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The Cyber Gulag revisited & Debate reloaded

Anis H. Bajrektarevic

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Is there life after Facebook? Or after the Spring-ing ‘revolution’? Now, when Wall Street is occupied, how will we occupy ourselves? Could we google protest, tweet discontent, arming  ourselves with all the mobile launcher gadgets powered by the micro & soft, touch screen & scream tech, then upload promenades, block a tragedy and avoid farce, and eventually download pure happiness – happily ever after? … Pimp my revolution, Date my resolution …

Through the pain of sobriety, the protesters all across the MENA, Euro-Med and overseas are learning that neither globalization nor the McFB way of life (mostly spent in the large, air-conditioned shopping-malls) is a shortcut to development; that free trade is not a virtue, but an instrument; that liberalism is not a state of mind but a well-doctrinated ideology, and finally that the social media networks are only a communication tool, not a replacement for indepen- dent critical thinking or for the collapsed cross-generational contract. “We are the suckers, the eternally expectant ones, the hopeful ones – and the eternally disappointed ones…”

Machines run on binary-coded algorithms (predictability of human behavior cyber-providers) can neither compensate for an empathic human touch nor can they replace the wonders of socio-emotional interactions of individuals in a real time-space. Sociableness is neither of linear, one-directional dynamics à la Running Sushi, nor can it be a 3-size simplified and instant portable like the Starbucks coffee. Personal relations are lived, not utilized by a mouse click. Human integrity is self-molested (brutalized) and self-reduced (trivialized) to a lame shop-window commodity, which is purchasable 24/7 by ‘poking’ on the photo of someone’s personal profile. And, likies are available to give a rating for ‘displayed commodities’.

MORPHEUS TO NEO:
Your appearance now is what we call ‘residual self-image’.
It is the mental projection of your digital self.
TRINITY TO NEO:
The Matrix cannot tell you who you are, but who you are seems to be at least
in some sense related to whom you think you are in the Matrix.

MORPHEUS TO NEO:
You have the look of a man who accepts what he sees, because he’s expecting to wake up.
Ironically, this is not far from the truth…
Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

This grotesque of self-imposed cyber gulag, called ‘social media networks’ might end up like smoking of the 21st century. In early 20th century, smoking was cool, sexy, brave, rebellious, liberating and most of all: social. As such it was glorified and promoted by that time Western press, film and other entertainment industries. However, as soon as the physical and mental exposures and distortion, as well as the dependency, submissiveness and heavy-addiction have been credibly verified, smoking was barred from all public places, from children and elderly, schools and hospitals. First opposing for some decades, the tobacco industry was eventually forced to visibly and clearly state warnings about all hazards associated with its products. Today, smoking is proscribed in the OECD countries, ghettoized, and effectively confined to the specially designated glass-boxes with powerful ventilations systems and sensitive fire-alarms. The developing world will maybe follow, one day, successfully. As for the OECD states and media networks: London/UK’s tweet and loot nights of early August 2011 and NY feed, occupy and camp autumn days of 2011 are an indication enough.

Misled by a quick triumphalism of the social-media cheerleaders and TV reporter–nomads, the international news agencies have definitely confused the two: revolt and revolution. As they later missed to co-relate a massive EU bail-outing and the UK loot-outing. Negotiating on the coined “Euro-zone debt crisis” (debt bound economies) without restaging the forgotten Lisbon strategy (knowledge-based societies) is simply a lame talk about form without any substance – it is a grand bargain about control via austerity, not a vision of prosperity.

The very precursor of the so-called Arab Spring was the winter of the (still unsettled) global financial crisis with its severe impact felt or misused locally. Consequently, the Arab unrests started as a social, not political, public revolt over high unemployment and soaring costs of living (Tunisia and Egypt), over the inter-tribal inequalities (Libya, Bahrain), or over a combination of all factors (Yemen and Syria). Besides publicly ‘crucifying’ a couple of scapegoats, it has then failed to bring about structural change (r/evolution), and is paradoxically ending up with more debts, ever higher living costs, and more unemployment than before the real or fabricated austerity measures were imposed in a response to the mounting global financial crisis. Finally, it is not clear whether these popular revolts have been preempted (or diverted by hacktivists), and at the end, scrutinized and criminalized.

How does the Arab ‘Spring’ correlate with the UK/London (looting) ‘Summer’ and the Wall Street (walking charade) ‘Autumn’? Well, the difference between a dialectic and cyclical history is a distance between success and fall: The Arab Oil Embargo of 1973 (that interestingly enough also included the non-petrol exporting republics of Egypt, Syria and Tunisia) was an attempt at political emancipation. In the aftermath of the Oil Shock that the Embargo subsequently triggered, the Arab states have found themselves within ever stronger external financial and politico-military dependencies… History also rounds up the virtuality, (of) taxation and representation. No taxation without representation! – isn’t it?!

