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Digital Policy Topics in EU Election

Thursday, June 6th, 2024

Netopia turned to AI to find out what the main party groups say about digital policy topics.

We fed their election manifestos into a large-language model and analysed the occurrence of digital policy terms.

It turns out the Greens are big on AI and S&D like culture, but nobody seems to care about copyright.The image is a bar chart titled "Digital Policy Topics in European Election Manifestos." It compares how four political groups—Greens, S&D, EPP, and Renew Europe—mention various digital policy topics in their manifestos. Each topic is listed on the y-axis, with bars representing the frequency of mentions for each group. Here are the key insights from the chart:

Click Image to View Analysis

 

 

Footnote: the total word count varies in the manifestos, so the direct comparison is an indication only.

Renew Europe manifesto is 7 910 words.

EPP manifesto is 12 893 words.

S&D manifesto is 4 274 words.

Greens manifesto is 20 642 words.

Vote AI?

Thursday, June 6th, 2024

Netopia turned to artificial intelligence for guidance in this European election.

We put the election manifestos of the main party groups into a large language model and asked it to analyse the digital policies. Read the result here: LLM analysis of key party manifestos – EU Elections 2024 – Netopia Netopia

Oh, and here is an infographic based on language analysis of the election manifestos. Looks like blocs don’t care about copyright… (at least ot in this election). Digital Policy Topics in EU Election – Netopia Netopia

But enough about the real policy-makers, what would AI do? We interviewed three LLMs about their views on digital policies: Vote AI in EU Election? – Netopia Netopia

Would you vote for a machine? In this election you can’t, maybe in the next? In any case, don’t forget to vote!

LLM analysis of key party manifestos – EU Elections 2024

Wednesday, June 5th, 2024

Netopia uploaded the full manifestos, all 91 pages of policy from Renew Europe, EPP, S&D and The Greens, then asked ChatGPT4o to perform an analysis based on one question:

To what extent does this manifesto talk about creativity and artist rights?

The short answer is:

Renew: touches on creativity and artist rights (including creator renumeration)
EPP: discusses creativity and artist rights to a limited extent (with focus on cultural heritage)
S&D: discusses creativity and artist rights to a modest extent (with focus on AI)
Greens: talk about creativity and artist rights to a moderate extent (including music streaming & IP)

Analysis of key EU party manifestos reveals varying emphasis on creativity and artist rights, from promoting cultural policies to protecting intellectual property.

FULL ANALYSIS

  • RENEW EUROPE

The text touches on creativity and artist rights primarily in the context of promoting European values and the protection of intellectual property. Here are the key points related to these areas:

Integration of Digital and Green Transitions into Culture and Education Policies:

The text mentions the importance of integrating the digital transition into culture and education policies. This implies a focus on modernizing the cultural sector to keep pace with technological advancements, which can affect how creative works are produced, distributed, and consumed.

Support for Innovation and Creativity:

There is an emphasis on fostering innovation across various sectors, including the creative industries. The support for innovation can indirectly benefit artists and creators by providing a conducive environment for creative expression and new forms of cultural production.

Protection of Intellectual Property Rights:

While not extensively detailed, the document supports a robust intellectual property rights framework, which is crucial for protecting the rights of creators and ensuring they receive fair compensation for their works.

Cultural and Creative Sectors:

The text highlights the significance of culture and creativity as transformative tools in society. It acknowledges the value of artistic expression both as an inherent societal good and as a political instrument to address contemporary challenges.

Legislative and Financial Support:

Calls for continued support for the production and distribution of art and culture across Europe, particularly through public funding and defending cultural expression against far-right attacks. This includes supporting experimentation and diversity in artistic and organizational forms.

European Artist Status:

The text proposes the creation of a European Artist Status to ensure good working conditions and minimum standards for artists and cultural workers across member states, especially in relation to streaming platforms.

Commitment to Media Freedom and Pluralism:

The document also supports the protection of journalistic freedom and independence, which aligns with broader efforts to protect creative expression and the free flow of information.

