Author Archive

Feature Creep and the Horror of Opportunity

Wednesday, January 24th, 2024

“Digitalization brings fantastic opportunities” – ever hear that line? I’ve heard it a lot, in particular from people in public office (=politicians) and civil servants (=bureaucrats). One time, I found myself in a seminar with six(!) directors of different public agencies. Each of them opened their talk with some variation of the phrase. It was like catechism. Before we can say anything else, we must first pledge allegiance to the digital revolution. (Fifteen years before the line used to be “The internet brings fantastic opportunities”, perhaps progress can be defined as replacing one word with another?)

Opportunities. Sounds great, doesn’t it? But… is really opportunities you want? So many opportunities, so little time. Maybe if you’re looking to change jobs or move house, opportunities can be great – but even then, too many opportunities can be overwhelming. For most parts, perhaps other things are more important? Quality, delivery, reliability, cost, availability, simplicity… (I’m sure you can think of more words!). Of course, opportunities – used properly – can bring all those great things. An opportunity is an unfulfilled promise. It demands of you to pursue it. But what you really want is results. Your time is limited. Your money is limited. You don’t want more opportunities, what you really want is better results.

Have you bought or received any device lately? Any new software or digital service? Does your phone have four different calendars, each of which sends you reminders for an appointment that was cancelled two days ago? In software development, there is a phenomenon called “feature creep”. It means adding new features, not because we need them but because we can. It can be very difficult to resist new features. What if your toothbrush had an app that helped you keep track of your brushing habits? Oh, wait – that already exists! It is easy to make a case for more features and difficult to say no to them. If you’re already making a photo indexing software, you might as well add a timeline and once that is there you can always add appointments and reminders and an AI tool that trawls your phone and cloud services for other appointments and just like that… you have a fifth calendar sending you reminders about birthdays of people you haven’t met in a decade. Digital opportunity and feature creep are siblings. They make each other stronger and makes it harder to break the pattern.

I don’t know the answer, but I do know that we are fast approaching the point where our digital assistants create more work than they take away. Perhaps we are already past that point. Opportunity brought us here. I have one idea for a different way, though. Bear with me.

We have all heard the stories of how Japanese trains are always on time. If the Shinkansen is 30 seconds late, the director of the train company makes a public apology. It is tempting to think that this punctuality is thanks to superior technology, perhaps a super-computer looking after all trains or some kind of electronic miracle device in each locomotive. Japan is the birthplace of GameBoy and micro-computer powered rice cookers, after all. But no. The opposite is the reason. By carefully eliminating every potential source of delay, the risks are mitigated. If a railroad switch can be removed, that is one less potential malfunction. If a road-crossing can be re-designed from gates to a bridge or tunnel, that takes away one potential source of disruption. Not by looking for opportunity, but by removing it, the Japanese railway system works better than perhaps any other in the world.

Back to the civil servants and elected decision-makers. If they focus their resources on opportunities, there will be more. Lots of great potential. But when is the time to focus on results? How to best spend the public funds? How to get the most delivery for the investment. The case can always be made for opportunity. But now may be the time for simplicity rather than opportunity. Less, not more. Can we be inspired by the Japanese train philosophy? Or would you rather have seven… no eight… no eighteen reminders for that meeting that you cancelled?

The World’s First-Ever AI Regulation

Thursday, January 11th, 2024

The European Union’s most successful digital export may be regulation. After GDPR and DSM and other famous abbreviations, now is time for the AI Act. We’re told it is the world’s first-ever AI-regulation. (In fact, we’re told over and over.)

AI Act – World’s First AI Regulation, read more from Netopia on Artificial Intelligence here 

Flood the Zone with Crap!

Tuesday, November 7th, 2023

Review of The End of Reality: How 4 Billionaires Are Selling a Fantasy Future of the Metaverse, Mars and Crypto (Public Affairs, 2023) by Jonathan Taplin

A clique of billionaires is destroying information spaces. Their agenda: They want to flatten the road for a vision of entrepreneurial freedom which stands in sharp contrast to democracy. They strive to drive us into technological environments in which they are kings and all the wealth is theirs. This, in short, is the message of Jonathan Taplin’s new book. And it’s not meant to be fiction.

“The End of Reality” is about technocracy as a libertarian ideology. It’s about a right-wing conspiracy to demolish democracy. And it’s about how technology is a major cause of inequality in wealth and income

Jonathan Taplin, age 76, has been a Rock’n Roll Tour Manager for Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin and The Band. As a film producer, both for movies and TV, he has worked with Martin Scorsese (and others). As an academic, Taplin has been a professor and then Director of the Innovation Lab at the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication. As a writer and cultural critic, he is known for his book Move Fast and Break Things: How Google, Facebook and Amazon Cornered Culture and Undermined Democracy (2017). Now, to continue the line, his new book The End of Reality: How 4 Billionaires Are Selling a Fantasy Future of the Metaverse, Mars and Crypto has just been released.