MORPHEUS TO NEO:
Welcome to the desert of the real! …How do you define ‘real’!?
If you’re talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste and see, then ‘real’ is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain …
The world exists now only as a part of a neural interactive simulation that we call the Matrix.

CYPHER TO TRINITY:
If I had to choose between that and the Matrix … I choose the Matrix.

TRINITY:
The Matrix isn’t real?

CYPHER:
I disagree, Trinity. I think the Matrix can be more real than this world.

The Ancient world of the Roman Empire was one of the first legal systems to extensively practice the institute of the so-called Civic death. This savage, inhuman but effective sanction medieval Europe eagerly continued for centuries, before it was finally abolished by the post-Napoleonic age. What would be the modern equivalent to this Antique criminal law penalty? Imagine that instead of a fine or imprisonment, the convicted individual gets a sentence which bars him from any access to mobile phones, internet/FB and to shopping malls. Science fiction? Not really! That is exactly what the Prime Minister Cameron asked for in the British Parliament, as to put the London riots under control in August 2011.

CYPHER:
I know that this steak doesn’t exist. I know when I put it in my mouth,
the Matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy and delicious.
After nine years, do you know what I’ve realized?
Ignorance is bliss.

AGENT SMITH:
Then we have a deal?

CYPHER:
Reinsert me into the Matrix… I don’t want to remember nothing. Nothing! You understand?
And I want to be rich… Someone important, like an actor… You can do that, right?

AGENT SMITH:
Whatever you want, Mr. Reagan.

For over ten years, Europe’s youth (in France, Greece, Hungary, Portugal, Spain, Ireland, Norway, Britain) is repeatedly sending us a powerful message on the perceived collapse of the cross-generational social contract. So far, the only consolidated response was the impressive build-up of the so-called ‘Wing/s front’. These movements, seemingly rightist political parties, are effectively exploiting mounting frustration of electorate over the main center-left and center-right political parties (that lost most of its traditional ideological platform and specific political content, but far too often co-habituating in a form of grand-coalitions across the EU), and the potent emotional charges related to ‘migration question’.

The history of Europe is a story of small hysterical nations, traditionally sensitive to the issue of otherness (as the ethnic, linguistic, religious or behaviorist minorities were misused far too many times in history by assertive neighbors all over the continent, or domestically presented as a Hassobjekt for the locally surfacing hardships). The present-day, aged but not restaged, EU is (in) a shadow of the grand taboo that Europe can produce everything but its own life. The ‘Old Continent’ is demographically sinking, while economically just keeping afloat. The cross-generational social contract is silently abandoned (as one of its main operative instruments – the Lisbon strategy – has been eroded, and finally lost its coherence). European youth feels it correctly, still does not express it right: The escapist, defeatist/rejectionist, retreating and confrontational anti-politics is on a rise in lieu of the visionary, dynamic far-reaching policies, aimed at the knowledge-based economy and solidarity-based society.

Imagine human beings living in an underground, cave like dwelling, with an Entrance
a long way up, which is both open to the light and as wide as the cave itself.  They’ve
been there since childhood, fixed in the same place, with their necks and legs fettered,
able to see only in front of them, because their bonds prevent them from turning their
heads around. Light is provided by a fire burning far above and behind them.
Also behind them, but on higher ground, there is a path stretching between them and
 the fire. Imagine that along this path a low wall has been built, like the screen in front
of puppeteers above which they show their puppets … Then also imagine that there are
people along the wall, carrying all kind of artifacts that project above it – statues of
people and other animals, made out of stone, wood, and every material. And, as you’d
expect, some of the carriers are talking, and some are silent.

What is the possible message of the Arab ‘Spring’, London ‘Summer’ and the Wall street ‘Autumn’ for Asia in general and for Southeast Asia (SEA) in particular? Well, there are few. The cross-generational social contract should be neither neglected, nor built on the over-consumerist, anti-intellectual, trivialized and brutalized McFB way of life. Equally alienating and dangerously inflammatory is the radicalization of the entering youth generation – be it a religious or political radicalization. There must be a third way! – especially for the newly arriving SEA middle class that is also rapidly urbanizing. The middle class formation and its urbanization is closely related to the identity-crisis, too. The forthcoming task of intellectuals is to offer the best ways for accommodation of these new arrivals and their integration. It is the political parties who should then promote those policies and best practices for the lasting benefit of all stake holders and the social cohesion which, not only “pleases the markets” and complies with the spooky and shadowy rating agencies but, stabilizes the entire nation.

