Valentinos Tzekas, is a 20 year-old student born in Larissa, but already a serial entrepreneur. After an early success with the social network ‘’Near’’ he has developed an algorithm to fight fake news…
TDP: What is considered truth according to FightHoax.com?
Valentinos Tzekas: True for our algorithm is what independent, non-for-profit news sources like Associated Press have fact-checked and already covered. Also, we are considering truth, what independent fact-checking organizations like Politifact, Snopes and others have fact-checked.
TDP: How does FightHoax work?
VT: First of all, FightHoax analyses the history and reputation of the website which hosts a given news article: Is the website known for posting a lot of fake news like abcnews.com.co, is the website known for posting consecutively trusted articles like the Associated Press or something more in the middle like Fox News or Daily Mail? Then, FightHoax analyses the author of the article and his history. Is it a well known with a reputable past in respected news outlets, is it someone who is a university teacher or someone with no active past in the news industry?
At last and more importantly, the article is analyzed. From the language used to the facts stated, we compare every tiny aspect of the article with more trusted articles on the same topic. FightHoax reads and understands the article like a human. At the same time, we scan the whole web, like a database, in seconds. Do the other articles on the same event, have important differences? Has the article enough information for us to compare? Is the language quality good? Is the syntactic similarity high but not the semantic one?
These are the 3 main pillars of FightHoax’s algorithm. After having analyzed hundreds and hundreds of articles, each variable has almost the perfect mathematical weight.
TDP: What is your vision for FightHoax after the beta period? Who you aim to be the ultimate users?
VT: My long-term vision is to help the everyday people. As I said before: “Right now, if you think about it, politicians and journalists have the “power of truth”. My mission is to give normal people the power of truth—make them more powerful without the need of having journalistic skills.”
TDP: How big is the threat of fake news? Do you believe European governments are exaggerating the risks?
VT: Fact checking articles are exploding, people got misguided in both US and French elections, Macedonian teenager quit college to focus on writing false news so he can earn more than both of his parents, 42% of people said that they don’t trust news on Facebook because “it hasn’t done a good job of curbing fake news.” Germany approved a plan to fine social media companies up to 50 million Euros, every single day, if they fail to remove fake news posts. Yet, Facebook and Google are trying to solve the mass misinformation issue with just one more report button. I do believe that the very next months, we are going to be hit by the next wave of misinformation. We have to be prepared.
TDP: Do you think there is a risk that government efforts to tackle fake news be could come in contradiction with the respect of freedom of expression on the internet? And, more importantly, do you think that it is possible to counter the phenomenon through legislation?
VT: I do believe that we need a human level solution. Legislations and high tech are not going to fix the problem. We need media literacy platforms and initiatives.
This is why, we are trying to tackle the fake news problem on a human level by exposing every angle of any news story, in seconds. We do not need truth-or-not machines. Critical thinking and quality news consumption skills is a must skill-set for every 2.0 citizen.
TDP: What kind of challenges do you think that a young entrepreneur in Greece faces compared to other EU peers?
VT: I think that in Greece we have lost our hope. We have become miserable and this is much worse than being poor. When I was 18, I shared some of my thoughts with Forbes. You can read them, here. I still believe and support the same as a serial entrepreneur acting in Greece. Sooner or later, I will move my business and my life, abroad.
Photo credits by: Bank Phrom
The Digital Post talks with President of the International Olympiad in Informatics Krassimir Manev about the first European Junior Olympiads in Informatics, taking place in Sofia from 7 to 13 September 2017. His recipe to fix Europe’s digital skills gap: Regular teaching of Informatics and Information Technologies from the first to very last year of school education.
The Digital Post: The first European Junior Olympiads in Informatics are opening today. How the will it work?
Prof. Krassimir Manev: International Olympiads in Informatics are not new. Back in 1989, Bulgaria organized the first international contest for school students – the International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI). In 2007, Serbia hosted the first Olympiad in Informatics for students aged 15,5 in the middle of the year of the contest – the Junior Balkan Olympiad in Informatics (JBOI) – it is a small contest and is not organized every year.
The event that is starting today – the first European Junior Olympiad in Informatics eJOI (http://ejoi.org/) gathers students of the abovementioned age from 22 Council of Europe member countries – more than the number of countries that took part in the first IOI. Among them are four of the first five countries in the eternal ranking of IOI (Russia, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria). We expect to have a very interesting and unpredictable competition of the best European young programmers. And we are also confident that eJOI will soon become one of the most successful events in the area of competitive programming and the results of the contestants from Europe will improve.
The Digital Post: What is its main purpose of the initiative?
Prof. Krassimir Manev: Our main goal is to demonstrate that teaching algorithms and programming for students of age 13-15 is absolutely possible. And more specifically, that young students could achieve better level of knowledge and skills in Informatics when thay start early. We are sure that this is the right way to go and a guarantee for successfull career in the filed. Тhat is why me and my colleagues have made significant efforts to organize international competitions for junior students – the JBOI first and eJOI now.
The Digital Post: The International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI) are a well known, thirty-year long successful story. Where do you see it going in the following years?