In summary, the document discusses creativity and artist rights to a significant extent by focusing on the integration of digital advancements into cultural policies, supporting innovation, protecting intellectual property, and proposing measures to ensure fair working conditions for artists. This reflects a commitment to fostering a vibrant cultural sector that values and protects creative expression and the rights of creators.

Read full Renew Europe Manifesto

  • EPP

The text discusses creativity and artist rights to a limited extent, focusing more broadly on European values, cultural heritage, and social issues. Here are the main points related to creativity and artist rights:

Promotion of Cultural Heritage:

The text highlights the importance of preserving and promoting European cultural heritage. It suggests the creation of a Digital Museum of European Culture and assesses the possibility of a European Cultural Heritage Fund. This reflects a commitment to safeguarding the cultural and artistic legacy of Europe.

Integration and Support for Creative Sectors:

There is mention of fostering a vibrant business environment that includes support for new creative business ideas and the sharing economy. This implies a supportive stance towards innovation in the creative industries.

Protection of Freedom of Expression and Media:

The text emphasizes the importance of freedom of speech, media freedom, and the protection of journalists. It calls for measures to combat misinformation and protect against foreign interference, which can indirectly support creative and journalistic freedoms.

Respect for Diversity and Human Rights:

The text reaffirms the commitment to fundamental rights, including those of minorities and the most vulnerable, which can encompass artists and creators. It highlights the protection of Judeo-Christian values, Humanism, and Enlightenment principles.

Overall, the text primarily focuses on broader cultural and social values rather than specific policies directly addressing creativity and artist rights. However, the commitment to preserving cultural heritage, promoting a supportive environment for creative sectors, and protecting freedom of expression are indirectly beneficial to artists and creators.

Read full EPP manifesto

  • S&D

The text discusses creativity and artist rights to a modest extent, focusing more on broader social, economic, and environmental issues. Here are the main points related to creativity and artist rights:

Promotion of Culture:

The text explicitly states the intention to promote culture in all its diversity. This reflects a commitment to supporting creative industries and ensuring the cultural richness of Europe is maintained and celebrated.

Support for Creative Sectors:

There is a mention of supporting SMEs, start-ups, cooperatives, and social economy enterprises, which can include creative industries. The emphasis on supporting female and young entrepreneurs also suggests a focus on fostering innovation and creativity.

Right to Knowledge and Culture:

The text highlights the right to knowledge and culture as a fundamental condition of democracy. This implies a commitment to making cultural and creative resources accessible to all, thereby supporting artists and cultural practitioners.

Public Services and Inclusion:

The commitment to well-funded public services includes access to inclusive education and lifelong learning opportunities, which can benefit the creative sector by providing education and training for artists and cultural workers.

Digital Rights and AI Regulation:

The text addresses the regulation of AI and the protection of online rights, ensuring that digital transformation respects EU fundamental values. This can indirectly support artists by safeguarding their digital rights and ensuring fair treatment in the digital space.

Diversity and Anti-Discrimination:

The commitment to a Europe free from discrimination, including sexism, racism, and LGBTI-phobia, suggests support for a diverse and inclusive cultural environment where artists from all backgrounds can thrive.

Overall, while the text does not focus extensively on creativity and artist rights, it includes commitments to promoting cultural diversity, supporting creative industries, ensuring access to cultural resources, and protecting digital rights, which collectively contribute to a supportive environment for artists and creativity.

Read full S&D manifesto

  • THE GREENS

The text talks about creativity and artist rights to a moderate extent, focusing on several key areas:

Cultural Significance and Support:

The text emphasizes the importance of art and culture in society, highlighting their role in telling stories, changing minds, and building solidarity. It notes that Europe’s rich cultural heritage and vibrant arts scene are core features of what unites Europe and makes it unique​​.

Freedom of Cultural Expression:

There is a commitment to supporting the freedom of cultural expression through public funding and defending it against attacks from far-right forces. This includes promoting the production and distribution of art and culture across Europe, with a focus on experimentation and diversity of expressions and organizational forms​​.