No doubt, just as the cyber-autistic McFB way of life is the same in any European and Middle Eastern city, so are the radical, wing politics! Have you spotted any critical difference between the rhetoric of Norwegian serial killer Breivik and the Al Qaida Wahhabi ‘Islamists’? “Just like Jihadi warriors are the plum tree of Ummah, we will be the plum tree for Europe and for Christianity”– many news agencies reported these as words allegedly written by the Christian Jihadist Anders Behring. The European (right-wing) parties opposing e.g. Muslim immigration are nothing but the mirror image of the MENA’s Islamist parties. In both cases, there are: (i) Socio-political outsiders (without much of an coherence, integrity and autonomy) that are denouncing the main, status quo, parties as a ‘corrupt establishment’; (ii) Extensively exploiting domestic economic shortcomings (e.g. unemployment, social inequalities, etc.), but they themselves do nothing essential to reverse the trend; (iii) Making ethnic and religious appeals (preaching the return to tradition), attacking foreign influences in their societies and otherwise ‘culturally purifying’ population; (iv) Generally doing better in local rather than in national elections (the ‘Rightists’ win on the national elections only when no other effective alternative exists to challenge the governing party/coalition block); (v) More emotionally charged populist movements than serious political parties of the solid socio-economic and socio-political program (per definition, these parties have very poor governing score).

NEO:
What is this place?

MORPHEUS:
More important than ‘what’ is when!

NEO:
When?

MORPHEUS:
You believe that it is the year 1999…
I can’t tell you exactly what year it is, because we honestly do not know…

So far, the Middle Eastern/MENA and European political establishments responded to these developments in similar fashion: (i) the Middle East: became more sectarian Islamic in its orientation, symbols, practices; (ii) the EU/Europe: mainstream (center) parties adopted rhetorics and promoted the measures advocated by the right-wing, anti-immigrant parties.
The calamities all over the EU and Euro-Mediterranean zone are showing us how dangerous, disastrous, and short-sighted these (anti-politics) policies of exclusion are.
Is Southeast Asia able to prevent its own Middle Eastern ‘Spring’, London ‘Summer’ and
‘Occupying Autumn’ social-cohesion ‘Fukushima-Daiichhi-like’ meltdown?

The Arab world’s population growth is considerably higher than its economic growth. This means that besides the grave indigenous political and regional security problems, domestic disparities, unemployment, pauperization and inequalities are on the sharp rise. Past the prime age of the “baby boomer” generation, Europe suffers the worrying negative demographic growth and rapid ageing. The EU replacement ratio is between 1,3 and 1,7 (and is afloat only due to steady and silent but massive naturalizations all across Europe over the last decade). The EU’s economic growth is very symbolic, despite huge territorial enlargements in the past decade. Actually, the EU’s growth in many categories could be portrayed as negative.

Ergo, both regions are in a socio-economic retreat, naturally reflected in their political defensive. To reverse the trend, both regions would need an extra effort (which is not presently lurking on the horizon).  

CAPTAIN TO AUTO (SHIP’s COMPUTER):
That’s all I’ve ever done! That’s all anyone on this blasted ship has ever done. Nothing! Nothing!!

AUTO TO CAPTAIN:
On the Axiom, you will survive.

CAPTAIN:
I don’t want to survive. I want to live.

AUTO:
…must follow my directive.

WALL-E:
Dirrrr-ect-ti-veee?… Eveeee!

EVE:
Waaaalll-eeee!… Wall-E!

WALL-E:
Ta-dah!

Finally, what is the karma and dharma of current financial crisis? Where is a thin line between too big to fail (so, bail) and too heavy to fly (but, expensive to buy)? Is the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ a spontaneous outcry, a stress-eliminator walk (usually recommended by medics), a camping charade overrun by a bluffing demagogue of anti-corporate populists and mid-term elections opportunists? Is this in fact a Woodstock-remake TV show, just another US exporting item? Or is it the (only way out for domestically needed) solution? Is OWS a mix of all, or none of these?
AGENT SMITH TO MORPHEUS:
Did you know that the First Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world, where none suffered, where everyone would be happy? … It was a disaster. (… entire crops were lost.)

MOUSE TO NEO:
To deny our own impulses is to deny the very thing that makes us human.

CYPHER:
Ignorance is bliss!

Revelation 21:4, KING JAMES BIBLE
And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.

MORPHEUS TO NEO:
Most of these people are not ready to be unplugged, many of them so inert, so hopelessly dependent…

IVAN, in Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov
So long as man remains free he strives for nothing so incessantly and so painfully
as to find someone to worship.

AGENT SMITH TO MORPHEUS:
Some believe that we lacked the programming language to describe your perfect world,
but I believe that, as a species, human beings define their reality through misery and suffering.
The perfect world was a dream that your primitive cerebrum kept trying to wake up from.   

GARCIN, In Sartre’s No Exit:
Hell is – other people.

Sagan is very precise and instructive: “If we are to survive, our loyalties must be broadened further… Many of those who run the nations will find this idea unpleasant…”

As one of the exceptionally few world regions, Southeast Asia so far holds both what is otherwise missing in the other two mentioned theaters – stabilized demographic growth and an impressive economic growth. However, the demographic and economic growth poses an additional environmental stress, which – if not under check – may result in confrontational domestic policies and practices aimed at to maximize a grab for finite, scarce resources.