Prof. Krassimir Manev: The IOI made significant progress in the past 30 years. First contest had one competition day and contestants had to solve a single task for 4 hours. Now IOI is two day contest with three tasks each day for 4 hours each day. In 1989, in order to solve the task, contestants had to modify a classic algorithm from the textbooks (BFS, for people that know what this means). Today, if somebody proposes such task for a contest of the juniors it will be rejected as too easy.
For 30 years IOI made a substantial progress and evolved a lot – instead of reproducing and modifying classic algorithms from textbooks nowadays contestants have to construct/invent algorithms that are not published in any textbook. Sometimes students that participate in IOI create algorithms that are eligible to be published in a scientific journal. My imagination is not enough to predict what will happen in IOI in 10 years. The only thing that I am sure of is that the progress will continue.
The Digital Post: Digital skills gap is still a major challenge for Europe despite the increasing efforts to address it. In your view, what might be the good recipe to tackle the problem, especially on the side of education?
Prof. Krassimir Manev: My answer is clear. I have stated this many years ago, I did not change my opinion since that time and probably I’ll dedicate the rest of my life to plead for implementing this – regular teaching of Informatics and Information Tecnologies from the first to very last year of school education. The Olympiad that we start today is one of the arguments in favor of the idea! I hope that the authorities from European institutions will understand what I’m pleading for and will support our efforts – in general and in particular to make eJOI a tradition.
For more information check the webpage of the initative: http://ejoi.org/
Picture credits: slimmer_jimmer
Innovation is the backbone of Europe’s capacity to export products and hence to support its economy. This is why any policy adopted by our decision makers should always take account of its impact on the ability to innovate, says Brian Ager, Secretary General at the European Round Table of Industrialists (ERT).
The Digital Post: How the global rise of protectionism with increasing adoption of trade restrictive measures, is playing out in Europe? How could it impact on Europe’s competitiveness in the innovation and digital sectors?
Brian Ager: Although protectionism is on the rise worldwide, it is not the silver bullet to address imbalances, as some argue. On the contrary, protectionism is likely to damage European economies.
The EU is a very open economy. While global markets have overall expanded over the last ten years, the EU remains the most important exporting region (in terms of goods and services combined). More than 30 million jobs in the EU depend on trade. Therefore market access, the elimination of trade and investment barriers and adherence to a rules-based global trading system are crucial to the competitiveness of the EU economy and to safeguard employment.
Protectionism may hamper international competition by limiting opportunities to invest abroad. Competition is however essential for economic and technological development, not only in manufacturing, but in particular in the services sector. The EU remains the biggest foreign investor globally and the biggest destination of FDI (although with a sharp decline over the last decade).
We also look forward to positive signals from the US, the most important trade partner for the EU, especially after the protectionist opinions expressed by President Trump. The transatlantic partnership should also include the digital arena. For example, the international free flow of data is a prerequisite for European industry to optimise global business operations through digital technologies.
Existing direct and indirect restrictions to the free flow of data, introduced by countries around the world, however tend to be unnecessarily protectionist and undermine the competitiveness and growth of European companies.
The digital economy is rapidly developing worldwide thanks to the many innovations made. However, we should remain aware that these innovations heavily rely on easy access to market, knowledge and capital – and are characterised by global value chains.
Take for instance micromechanical sensors invented and produced in Germany to equip cell-phones assembled in Asia and then distributed worldwide. From this perspective, the temptation of protectionism seems to go against the tide and put at risk countries that would take this route.
TDP: What are the main findings of your latest Benchmarking Report regarding Europe’s performance in innovation?
Brian Ager: The merits of this report is that it points out where the big key issues are, like the relatively slow pace of digitisation in Europe or the tough global competition in the innovation area. It also recognises that innovation is becoming a critical factor for competitiveness.
In addition, the Benchmarking Report emphasises the strengths of Europe and the EU in particular. For instance, the innovation performance is overall good, with some countries obviously more advanced than others.
Innovation is the backbone of our capacity to export products and hence to support our economy. This is why the report also highlights that policies should take account of their impact on the ability to innovate.
TDP: What are your main recommendations to Europe’s decision-makers as regards supporting Europe’s innovation and digital sectors?
Stimulating innovation and adoption of new technologies as the main driver of sustained economic growth in Europe. Evaluation of every legislation and policy measure with respect to its impact on innovation throughout the policymaking process. (Innovation Principle).
Strengthening of the internal market, in particular by completing the Digital Single Market.
Unleashing the benefits of digitisation by investing in digital infrastructure, key technologies and skills development; supported by a robust regulatory framework, covering security in cyberspace.
Enabling start-ups to scale up by boosting entrepreneurship, access to funding and cutting red tape.
Last but not least, ensuring access to foreign markets while maintaining a level playing field.
TDP: Is the Digital Single Market strategy delivering on its promises to boost Europe’s competitiveness in the digital sector?
Brian Ager: The construction of the Digital Single Market is a key example showing how European cooperation can bring benefits to all.
Europe should strive to achieve a global leadership role in the digital revolution by swiftly implementing an EU-wide harmonised framework, and by setting up standards for the Digital Single Market. This will boost the European economy, make it more competitive and create new jobs across all sectors.
Digitisation brings new opportunities for innovation and for the deployment of new technologies. Europe – as an innovation-driven economy – should grasp these opportunities and turn them into a real competitive advantage for its companies.