Integration with Policy Initiatives:

The text advocates for an EU strategy to engage the cultural sectors in the Green and Social Deal and in any constituent process on the future of Europe. Cultural diplomacy and exchange are mentioned as part of the accession process for countries looking to join the EU​​.

Support for Artists:

It calls for common European standards on employment, social guarantees, and working conditions in the cultural and creative sectors. There is a proposal to create a European Artist Status to ensure good working conditions and minimum standards for artists and cultural workers across member states, particularly in relation to streaming platforms​​.

Copyright and Content Creator Protections:

The text highlights the need for proper enforcement of copyright legislation in the context of AI models to fully protect content creators. It supports the concept of “data dignity,” ensuring that data generated by human actions belong first and foremost to the humans that created it​​.

Overall, while the manifesto includes several significant points related to creativity and artist rights, the primary focus remains on broader social, economic, and environmental issues.

Read full European Greens manifesto

 

 

 

 

 

Vote AI in EU Election?

Wednesday, June 5th, 2024

Netopia interviewed ChatGPT4o, Google Gemini and Grok/X AI about their views on digital policy in the European election.

The upcoming EU elections in 2024 will prominently feature several key digital policy issues. These policies are crucial for shaping the future of the digital landscape in Europe. Here are the most important ones:

Q1 What are the most important digital policies in the EU election?

The most important digital policies in the EU election revolve around safeguarding the integrity of the electoral process and promoting a fair and secure digital environment. These include measures to combat disinformation, regulate online platforms, and protect user data. The Digital Services Act (DSA) plays a crucial role in this context, as it imposes obligations on online platforms to address illegal and harmful content, protect user rights, and ensure fair competition. The EU is also focusing on transparency in political advertising and the use of AI in political campaigns to ensure a level playing field and prevent manipulation. Additionally, the European Commission has issued guidelines to Very Large Online Platforms (VLOPs) and Search Engines to protect the integrity of elections from online threats, such as disinformation and cyber-enabled information manipulation. (Grok)

Citing sources, according to ChatGPT4o the most pressing policy areas are:

1. Digital Markets Act (DMA) and Digital Services Act (DSA): These landmark legislations aim to regulate the digital market to ensure fair competition and better user protection. The DMA targets anti-competitive practices by major tech companies, while the DSA focuses on content moderation, transparency, and accountability of online platforms​ (Bruegel)​​ (euronews)​.

2. Artificial Intelligence Act (AI Act): This proposed legislation seeks to create a comprehensive regulatory framework for AI, balancing innovation with ethical considerations and risk management. The act is currently in trilogue negotiations, with a strong interest in reaching a political agreement by the end of 2023​ (Bruegel)​.

3. Data Act: The Data Act is designed to facilitate data sharing across the EU, ensuring fair access and usage of data while protecting user privacy. Political agreement on this act has been reached, and its publication is expected soon​ (Bruegel)​.

4. Cybersecurity and Digital Infrastructure: Strengthening cybersecurity measures and improving digital infrastructure are ongoing priorities. This includes initiatives to enhance cross-border digital networks and accelerate the deployment of high-speed broadband across the EU​ (Bruegel)​.

5. Digital Identity and Privacy: Enhancing digital identity frameworks and revising privacy regulations, such as the ePrivacy Regulation and GDPR, are also on the agenda. These measures aim to provide more robust protection of personal data and privacy rights for EU citizens​ (euronews)​.

Digital Education and Skills: Addressing the digital skills gap and promoting digital education are crucial for ensuring that all citizens can participate fully in the digital economy. This includes initiatives to improve digital literacy and support lifelong learning in digital skills​ (Epthinktank)​.

These digital policies reflect the EU’s commitment to creating a fair, competitive, and secure digital environment for its citizens and businesses. They are expected to be major topics of discussion and debate in the run-up to the elections, influencing both the legislative agenda and voter engagement​ (euronews)​.

