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Internet-Enabled Devices Will Shape Global COVID-19 Recovery

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As the world awaits a COVID-19 vaccine, attention is focused on how to track and safely deliver these temperature-sensitive vaccines to billions of people. Sensors and internet-enabled devices are expected to play a central role in this process, much as they have throughout the pandemic.

COVID-19 has accelerated global trends towards remote working, telehealth, distance learning and automation, according to a new report by the World Economic Forum in collaboration with the Global Internet of Things (IoT) Council and PwC. The pandemic is also boasting adoption of wearable technologies like fitness trackers and smart-home devices. As the dependency on connected technologies increases, so do the associated risks and the need for good governance.

“The maturity of governance continues to lag behind the pace of technological change,” said Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies of South Africa and Co-Chair of the Global IoT Council. “We must come together and act now to ensure these technologies become a force for shared societal benefit, as opposed to exacerbating existing inequalities.”

According to the State of the Connected World report, strengthening security and privacy is not the only priority to realize the potential of our 22 billion internet connected devices. As IoT continues to expand and provide new benefits to individuals, businesses and communities, the ability of these connected devices and systems to fairly benefit and protect society was highlighted as the largest governance gap, based on surveys and interviews with more than 400 subject matter experts worldwide.

Report findings highlight the need to mobilize in five critical areas:

  • building transparency and trust into the heart of IoT technologies
  • ensuring public privacy and security is protected
  • providing equal access for all
  • incentivizing the use of IoT to help solve humankind’s biggest challenges
  • bringing people together to create a global consensus on these critical issues

To advance these five actions and shape the future development of the IoT, the World Economic Forum has brought together 37 world-leading initiatives in six continents as part of a multi-year, global action plan. These new initiatives include:

  • Consumers International, Carnegie Mellon University, Zigbee Alliance, UL, Arçelik A.Ş. and Libelium are launching a global coalition to improve the trustworthiness of consumer IoT devices and help consumers better understand the benefits and risks associated with these products. Action will focus on building consensus on device safeguards and standards throughout the ecosystem of internet-enabled consumer electronic devices, such as voice assistants, security cameras and wearable technologies.
  • This work will be complemented by an emerging public-private partnership includingHelpful Places, Digital Public Square and the City of Boston, which are working to increase transparency and signage for the use of digital technologies in public spaces.
  • Brazil, Colombia, Kazahkstan, South Africa and Turkey are working together to help build the technological capacity of small and medium-sized enterprises. The partnership aims to reach more than 5,000 companies within the next three years with new training and support services.
  • 36 cities around the world including Buenos Aires, Istanbul, London, Medellín and Mexico City, will pioneer a global policy road map for the responsible and ethical use of connected technologies as part of the G20 Global Smart Cities Alliance. This includes the launch of new policies related to privacy, security and digital infrastructure.

The World Economic Forum aims to develop this work through a year-long series of activities, which formally begin on 10 December 2020. An initial report to document progress on the global action plan will be shared as part of the World Economic Forum’s Global Technology Governance Summit on 6-7 April 2021.

“With the emergence of 5G and IoT, we are on the cusp of unleashing the power of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and enabling the digital transformation of industries around the world,” said Cristiano Amon, President of Qualcomm Incorporated and Co-Chair of the Global IoT Council. “The combination of these essential technologies has the potential to shape the future of the internet, connecting everything to the cloud. Through the Council’s close collaboration with ecosystem partners, governments and policy-makers, we strive to ensure privacy, security and equity in the design and deployment of IoT systems.”

“As the internet of things becomes a part of our daily lives, it is essential that we build upon the last three decades of learning from the World Wide Web, ensuring that these technologies create a digital future that is safe and empowering for everyone. Governments, companies and citizens need to work together in innovative public-private partnerships to create this digital future” said Adrian Lovett, President and Chief Executive Officer of the World Wide Web Foundation and Co-Chair of the Global IoT Council.

“This report highlights the enormous potential for IoT to accelerate sustainable and equitable growth, especially as it relates to equipping the next generation with critical skills to take advantage of these emerging technologies,” said Mohamed Kande, Vice-Chair, Global Advisory Leader, PwC. “These insights couldn’t be more timely as IoT has been used to reduce business interruptions and improve workforce safety during the COVID-19 pandemic with contact tracing and other preventative applications. It will also have a critical role to play in solving the global challenge to manufacture and distribute COVID-19 vaccines.”

