Archive | September 13, 2013

How Silicon Valley should save the world

As a huge fan of academic magazine ‘Foreign Policy’ I came across the recently published article ‘Can Silicon Valley Save the World?’ [1] written by Charles Kenny & Justin Sandefur. In this particular article the current boom of start-ups in Silicon Valley is addressed whereby these particular start-ups attempt ‘to save the world’. New (information) technologies combined with huge amounts of venture capital are used to generate products and services which aim for improvement of the average living standard in the Third World. Although the idea of gaining efficiency and productivity, and thereby fighting poverty, is one which I personally strongly support, the outcome of previous projects seem to have epically failed. 

Technology, and especially IT, has contributed to breaking out bit-by-bit ‘forgotten’, isolated areas of this world by enabling them to participate in economic and social globalization. However, these areas have not (yet) benefited substantially of this participation. Improvements have been made, but as the article points out: “[M]ore than half the planet still lives on less than $4 a day, and 2.4 billion people live on less than $2 a day. And that’s after a decade that saw the biggest drop in extreme poverty ever.” Pursuing the idea of technology being able to save the world, Silicon Valley – rewarded and supported by the global community – finally considered itself to become an agent of change, and therefore came up with fancy technology-improving and information-sharing projects that in the Western opinion should be the holy grail to creating economic wealth and social welfare for the Third World.   

What Charles Kenny & Justin Sandefur correctly address is that those fancy projects are committed to the way that Western societies would solve the problems that the Third World is facing.  In countries where education, institutions, infrastructure, health care and basic nutrition are lacking, westernized knowledge and solutions do not cope well with adapting to this corrupt and poor (in every sense of the word) environment.  This is demonstrated by the failure of multiple projects mentioned in the article.

In my opinion, Silicon Valley – or not anyone for that matter – should give up on attempts to increase living standards in countries where poverty rules. However, the strategy for tackling poverty should drastically change. Instead of analysing defaults and inefficiencies from an American point-of-view (as is the case here), those should be approached with an African, Asian, Latin American or Middle East perspective.

IT should provide access to the global knowledge-based economy to those areas in need. Additional resources and educational tools should be provided on how to access the global knowledge network, subsequently providing the opportunity for developing countries to collect and process fundamental information on which they can base their own practical insights regarding problem-solving: from their own local and/or national perspective. Silicon Valley needs to provide seed to enable the Third World to grow their own plant, instead of providing a plant that does not acclimatize to its environment. 


Will we become slaves of our data?

Big Data has truly started to revolutionize the way we make decisions and how those decisions are prompted to us by companies that seek to use our information footprint to tailor their offers and make recommendations to improve our lives, but does it always work that way?

There is one aspect of Big Data we need to at least be wary about and it has to do with the potential issue of becoming too dependent on its input. Furthermore, I believe that the outputs derived from Big Data could become so integrated in our lives that it would almost be an extension of our thinking, If this would happen the risk exists that Big Data could get to undermine and erode the very principle of “freedom of choice” by predicting what we are likely to do before we even think about doing it. The issue of becoming too dependent on data has been represented in the following article based on the story of Robert McNamara during the Vietnam War [1].

The frontier between what is useful and what constitutes an invasion of privacy is very thin and that line has been getting smaller along the years, with the appearance of social media, and other knowledge sharing platforms.

It is important that Big Data is used in a way that can improve our lives but not in a way where we are molded by it since this in my opinion would represent the loss of free will.

Data should be used to “nudge” and aid in decision making, not to make decisions for us and here is where it becomes important for companies and for us to understand where to draw the line between helpful intervention and straight out intromission.

On the topic of “nudging” decision making there is a great book that I would like to recommend written by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein in 2008 under the name “Nudge” that can help us understand how we can influence people to improve their behavior and use their data and information to their own benefit without tampering with their freedom by performing what they call Libertarian Paternalism [2].

Lastly I would like to make mention to the fact that with Big Data becoming more prominent in our lives, it is important for policy makers and legal entities to take the pertinent steps to ensure that above all things the users can feel save, that their data is being used in their best interests and not in the best interest of the corporations. Our information should be used to improve the way we make decisions regarding ourselves and by doing so it will inexorably affect the way society as whole is involved in decision making.

Please feel free to comment, ask questions and share ideas your input is much appreciated.




Hype or future


Whether you look at your personally compiled playlists on your iPod or to your soccer team mate who has his own name on his shoe, customization is everywhere. In the current market consumers are more than happy to buy products they can alter at some points to their own needs and whishes. The development of the internet and technology will contribute to the even growing demand of personalized items.

In this blog I would like to discuss whether or not the development of the 3D-printer onto the consumer market will be a key aspect in the production of personalized items.

Commercially usable 3D-pritners are only a short time available, whereas the technology of 3D printing exists for a much longer time. The cheaper 3D printers are increasing in sales and the estimates are that they account for around 5% of the printing market. The printed componential parts have also risen in the last 10 years from 4% in 2003 to over 25% in 2012. [1]

In my opinion 3D printing will be an important part of the market in regards of personalized products. However, the usage of these 3D printers can be an issue. Especially the designing part of your own personalized items requires a more active role from the consumers. 


[2] (source photo)