 

 

Q2 – How do you want to support European digital SMEs?

Supporting European digital SMEs (Small and Medium-sized Enterprises) is crucial for fostering innovation, economic growth, and competitiveness within the EU. Here are several key strategies and initiatives aimed at supporting these businesses:

Access to Finance

EU Funding Programs: The EU offers various funding programs tailored for SMEs, such as Horizon Europe, which focuses on research and innovation, and the Digital Europe Programme, which aims to enhance digital capacities and skills across the EU​ (Epthinktank)​​ (Bruegel)​.

InvestEU: This initiative provides financial support to SMEs through investments in sustainable infrastructure, research, innovation, and digitization projects​ (Bruegel)​.

Regulatory Support

Simplifying Regulations: Efforts to simplify and harmonize regulatory frameworks across member states can reduce the administrative burden on SMEs, making it easier for them to operate and scale within the single market.

Digital Services Act (DSA) and Digital Markets Act (DMA): These acts provide a fairer digital environment by regulating large online platforms and ensuring fair competition, benefiting smaller digital enterprises​ (Bruegel)​​ (euronews)​.

Digital Skills and Training

Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition: This initiative brings together member states, companies, and non-profits to tackle the digital skills gap and provide training and education opportunities for SMEs and their employees​ (euronews)​.

Lifelong Learning Programs: EU programs aimed at continuous education and skill development ensure that SMEs can keep up with rapid technological changes and innovations​ (Epthinktank)​.

Innovation and Research

Horizon Europe: This program supports innovation and research projects, encouraging SMEs to participate in cutting-edge research and collaborate with other entities across Europe​ (Bruegel)​.

European Innovation Council (EIC): The EIC provides funding and support for innovative SMEs, including grants and equity investments for high-risk, high-impact technologies​ (Bruegel)​.

Digital Infrastructure

Improving Connectivity: Investments in digital infrastructure, such as high-speed broadband networks and 5G, are essential for SMEs to thrive in a digital economy. The EU supports various projects to enhance digital connectivity across member states​ (Epthinktank)​​ (euronews)​.

Single Digital Gateway: This initiative aims to provide online access to information, administrative procedures, and assistance services, simplifying cross-border operations for SMEs​ (Bruegel)​.

Networking and Collaboration

Digital Innovation Hubs (DIHs): DIHs offer SMEs access to technology testing, financing advice, market intelligence, and networking opportunities with other businesses and research institutions​ (Epthinktank)​.

European Cluster Collaboration Platform: This platform encourages collaboration among SMEs, large companies, and research organizations within specific sectors, fostering innovation and growth​ (euronews)​.

These measures collectively aim to create a conducive environment for digital SMEs to innovate, grow, and compete on a global scale.

 

 

Q3 – How can Europe have a competitive advantage through creativity?

Culture and Creativity as Economic Drivers: Culture and creativity are not just about art and expression; they’re also significant contributors to the EU’s economy. They employ over 7.6 million people and play a vital role in the social, green, and digital transition. So, it’s not just about pretty pictures; it’s about economic growth, too. (Grok)

Creative Europe Program: The EU has a program called Creative Europe that supports the cultural and creative sectors. It’s like a fairy godmother for artists, helping them expand and showcase their talent. (Grok)

Protecting Intellectual Property: Protecting creative work and inventions is crucial for promoting innovation and enabling companies to grow. The EU has made significant reforms to enhance competitiveness and industrial power. So, Europe is not just about croissants and castles; it’s also about protecting your ideas. (Grok)

Collaborative Innovation Networks (COINs): COINs are like the Avengers of creativity, a group of self-motivated people with a collective vision, enabled by technology to collaborate in achieving a common goal—innovation by sharing ideas, information, and work. They’re the most productive engines of innovation ever. (Grok)

Supporting SMEs: The EU is also supporting small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in protecting their innovations and creativity. After all, not all heroes wear capes; some run small businesses. (Grok)

Furthermore, Europe can leverage its rich cultural heritage, diverse talent pool, and strong educational systems to gain a competitive advantage through creativity. Here are several key strategies to achieve this:

Protecting creative work and inventions is crucial for promoting innovation and enabling companies to grow

  • Fostering a Creative Ecosystem:

Cultural and Creative Industries (CCIs): These industries include sectors such as arts, design, media, and entertainment, which are pivotal for innovation and economic growth. Supporting CCIs through funding, policy frameworks, and infrastructure can enhance their global competitiveness​ (Bruegel)​.