Hence, be the outside world Kantian or Hobbesian (be it driven by the sense of higher civilizational mission and common ASEAN destiny, or by the pragmatic need to strengthen the nation’s position), all necessary means are here! To register its future claims, the SEA – as well as any other theater – have to demonstrate its lasting and decisive will now.

Tentatively, we can cluster that will around three main tasks:

(i)    Prosperity: Support to all three sides of the knowledge triangle: research (creation of knowledge); development/innovation (application of knowledge); education (dissemination of knowledge), as well as the promotion of life itself;
(ii)    Solidarity: Human dimension enhancement through promotion of cohesion policies, including the full respect of authenticity as well as the  preservation and promotion of indigenous socio-cultural and environmental diversities;
(iii)    Security: Enhancing the human-centered (socio-economic) safety, based on free- dom, justice and inclusive collective (environmental and socio-political) security.
This opportunity should be understood as history’s call – which both invites and obliges at the same time. Or, as Hegel reminds us that since: “reason is purposive activity…” the state should be: “…the actuality of the ethical Idea, of concrete freedom…” for all. An effective long-range prosperity, solidarity as well as (external or internal) security cannot be based on confrontational (nostalgia of) ‘religious’ radicalism and other ideological collisions. Clearly, it cannot rest on the escapist consumerism, corrosive socio-economic egoism and exclusion, restriction and denial, but only on promotion and inclusion. Simply, it needs to be centered on a pro-active, participatory policy not a reactive, dismissive one.  

TRUMAN:
Who are you?

CRISTOF:
I’m the Creator
…of a TV show that gives hope and joy, inspiration to millions.

TRUMAN:
Then who am I?

CRISTOF:
You are the star.

CRISTOF:
I know you better than you know yourself.

TRUMAN:
You never had a camera in my head!

Post Scriptum

NEO TO AGENT SMITH:
…You can’t scare me with this Gestapo crap. I know my rights…
I want my phone-call.

AGENT SMITH TO NEO:
Mr. Anderson, you disappoint me…
Tell me, what good is a phone-call if you’re unable to speak?

Note:
An early, shorter version of Is there life after Facebook?, the so-called fb1,article appeared at first in China (Beijing, the 4th Media) on 12th August 2011. Is there life after Facebook? – The Cyber Gulag revisited & Debate reloaded, the so-called fb2, article was an extended version of that text published by the Addleton Publishers, New York, RCP 10 (2), 2011.

The present text is an expanded, unpublished version that includes SEA and elaborates on OWS for the first time in this article. It is exclusively prepared for the International Media Conference in Paris, France (23–25 November 2011).  

References:

1.    Bajrektarevic, A. (2003), Beyond the Cyberpunk of negative utopia, Reader for the Research colloquia: Alternative Futures, Helsinki, Finland
2.    Kirkpatrick, D. (2010), The Facebook Effect, Simon & Schuster
3.    Bajrektarevic, A. (2011), No Asian century without the pan-Asian Institution, Post Script  THC, Jakarta 8:3
4.    Heidegger, M. (1927), Sein und Zeit (Being and Time), Max Niemeyer Verlag Tübingen (page: 37)
5.    Dostoyevsky, F.M., (1880), Братья Карамазовы (The Brothers Karamazov), (Chapter 5), Bantam Classics
6.    Huxley, A. (1932), Brave New World,  A Flamingo Modern Classics 1994 (page: 82)
7.    Nietzsche, F. (1886), Jenseits von Gut und Böse; Vorspiel einer Philosophie der Zukunft (Beyond Good and Evil) (page 199), Druck u. Verlag von C.G. Neumann, Leipzig
8.    Fromm, E. (1956), The Art of Loving, Perennial Classics, (page: 79 and page: 80).
9.    The Matrix Movie, written and directed by the Wachowski brothers (1999). According to the movie script; all quoted dialogues refer to the first motion picture of the Matrix trilogy (1999-2003)
10.    Pariser, E., (2011), The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You, Penguin (page: 43)
11.    Khanthong, T. (2011), Overdrive: Conveniently Ignoring the Truth, The Nation – Thailand (page 13A, 07 X 11)
12.    Plato  Republic, (trans. Grube, G.M.E.), 2nd Ed. Rev. C.D.C. Reeve, Indianapolis, Indiana: Huckett Publishing Co., 1992 (514a1 – 515a3)
13.    Dante, A. (1321), La Divina Commedia (The Devine Comedy), The NAL, Penguin Group /first published, 1954/  
14.    Goethe, J.W. (1808), Faust, Anchor Books Editions 1961 (page: 73, Der Tragödie erster Teil)
15.    NIC – National Intelligence Council (2008), Mapping the Global Future – Disruptive Civil Technologies (STwP Impacts on US Interests out to 2025), Conference proceedings April 2008  
16.    Tim Lister, Europe’s resurgent far right focuses on immigration, multiculturalism, CNN (July 24, 2011)
17.    Bajrektarevic, A. (2005), Destiny Shared: Our Common Futures – EURO-MED Human Capital beyond 2020, Crans Montana Forum, Monaco
18.    Bajrektarevic, A. (2005), Towards the Creation of the OSCE Task Force on Human Capital, Documents of the 13th OSCE Economic Forum, Prague, Czech Republic
19.    Youngs, R. (2010), Europe’s Decline and Fall – The Struggle against Global Irrelevance, Profile Books    
20.    WALL-E (2008), written by Andrew Stanton and Pate Docter, directed by Andrew Stanton. All quoted dialogues taken from the official movie’s script    
21.    Bajrektarevic, A. (2010) The JHA Diplomacy: Palermo Convention, 10 Years After, GHIR – Geopolitics, History and Intl Relation (3:1/2011) (page:32)
22.    Friedman, G. (2009), The Next 100 Years, Anchor Books/Random House NY
23.    Sartre, J.–P. (1944), Huis Clos (No Exit), Vintage International (Random House 1989)
24.    The Truman Show, written by Andrew Niccol and directed by Peter Weir in 1998. All quoted dialogues taken from the official movie’s script
25.    Hegel, G.W.F. (1807), Phänomenologie des Geistes (The Phenomenology of Mind), Oxford University Press, 1977 (page: 25 VII)
26.    Sagan, C. (1980), Cosmos Random House, NY /Carl Sagan Productions Inc. (page: 327).  