What global leaders are saying about this initiative

“As the world and everything around us becomes smarter and more aware through rapid advancements of IoT technologies, our lives will be increasingly impacted by decisions made by these smart systems. It is therefore crucial for governments, corporations and innovators to be aware and actively engage in safeguards and measures that would detect and eliminate propagation of and any built in, usually unintentional biases,” said Anousheh Ansari, Chief Executive Officer, XPRIZE Foundation.

“COVID-19 has accelerated digitalization at all levels in our society, which is a great opportunity to deal with world challenges. However, in order to make technology accessible it is absolutely necessary to ensure inclusive and understandable privacy at all levels, making sure that nobody is left behind in this process,” said Alicia Asín, Chief Executive Officer, Libelium.

“Companies have tried to build the best experience for their customers with their connected product portfolios. It is clear that trustworthiness is as important as the quality of products. To enable a more connected world, a multistakeholder community is critically important to improve trust globally,” said Nihat Bayiz, Head of Research and Development, Arçelik A.Ş.

“The internet of things presents society and the economy with endless opportunities, but to realize the benefits of these new technologies they must be developed and adopted safely and securely. With these new opportunities come new cybersecurity challenges that must be addressed by collaborative work between the public and private sectors. The PETRAS National Centre of Excellence, the world’s largest socio-technical research centre focused on the future implementation of the IoT, has made great strides in this area and looks forward to engaging with the Future of Connected World initiative,” said Madeline Carr, Professor of Global Politics and Cybersecurity, University College London.

“The inevitably more connected world requires us as business leaders to take responsibility and protect the privacy and dignity of the consumers and enterprises we serve. Businesses have a distinct opportunity to surprise all the stakeholders in their ecosystem by adopting voluntary guardrails respecting the rights of all parties. The Future of Connected World is a profoundly relevant initiative to guide all stakeholders to fulfil these shared responsibilities,” said Fadi Chehade, Co-Chief Executive Officer, Ethos Capital.

“A critical report if you want to put IoT at the service of society. As the use of IoT grows and its presence becomes increasingly more ubiquitous in different areas of our lives, this report tells us both about the benefits and societal challenges of IoT,” said Cristina Colom, Director, Digital Future Society, Mobile World Capital Barcelona.

“A trusted safe and secure connection and communication between the humans and internet of things will enable global collaboration and eliminate the borders by creating smart citizens in a virtual world,” said Sridhar Gadhi, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Quantela.

“More than just digital infrastructure, IoT is a pathway to addressing humanity’s most critical challenges and a global opportunity to democratize access to innovation and technology at a pivotal time for our society. Carnegie Mellon is pleased to be a part of this important initiative and to celebrate the release of the World Economic Forum State of the Connected World report, which will help leaders in government, industry, NGOs and academia come together around a common vision and action plan for maximizing the extraordinary potential of IoT,” said Farnam Jahanian, President, Carnegie Mellon University.

“Global collaboration to accelerate connectivity in under-resourced and underserved parts of our world through new funding models, incentives and capacity building will serve to rebalance profit sharing in the general interest and to harness our awareness of the interconnectedness towards a reality of shared destiny, in which technology becomes a driver for social, economic and environmental sustainability in the Great Reset,” said Fanyu Lin, Chief Executive Officer, Fluxus.

“Recent history has shown how important it is to have honest conversations about the potential negative impact of technology and take action before the worst happens. The Global IoT Council is the best place I can think of to host many of these conversations and prepare the much needed action plans to preserve a Human Rights by Design internet,” said Julie Owono, Executive Director, Internet Without Borders.

“Today, businesses throughout the entire world are connected by IoT,” said Richard Soley, Executive Director, Industrial Internet Consortium. “The next step is leveraging IoT for better business outcomes, or digital transformation, which is the main focus of the Industrial Internet Consortium.”

“A common part of everything we do as humans each day hinges on digital connections; as we evolve that global IoT existence, it’s critical we work across academia, industry, public and private sectors to help build consumer trust, ensure the right levels of security, and provide transparency along the way,” said Tobin Richardson, President and CEO, Zigbee Alliance. “From a connectivity standards perspective, our Alliance bears a major responsibility in unifying and simplifying the internet of things, and we look forward to contributing our collective expertise to the Trustworthy IoT Coalition by working alongside Consumers International, Carnegie Mellon University and other industry colleagues to advocate for smart, safe connections.”

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From nanotechnology to solar power: Solutions to drought

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While the drought has intensified in Iran and the country is facing water stress, various solutions from the use of solar power plants to the expansion of watershed management and nanotechnology are offered by experts and officials.