“The End of Reality” is about technocracy as a libertarian ideology. It’s about a right-wing conspiracy to demolish democracy. And it’s about how technology is a major cause of inequality in wealth and income. It’s about Elon Musk, Marc Zuckerberg, investor Peter Thiel, and Silicon Valley venture capitalist Marc Andreessen. It’s about the metaverse, crypto, transhumanism, and plans to resettle mankind on Mars. Finally, “The End of Reality” is a great rant, full of anecdotes, quotations, and gossip. Together, all these pieces add up to a systemic picture of our contemporary condition.

Let’s focus on one major thread in this wild puzzle. “Culture leads politics,” Taplin proclaims. Not economic self-interest or detached strategic thinking, but stories and fantasies are the motivating forces that drive political engagement. Citizens who vote for right-wing parties that do not act in their economic interests at all are not proof of “voter ignorance.” Rather, they are an example of how value beliefs regarding matters like migration or sexual liberty are indeed at the core of people’s real interests.

Mordor is a technological civilization based on reason and science. Outside of Mordor, it’s all sort of mystical and environmental, and nothing works.” Even major business decisions seem to be based on fantasy and self-delusion.

This has been an established fact; at least since US psychologist Jonathan Haidt published his influential study The Righteous Mind. Taplin gives this insight another twist. In the role of an historian of ideas, he investigates how, for instance, the Italian avant-garde artist Marinetti and his “Futurism” paved the road for the fascist movement (while Marinetti’s writings, at the same time, have a strong resemblance to today’s right-wing libertarian ideas). Also, Taplin points out how fantasy fiction has shaped the thinking of the mentioned four tech billionaires. Take Peter Thiel’s telling commentary on Lord of the Rings: “Gandalf’s the crazy person who wants to start a war… Mordor is a technological civilization based on reason and science. Outside of Mordor, it’s all sort of mystical and environmental, and nothing works.” Even major business decisions seem to be based on fantasy and self-delusion. Taplin recounts at length how Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter, motivated by nothing but megalomania and the quest for political power, has been a disaster for his whole enterprise. Also, the metaverse, crypto, transhumanism, and plans to resettle mankind on Mars, for Taplin, belong to the genre of fantasy since none of these plans seems likely to be successful.

All that said, it is important to make clear that, in the long run, there is a political plan and also a business agenda connected to fantasy. Concerning business, the story is rather simple. “Technology and inequality are inexorably linked,” states Taplin, thereby taking a stance against standard economic thinking, which presumes that technological progress is a rising tide that will shift all boats equally, especially middle-class incomes. The most telling example that Taplin presents is the recent enthusiasm for crypto currencies. Investment in crypto has been presented as a means by which ordinary people could acquire wealth. The simple truth is, though, that rising prices for cryptocurrencies have served more those who invested early and who therefore possess the majority of the cryptocurrencies. (It’s almost needless to say that it’s our tech billionaires who are among those winners.)

Facebook and Twitter would not be as formidable competitors to the traditional news media without the Safe Harbour agreement

But are technology and inequality really “inexorably” linked? Other stories that Taplin presents raise doubts around this strong claim that crypto wouldn’t be as powerful as it is if it had not been pre-empted by regulation from the United States Securities and Exchange Commission. Facebook and Twitter would not be as formidable competitors to the traditional news media without the Safe Harbour agreement, which frees social media from almost any legal liability concerning content published on these platforms. Another infamous piece of regulation was the implementation of the “newsworthiness standard,” which made it possible for Facebook to refrain from taking Trump’s bullsh*t posts offline. In all these cases, lobbyism by the four billionaires has played a major role. Regarding the newsworthiness standard, Taplin traces the origin of this agreement back to rumours about a meeting between Zuckerberg and Trump, arranged by Peter Thiel.

Concerning politics, the bond between fantasy and political agenda seems a bit tighter—at least if one sees fantasy in direct opposition to realism. Denying reality and installing some sort of fantasy in place of it, as Taplin points out, is a core element of the right wing or even fascist political movements. One key witness here, speaking clear words, is Steve Bannon: “The Democrats don’t matter. The real opposition is the media. And the way to deal with them is to flood the zone with sh*t.” The strategy is not to fight this or that fact, but to make people doubt that something like that truth is even knowable. In other words, total disinformation.

The real opposition is the media. And the way to deal with them is to flood the zone with sh*t.

Polarization is one effect of disinformation campaigns. And social media plays a major role here. Taplin cites studies that indicate that political polarisation has risen exactly in the years 2004–2014, where Facebook has gained more and more influence. For Facebook, polarisation is part of the business model since anger increases influence.

This is how, in the end, the parts are connected. It’s all simple and mostly obvious, in a way. And still, The End of Reality does an amazing job in not only using Elon Musk, Marc Zuckerberg, Peter Thiel, and Marc Andreessen as figures that allow to tell the story in a personalised way that is easy to grasp, but in showing how influential exactly these four men really are, both with their ideas and their money.

AI Existential Threat to Humanity

Saturday, June 3rd, 2023

AI Poses 'Risk of Extinction,' I
In time honoured tradition, we turned to OpenAI Chat GPT to write the text below. Probing the hive-mind of the scraped data of millions of webpages, and datasets to find out what threats exist.