Progress made by the European Commission in delivering its Digital Single Market Strategy is a step in the right direction.
Picture credit: Andrew Stawarz
Attempts to censor alleged “fake news” on the Internet will backfire massively. The main stream media and main stream politicians should rather make a better effort to convince people. The internet is open to them too.
One of the promises of the internet has been that it will bring about better democracy (here and here, for example). Even before the web was invented, Vannevar Bush, the creator of the hypertext concept and the Memex machine expected that science and information will lead to a better society (source).
Since 1990s, when those ideas started to materialize, everybody saw that the internet was vastly increasing the access to information and the ease of connecting people.
The conventional wisdom has been that better informed citizens would be making better political decisions and that the more connected people will also be forging a more tightly connected society. This would both lead to e- (for electronic) or i- (for internet) democracy.
The peak of eDemocracy
In retrospect, it would appear that the peak eDemocracy optimism was reached in 2008 with the election of Barack Obama as the president of the United States.
His was one of the first campaigns where the internet played a major – some would say decisive – role. Facebooks’ revolutions, Ukrainan and Arab Springs, reinforced the hope in the positive change that information technology can bring to the world.
Social media like blogs, Facebook and Twitter were the heroes of the day. Revolutions were won on Twitter and dictators toppled on Facebook.
And then Brexit and Trump won. No longer are the social media the heroes of the day. On the contrary. The internet is now blamed for results that were not what the main stream media and the intelligentsia recommended.
There is an old saying that goes, “On the internet no one knows you are a dog”. On Facebook no one knows your news company has a skyscraper on Manhattan or offices on Fleet Street.
You could be a teenager in Macedonia or an independent writing for Breitbart News or an anonymous blogger. The internet would carry your messages in exactly the same way as if you were a “proper” media.
Social Networks would disseminate news based on enthusiasm of readers’ recommendations, not based on pedigree.
Brexit and Trump
For the first time people’s opinions were largely shaped by their peers not by professional opinion makers and thought leaders. We, the people, were the gatekeepers, not the main stream media.
Greener’s Law – don’t argue with a man who buys ink by the barrel – was proven wrong. It is a version of a saying “you don’t argue with children or the journalists”. The first would in the end throw a stone into your window, the journalist would always have the last word.
Trump was able to wage a frontal war with main stream media and was able to win it. On the Internet, the social media has the last word.
Ending up in the losing side, the main stream media invented excuses and concepts such as fake news and post truth. It had the opposite effect.
People were reminded, on the internet, that it was the old media that has been biased and openly colluded with one of the sides in the UK referendum and US elections. News from main stream media was labelled “fake news” too, just as was from the new media.
Internet as a threat
For the main stream media and main stream politics the internet suddenly fell of grace – it is not a tool of human rights and democracy any more. Free and open internet is not seen as an asset of our democracy but a threat.
Politicians, particularly in Europe, are speaking openly about the threat that Facebook and other social media are for democracy. They are calling for the regulation of social networks (Germany, France, EU).
They would like to ban fake news and make sure that only the properly verified content can be spread by the users. It is tragic to see how happy the internet companies are to comply (Facebook), instead of standing firm and not letting any form of censorship interfere with the free exchange of ideas on their networks.
The established politics and media cannot afford that democratic procedures – with the help of social networks – bring about a wrong result again. In 2017 there will be very important elections in France and Germany and the anxiety is understandable.
But calling results of a democratic election or a referendum wrong is the essence of a failed understanding of democracy and of the impacts of internet on democracy. That it causes wrong results. That democracy reaches wrong decisions.
What happened to the maxim that “in a democracy the people are always right”?
Friction free democracy
Bill Gates famously said that the essential contribution of the internet is that it reduces friction in the economy. That it brings buyers and sellers closer together and is providing more information about each other.
The same that was said about the economic market can be said about the political market. There is less friction between the will of the people and politics. There is more information about the people and about politicians.
It would be wrong to re-introduce friction – with measures that are essentially censorship by some kind of an Orwellian ministry of truth. In Germany an organization called Correctiv will be telling what is the Truth and what is not. In France a panel of old media representatives will be doing the same.
I have no doubt in the good intentions of all that. As I have no doubt that the social media companies are playing along not because of good intentions but because of business interests.
I am just afraid that it will backfire. Backfire massively. And the stakes are simply too high. The very existence of the European Union is hanging by the thread of the French elections. And with the existence of the European Union the existence of European Civilization. It can’t be protected by former superpowers individually.
Use the level playing field
Instead of shaping the internet according to their wishes, the main stream media and main stream politicians should make a better effort to convince people. The internet is open to them too.
They will need to do better than calling someone a fascist or a populist. The net should be used to debate issues not exchange labels and hashtags. It should be used to argue. To speak to people’s fears and dreams. This is not populism, this is democracy.
Will we get a wrong result? When asked if the French Revolution was a positive or a negative event in history, chairman Mao answered that it may be too early to tell.
This may be a post truth story but it helps introduced my point. Which is, it may be too early to tell if Brexit was wrong. I think it was a mistake. But I also think blaming the internet for it is a mistake as well. And drawing policy decisions from this wrong diagnosis would lead to even graver mistakes.