Modern Diplomacy Advisory Board, Chairman Geopolitics of Energy Editorial Member Professor and Chairperson for Intl. Law & Global Pol. Studies contact: anis@bajrektarevic.eu

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Your new digital rights across Europe during summer holidays

MD Staff

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This summer, European citizens will enjoy more digital rights than ever before. Following the end of roaming charges across the European Union last year, holidaymakers can now travel with their online TV, film, sports, music or e-book subscriptions at no extra cost. In addition, everyone across Europe can enjoy world-class data protection rules that ensure all Europeans have better control over their personal data.

Andrus Ansip, Vice-President for the Digital Single Market said: “Europeans are already starting to feel the benefits of the Digital Single Market. This summer you will be able to bring your favourite TV programmes and sports matches with you wherever you travel in the EU. By the end of this year, you will also be able to buy festival tickets or rent cars online from all over the EU without being geo-blocked or re-routed.”

Věra Jourová, Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality added: “The digital world offers tremendous opportunities, but also challenges; for example, our personal data is a useful asset for many companies. With the modern data protection rules we have put in place, Europeans have gained control over their data whenever they shop, book their holidays online or just surf the internet.

Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for the Digital Economy and Society said: “We are improving the daily life of our citizens, be it end of roaming charges or safer online environment. By completing all our digital initiatives we will bring even more positive change to consumers and businesses alike.

Digital rights already in daily use

Since June 2017, people have been able use their mobile phones while travelling in the EU just like they would at home, without paying extra charges. Since the EU abolished roaming charges, more than five times the amount of data has been consumed and almost two and a half times more phone calls have been made in the EU and the European Economic Area.

Since April 2018, consumers can access online content services they have subscribed to in their home country also when travelling across the EU, including among other films, series and sports broadcasts (see examples in factsheet).

Under the new data protection rules which have been in place across the EU since 25 May 2018, Europeans can safely transfer personal data between service providers such as the cloud or email; everyone now has the right to know if their data has been leaked or hacked, or how their personal data is being collected. Furthermore, with the ‘right to be forgotten’, personal data has to be deleted upon request, if there are no legitimate reasons for a company to keep it.

Finally, with the net neutrality rules applying since spring 2016, every European has access to open internet, guaranteeing their freedom without discrimination when choosing content, applications, services and information of their choice.

Coming soon

With some digital rights already in place, there is more to come in the upcoming months. From September, Europeans will have increasingly the right to use their national electronic identification (eID) across the whole EU to access public services.

As of December, everyone will benefit from the free flow of non-personal data, as they will have access to better and more competitive data storage and processing services in the EU, thus complementing the free movement of people, goods, services and capital. Entrepreneurs meanwhile will have the right to decide where in the EU they store and process all types of data.

As of 3 December, Europeans will be able to shop online without unjustified discrimination wherever they are in the EU. They will not have to worry about a website blocking or re-routing them just because they – or their credit card – come from a different country.

As of next year, citizens will be able to compare parcel delivery costs more easily and benefit from more affordable prices for cross-border parcel delivery.

Agreed rules on value added tax for e-commerce will allow entrepreneurs to take care of their cross-border VAT needs in one online portal and in their own language.

With the recently agreed European Electronic Communications Code, Europeans will have the right to switch internet services and telecoms providers in a simpler way. They will also have the right to receive public alerts on mobile phones in case of an emergency. The new rules will also guarantee a better and more affordable connectivity across the EU.