Below is the response. Should we really be concered for the future of humanity? What threats from AI can you invisage?

We asked: What are the threats that AI poses to humanity?

While AI has the potential to bring about numerous benefits, it is essential to consider potential threats and risks associated with its development and deployment. Here are some concerns that have been raised regarding the threats posed by AI to humanity:

Job Displacement: AI and automation technologies have the potential to automate various tasks and jobs, which could lead to significant job displacement and economic disruption. While AI can create new job opportunities, there may be a period of transition where certain sectors and individuals could face challenges.

Biased or Discriminatory Systems: AI systems are trained on data, and if the training data contains biases or reflects societal prejudices, the AI algorithms can perpetuate and amplify these biases, leading to discrimination and unfair outcomes in areas like hiring, lending, and criminal justice.

“AI technologies must be developed and used in a manner that benefits society while minimizing harm”

Privacy and Surveillance Concerns: As AI systems become more sophisticated, there are concerns about the potential for invasive surveillance and loss of privacy. AI-powered technologies can collect and analyze vast amounts of data, raising questions about how this data is used, stored, and protected.

Autonomous Weapons: The development of autonomous weapons, such as AI-powered drones and robots, raises concerns about the potential for warfare and conflicts to escalate beyond human control. The lack of human decision-making in such systems could lead to unintended consequences and the erosion of ethical considerations.

Deepfakes and Misinformation: AI technologies can be used to create convincing deepfake videos or generate highly realistic synthetic content, including text, images, and audio. This poses risks to the spread of misinformation, propaganda, and the manipulation of public opinion.

Unintended Consequences: As AI systems become more complex and capable, there is a potential for unintended consequences. If AI algorithms are not thoroughly tested or if they learn from flawed or biased data, they may produce unexpected and undesirable outcomes that could impact society in significant ways.

Concentration of Power: The development and deployment of AI technologies can lead to the concentration of power in the hands of a few entities, such as large tech companies or governments. This concentration of power raises concerns about accountability, transparency, and the potential for misuse or abuse of AI systems.

Security Risks: AI systems can also pose security risks if they are vulnerable to exploitation or malicious use. For example, AI-powered cyber-attacks could become more sophisticated and harder to detect, leading to significant damage to critical infrastructure, financial systems, or personal privacy.

Ethical Concerns: AI raises complex ethical questions. For instance, AI algorithms can perpetuate biases and discrimination if they are trained on biased data. There are also concerns about the use of AI in surveillance, invasion of privacy, and the potential for AI-powered weapons to be used in warfare without appropriate human oversight.

It is important to note that these threats are not inherent to AI itself but rather arise from how AI is developed, deployed, and regulated. Addressing these concerns requires careful attention to ethical considerations, robust regulation, and responsible AI development practices to ensure that AI benefits humanity while minimizing its potential risks.

Regulating AI requires a multidisciplinary approach involving policymakers, industry experts, researchers, and other stakeholders. It is important to strike a balance between fostering innovation and addressing potential risks to ensure that AI technologies must be developed and used in a manner that benefits society while minimizing harm.

Generative AI – The Hidden Centaur

Wednesday, April 26th, 2023

Will machines replace humans? That question has presented itself many times over the centuries. It has escaped no one that the current focus is around artificial intelligence. Can the machines become smarter than people? Is human labour over? Should that be celebrated or mourned?

Some call for a moratorium on AI research. Some ban it. EU regulates. Should the value of the input data for training the machine learning systems be recognised? Is “data dignity” the answer? I follow all these issues with great interest, but there is one aspect that I find underreported.

The jaw-dropping publicly accessible AI services such as text generator GPT4 or text-to-image machines like Dall-E or Midjourney have flooded our social media. Integration to existing services hints at great change, such as Midjourney integrated into chat service Discord. Or talking coffee machines. But the machine cannot create anything on its own. It uses predictive statistics (=math!) to generate these results. It needs to be trained on data before it can produce anything. A lot of data! In my recent video interview with AI scholar Stuart Russell, he takes the example of a giraffe: any child can see an image of a giraffe in a children’s book and then recognise every giraffe in any drawing, video, photo or zoo. It takes the machine thousands of correctly labelled giraffe images and it still doesn’t always get it right.

Those thousands of giraffe images must be prepared by humans. The quality of the input data decides the quality of the output. For an AI to generate an image of a giraffe in the style of Monet, it needs large numbers of giraffes and Monets – all correctly labelled. You help with this, when you click on motorcycles or traffic lights in order to convince the machine you are not one of them, you help train the AI to recognise motorcycles or traffic lights. But the bulk of the input data is made by… you guessed it – gig workers in the global South. Gig services like Fiverr or Sama, marketplaces like Defined or Appen… they connect the AI companies with the $2-an-hour-proletariat. Time Magazine has uncovered that Open AI (the company behind ChatGPT and GPT-4) paid such wages to Kenyan workers to make ChatGPT “less toxic”. AI has not taken people out of the equation. Much like the textile or manufacturing industries moving production to the cheapest workforce, AI companies do the same. Human labour on this side of the process has very little value, but comes in great quantity. (The AI engineers who develop the systems are of course far on the other end of the income spectrum).