The internet is making democracy more challenging and open. Having friends and support in main stream media is not enough anymore.
People, not just journalists, are gatekeepers and they need to be convinced. So let’s stop bashing Facebook, let’s stop blaming Russian hackers, lets scrap the ideas for censorship of social networks. Let’s stand for the freedom of speech with includes freedom to fake news!
The so called populists thrive on “us” vs. “them” narrative. People have sympathy for the underdogs. They elected Trump and chose Brexit against the better advice of the dominant speech in the main stream media.
If that domination spreads to the social media as well, the job of “populists” would only be easier. Whole internet cannot be controlled. Somewhere they will read how unfair the battle of their David against the enemies’ Goliath is.
Fake news neutrality
Out societies need more trust. And that means trusting people that they will be able to distinguish between true and fake themselves. And trust the idea that true can win over fake without tilting the playing field against the fake.
Let’s trust in the power of true and the weakness of fake enough to keep the internet and the social networks “fake news” neutral and open to all.
Picture credit: AlexaGrace8495
One of the key instruments we need to boost digital skills are partnerships on all levels and between all stakeholders – business, schools universities, research centres and the institutions.
“A remarkable new invention can’t transform society until society has learned how to use it effectively”, writes Ryan Avent who is the economics editor of the Economist and together with whom we took part in a key event that launched the Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition.
The Coalition is a tiny little revolution within the digital revolution that marks the understanding of all business sectors, and not only the ICT companies, that digital skills are the currency of the future societies.
According to predictions made by the International Data Corporation, by 2020, 50 percent of the G2000 (The Forbes Global 2000 is an annual ranking of the top 2,000 public companies in the world by Forbes magazine) will see that the majority of their business depend on their ability to create digitally enhanced products, services, and experiences.
Additionally, by year-end 2017, over 70 percent of the G500 will have dedicated digital transformation and innovation teams.
Already today, 70% of all jobs require at least moderate levels of digital skills – a number that will raise up to 90% in the coming few years.
In this situation the worst we can do is to leave education systems alone in supplying new, skilled labour force for the current demand.
That is why one of the instruments we need are partnerships on all levels and between all stakeholders – business, schools universities, research centres and the institutions.
As we have experienced in the past, labour markets can sustain a lot of digital disruption. Nobody was in favour of innovations back in the day when the industrial revolution was happening.
Although some industries were worse off, those who did innovate back then, were the ones who later were in need of new type of labour force.
This new demand made people start skilling up themselves and applying for the new type of work. This is why I think we need to invest in skills and partnerships between businesses, schools and universities and policy-makers, so we align the supply and demand of skilled workers. This is the way we can make the best out of the occurring transition.
Picture credits: clement127
As increasing number of services and consumers go digital, the social and economic cost of financial exclusion is likely to increase exponentially if governments together with the private sector do not address this issue with speed. Encouragingly, positive steps are being taken at EU and national levels.
For too long financial inclusion has been considered an issue which mainly affects the developing world. In fact, according to recent Mastercard research, over 130 million people are unbanked or underbanked across Europe.
When individuals and small businesses cannot participate in the financial system and as a result transact exclusively in cash, a significant amount of wealth is stored outside of the financial system, making credit scarce and expensive. Individuals and economic growth suffer.
In Europe, the financially excluded are not always those we think they are. Mastercard’s The road to inclusion 2016 study found that more than one in eight of the financially excluded have lived in the same country all their lives. A third is employed full time and 35% are aged 18-34.
As a socially responsible business, Mastercard recognises the role it can play in driving inclusive growth by addressing this challenge. Across the globe we are sharing our digital payments expertise with governments and others with the aim of reaching 500 million excluded people by 2020.
This is key as access to technology via smartphones among the financially excluded has increased significantly from 29% to 49% over the past 3 years and interest in mobile banking has more than doubled over the same period.
Business has a role to play, but governments must provide leadership. Encouragingly, steps are being taken at EU and national levels. In 2014, the EU adopted the Payment Accounts Directive, which aimed to achieve greater financial inclusion.
This translated into the right to a basic bank account – which is to be enshrined in national law across Europe. Basic current accounts must be guaranteed for every person in Europe.
By taking a lead on tackling exclusion and unlocking growth in this way, policy is likely to have a positive effect on people’s lives and government revenues.
The global digital economy is flourishing, and it relies on electronic payments to enable businesses, governments and individuals to connect. However, as an increasing number of services and consumers go digital the social and economic cost of financial exclusion is likely to increase exponentially if governments together with the private sector do not address this issue with speed.
PIcture credits: Low Jianwei
Making sure that labour markets are fair and function properly today and tomorrow is at the heart of the debate that is taking place across Europe. To succeed in the transition towards a digitalised economy, we need to improve our skills systems.
The world of work is transforming. Across Europe, many fear that increasing automation and digitally-powered business models will destroy jobs and put workers in a race against machines.
I believe however that digitalisation, if steered correctly towards our principle of social fairness, can be a force for better quality work, unleashing higher productivity and helping to finance more and better social security. Data shows that most of our workplaces have improved.
Many jobs have become more interesting and engaging. And, the share of workers receiving paid training grew from 26% to 38% in 10 years. Of course, this is essential because during the same period, the share of workers who declare that they face complex tasks at work increased by a corresponding 50%.