Creative Hubs and Incubators: Establishing hubs and incubators that bring together artists, designers, technologists, and entrepreneurs can foster collaboration and innovation. These spaces can provide resources, networking opportunities, and mentorship to creative professionals​ (Bruegel)​.

  • Promoting Cross-Sector Collaboration:

Interdisciplinary Projects: Encouraging projects that combine arts and technology can lead to groundbreaking innovations. For example, integrating digital technologies in the arts can create new forms of artistic expression and business models​ (euronews)​.

Public-Private Partnerships: Collaborations between governments, educational institutions, and private companies can support the development of creative industries by providing funding, resources, and platforms for innovation​ (Epthinktank)​.

  • Investing in Education and Skills:

Creative Education: Enhancing creative education at all levels, from primary schools to higher education, can nurture talent and encourage innovative thinking. Programs that focus on design thinking, digital skills, and artistic creativity are essential​ (Epthinktank)​​ (Bruegel)​.

Lifelong Learning: Continuous professional development and lifelong learning opportunities in creative fields ensure that the workforce remains adaptable and skilled in the latest technologies and methodologies​ (euronews)​.

  • Utilizing Digital Transformation:

Digital Platforms and Tools: Leveraging digital platforms can help creative professionals reach global audiences, market their work, and collaborate internationally. This includes e-commerce platforms, social media, and digital content creation tools​ (Bruegel)​​ (euronews)​

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Big Data: AI and big data can be used to analyze trends, personalize content, and enhance creative processes. For example, AI can assist in generating music, visual art, and design, providing new tools for creative professionals​ (Bruegel)​.

  • Supporting Intellectual Property (IP) Rights:

IP Protection: Ensuring strong IP rights protection for creative works encourages innovation by safeguarding creators’ investments and efforts. Simplifying the process for obtaining IP protection and increasing awareness about IP rights are crucial steps​ (Epthinktank)​​ (euronews)​.

  • Encouraging Entrepreneurship:

Startup Ecosystems: Supporting creative startups with access to funding, mentorship, and international markets can stimulate innovation and economic growth. Programs like startup accelerators and venture capital investments are essential​ (Bruegel)​.

Access to Markets: Facilitating easier access to both European and global markets for creative SMEs can enhance their competitiveness. Trade agreements, export support, and international collaborations are key components of this strategy​ (euronews)​.

Creativity, when effectively supported and nurtured, can become a significant competitive advantage for the region.

By implementing these strategies, Europe can solidify its position as a global hub for creativity and innovation, leading to a competitive advantage.

Google Gemini answers this question slightly more prolifically. To paraphrase Gemini AI the competitive advantages through creativity are:

The strength of a rich cultural heritage, skilled workers are the strengths of Europe. And there needs to be support from the creative industries. This could involve grants, tax breaks, and infrastructure development. There needs to be collaboration between different creative fields, universities, and businesses to spark cross-pollination of ideas and lead to groundbreaking innovation. A Europe that becomes a leader in developing creative solutions to environmental challenges, like clean technology and sustainable design, while investing in R&D for digital tools and platforms that empower creative expression and innovation can be a major differentiator.
However, to get there, Gemmi points out that there must be less bureaucracy and regulations to encourage creative risk-taking, and funding gaps need plugging.

And it is Google Gemini that has the last line with a proseic prediction, promoting not “digital champions” and outputting that: “By implementing these strategies, Europe can solidify its position as a global hub for creativity and innovation, leading to a competitive advantage.”