A Centaur is not just a creature of ancient Greek mythology. In computer science, it refers to humans and AI working together. The term was coined after Deep Blue beat chess grand master Garry Kasparov in 1996-97, starting a new chapter in chess history. Today, the best chess is played by teams of humans and machines working together. Centaurs.

Turns out that generative AI is also a Centaur. Only most of the humans involved are invisible and far away on a different part of the planet. AI will not replace humans anytime soon. But perhaps there is a conversation to be had about the value of human labour. And the giraffe from the children’s book, turned out to be a Centaur from Kenya.

Millimeter Waves Or: Network Tax in Space

Wednesday, November 30th, 2022

Granted, nobody knows what the network tax will be or indeed if it will ever happen. What we have is speculation and telco Xmas wishes. The idea that the sender should pay for the traffic in the network (in addition to the fees paid already by the subscribers).

In fact, the sender already pays, and also invests in the infrastructure. Take a look at your own internet subscription and you will find that the bandwidth has one figure for download and one for upload (sometimes they match, but no rule) for example 1000/100 Mbps – that means the capacity for transfer from the internet is 1000 megabits per second, but the transfer speed from your end-point to the internet is only 10th of that – 100 megabits per second. Guess what: you can increase your upload capacity by buying a better plan. The sender pays. The same business logic applies to anyone with a server. Of course, the uploader will often use a different service provider than the downloader, so the telecoms charge each other for transit traffic. (And throttle it to maximize their profit). With upload and download fees, both senders and consumers pay: telcos are already charging both ends of the pipe. The concept of network tax does not really add a new revenue stream but rather a regulation increasing an existing one. And yes, the services and platforms already invest in infrastructure, namely in the “middle-mile”: such as sub-oceanic cables and content-delivery networks. Not to mention how telcos often sell package deals with content services, effectively integrating them in their consumer offer and relying on that value to attract customers. (Remember zero-rating for Facebook? Telcos chose to sugarcoat their subscriptions by excluding popular services from the monthly data allowance.)

It’s not like the telecoms have a natural monopoly on data traffic (though sometimes you can get the impression that they would love to). The Starlink satellite internet is now combat-proven in Ukraine and has 2000+ satellites providing decent bandwidth and okay latency also in parts of Europe where mobile and fiber struggle. (Musk got it right this time. Who thinks Starlink will have zero-rating for Twitter?) Other satellite internet initiatives exist – you may have used satellite internet on an airplane, dear reader. Should content services pay… network tax in space? Not to mention Google’s balloon internet. Not sure humanity would benefit long-term from GAAFA also owning the last mile-infrastructure, but it makes sense for them to find ways to by-pass the telcos. Or perhaps they should pay the network tax to…  themselves?

Not even mobile networks are the exclusive domain of telecoms, for example the Swedish communication system for police, fire department, ambulance services and other such functions is called Rakel and it runs nation-wide on its own base-stations (in one of the biggest member states by land area). Not that Rakel will stream movies anytime soon, but it proves that there is no need for a telco in order to build and run a mobile network.

WRAN is a technology that uses wi-fi to cover larger areas and provide data traffic. The evolution of mobile network technologies follows the opposite trajectory of shorter wavelengths/higher frequencies and a denser network of base-stations. 3G was 400 MHz to 3 Ghz, 4G is up to 3,8 GHz, 5G is 2-6 GHz. 6G is envisioned to have even shorter wavelengths – so-called “millimeter waves” and frequencies 30-300 GHz (or even higher according to some sources) – and thus even smaller antennae. (One telecom engineer this writer spoke with explained that 6G base stations might be in the form of paint on a wall!). It is already the case that wi-fi technology (6-300GHz) overlaps mobile networks and we can only expect that trend to continue. The lines are blurring.

When everyone is a telco, who should receive the network tax payment? No wonder the telecoms regulators are skeptical.

Would Network Tax Bring Better Broadband?

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2022

It ain’t easy being telco. €100 Billion Euro public support and dividend pay-outs five times above average…  are we sure this is where the state needs to step in and dictate a new revenue-stream? Enter The Network Tax a k a The Sender Pays.

Once celebrated concepts of network neutrality and open internet are old hat when EU telcos look for new revenue. Many interesting failures to broaden income have led to this point. Remember the experiments in central-Asian “emerging markets”, where telcos ended up supporting dictators chasing down democracy activists? Or the fonky-labelled subscriptions for young demographics? Integrating services and content with connectivity, anyone? In the end, it turns out that telcos rely on two main sources of revenue: subscriptions and public money.

ECIPE – a Brussels think-tank – looks into this in a recent report and the findings should be a cause for concern for any fan of European telecoms. At the moment, the European incumbents receive Billions of Euros in public support, but that goes to investment in non-EU markets and pay-outs to share-holders rather than domestic infrastructure. The proposed network tax-regime would bring market concentration, discourage infrastructure investment and potentially bring market disruption where platforms by-pass the telecoms, accessing users directly. Not to mention pricier access for European consumers (need I add it would be poor timing considering the macro-economy and pressure on households?).