With the updated rules for audiovisual media, Europeans will have the right to a safe online environment that protects them from incitement to violence, hatred, terrorism, child pornography, racism and xenophobia.

Background

The Digital Single Market strategy was proposed by the Commission in May 2015 to make the EU’s single market fit for the digital age – tearing down regulatory walls and moving from 28 national markets to a single one. This has the potential to contribute €415 billion per year to our economy and create hundreds of thousands of new jobs.

Three years later, the strategy is well on its way: 17 legislative proposals have been agreed on, while 12 proposals are still on the table. There is a strong need to complete our regulatory framework for creating the Digital Single Market. Thanks to this the value of Europe’s data economy has the potential to top €700 billion by 2020, representing 4% of the EU’s economy.

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Artificial intelligence: Between myth and reality

Jean-Gabriel Ganascia

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Are machines likely to become smarter than humans? No, says Jean-Gabriel Ganascia: this is a myth inspired by science fiction. The computer scientist walks us through the major milestones in artificial intelligence (AI), reviews the most recent technical advances, and discusses the ethical questions that require increasingly urgent answers.

A scientific discipline, AI officially began in 1956, during a summer workshop organized by four American researchers – John McCarthy, Marvin Minsky, Nathaniel Rochester and Claude Shannon – at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, United States. Since then, the term “artificial intelligence”, probably first coined to create a striking impact, has become so popular that today everyone has heard of it. This application of computer science has continued to expand over the years, and the technologies it has spawned have contributed greatly to changing the world over the past sixty years.

However, the success of the term AI is sometimes based on a misunderstanding, when it is used to refer to an artificial entity endowed with intelligence and which, as a result, would compete with human beings. This idea, which refers to ancient myths and legends, like that of the golem [from Jewish folklore, an image endowed with life], have recently been revived by contemporary personalities including the British physicist Stephen Hawking (1942-2018), American entrepreneur Elon Musk, American futurist Ray Kurzweil, and  proponents of what we now call Strong AI or Artificial General Intelligence (AGI). We will not discuss this second meaning here, because at least for now, it can only be ascribed to a fertile imagination, inspired more by science fiction than by any tangible scientific reality confirmed by experiments and empirical observations.

For McCarthy, Minsky, and the other researchers of the Dartmouth Summer Research Project (link is external)on Artificial Intelligence, AI was initially intended to simulate each of the different faculties of intelligence – human, animal, plant, social or phylogenetic – using machines. More precisely, this scientific discipline was based on the conjecture that all cognitive functions – especially learning, reasoning, computation, perception, memorization, and even scientific discovery or artistic creativity – can be described with such precision that it would be possible to programme a computer to reproduce them. In the more than sixty years that AI has existed, there has been nothing to disprove or irrefutably prove this conjecture, which remains both open and full of potential.

Uneven progress

In the course of its short existence, AI has undergone many changes. These can be summarized in six stages.

The time of the prophets

First of all, in the euphoria of AI’s origins and early successes, the researchers had given free range to their imagination, indulging in certain reckless pronouncements for which they were heavily criticized later. For instance, in 1958, American  political scientist and economist Herbert A. Simon – who received the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences in 1978 – had declared that, within ten years, machines would become world chess champions if they were not barred from international competitions.

The dark years

By the mid-1960s, progress seemed to be slow in coming. A 10-year-old child beat a computer at a chess game in 1965, and a report commissioned by the US Senate in 1966 described the intrinsic limitations of machine translation. AI got bad press for about a decade.

Semantic AI

The work went on nevertheless, but the research was given new direction. It focused on the psychology of memory and the mechanisms of understanding – with attempts to simulate these on computers – and on the role of knowledge in reasoning. This gave rise to techniques for the semantic representation of knowledge, which developed considerably in the mid-1970s, and also led to the development of expert systems, so called because they use the knowledge of skilled specialists to reproduce their thought processes. Expert systems raised enormous hopes in the early 1980s with a whole range of applications, including medical diagnosis.

Neo-connectionism and machine learning

Technical improvements led to the development of machine learning algorithms, which allowed  computers to accumulate knowledge and to automatically reprogramme themselves, using their own experiences.

This led to the development of industrial applications (fingerprint identification, speech recognition, etc.), where techniques from AI, computer science, artificial life and other disciplines were combined to produce hybrid systems.

From AI to human-machine interfaces

Starting in the late 1990s, AI was coupled with robotics and human-machine interfaces to produce intelligent agents that suggested the presence of feelings and emotions. This gave rise, among other things, to the calculation of emotions (affective computing), which evaluates the reactions of a subject feeling emotions and reproduces them on a machine, and especially to the development of conversational agents (chatbots).