And to the only other big question, left to answer: Would you vote for an AI?

How Tech Disrupted State Services

Wednesday, May 29th, 2024

Review of Gateways. Comparing Digital Communication Systems in Nordic Welfare States (Nordicom, 2023), by Signe Sophus Lai and Sofie Flensburg

We’ve been barking up the wrong tree. Or, at least, while barking up the one, we’ve missed the other. While our attention has been focused on the frontend, we lost sight of the backend. The frontend, that is fake news, algorithmic bias, hate speech, troll armies, harmful content, privacy violations… you name it. Signe Sophus Lai and Sofie Flensburg, both researchers from the Copenhagen University, in their book Gateways. Comparing Digital Communication Systems in Nordic Welfare States (Open access here) wants to draw our attention to the hidden backend of these well-known phenomena:

To understand the problems and changes that occur at the frontend – …we need to understand what happens at the backend.

“To understand the problems and changes that occur at the frontend – the interfaces that meet us when we click on a website or open a mobile app – we need to understand what happens at the backend. [T] he Internet is, above all, a physical network made up of cables, servers, terminals, radio wave signals, and data packages destined for IP addresses worldwide.”

Who Owns the Internet?

All these physical resources are built, owned and controlled by someone. And although backend infrastructure is a business of its’ own, we encounter the same players that have acquired monopolies for their frontend-services: Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Amazon are controlling fibre-optic submarine cables, operating systems, third-party tools for collecting and monetising data, and more.

Terms of service violate welfare state principles if they refuse to guarantee universal access to the Internet and equal conditions.

From a welfare state perspective, this is a problem, because the very idea of a welfare state rests on the assumption that services which are central to the functioning and wellbeing of a society should be within the state’s control. This concerns the terms of service as well as the reliability of services. Terms of service violate welfare state principles if they refuse to guarantee universal access to the Internet and equal conditions. With tracking and personalized pricing, Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Facebook can indeed easily violate this condition. And as reliability is concerned: If one of the Tech Giants decides to shut down certain services for whatever reason, this could have a drastic impact on the daily lives of citizens. And to the extent that governments services such as healthcare and education or state-owned broadcast media are not only offering but also relying on digital services, even state’s functioning would be affected.

China, Cash and Cards

It’s not only a story about our short-sighted or biased attention, but also about an almost complete gap of knowledge concerning who -owns-what with regard to backend infrastructure

Gateways is not the only recent publication that aims at uncovering the Internet’s backend. Jonathan E. Hillman’s The Digital Silk Road: China’s Quest to Wire the World and Win the Future (2022), too, zooms in on the Internet’s physical backend. Here, the conceived threat is not commercialization (as opposed to public ownership and control), but national sovereignty and digital safety (US vs. China). Another path is opened by Brett Scott in his book, Cloud Money. Why the War on Cash Endangers Our Freedom (2022). Scott, who’s role is more that of an activist than that as a researcher, follows Lai and Flensburg in stressing the contrast of commercial vs. public, while looking not at cables and operating systems, but at digital payments and the takeover of our money-infrastructure by corporate players. In the realm of payment services, we are already experiencing what it means to rely upon a very few commercial actors for basic needs. “Maestro” is withdrawing from the European market this year. Citizens who want to pay with their card while travelling abroad must switch to Visa or Mastercard – often with much less favourable conditions. And even Visa, rumours state, delivers to the European market only as an opportunity to re-sell an already established service. Since the EU has, in 2015, capped interchange fees, the company can charge only up to 0,3% of the transaction value, while in the US it’s 2%.

Lai and Flensburg, the authors of Gateways, clearly take on the role of academic researchers, not political activists. Nevertheless, they perceive their work as an important step towards political action. It’s not only a story about our short-sighted or biased attention, but also about an almost complete gap of knowledge concerning who -owns-what with regard to backend infrastructure. With Gateways, they aim to close this gap.