Iran is located in an arid and semi-arid region, and Iranians have long sought to make the most of water.

In recent years, the drought has intensified making water resources fragile and it can be said that we have reached water bankruptcy in Iran.

However, water stress will continue this fall (September 23-December 21), and the season is expected to be relatively hot and short of rain, according to Ahad Vazifeh, head of the national center for drought and crisis management.

In such a situation, officials and experts propose various solutions for optimal water management.

Alireza Qazizadeh, a water and environment expert, referring to 80 percent of the arid regions in the country, said that “Iran has one percent of the earth’s area and receives only 36 percent of renewable resources.

The country receives 250 mm of rainfall annually, which is about 400 billion cubic meters, considering 70 percent evaporation, there is only 130 billion cubic meters of renewable water and 13 billion cubic meters of input from border waters.”

Referring to 800 ml of average rainfall and 700 mm of global evaporation, he noted that 70 percent of rainfall in Iran occurs in only 25 percent of the country and only 25 percent rains in irrigation seasons.

Pointing to the need for 113 billion cubic meters of water in the current year (began on March 21), he stated that “of this amount, 102 billion is projected for agricultural use, 7 percent for drinking and 2 percent for industry, and at this point water stress occurs.

In 2001, 5.5 billion cubic meters of underground resources were withdrawn annually, and if we consider this amount as 20 years from that year until now, it means that we have withdrawn an equivalent of one year of water consumption from non-renewable resources, which is alarming.”

The use of unconventional water sources can be effective in controlling drought, such as rainwater or river runoff, desalinated water, municipal wastewater that can be reused by treatment, he concluded.

Rasoul Sarraf, the Faculty of Materials at Shahid Modarres University, suggests a different solution and states that “To solve ease water stress, we have no choice but to use nanotechnology and solar power plants.

Pointing to the sun as the main condition for solar power plant, and while pointing to 300 sunny days in the country, he said that at the Paris Convention, Iran was required to reduce emissions by 4 percent definitively and 8 percent conditionally, which will only be achieved by using solar power plants.

Hamidreza Zakizadeh, deputy director of watershed management at Tehran’s Department of Natural Resources and Watershed Management, believes that watershed management can at least reduce the effects of drought by managing floods and extracting water for farmers.

Amir Abbas Ahmadi, head of habitats and regional affairs of Tehran Department of Environment, also referring to the severe drought in Tehran, pointed to the need to develop a comprehensive plan for water management and said that it is necessary to cooperate with several responsible bodies and develop a comprehensive plan to control the situation.

He also emphasizes the need to control migration to the capital, construction, and the implementation of the Comprehensive Plan of Tehran city.

While various solutions are proposed by officials and experts to manage water and deal with drought, it is necessary for the related organizations to work together to manage the current situation.

Mohammad Reza Espahbod, an expert in groundwater resources, also suggested that while the country is dealing with severe drought due to improper withdrawal of groundwater and low rainfall, karst water resources can supply the whole water needed by the country, only if managed.

Iran is the fifth country in the world in terms of karst water resources, he stated.

Qanats can also come efficient to contain water scarcity due to relatively low cost, low evaporation rates, and not requiring technical knowledge, moreover, they proved sustainable being used in perpetuity without posing any damages to the environment.

According to the Ministry of Energy, about 36,300 qanats have been identified in Iran, which has been saturated with water for over 2,000 years.

In recent years, 3,800 qanats have been rehabilitated through watershed and aquifer management, and people who had migrated due to water scarcity have returned to their homes.

Water resources shrinking

Renewable water resources have decreased by 30 percent over the last four decades, while Iran’s population has increased by about 2.5 times, Qasem Taqizadeh, deputy minister of energy, said in June.

The current water year (started on September 23, 2020) has received the lowest rain in the past 52 years, so climate change and Iran’s arid region should become a common belief at all levels, he lamented.

A recent report by Nature Scientific Journal on Iran’s water crisis indicates that from 2002 to 2015, over 74 billion cubic meters have been extracted from aquifers, which is unprecedented and its revival takes thousands of years along with urgent action.

Three Iranian scientists studied 30 basins in the country and realized that the rate of aquifer depletion over a 14-year period has been about 74 billion cubic meters, which is recently published in Nature Scientific Journal.

Also, over-harvesting in 77 percent of Iran has led to more land subsidence and soil salinity. Research and statistics show that the average overdraft from the country’s aquifers was about 5.2 billion cubic meters per year.

Mohammad Darvish, head of the environment group in the UNESCO Chair on Social Health, has said that the situation of groundwater resources is worrisome.