Does this blog post put Netopia in the same camp with Big Tech? Maybe, but I’d rather be asking question than making suggestions. In any case, rest assured Netopia will continue to criticize Silicon Valley whenever called-for. Stay tuned.

Twitter Exodus and the EEE Playbook

Monday, November 21st, 2022

Is Mastodon where Twitter ex-pats seek refuge after the Musk take-over? The Tesla-gazillionaire’s acquisition has been a drama beyond the imagination of any script-writer. First Musk made an unsolicited bid to take Twitter private, then he pulled out, but was forced to see it through and made a weird pun carrying a sink into the main office. Next thing, he fired lots of employees, rolled back years of work on suicide prevention, anti-harassment and human rights, switched to a Monty Python-inspired business model and triggered a flood of memes. One user with verified status changed their ID to ex-president Donald Trump and immediately pronounced same man dead. It was a mess and it is only getting messier each time Musk tries to micro-manage it.

Is there a need for an online “town square”? If Twitter used to be the answer, it would appear that is no longer the case. So where do people run to? Mastodon seems to be the flavour of the month. In contrast, it is a not-for-profit, grassroots-driven service where each server is connected to the others in what is called the Fediverse. Anyone can start a Mastodon-server and set their own rules for publication, but other servers may choose not to link to troll servers. Perhaps this is a recipe for a better conversation online – fewer trolls, less algorithm-fuelled toxicity, zilch surveillance capitalism.

Netopia has joined a server called EUpolicy.social, feel free to follow as almost 2000 others have already.

The real threat to Mastodon might not be the trolls, but the Silicon Valley EEE-playbook: Embrace, Extend, Extinguish. Ycombinator’s Hacker News has a good thread that explains the process (this is also where I learned about EEE!). Rather than head on attack or acquisition offers, Big Tech suffocates its challengers by integrating them. Let’s see if Mastodon becomes the decent town square it hopes to be. There is no lack of starry-eyed internet nostalgia in the way the fans talk about it. Bring back the old de-centralised web. Will Mastodon follow the all-too familiar path of centralization and re-intermediation? Will it be a flash in the pan, smothered by FAANG’s embrace? Or will it be able to learn from and avoid those mistakes that have so often be made?

We’ll see, in the meantime Twitter employees are jumping ship as Musk demands a “loyalty oath”. Perhaps they will start Mastodon-servers?

Netopia Spotlight: Felipe Buitrago – Orange Is the New Gold

Tuesday, November 8th, 2022

In 2013, two economists wrote the book The Orange Economy, showing how creative businesses have infinite potential for Latin America. They were Felipe Buitrago, later ambassador to Berlin and Minister of Culture for Colombia, and Iván Duque, who went on to become president of Colombia (2018-2022). In public office, they put the theory to use. Colombia is rich in agriculture, natural resources and tourism – did the orange economy policies take the Colombian economy to a new level? And can other countries apply the same methods? Netopia spoke with Felipe Buitrago to find out.

Download the book for free: The Orange Economy: An Infinite Opportunity (iadb.org)

 

Interview Transcript

Welcome to the Netopia video Spotlight – I have a very special guest today. He is the former ambassador to Germany for Colombia and also the former Minister for culture of Columbia. Welcome Felipe Buitrago.

Hi Per, nice to see you and your audience here.

 It is the 10th anniversary of this book, the Orange Economy. And I recommend that the viewers to read it, I think it still is one of the best, and it looks at the Creator economy. I mean it reads like almost like a textbook. You can use it in in education even, but first tell us what is the Orange Economy?

When we came up with the concept of the Orange Economy, we wanted it to be an umbrella term for the different concepts behind the creative economy, or the cultural and creative Industries, or the copyright protected industries. The idea here was that you need definitions for policymaking whether it’s protection of IP or whether it’s the promotion of labour diversity – what you need is to understand that there’s a connection between different activities. A chained sort of activities that add value that transform ideas into cultural or creative, goods or services, and just like the environmental movement, they use the green color as an umbrella term for different approaches to, to Environmental Policy, we wanted to provide such a, an umbrella terms.

The tagline for the book is “An Infinite Opportunity”…The Orange Economy, An infinite Opportunity. Did you see that Latin America was specific In this case, was there certain circumstances that made this in particular interesting for Latin America?

Yeah, I mean, because of the nature of the bank of the Inter-American Development Bank, our main focus was to put together information about Latin America and the Caribbean, however, the concepts are universal, so it works both ways. Certainly we were, we were not case study based so it’s not so strong. The data in terms of GDP is a strong on Latin America, but we wanted to highlight with the tagline was precisely that because we’re in the middle of this economic transformation. Remember the book was written ten years ago. Not even the concept of the fourth industrial revolution was going yet, but we wanted people to realize, especially policymakers was that this times of transformation the assets like the people’s talent, assets like our cultural heritage have infinite potential and you have to be aware of that potential and its limited possibilities in order to make proper policies. Otherwise you will just, you know, privilege the regular Industries and extractive industries because it’s, you know, where traditionally value is. But if something has been shown in the last 10 years, and in particular, in the process or in, the middle of the pandemic is that creative activities, creative industries are clearly expanding, and actually engaging more and more people with talent in order to create value for the society.