Enter the IXPs

No regulations at all are directed at submarine cable markets, concentration, and ownership structures

Who owns what? And how are things regulated? Take submarine cables, for instance – cables that bring “the Internet” from one continent to another. No regulations at all, Lai and Flensburg reveal, are directed at submarine cable markets, concentration, and ownership structures—”making”submarine cables an ‘orphan’ in international law”. More or less the same applies to Internet Exchange Points, the Internet’s crossroads or hubs run by commercial companies: “There is no agency or established policies targeting IXPs specifically outside the realm of cybersecurity”.

Now What?

What’s the takeaway? Gateways delivers what it promises: a dense picture of how the Internet’s backbone has evolved in Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Norway in the recent past. The book is full of charts, for instance for broadband subscriptions (who uses mobile, who DSL?), market share of subscription providers, diagrams showing the increase of numbers and length of submarine cables, types of companies involved in submarine cable laying, market actors involved in Nordic submarine cables, market ownership of Nordic IXPs, top websites and their hosting companies, charts displaying the number of individuals using the Internet for online telephone and video calls, and the like. As often with data, the story is complex, and it’s difficult to sum it all up in a single number or diagram, although Alphabet, Meta, Amazon and Microsoft clearly stand out as major players in most of the data.

Lai and Flensburg’s conclusion: For now, things are as they are. There does not seem to be an urgent concern. But this, exactly, might be the problem. In the more and more digitalized and datafied Nordic societies, they sum up, Big Tech has already “taken over key gatekeeping functions while simultaneously weakening the structural conditions and institutions of the welfare states.” The real question, they pose, is: What will the Nordic societies look like in a hundred years?

 

JFK’s Love Letter – Mail Distribution Disruption

The following story, used by the authors of “Gateways” throughout their book, illustrates the otherwise rather abstract topic: In 1955, John F. Kennedy sat down with pen and paper to write a letter to his long-distance love, Gunilla von Post, who lived in Stockholm. Almost the entire journey of the letter would be organized by state services (remember that even airplanes, these days, were run by state-owned companies). A similar love letter, sent back from Gunilla to JFK, would take a different and maybe longer route. That route would last for just two milliseconds. Almost every intersection and every segment of that route would be served by Big Tech companies.

 

Read the book via Open access here

Is Silicon Valley Running out of Hype?

Thursday, April 18th, 2024

The digital economy runs on optimism and expectation. Tech startups don’t make money as long as the scale. Big tech shares are measured with a different yardstick than other businesses. Employees many times make more money from stock options than wages. And whatever short-term problems (“disruption”) it brings is always compensated by big promises (“opportunities”) for the future. But is the hype machine running out of steam?

We’ve had a steady influx of hype for decades. Web 2.0. Smart phones. Big Data. 5G. Smart watches. Blockchain. Web 3. Metaverse. AI. Each of them sparkling with new possibilities, attracting capital private and public, disrupting existing economies and attracting “early-adopters”. Never mind the actual contribution to economy or jobs, get in ahead of the curve and you can make big bucks.

The unusual decade of negative interest and quantitive easings (=printing money) by central banks has been a perfect driver of this economy. If you lose money by keeping it, invest it anywhere. Facebook for pets? Let’s do it! Micromobility app scooters? Bring it! As long as new investors come in after, you can make a nice exit.

Of course now the macro-economy has changed. The era of free money is over. Share-holders ask for profitability over growth. So that is one problem. But is there a bigger problem? What if innovation is dead?

I used to be able to see what was coming around the corner. Spot the next hype from a distance. So perhaps I lost the touch. But I have no idea what comes after AI. Far-future technologies like DNA data storage and quantum computing are decades away. Sure, digital twins and 6G mobile connectivity, but the use cases are more for business-to-business than consumer facing value chain upsetters.