From our partner Tehran Times

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Technology and crime: A never-ending cat-and-mouse game

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Is technology a good or bad thing? It depends on who you ask, as it is more about the way technology is used. Afterall, technology can be used by criminals but can also be used to catch criminals, creating a fascinating cat-and-mouse game.

Countless ways technology can be used for evil

The first spear was used to improve hunting and to defend from attacking beasts. However, it was also soon used against other humans; nuclear power is used to produce energy, but it was also used to annihilate whole cities. Looking at today’s news, we’ve learned that cryptocurrencies could be (and are) used as the preferred form of payments of ransomware since they provide an anonymous, reliable, and fast payment method for cybercriminals.

Similarly, secure phones are providing criminal rings with a fast and easy way to coordinate their rogue activities. The list could go on. Ultimately, all technological advancements can be used for good or evil. Indeed, technology is not inherently bad or good, it is its usage that makes the difference. After all, spears served well in preventing the extinction of humankind, nuclear power is used to generate energy, cryptocurrency is a promise to democratize finance, and mobile phones are the device of choice of billions of people daily (you too are probably reading this piece on a mobile).

However, what is new with respect to the past (recent and distant) is that technology is nowadays much more widespread, pervasive, and easier to manipulate than it was some time ago. Indeed, not all of us are experts in nuclear material, or willing and capable of effectively throwing a spear at someone else. But each of us is surrounded by, and uses, technology, with a sizeable part of users also capable of modifying that technology to better serve their purposes (think of computer scientists, programmers, coding kids – technology democratization).

This huge reservoir of people that are capable of using technology in a way that is different from what it was devised for, is not made of just ethical hackers: there can be black hats as well (that is, technology experts supporting evil usages of such technology). In technical terms, the attack vector and the security perimeter have dramatically expanded, leading to a scenario where technology can be easily exploited for rogue purposes by large cohorts of people that can attack some of the many assets that are nowadays vulnerable – the cybersecurity domain provides the best example for the depicted scenario. 

Fast-paced innovation and unprecedented threats

What is more, is that technology developments will not stop. On the contrary, we are experiencing an exponentially fast pace in technology innovation, that resolves in less time between technology innovations cycles that, while improving our way of living, also pave the way for novel, unprecedented threats to materialize. For instance, the advent of quantum computers will make the majority of current encryption and digital signature methods useless and what was encrypted and signed in the past, exposed.

The tension between legitimate and illegitimate usages of technology is also heating up. For instance, there are discussions in the US and the EU about the need for the provider of ICT services to grant the decryption keys of future novel secure applications to law enforcement agencies should the need arise –a debatable measure.

However, technology is the very weapon we need to fight crime. Think of the use of Terahertz technology to discover the smuggling of drugs and explosives – the very same technology Qatar      has successfully employed. Or the infiltration of mobile phone crime rings by law enforcement operators via high tech, ethical hacking (as it was the case for the EncroChat operation). And even if crime has shown the capability to infiltrate any sector of society, such as sports, where money can be laundered over digital networks and matches can be rigged and coordinated via chats, technology can help spot the anomalies of money transfer, and data science can spot anomalies in matches, and can therefore thwart such a crime – a recent United Nations-sponsored event, participated by the International Centre for Sport Security (ICSS) Qatar and the College of Science and Engineering (CSE) at Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU) discussed      the cited topic. In the end, the very same technology that is used by criminals is also used to fight crime itself.

Don’t get left behind

In the above-depicted cybersecurity cat-and-mouse game, the loser is the party that does not update its tools, does not plan, and does not evolve.

In particular, cybersecurity can help a country such as Qatar over two strategic dimensions: to better prevent/detect/react to the criminal usage of technology, as well as to advance robustly toward a knowledge-based economy and reinforce the country’s presence in the segment of high value-added services and products to fight crime.

In this context, a safe bet is to invest in education, for both governments and private citizens. On the one hand, only an educated workforce would be able to conceptualize/design/implement advanced cybersecurity tools and frameworks, as well as strategically frame the fight against crime. On the other hand, the same well-educated workforce will be able to spur innovation, create start-ups, produce novel high-skill products, and diversify the economy. 

In this context, Qatar enjoys a head start, thanks to its huge investment in education over the last 20 years. In particular, at HBKU – part of Qatar Foundation – where we have been educating future generations. 

CSE engages and leads in research disciplines of national and global importance. The college’s speciality divisions are firmly committed to excellence in graduate teaching and training of highly qualified students with entrepreneurial  capacity.