Yes, It’s fair to say that there has a lot of evidence has arrived to support your hypothesis. How was the book received when it when it was first published?

Well, it was very interesting, in principle our target audience was policymakers, but as part of our strategy to reach them, we realized we needed to reach a wider audience. That’s why we made a book that is mostly infographic in its design, even though it has sort of an academic content, I mean, it can be very easy used for reference book for Academia. But at the same time is very accessible in each language and structure. So we can reach a high wider audience, reaching a wider audience, was very important for us because we wanted voters to be interested. So politicians would be interested and you know who are the bosses of the policymakers: Politicians. So we wanted policymakers but in order to reach politicians with to reach a very popular audience and it’s been very well received. I mean, it’s a book that coming from multilateral organization already has more than 600 thousand downloads. Just as a point of reference, all the documents of the World Bank in 2014, got around 60,000 downloads, this was what we were getting just with one document from the IDB. I’m not trying to make this a competition, just making a comparison on how technical books coming from these organizations are usually not that popular and this is a book that is still getting over 1,000 downloads per month.

 

You wanted to reach the policy makers and the politicians, but in the end you became a policy maker yourself as the Minister for Culture of Columbia and your co-writer even look when he became the President actually, like you said, what were the most important policies that you made? Can you tell us about the transfer from theory to actual application of your work?

Well, the specific case for Colombia after the book, my co-author former President Ivan Duque he returned to Columbia and he ran for Senator. As a Senator, he presented a law is the, the law 1840 of 9th of 2017 is the Orange Law. This law creates body for coordination among the different Ministries that need to get together in order to do creative economy policy. So the ICT Ministry, the Labour Ministry, Education Ministry, the Culture Ministry. Of course, the different agencies that manages the promotion of the country for exports and investment and so on. 12 areas in total, but also highlighting the importance of the Intellectual Property Rights Protection, highlighting the importance of promoting Columbia as a destination for people with Talent or Investments and many, many other things after that, you have to implement that. And you also have the national planning law that comes every four years, when a new government takes place. So there we propel different incentives for people, especially social investment, social, corporate social responsibility investment that usually goes for different activities. We created specific incentives. So you would prefer to do that investment in building theaters or in supporting a festival and so on. But also we created incentives to acquire attracting investment in our Audio Visual industry, and all of it together, in a way that allowed us to multiply by four the available resources for culturing the country, without having to have to fight too strong for Budget because we created tax incentives, what we did is to allow for the private sector to invest massively in the cultural sector. But because this is a tax credit for the for the fiscal authorities, it reflects two years after the investment is done and the benefits for the society have been received. So it is not the promise that if you invest more in me, I will then return to you in some years with some employment and activity – no! In this case, we create the tax. credit, and people do the investment supporting a festival, not-for- profits, but also they do investment in for-profit activities. And then they get the tax breaks later. So it’s a win-win situation for investors and for the government and of course, for the society. We also work in the development of creative districts. so we created a special legislation for cities and small municipalities to define certain areas of the cities of their municipalities to define certain areas of the cities, we call them Orange Development Areas because in Spanish it goes like RNA, which like, DNA, you know, like changing the code, the genetic code of the cities. So they transform from Industrial hubs to commercial hubs into creating hubs and we managed to do it in about four years, about 95, new creative districts across the country of which about 40% put together a management bodies. So you have these associations between local authorities, the gifts of creators, but also the associations of entrepreneurs. And also very important, the associations of non-creative entrepreneurs because when you have a very public, you know, craft Association may be here but also on Advertising hub and maybe a Publishing House, you also need, you know, a bank in this area. And also you need restaurants and maybe hostels that can hold people and everything. So what we wanted to do is an integral approach. Embodying also the communities to because you cannot avoid gentrification, but you can manage it and the idea here is to manage it properly. So what you instead of destroying and identity of a community. You actually involve the community in evolution in the growing process of prosperity and participation of the, of the of the value of the land.

That’s really interesting to hear you explain that. I visited one of the creative hubs myself in Medellin this July and it was important, and now I see the context, but so what has been the result? Have you seen any long-lasting results? What are they from your Orange Economy policies?

I mean, short term for sure…. The easiest is the audiovisual sector. We have seen the audiovisual investment multiplied by 10.  So, so from about maybe 20, 30 million dollar in investment per year we jump to almost 300 million dollars investment in audio-visual production in Colombia from International Productions. It’s interesting because it’s not only the creation of lots of jobs, it’s also that because the investors require is so much well-trained people, they’re investing in the, in the training of our work technicians, but they also hiring our actors, our directors, our coordinators, and they have been demanding over, 150,000 nights of hotels for these productions. So this is a multiplier effect in the society and at the same time every production is putting Colombian images all over the world. So it’s also building up momentum for Colombian tourism industry.