Maybe I’m just out of touch. Or maybe there is a new hype arriving any moment. But it could also be that there is no new great hype any time soon. I am concerned for the big tech barons. Surely the era of digital feudalism cannot be over…

What Dune Can Tell You about Copyright and Creative Work (bonus: Space Swim Suit)

Wednesday, March 13th, 2024

Everybody’s talking about Dune II, Netopia also wants to be in the club! We don’t review movies, but there is a copyright angle here – and not one you might expect. Here goes:

I have done a fair share of lecturing to students, mainly in games. Some of them want to start businesses and want to talk about how to protect their ideas. Except ideas don’t have any legal protection, it is the end result – the work – that can be legally protected. Actually, ideas have little or no value, it is only when you realize that idea into something that other people can enjoy or use that they get value. The more work you put into the idea, the more the value grows. Of course, a good idea is a great motivation for that work. (But the process tends to change the idea on the way, hence the concept “kill your darlings”). But I digress, the challenge is to explain this to the students without killing their enthusiasm. Enter: Frank Herbert.

Frank Herbert was of course the author of the Dune-books. The first movie was made in the 80’s by David Lynch and before the new movies came out, I used to illustrate this with an image of the star Sting in space swimtrunks. There is a story about how Frank Herbert when he did book signings often met fans who had the same brilliant proposal:

I love your books. I have a great idea for the next Dune-book. How about I tell you the idea, you write the book and we split the money?

Europe’s Digital Phantom Pains (or: How Start-up Programs Feed the Tech Beast)

Friday, March 8th, 2024

There is a particular flavour of European techno-nostalgia. It says something like: We used to be the leaders. We used to be inventors. We used to make the fastest trains, the fastest planes and the fastest cars (well, that may still be the case). We used to be drivers of new technologies: telecom, microchips, and energy. But today, Europe asks itself: “What happened? Where are the European ‘digital champions’? Why has Europe not produced an Amazon or a Tiktok?” (Next instant, somebody says “Spotify!” and then what?).

These phantom pains may be the reason why there are so many EU policy and funding initiatives aiming to bring forth a European digital champion to rival those of California and China. The idea is that public support will bring competitive companies. That has worked really well for Silicon Valley and Shenzhen. The famous tech funds on Sand Hill Road are built on public funding in the form of federal loan guarantees of four public dollars for one private. 4:1. One detail: the US Small Business Investment Act dates back to 1958, giving America many decades head start. In China, the five year-plans provide ample funding for various technology industries. So plenty of public money to the West and to the East.

Can Europe catch up by pouring public money into digital start-ups? Could that bring the European digital champions we yearn for? (If you think those looks like rhetorical questions, it is because they are!) The answer lies in how the tech startup system works and the keyword here is “exit”. Let me try to make sense of it:

Digital entrepreneurs are not expected to make any money, they are expected to “scale.”. Investors don’t care about the profits of the company, they have a longer view of value. Of course, the company still has costs, but those are covered by the investors. There is a system of “rounds” called things like pre-seed, seed, series A, B, C etc. Each step of the way, investors get shares of the company, and what they pay for those shares determines the valuation.

If you pay one Million US-dollars for 10% of the shares in a “series A-round”, the startup is valued at ten Million. If, in the “Series B-round,” the next investor buys 5% of the shares for two Million USD, the startup is valued at 40 million, and the first investors shares have quadrupled in value.

The risk is considered to be lower in later rounds, so earlier investors get more shares for the same money. Note that this can go on for several rounds, with the startup operating at a loss. So… now you probably ask “how do investors get their money back?”. The answer is the magic word “exit”. Normally, this could be different things, for example, offering the company’s shares on the stock exchange or selling to a bigger company or investor. But for tech startup investors, the end goal is (almost) always the same. Exit by selling the shares to an internet skyscraper. Amazon, Apple, Google, Meta… the usual suspects. Those mammoths know how to make money from users, the investors cash out and move on to the next case. Happy end for all involved. (This system used to work much better in a low-interest rate economy, but the exit-principle is the same).

This means no amount of EU startup-funding will bring European champions: as long as the end goal is exit to Big Tech, all that tax-payer money only serves to reinforce the incumbents.

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