These additional opportunities are real – however, new forms of work can also be linked to lower and less predictable incomes. And while young people may be quick to embrace new flexible forms, they too – like the generations that came before – share the aspiration to progress towards stable careers and incomes that enable them to lead independent lives. We need to be alert to the risk of fragmented and unfair practices.
An immediate risk is the gap between ‘great jobs’ and ‘lousy jobs’. Automation and digitisation are likely to accelerate such polarisation.
To address these divides, we need to make our labour markets places where workers and employers feel safe to take risks. We need to support smooth transitions on the labour market, whether from job to job, to self-employment or to further training.
To succeed in transitions, we need to improve our skills systems. The Commission has put forward in the New Skills Agenda a proposal for better skills intelligence – understanding skills bottlenecks and anticipating needs, including through stronger business-education partnerships. Education needs to be more responsive to labour market needs.
Moreover, the European Commission’s work on a “European Pillar of Social Rights” is an important contribution to addressing challenges of the digital economy by trying to anticipate and influence new trends.
Is the European social model fit for purpose for the 21st century? And how can we make the European social model future-proof? Making sure that labour markets are fair and function properly today and tomorrow is at the heart of this debate that is taking place across Europe until the end of the year and I look forward to the European Young Innovators Forum’s contributions before I launch proposals next year!
The article was initially published on www.unconvention.eu.
Picture credits: Jan
The Digital Post spoke with Paul Chong, Director of Watson group at IBM, on the future of the popular supercomputer combining AI and sophisticated analytical software.
The Digital Post: What is the story behind IBM Watson?
Paul Chong: It all came about by chance in 2006, when a couple of guys were sitting in a pub watching a quiz show and they came up with the idea of taking on the champions of this show. Then, they started to look at the challenges.
At that point, we had a lot of experience and background in analyzing natural language programming and machine learning, so this opportunity came at the right time for us as well.
Eventually, we took it to the quiz show in 2011 and we were successful. By then we have had one million dollars and had already started to think about where we could apply the technology into different industries in a very transformational way, taking what is a lot of unstructured data and giving it some sense.
TDP: Apart from the health care sector, what are the other industries where IBM Watson is working on at the moment?
PC: We are present in 17 different industries right now, including financial services, where we’ve been typically involved with retail and utility companies.
Now we are trying to create a platform services for Watson AI machine, allowing a larger audience made up of users, developers, and startup entrepreneurs to use it for business purposes. The idea is to decompose the technology, provide it as a set of APIs, very easy to use, so that everyone can use it. What we’re trying to do is creating a really intuitive platform.
TDP: Where do you see Watson in five or even 10 years’ time?
PC: I think we’re going to see an evolution of those services, particularly in terms of numbers and quality of the services provided. For example, one of the big challenges with AI is the amount of time of supervised learning that you need to do. Supervised learning means that there is an intervention by humans to train the data and the models.
What you’ll start to see is a great improvement, namely less data will have to feed the system to teach it, and there will be less intervention from human beings. I also think services will become more intuitive to use so that businesses can take advantage of them by understanding the type of outcomes they want.
TDP: AI technologies, and computing technologies in general, are raising concerns about the impact they may have on employment.
PC: You have to look back in history in order to know what’s going to come in the future. Take the industrial revolutions for example. On various levels, we’ve always seen a situation where, as human beings, we’re very adaptable, and we start to find out what our new roles are going to be, how we are going to exist, and what work will look like in the future. We have always witnessed that humans eventually find another level to operate on.
We are now going through a cognitive age, which will require a great deal of adaptability. Governments will soon start thinking about it for the next generation. What type of training and education we are going to imagine for them? We should avoid training them to be working on machinery or doing certain mandate roles, such as accountancy, which, among others, will be automated within the next twenty years.
We have to start questioning ourselves and taking steps now. Regulators, governments and educators have to start thinking about what types of jobs are going to exist in the future, while companies and countries should focus on their competitive technology.
What are the best European inventions of 2016? A look at the eleventh edition of the European Inventor Awards organised by the European Patent Office.
It is called SAMBA and it is an instant blood diagnostic test providing low-cost, fast and easy-to-read results and allowing for on-the-spot detection of infectious diseases such as HIV, Hepatitis B and Chlamydia.
This is the invention that allowed British blood researcher Helen Lee to win one of the five European Inventor Awards 2016, in the Popular Prize category.
Launched by the European Patent Office in 2006, the Award has come to its eleventh edition, which was held on June 9th, 2016 at the MEO Arena in Lisbon, Portugal.
“I called it SAMBA Test because engineers like to dance, but it is also a name that people like, and sticks in the head,” says Ms. Lee, gifted with a delicate yet determined look. A frivolous name for an invention already in use in many Sub-Saharan African countries, where it helps tracking some of the world’s deadliest diseases by facilitating the diagnosis and anticipating access to care for thousands of people.
Together with Lee, the most voted finalist with 64% of the 56,000 opinions expressed online, the European Inventor Award in the SMEs category went to the Danish multidisciplinary team, formed by Tue Johannessen, Ulrich Quaade, Claus Hviid Christensen and Jens Kehlet Nørskov, who created a system to store ammonia that, through its solidification, is capable of reducing by 99% the emission of nitrogen monoxide from diesel engines, which causes over 75,000 deaths in Europe every year.