Renaissance of AI

Since 2010, the power of machines has made it possible to exploit  enormous quantities of data (big data) with deep learning techniques, based on the use of formal neural networks. A range of very successful applications in several areas – including speech and image recognition, natural language comprehension and autonomous cars – are leading to an AI renaissance.

Applications

Many achievements using AI techniques surpass human capabilities – in 1997, a computer programme defeated the reigning world chess champion, and more recently, in 2016, other computer programmes have beaten the world’s best Go [an ancient Chinese board game] players and some top poker players. Computers are proving, or helping to prove, mathematical theorems; knowledge is being automatically constructed from huge masses of data, in terabytes (1012 bytes), or even petabytes (1015 bytes), using machine learning techniques.

As a result, machines can recognize speech and transcribe it – just like typists did in the past. Computers can accurately identify faces or fingerprints from among tens of millions, or understand texts written in natural languages. Using machine learning techniques, cars drive themselves; machines are better than dermatologists at diagnosing melanomas using photographs of skin moles  taken with mobile phone cameras; robots are fighting wars instead of humans; and factory production lines are becoming increasingly automated.

Scientists are also using AI techniques to determine the function of certain biological macromolecules, especially proteins and genomes, from the sequences of their constituents ‒ amino acids for proteins, bases for genomes. More generally, all the sciences are undergoing a major epistemological rupture with in silico experiments – named so because they are carried out by computers from massive quantities of data, using powerful processors whose cores are made of silicon. In this way, they differ from in vivo experiments, performed on living matter, and above all, from in vitro experiments, carried out in glass test-tubes.

Today, AI applications affect almost all fields of activity – particularly in the industry, banking, insurance, health and defence sectors. Several routine tasks are now automated, transforming many trades and eventually eliminating some.

What are the ethical risks?

With AI, most dimensions of intelligence ‒ except perhaps humour ‒ are subject to rational analysis and reconstruction, using computers. Moreover, machines are exceeding our cognitive faculties in most fields, raising fears of ethical risks. These risks fall into three categories – the scarcity of work, because it can be carried out by machines instead of humans; the consequences for the autonomy of the individual, particularly in terms of freedom and security; and the overtaking of humanity, which would be replaced by more “intelligent” machines.

However, if we examine the reality, we see that work (done by humans) is not disappearing – quite the contrary – but it is changing and calling for new skills. Similarly, an individual’s autonomy and  freedom are not inevitably undermined by the development of AI – so long as we remain vigilant in the face of technological intrusions into our private lives.

Finally, contrary to what some people claim, machines pose no existential threat to humanity. Their autonomy is purely technological, in that it corresponds only to material chains of causality that go from the taking of information to decision-making. On the other hand, machines have no moral autonomy, because even if they do confuse and mislead us in the process of making decisions, they do not have a will of their own and remain subjugated to the objectives that we have assigned to them.

Source: UNESCO

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13 Health Tech Innovators Changing the World

MD Staff

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Thirteen early career scientists from across the Asia-Pacific who are revolutionizing healthcare technology have been named finalists for the 2018 APEC Science Prize for Innovation, Research and Education.

From new preventative treatments to enhanced threat detection to rapid recovery solutions, the cross-border research breakthroughs developed by these innovators under 40 years of age were recognized in accordance with this year’s ASPIRE Prize theme: Smart Technologies for Healthy Societies.

The winner will be announced by science and technology officials and industry representatives from the APEC Policy Partnership on Science, Innovation and Technology when they convene in Port Moresby in August. The winner will also receive USD 25,000 in prize money sponsored by Wiley and Elsevier, publishers of scholarly scientific knowledge.

Meet the 2018 ASPIRE Prize Finalists:

Australia

Dr Madhu Bhaskaran

Associate Professor, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia

Field of research: Electronic materials engineering

Dr Bhaskaran’s work transforms the way we imagine, use and interact with electronic devices and sensors. She has developed ways to combine functional oxide materials processed at high temperatures with elastic and plastic materials. Her work has led to the development of wearable elastic electronics and sensors including gas and UV sensors and flat optical devices—all of which are stretchable, optically transparent and as thin as a nicotine patch. An example of an application includes the development of devices to detect amount of exposure to UV rays which contribute to skin cancer.

Canada

Dr Daniel Fuller

Assistant Professor and Canada Research Chair in Population Physical Activity, Memorial University of Newfoundland

Field of research: Human kinetics and public health

Dr Fuller’s research involves designing healthier cities by using mobile health technologies like wearable devices, mobile phones, machine learning and geographic information science to increase physical activity. He works closely with cities and local community organizations to evaluate the impact of existing interventions such as bicycle share programs, bridge construction and snow clearing on physical activity.

Chile

Dr Pablo González Muñoz

Assistant Professor, Pontificia Universidad Catolica De Chile

Field of research: Host-pathogen interactions, human viruses, immunology, microbiology and immune evasion

Dr  González studies the virus herpes simplex-2 (HSV-2), a virus that currently affects about 500 million people for which a vaccine is not available. Dr González has worked with at least five human pathogens. Through his research, he has developed a fast, affordable and easy-to-use diagnostic kit to detect viral infections for different tissues that can be used in rural areas.