For instance, the MS in Cybersecurity offered by CSE touches on the foundations of cryptocurrencies, while the PhD in Computer Science and Engineering, offering several majors (including cybersecurity), prepares future high-level decision-makers, researchers, and entrepreneurs in the ICT domain  – the leaders who will be driving the digitalization of the economy and leading the techno-fight against crime. 

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Enhancing poverty measurement through big data

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Authors: Jasmina Ernst and Ruhimat Soerakoesoemah*

Ending poverty in all its forms is the first of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). While significant progress to reduce poverty had been made at the global and regional levels by 2019, the Covid-19 pandemic has partly reversed this trend. A significant share of the population in South-East Asia still lacks access to basic needs such as health services, proper nutrition and housing, causing many children to suffer from malnutrition and treatable illnesses. 

Delivering on the commitments of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and leaving no one behind requires monitoring of the SDG implementation trends. At the country level, national statistics offices (NSOs) are generally responsible for SDG data collection and reporting, using traditional data sources such as surveys, census and administrative data. However, as the availability of data for almost half of the SDG indicators (105 of 231) in South-East Asia is insufficient, NSOs are exploring alternative sources and methods, such as big data and machine learning, to address the data gaps. Currently, earth observation and mobile phone data receive most attention in the domain of poverty reporting. Both data sources can significantly reduce the cost of reporting, as the data collection is less time and resource intensive than for conventional data.

The NSOs of Thailand and the Philippines, with support from the Asian Development Bank, conducted a feasibility study on the use of earth observation data to predict poverty levels. In the study, an algorithm, convolutional neural nets, was pretrained on an ImageNet database to detect simple low-level features in images such as lines or curves. Following a transfer learning technique, the algorithm was then trained to predict the intensity of night lights from features in corresponding daytime satellite images. Afterwards income-based poverty levels were estimated using the same features that were found to predict night light intensity combined with nationwide survey data, register-based data, and geospatial information. The resulting machine learning models yielded an accuracy of up to 94 per cent in predicting the poverty categories of satellite images. Despite promising study results, scaling up the models and integrating big data and machine learning for poverty statistics and SDG reporting still face many challenges. Thus, NSOs need support to train their staff, gain continuous access to new datasets and expand their digital infrastructure.

Some support is available to NSOs for big data integration. The UN Committee of Experts on Big Data and Data Science for Official Statistics (UN-CEBD) oversees several task teams, including the UN Global Platform which has launched a cloud-service ecosystem to facilitate international collaboration with respect to big data. Two additional task teams focus on Big Data for the SDGs and Earth Observation data, providing technical guidance and trainings to NSOs. At the regional level, the weekly ESCAP Stats Café series provides a knowledge sharing platform for experiences related to the impact of COVID-19 on national statistical systems. The Stats Café includes multiple sessions dedicated to the use of alternative data sources for official statistics and the SDGs. Additionally, ESCAP has published policy briefs on the region’s practices in using non-traditional data sources for official statistics.

Mobile phone data can also be used to understand socioeconomic conditions in the absence of traditional statistics and to provide greater granularity and frequency for existing estimates. Call detail records coupled with airtime credit purchases, for instance, could be used to infer economic density, wealth or poverty levels, and to measure food consumption. An example can be found in poverty estimates for Vanuatu based on education, household characteristics and expenditure. These were generated by Pulse Lab Jakarta – a joint innovation facility associated with UN Global Pulse and the government of Indonesia.

Access to mobile phone data, however, remains a challenge. It requires long negotiations with mobile network operators, finding the most suitable data access model, ensuring data privacy and security, training the NSO staff and securing dedicated resources. The UN-CEBD – through the Task Team on Mobile Phone Data and ESCAP – supports NSOs in accessing and using mobile phone data through workshops, guides and the sharing of country experiences. BPS Statistics Indonesia, the Indonesian NSO, is exploring this data source for reporting on four SDG indicators and has been leading the regional efforts in South-East Asia. While several other NSOs in Asia and the Pacific can access mobile phone data or are negotiating access with mobile network operators, none of them have integrated it into poverty reporting.

As the interest and experience in the use of mobile phone data, satellite imagery and other alternative data sources for SDGs is growing among many South-East Asian NSOs, so is the need for training and capacity-building. Continuous knowledge exchange and collaboration is the best long-term strategy for NSOs and government agencies to track and alleviate poverty, and to measure the other 16 SDGs.

*Ruhimat Soerakoesoemah, Head, Sub-Regional Office for South-East Asia

UNESCAP

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