The Award in the Research category went to the French neurosurgeon Alim-Louis Benabid, who invented a system for treating Parkinson’s symptoms, while the one in the Industry category was won by the Germans Bernhard Gleich and Jürgen Weizenecker, inventors of a scheme for medical analysis based on magnetic particles.
The American engineer Robert Langer from MIT won the Non-European Countries category with its targeted anti-cancer medicines, while the Lifetime Achievement Award went to the German-Dutch engineer Anton van Zanten, who created the electronic stability system for cars that has been saving thousands of lives over the last few years.
“Today’s award ceremony – said EPO President Benoît Battistelli – is a tribute to the spirit of innovation and the work of dedicated individuals who, through their inventions, advance the state of the art for all of us.”
The contest involved five winners and fifteen finalists, who made it to the end of a selection that involved 400 inventions registered by the European Patent Office.
“We select the best innovations in the medicine, environment, social and industry field,” explains Mario Polegato, CEO of Geox and Chairman of the Jury of the European Inventor Award, “and we do so to stimulate the matter of the patent and convey the message that through an idea we can build a both economic and social fortune.”
“The first criteria we use – continues Polegato – is the originality of the innovation, then we assess how it can help people’s lives, not only in medicine field, but also in industry and environment. Finally, we try to determine what impact the innovation will have in the future.”
An innovation that could be part of our lives is the paper transistor, conceived by a couple of Portuguese scientists, Elvira Fortunato and Rodrigo Martins, finalists yet not winners in the Research category of this year’s edition of the Award.
“The paper transistor is simple and low-cost, a thousand times less expensive than silicon,” says Ms. Fortunato, the real inventor of the couple.
“We realize it with a printer whose toner has been replaced by the zinc oxide, a transparent and edible product that can be found in sunscreens as well as creams for children.”
The paper, being the insulating base of the transistor, passes in the printer, which imprints the zinc oxide that works both as conductor and semiconductor.
“We have already signed contracts with packaging companies. It is a perfect invention for the electronics of things, to create boxes of medicines that blow a whistle if you do not take a pill at the scheduled day and time, to build food containers that change colour if the product has gone bad, even before the due date, or print newspapers with graphical charts that move like in a video. Since these transistors can be digested, they might be part of the electronics of people in the future as well.” This invention did not win today, but it may have a brilliant future ahead of it.
photo credits: Jessica Lucia
Europe can still be a rather bumpy landscape for innovators, although innovators should learn to market better their achievements, argues Robert Madelin, Senior Adviser for innovation within the European Commission and former Director General at DG Connect.
The Digital Post: What are the major challenges facing the DSM strategy?
Robert Madelin: The Strategy itself identifies several challenges under its 16 actions. It’s also clear that some of the changes brought in by the Strategy will imply winners and losers. The main political challenge is whether we are ready to accept this because we care enough about improving our society.
RM: We have entered the Fourth Industrial Revolution, a period where everything is changing and evolving so fast that it is difficult to grasp what’s next. Under these circumstances, the successful strategies should go to the basics. The Digital Single Market strategy is precisely future-proof in this sense, since nobody knows what the future is. Delivering infrastructure, capacity, industrial transformations, skills awareness, cyber security while investing enough in research into Quantum, Big Data and 5G: This is a good portfolio effort. But it’s impossible to avoid taking risks in a period of big change. The Digital Single Market Strategy take such risks and it is likely that some of its actions will fail.
TDP: On 1st September 2015 you were appointed senior adviser for innovation within the European Commission. Jean-Claude Juncker tasked you with drafting a policy review on innovation in Europe. What can you tell about this report?
RM: I think the missing piece is often the recognition that research is a component of European innovation and competitiveness. Let me put this in figures: less than one euro in five spent by European companies on innovation is poured into research. Moreover, in some areas we don’t have a positive conversation about innovation. At European level we don’t have a conversation at all. What we have, instead, is little pockets of reaction to disruptive innovation.
This resistance to innovation may be legitimate or not, but it is difficult to act on it if we don’t have a proper debate. That’s why Europe can still be a rather bumpy landscape for innovators and that’s the problem we have to fix. The report should be released by the end of June.
TDP: So are you saying that Europe is not a positive environment for innovators?
RM: Let’s talk first about the environment in the world. In 2015 the communications firm Edelman carried out an extensive survey on innovation by interviewing tens of thousands people in a hundred countries.
What came out is that two out of three respondents understand that innovation is good for growth and jobs, but only one out of three think that innovation is doing something good for the planet as well as for their communities and families.
I believe this proves that innovators are marketing their intentions and achievements very poorly and that’s not true only in Europe. The same survey tells us that Europeans want innovation to primarily look at issues such as health, family, community, environment. The two things fit together.
Everybody wants innovations, and wants innovation to benefit the areas they care about. Therefore, the vision underlying the European approach to innovation is right: ‘responsible innovation’ is a key concept within our research programme Horizon 2020. That’s the theory. As far as the execution is concerned, we are beginning to learn.