China

Dr Liu Guanghui

Professor, Institute of Biophysics, Chinese Academy of Sciences

Field of research: Stem cells and healthy aging

Dr Liu researches aging, organ and tissue homeostasis, and aging-associated diseases.  Through his work, he has discovered therapeutic interventions to allow for the “healthy aging” of human stem cells. Dr Liu’s work continues to enhance the study and treatment of disorders related to aging.

Indonesia

Dr Chairul Hudaya

Assistant Professor, University of Indonesia

Field of research: Electrical power and energy materials

Dr Hudaya researches affordable smart energy storage technology for healthy societies, especially those living in remote and isolated areas. His two main projects include: 1) a portable energy storage device used with an infant incubator, serving premature infants; and 2) a smart monitoring system installed in a laptop enabling nurses to communicate in remote, off-grid areas.

Korea

Dr Choongik Kim

Associate Professor, Sogang University

Field of research: Wearable/flexible electronics, organic/polymeric materials, semiconductors

Dr Kim researches and develops novel electric materials for use in wearable devices, including activity monitoring bracelets, smart watches and GPS enabled shoes. In 2007, as published in Science, he was the first to expand upon the relationship between electric materials and electronic device performance. Dr Kim’s research is used to develop the core technology for new wearable technologies, leading to more real-time applications that can support meaningful improvements in health outcomes.

Malaysia

Dr Siti Hamidah Mohd Setapar

Associate Professor, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia

Field of research: Micellar nanotechnology, extraction of national products, product development from natural ingredients, cosmetic formulation and separation processes

Dr Mohd Setapar’s research focuses on micellar nanotechnology, a cutting-edge technology used in skincare and cosmetics to improve the effectiveness of the skin cleansing process and enhance the absorption capacity of cosmetic ingredients into the skin. She has commercialized a range of cosmetic and skincare products through her university spin-off company. Dr Mohd Setapar’s mission is to empower Malaysian women with safer, high-quality cosmetic products and to make available high-value cosmetics combining micellar nanotechnology with local natural extracts at lower prices.

The Philippines

Dr Mario Antonio Jiz II

Research Institute for Tropical Medicine

Field of research: Immunology

Dr Jiz researches schistosomiasis, a disease caused by parasitic worms that is second only to malaria as the most devastating parasitic disease. Dr Jiz develops vaccines for schistosomiasis and has patented a large scale production of a solution for the body to induce immunity against the disease.

Russia

Dr Vladislav Voitenkov

Ministry of Economic Development of the Russian Federation

Field of research: Clinical neurophysiology, infections of the nervous system, encephalitis, meningitis, myelitis and inflammatory polyneuropathy (Guillain-Barré syndrome)

Dr Voitenkov’s work focuses on understanding neurology and functional diagnostics, especially in the aging process. He studies the rare disease, inflammatory polyneuropathy (Guillain-Barré syndrome), where the body’s immune system attacks your nerves, paralyzing a person’s entire body.

Singapore

Dr Daniel Shu Wei Ting

Assistant Professor, Duke-NUS Medical School, NUS

Field of research: Artificial intelligence using deep learning in screening for diabetes eye screening

Dr Daniel Shu Wei Ting’s work focuses on screening techniques for diabetic retinopathy, an eye disease for people with diabetes, which can lead to loss of vision. He has led a large research team in building the world’s first artificial intelligence system using deep learning to detect three potentially blinding conditions.

Chinese Taipei

Dr Ming-Kai Pan

Physician Principle Investigator, NTUH

Field of research: Neurology—movement disorders

Dr Pan specializes in human physiology and mouse models of neurological disorders. His work is focused on discovering novel ways to measure brain physiology for movements which have implications for Parkinson’s disease, essential tremors and cerebellar ataxic disorders. Dr Pan has also invented smart technology to identify the most common movement disorders affecting 20 per cent of the elderly population.

Thailand

Dr Wanpracha Art Chaovalitwongse

Professor, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville

Field of research: Data analytics, machine learning, artificial intelligence, health informatics, medical imaging analysis and medical decision making

Dr Chaovalitwongse’s research focuses on data analytics in medical and healthcare applications, especially in analyzing brain activity to predict and monitor epilepsy. Through his work, he has developed solutions for problems caused by attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, non-small cell lung cancer, sarcoma and esophageal cancer.

United States

Dr Kara Spiller

Assistant Professor, Drexel University

Field of research: Biomedical engineering

Dr Spiller focuses her research on the design of “smart” biomaterials that can control the behavior of immune cells to promote tissue repair and wound healing. She has developed a point-of-care diagnostic to tailor optimal treatment for patients based on the state of their immune system according to factors such as age, genetics and nutrition.

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