So moving on to a different topic now and there’s a big conversation in Europe around the big technology companies from Silicon Valley, and how they how they have such a dominant power in the competition. And there’s a lot of Regulation around this topic, which is certainly a focus for a Netopia over the years as well. What is that discussion like in Columbia? I noticed on my visited Uber, for example, is not allowed. How do you talk about, what are your view on the big technology companies and the competition on their platforms?

Well, big platforms come with benefits, but also with risks, this particular case for Uber…. Uber is in a Grey-Zone where it is not forbidden and is not allowed. So it has to work in a very weird way. I know you can have Uber in Colombia, you can ask for an Uber, but the driver might get in trouble if it stopped by a cop and what it’s doing is not certified by some sort of contract. But then again, just like in transportation, when you have them audiovisual industry for instance, you have the free-to-air channel for television and the free-to-air come from an area where you have programmers for audiovisuals for programs for TV and now you have Netflix, you have Amazon Prime, you have Apple TV, you have HBO Plus, and you have all these big platforms, Disney Plus, and, and you can program it whatever way you like. And you can access contents from Colombia, from all that in America from all over the world. And the thing is, there’s no way Colombian TV stations, can invest the massive amounts of money that Disney, Netflix, Amazon can. Invest to complete in terms of the quality of the production. And, you want people to have access to that part of the production. But you also want people to have access to your stories. Something is happening, in this instant it we have created to attract the production of Netflix, Amazon Prime and all of these big network players is that they do produce their big movies and their big series for the international market but they all seem investing producing Colombian content. So, something that happened recently is that is the, the Pálpito… it’s the The Marked Heart, I think a Colombian series that actually became number one worldwide. It was actually produced by a friend in Colombia and it’s a very local Columbus story. They told it the old own Colombian way and it actually reach number one in Germany, probably in Sweden, probably in France. It was number one in the world for like two weeks earlier this year. And the interesting thing is when you find this equilibrium, and then you have to realize that you can get attached to the form. Like, having the traditional form of the channels for television, or you can engage with these platforms and ensure like for transportation, okay? ….you want to do Transportation? Okay, let’s ensure that you have insurance for the passengers. Let’s ensure that you make a proper screening process for the drivers and for the quality of the vehicles that they are safe to be driving around. Let’s make sure that you also pay taxes, and when you find this way, you evolve. It’s not easy, is not painless because you have these legacy systems that have entrenched privileges and in a way they have earned it because they have been paying you know, for those privileges. I mean they have been paying taxes, they have been paying fees. If you are a TV channel, you have paid, you know, royalty for the use of the spectrum. If you are a taxicab you have paid, you know, a medallion or a permit in order to circulate and offer the service… you need to find this equilibrium, you need to balance the costs but also ensure that people are not denied the benefits of these new technologies. So it’s a process and I think every country goes to this process, depending on its culture, its economic and technological development and also on how their political conversation is going on.

Felipe Buitrago, our time is up now, but I want to ask you one, last question, what are your plans now? Have you have you left politics for good?

Well, I’ve never been properly in politics. I always been a policy-junkie and I think I will remain one. I just think for the time-being I will move away from public office and I will try to do more like a consultancy and trying to also share the experience of Columbia and what we have learned during the last 10 years. Well, thank you so much and we love to see what you’re up to next.

Thanks for coming to Netopia Spotlight interview.

Thank you, it was fun to be here.

 

Readers are invited to download the book free: The Orange Economy: An Infinite Opportunity (iadb.org)

Spotify on Netflix Brings out Old Frenemies

Monday, November 7th, 2022

Netflix-mini series The Playlist tells the story of Spotify. It takes me back. I was not involved in Spotify, but I did work in the music industry in the 1990s (when Napster arrived). I have met many of those who appear as characters on the show: label boss Per Sundin. Pirate hunter Henrik Pontén (RIP). Pirate evangelist Peter Sunde. To mention some.

I am not the only one caught by nostalgia, many have stepped forward and shared their version of history – some fifteen years later. One of the most creative versions casts prosecutor Håkan Roswall as a Kremlin agent. And of course The Pirate Bay-spokesperson Peter Sunde takes the opportunity to do a bit of creative re-writing of history.

I have debated with Peter Sunde on several occasions (like here). He likes to paint me as a paid messenger for Big Entertainment. I always took that as confirmation that he had weak arguments and instead chose to attack my person. The truth is that while I have worked (and still work) for the entertainment industry in various arrangements, I always followed my moral compass. I have turned down many generous offers to work for business in order to keep doing this work. Sunde himself of course also made money as a pirate propagandist. The Pirate Bay took in Millions of SEK in advertising, court records show. The founders attempted (and failed) to sell their creation for 60 Million SEK. To my knowledge, Sunde owns and runs VPN-service Ipredator which charges a hardly altruistic €14 per month. In spite of this, I don’t believe Sunde is driven by commercial purposes. I am convinced he follows his moral compass. Only problem is that compass is more than a little off.