Coming to your question, is the atmosphere positive for innovators? Not yet. Can it get better? Yes. Do we understand how to? I think so. Are we working on it? Yes.
TDP: Let’s switch to the telecom sector. What do you think should be the priorities of the upcoming review of the telecom framework?
RM: The reason to have a telecoms framework is systemic empty competitive mechanisms in the market. Now we have to revisit how far that’s a problem. We’ve already narrowed enormously the number of markets to which the regime applies.
The second question to ask is to what extent we need a framework. We still do because telecoms it’s a network industry. But how do we tune the framework to ensure the best possible supply of infrastructure? That’s a big problem that we haven’t fixed yet.
Of course, everybody has different views on the best answer to this. My personal view, having been for five years Director General of DG CONNECT at the European Commission, is that the theory of the ladder of investment doesn’t reach to fiber to the home.
If it doesn’t work, we need to apply another theory: Which means we might need to either invest more public money or structure differently the market in order to generate very high speed connectivity investment.
This is part of a series of interviews held during the conference "Digital Single Market: Bridging the Gap" organized by the British Chamber of Commerce in Belgium. The event featured keynote speeches from Commissioner Oettinger Juhan Lepassaar and Robert Madelin (EPSC). Other speakers included senior EU officials, parliamentarians, trade bodies and business leaders who discussed the future challenges for business in the areas of fintech, e-health and industry 4.0.
Picture credits: Dennis Skley
With its Statement of Objections against Google on Android, the European Commission is rightly exercising its role as guardian of fair competition. Now it’s time for Member states to put in place a coordinated effort at EU level on the taxation of big tech companies.
“The European Union has the duty to ensure freedom of competition”, only by doing this we can “ensure the innovation that is necessary to the growth of our economy”.
These words from EU Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager lay out a basic principle that the Union has a responsibility to protect.
Fair competition and consumer protection translate into lower prices and greater choice for all EU citizens. In addition, they provide the basis for the creation of a single digital market in which European entrepreneurship can prosper.
To give just two examples: the cost of phone calls in Europe has been reduced considerably compared to ten years ago; and families and business are now able to freely choose their electricity and gas supplier.
On April 20, the EU published a Statement of Objections against Google in which it claimed that its “Internet search”, mobile operating system (Android) and app store management practices were contrary to European competition law.
Commissioner Vestager accused the US giant of promoting its products at the expense of its competitors, forcing smartphone producers willing to install the Android operating system to also install Google’s apps.
This despite the US company’s claim that “Android is an open-source operating system based on open innovation”.
In the past, the Union has been a strong guardian of fair competition, as in the two cases involving Microsoft (condemned for the lack of free choice related to its web browser and abuse of dominant position) and Intel (sanctioned in 2014 due to its market monopoly in a model of popular processors).
Given Google’s dominant position, it will be necessary to identify structural remedies, as happened in the past with telecom companies, Microsoft, and other players in similar conditions. We enjoy the results of these remedies every day, with these markets now fully competitive.
The EU must ensure pluralism in the market so that it can establish a fair level of competition. Only if the rules are the same for everyone will it be possible to give birth to large technology companies.
The new technologies field is particularly complex and delicate: its huge opportunities must be accompanied by major investments in research and technology.
Google covers approximately 90% of the smartphone operating system’s market thanks to Android.
Consequently, it can also dominate the app and online search markets (the two are crucial for advertising sales) as well as the market for videos thanks to Youtube.
This massive presence means the Mountain View-based company holds the largest share of the online advertising market.
Thinking about the incredible numbers that all this produces, we must also address the issue of the relation between large hi-tech companies and European tax agencies.
We are awaiting a European tax regulation: in the meantime, individual States are moving in a random order.
Google will pay the British treasury a £130 million bill in back taxes, a value that many analysts consider to be too low bearing in mind the amount owed since 2005. France has chosen a different path, seeking as much as €1.6 billion from Google in unpaid taxes.
What about Italy? Amidst disputes between tax authorities and the judiciary, as well as agreements rejected by the company, the government’s position remains unclear.
Picture credits: David Macchi
The European Commission’s strategy for “digitizing” industry that was unveiled today is a good step in the right direction. The digital industry will play its part but we need a business and policy environment that maximises our chances to take advantage of this opportunity.
In the build-up to last May’s unveiling of the Digital Single Market (DSM) strategy DIGITALEUROPE urged the European Commission to focus its efforts on preparing Europe’s economy for the digital transformation. This week’s package of initiatives does just that.
We are getting to the meat of the DSM, and not a minute too soon. Last month at our Masters of Digital event the final panel discussion involved speakers from agriculture, auto manufacturing and financial services, talking about how digital technology is already redefining their industries.
Just three years ago discussions about how drones and automated tractors can improve farmers’ efficiency, how 3D-printed car parts can help build cars tailored to local market conditions, or how a phone could replace a bank card would have sounded like science fiction. It involves science but it’s not fiction.
These are a few examples of how the digital transformation is already underway.
The technology package of initiatives unveiled today correctly identifies some of the core elements of the digital transformation.
And contrary to what some feared, it isn’t a rush to regulate. Instead, there are some pragmatic suggestions how Europe should make better use of the technologies on offer. Innovation in the areas of high-performance computing and cloud needs to be encouraged in an inclusive way.
