face physical (rather than virtual) meeting of the Research Group was convened by the UNU-CS in Macau from 5th-6th December (official press release), and it was great that both Liz Quaglia and I were able to represent the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D (at Royal Holloway, University of London) at this meeting, which was attended by researchers and policymakers from 21 universities and organizations around the world. This meeting established the group’s research agenda, drafted its work plan for 2018, and finalized the content and schedule of its inaugural report due to be published in mid-2018. In particular, it provided a good opportunity for researchers to help shape the three Coalitions’ thinking around gender and equality in the areas of skills, access and leadership, and also to identify ways through which they could contribute new research to enable the coalitions to be evidence-led in their activities.
Huge thanks are due to Araba Sey, who convened the meeting with amazing enthusiasm, insight and professionalism, and all of the other staff at UNU-CS who contributed so much to the meeting. It was a great occasion when some of the world’s leading researchers in gender and ICTs could meet together, not only to discuss EQUALS, but also to explore other areas of related research, and to build the trust and openness necessary to increase gender equality both in the field of ICTs, and also through the ways that ICTs influence every aspect of people’s lives. The BBQ and dancing on the last night ensured that memories of this event will last for a long time in everyone’s minds!
I always enjoy indexing my own books, although it can at times be brain-numbingly tedious! So, I have spent the last few days proof-reading Reclaiming ICT4D, and at the same time constructing the index! It has taken much longer than I had anticipated, but I am delighted that it really does capture the essence of what I have tried to write about. It is always fascinating to see the juxtaposition of words: “holistic” next to “honour killings”; “operators” next to “oppression”; and “poverty” next to “power”… However, having just finished it, I now wonder just how many people ever actually read indexes!
Anyway, for those who want to know what the book is really about, I am therefore posting the index for everyone to see if their favourite ICT4D topic is included – and a glimpse of part of it is shared below! I very much hope that you find something of interest in it!
Now it will only be a few months for OUP to print the book!
A chance posting by a friend on Facebook asking if anyone knew of good examples to celebrate the UN’s World Interfaith Harmony week, made me reflect on two interesting recent examples that I would just like to post here, both in acknowledgement of the importance of this issue, but also to encourage others to seek out and celebrate inter-faith dialogue.
I know that it is just a tiny drop in the ocean, but last week in the town of Woking in the UK there was a meeting of the Christian deanery synod which had invited leaders of the nearby local Shah Jahan mosque, Britain’s first purpose built mosque, to speak about their faith and what it means to be a Muslim in the UK today. The meeting was not without its challenges – I was saddened to see the Muslim speakers initially sitting at the back of the church before being invited to the platform – but if such local initiatives could be replicated and built on much more widely, we might just create a world where people can live together in greater understanding and peace. Having lived in Woking for much of my early life, I always remember passing the mosque and being fascinated by the nearby cemetery, now thankfully restored and renovated.
Second, I was privileged recently to be invited by a group of former Commonwealth Scholars now back home living in Pakistan to dinner at Des Pardes in the village of Saidpur on the edge of Islamabad. It is a very different and physical representation of what peaceful co-existence could be like. I know it has been reconstructed as a model village, in large part to attract tourists, but visiting there I was particularly struck by the juxtaposition of the reconstructed Hindu Temple and a Sikh Gurdwara (until quite recently a post office) with nearby Islamic architectures, indicative not only of a past where peoples of different faiths did live (relatively) peacefully together, but also of a will to instill such understandings in the present day. It made me think again about all of the horrors of partition in 1947, and indeed afterwards. I hope that my pictures below capture just a bit of this very special place, shared with some brilliant people.
Today was the final exciting day of the May Bumps on the Cam in Cambridge, with many crews vying to win their blades by bumping the crew above them each day, and others hoping not to get the wooden spoon!
Undoubtedly one of the most exciting races was the Women’s First Division, with the performance by Jesus College’s Women’s Second Boat (W2) being just amazing – OK, I have a special interest in this boat, but… They started in second position in the Second Division, and then bumped every day to win their blades. As a result, Jesus were the only College to have two women’s crews in the First Division.
Jesus W2’s five bumps were as follows:
- Wednesday: bumped Trinity Hall W1 and Murray Edwards W1
- Thursday: bumped Selwyn W1
- Friday: bumped St. Catharine’s W1
- Saturday: bumped Peterhouse W1
The pictures below hopefully capture something of the excitement and energy of their final race today when they bumped Peterhouse! It was a really great performance, and it was a privilege to watch the race surrounded by people from other Jesus crews.
The University of Cape Town Department of Computer Science is seeking to make a permanent appointment at Professorial level in 2015. The candidate for this position will be a highly-motivated individual with a PhD in Computer Science and an excellent track record in leadership, teaching and research. The successful candidate will be expected to develop and teach Computer Science courses at undergraduate and postgraduate levels, supervise postgraduate students and provide a leadership role in academic strategy, research and innovation. The candidate should also demonstrate the ability to initiate research programmes, secure external funding, and develop industry and academic partnerships.
The Department hosts the UCT interdisciplinary Centre in ICT for Development. A specialist in ICT for Development would be preferred, but candidates with interests in any field of Computer Science are invited to apply. Our BSc Honours degrees are accredited by the British Computer Society and we have a large cohort of MSc and PhD students.
The annual remuneration package for 2014, including benefits, is R887 399 plus a 10% annual scarce skills allowance.