THE TPB’s IDEOLOGICAL ROOTS

How did The Pirate Bay get started? Most people would guess it was some wiz kid tech-experiment that stumbled across a convenient way to distribute pirate content and built from there. Some might say it was a commercial endeavour from the get-go. Neither was the case, however. Before The Pirate Bay there was The Pirate Bureau. The latter was a sort of anti-copyright think-tank which developed theories about how internet might change society (and overthrow capitalism). It was run by some bright people, most of whom moved on to academic careers. The name was a pun on copyright enforcement law firm The Anti-Pirate Bureau. Tongue-in-cheek attitude since day one (I admit some of the jokes were really good). The Pirate Bureau developed the concept for a large-scale file-sharing service. It started as an ideological project, which was then accelerated and made successful by a more hands-on tech-savvy group. The political arm of the movement – The Pirate Party – appeared later (after party leader Rick Falkvinge according to his own account saw a cartoon that said that the only thing that would bring a revolution would be a ban on The Pirate Bay). It all started as ideology, anti-copyright ideology as the cornerstone for the new digital world. Coincidentally precisely the same idea that Arch-Tech-mogul Peter Thiel described as the recipe for Silicon Valley’s rise to domination. No, I don’t believe they were co-ordinated, but the ideological roots are shared between the pirates and Big Tech, no matter how much the former try to be anti-capitalist.

ANALYZING SUNDE’s CLAIMS

In his comment to The Playlist, Peter Sunde makes some noteworthy remarks. That they wanted to help the artists. That the entertainment industry voices did not. That distribution is the most expensive part of the entertainment business. That Spotify was created to make money from advertising. That Netflix itself owes its existence to The Pirate Bay. And that he is unhappy with the facial hair on his character in The Playlist. Let’s take a closer look.

Did The Pirate Bay want to help artists? Artists did not ask them to upset the economic system that sustained their livelihood. As described above, TPB had completely different motives. Just because some artists complain about their record companies, does not mean Sunde and his gang did them a favour.

Did the entertainment industry voices not want to help the artists? Okay, admittedly I would be one of those voices so you, dear reader, will have to take my words with the caveat that I am biased. Plenty of people speaking on behalf of artists’ and creators’ organisations demanded that the illegal service be stopped. They had the mandate from the members by way of organizational democracy, but they were dismissed as being loyal to the system rather than the creators. Those artists that did speak up, such as Metallica and Madonna, were dismissed as being too rich and successful to be credible. And those smaller artists that spoke up on the other hand were insignificant according to the pirates. There was always something wrong with whomever spoke out against copyright infringement. Perhaps fair game, but the ugly part is that the pirates were also the first organized trolls. They invented the playbook for the alt-right, the anti-vaxxers, the conspiracy theorists, the incels and the lot. Swedish rapper Petter was one of the first targets and it was so bad he considered giving up on music. So much for helping the artists. Some of it was done with some love, such as when the Pirate Party Youth-section brought Henrik Pontén ginger bread for Christmas (in Swedish tradition, eating ginger bread is supposed to make you a nicer person). Most of it not so much, such as when the board members of The Anti-Pirate Bureau were sent flowers with the note “This is the first of your funeral bunch”. Yeah, I also received threats and our website was hacked (credit to The Pirate Bureau-profile Rasmus Fleischer for offering his commiserations). Perhaps we had it coming for defending artists’ rights, but it sure would be interesting to hear Sunde’s take on what a monster they spawned. (This summer an alt-right madman, radicalized online, murdered health policy expert Ing-Marie Wieselgren at the Almedalen opinion summit in Visby Sweden, but the investigation suggests his real target was Center Party leader Annie Lööf. I’m not saying the pirates are to blame, there are many who have taken advantage of the toxic online climate. But the pirates pioneered the hate speech MO which paved the way for this horror.)

Is distribution the most expensive part of the entertainment business? No. A CD or DVD costs less than one Euro to print and even less to ship, but sells at 10 or even 20 Euros (more for some DVDs at the peak). Retail might take 30% or so, but much of that must be considered marketing. The Pirate Bay did nothing for artists in terms of marketing, recording costs, creative support or royalty advances. In the words of former Billboard editor-in-chief Rob Levine “all it did was replace the trucks that brought the discs to the stores, but that doesn’t get you invited to any good parties” (on Napster, but the same applies to TPB).

Was Spotify set up to make money from advertising? Maybe. My impression is that most users pay subscriptions to get rid of the ads, but what do I know? In any case, if advertising is so wrong, why did Sunde’s own business The Pirate Bay use that model?

Does Netflix owe its existence to The Pirate Bay? Nah. Rather TPB stood in the way of Netflix morphing from snailmail-DVDs to online streaming. Reed Hastings – founder of Netflix – has explained that the mail-order DVDs was just a step on the way until digital streaming was possible. Rather the illegal market stood in the way of investment into legal services.

I will give Peter Sunde one concession though. His character’s moustache on The Playlist is not particularly flattering.