To apply, please e-mail the completed UCT Application form (HR201) and all other relevant documentation as indicated on the form, plus a 2-3 page research and teaching statement, with the subject line “Professor: Computer Science” followed by the reference number, to Ms Edith Graham at email@example.com
Address: Staff Recruitment and Selection, University of Cape Town, Private Bag X2, Rondebosch, 7700.
Telephone: +27 21 650 5405 Departmental website: http://www.cs.uct.ac.za
The application form can also be downloaded at http://web.uct.ac.za/depts/sapweb/forms/hr201.doc
An application which does not comply with the above requirements will be regarded as incomplete.
Reference number: SR031 /14 Closing date for applications: 15th September 2014
UCT is committed to the pursuit of excellence, diversity and redress. Our Employment Equity Policy is available at http://www.uct.ac.za/downloads/uct.ac.za/about/policies/eepolicy.pdf
I have long argued that people tend to use the word “corruption” mainly to describe cultural practices that differ from those with which they are familiar. It is a term that is almost always used negatively. Re-reading Transparency International‘s 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index has very much reinforced this view, but in a way that I suspect will not be expected by those who read what follows!
I have huge admiration and respect for the work of Transparency International. The map above shows the perceived levels of public sector corruption in 177 countries in the world. In brief, it indicates that 69% of countries have a score of less than 50%, indicating a serious corruption problem.
However, what stands out most to me about this map is that it is very largely the countries of northern Europe, northern America, and Australasia that are perceived as being least corrupt. The yellow “holiness” is so marked against the “evil” red of corruption that swathes most of the rest of the world!
Corruption according to Transparency International can be defined “Generally speaking as ‘the abuse of entrusted power for private gain’. Corruption can be classified as grand, petty and political, depending on the amounts of money lost and the sector where it occurs”.
Three ideas seem particularly pertinent in this context:
- The notion of corruption is intimately tied up with the nature of capitalism. Put simply, the apparently least corrupt countries according to this definition are generally the most advanced capitalist countries. This suggests that it serves capitalist interests to try to reduce “corruption” as much as possible. It is interesting to ponder why this might be. One reason may be that reducing the abuse of entrusted power for private gain actually reduces the tendency for the rate of profit to fall. However, it is difficult to see how this might happen, and it seems in stark contrast to a fundamental characteristic of capitalism which is that it is actually designed to ensure the maximum possible private gain for the capitalists. I guess the reality may be that limiting or preventing private gain from entrusted power actually enables the market (i.e. the principles of capitalism) to flourish as effectively as possible. By extension a reduction of all entrusted power (i.e. limiting the power of the state) could be seen to enhance the power of the market, and therefore increase the potential for private gain of those who do not hold political power. Hence, keeping the power of the state as small as possible, and ensuring that it functions in a way that does not lead to private gain for the holders of power in the state, will ensure that the maximum surplus profit is available to the leaders of global corporations and their shareholders.
- However, it is very clear that there is also corruption in the leading capitalist states. The countries shaded yellow on the above map may be perceived as being less corrupt than others, but corruption still abounds in them! Hence, there is huge hypocrisy when leaders (and indeed others) in the “yellow” countries accuse those in the “red” countries of being corrupt. Those in the banking sector, for example, who pay themselves and their staff huge salaries are surely also using their positions of power for private gain? The amount of money spent in US Presidential elections is also an indication of the way in which “money speaks”: Obama thus raised $715,677,692 in the 2012 elections, and Romney raised $446,135,997. Together, this sum of money was worth more than the GDP of 25 countries in 2012 (according to UN figures). One needs huge amounts of money to be elected President of the US, and those who contribute this money expect the policies that the President introduces to benefit them – for private gain. Likewise, in the UK in 2012, Michael Meacher in a letter to the Guardian newspaper noted that “that the richest 1,000 persons, just 0.003% of the adult population, increased their wealth over the last three years by £155bn. That is enough for themselves alone to pay off the entire current UK budget deficit and still leave them with £30bn to spare”. Is not this also a form of corruption?
- Corruption is seen differently in countries where rampant capitalism and private financial gain may not be seen as the most important priorities. According to the Transparency International report, most countries in the world are perceived as having a serious corruption problem. This poses an interesting question: might their systems of priorities actually in some ways be better? If they were not, why do these systems persist? For a person living in a culture where ties to family and tribe are more important than individual private financial gain, it must seem very wrong not to give employment opportunities to members of one’s family, regardless of actual ability. Likewise, where personal loyalty matters more than direct monetary return, supporting a friend to achieve their particular job aspirations would seem much more appropriate than ensuring that there is a “fair” competence based application process. Giving gifts to reciprocate for generous hospitality is merely a different way of redistributing and sharing financial benefits. Moreover, much of what passes for probity in the “yellow” countries actually tends to be a smokescreen for traditional modes of “corruption”. The appointments process is invariably biased through friendship ties – not least through the reference system and the use of headhunters – and is never purely competence based. Likewise, the UK’s honours system is still very largely determined by personal friendship networks, rather than necessarily by ability or contribution to the common good.
In short, I am more than ever convinced that “corruption” is simply a pejorative term that people use to describe political, social and economic systems that are different from their own. In a world dominated by capitalist interests, it is scarcely surprising that less-advanced capitalist economies are perceived as being more corrupt than those where the search for individual gain and success is highest. Yet this very focus on individual gain in capitalist societies is itself fundamentally “corrupt”, since it detracts from the communal good which, at least for me, is ultimately far more valuable. I suggest that we may have much more to learn from the mutually supportive social and cultural networks that underlie such “corrupt” regimes, than we do from the economic interests that determine definitions of probity in the capitalist heartland. However, this is because I believe that the common good is far more important than private individual gain.