The proposed “innovation hubs” are an excellent idea. To be truly effective they will need to be embraced by Europe’s business community. We’ve seen really great examples of this in some of Europe’s leading cities.
The focus on developing digital skills is also to be welcomed. It is important to ramp up efforts to ensure Europe has the digital skills we need to make the most of the digital opportunities. I would add that policy makers and educators themselves need training to appreciate the impact of new technologies.
The inclusive approach seen in the cloud initiative is also evident in the approach to ICT standardisation laid out by the Commission, with its emphasis on collaboration between public and private sectors. We have a unique opportunity to master digital for the benefit of all Europeans.
The digital industry will play its part but we need a business and policy environment that maximises our chances to take advantage of this opportunity. This week’s announcements by the Commission are a good step in the right direction.
DIGITALEUROPE wants two things for Europe; first, for us to get the best from digital – to have strong productive economies, efficient public services and citizens enjoying digital technologies as part of their daily lives.
And second we want Europe to be a great place for the digital sector – including DIGITALEUROPE’s members – to thrive and grow. Put simply – ours is a vision of a Europe that has mastered digital.
We see around us everyday the great promise that digital technology offers. We watch the transformation of great European businesses. We hear about new tech, and tech-driven businesses growing and thriving, and we see the increasing attractiveness of many European cities and regions to investors.
But are we doing enough to harness the potential of digital technologies?
DIGITALEUROPE measures the DSM elements against a set of principles we think are pre-requisites to achieving our vision – the masters of digital vision. They include the following:
– Does the initiative take us towards a single market fit for the digital age? Does it break down national silos?
– Will it encourage innovation and entrepreneurship?
– Is the initiative simply shielding the status quo from change? For example, by protecting an incumbent industry or national icon, or trying to protect jobs threatened by technological progress or just new fair competition?
– Are new rules really needed or could existing rules be used more effectively? And if they are needed have the policymakers designed them in the least burdensome, and most straightforward way possible?
– Does the initiative recognise the global nature of digital? If so will it encourage European companies and citizens to want access to products, services and customers from around the globe? And will it allow European businesses to take advantage of a global approach to standards?
– Finally, and most important of all, will the DSM encourage economic growth and the creation of good quality European jobs?
This week’s announcements appear to uphold these principles. The emphasis on collaboration with industry that runs through all the separate elements of the technology package bodes well for Europe’s on-going digital transformation, and its ability to boost growth and create jobs in the digital age.
Picture credits: Lukas Budimaier
In order to boost to the creation of smart cities across the EU, we need a clearly defined European ‘smart city model’. The creation of such a model should be the next step in claiming our own European ‘smart city identity’.
In the past decade, the Internet has grown exponentially. And the best is yet to come: gradually, the Internet is evolving into a true ‘Internet of Things’ in which nearly all objects that surround us (cars, household appliances, light bulbs, etc.) will be connected.
As such, the foundation is laid for the creation of ‘smart cities’ in which tens of thousands of sensors and connected devices will optimize the way in which we live and work.
Smart cities are emerging all over the world. In Asia and the Middle East, some are even built from scratch. Noteworthy examples are the South Korean city of Songdo (a prestigious $35 billion project of which the first phase has been delivered last year) and the planned Masdar City in the United Arab Emirates.
At the other side of the world, smart cities such as San Francisco are seeing a boost in ‘bottom-up’ smart city developments – with private companies such as Uber (smart mobility), Airbnb (smart tourism) and Google’s Sidewalk Labs (city Wi-Fi hubs) pushing the uptake of smart service platforms.
At both ends of this spectrum (from greenfield projects in Asia to commercial initiatives in the US) quite some buzz is created – which leads many people to believe that not much is happening in Europe.
In order to correct that perception and to give a boost to the creation of smart cities in Europe, we need a clearly defined European ‘smart city model’ as well as the proper research methodologies and financial incentives to help mitigate part of the implementation risks.
Smart cities go beyond ‘top-down’ or ‘bottom-up’ platforms
While ambitious initiatives such as the Songdo project generate lots of interest and are perfect marketing vehicles to attract investments and expertise, they tend to ignore what smart cities are really about: a smart city is not just a prefab machine crammed with the latest technologies; it is a city that lifts quality of life to a totally new dimension by responding to people’s actual needs.
Also, initiatives such as Songdo tend to contract with one major technology consortium which is then responsible for the city’s backbone, its operations center and the definition of the major end-user services. It is clear, though, that one corporate provider can never provide the variety of services needed in a vibrant, dynamic city.
At the other side of the world, in the US, ‘bottom-up’ developments lead to commercial smart city offerings that are well-received by end-users. Yet, the emergence of such powerful corporate platforms that disrupt and replace public services, but that are not accountable to citizens, has also raised a number of concerns.
Already, objections against the ‘exploitation’ of public resources by these new smart city platforms have been voiced.
The European smart city model: putting users’ needs and creativity at the center stage
European cities such as Amsterdam, Barcelona, Helsinki and Vienna have clearly understood this, and are successfully reinventing themselves – in collaboration with their citizens. They have embraced a model that could be referred to as the ‘City as a Platform’ (CAAP).
In this model, the public authority remains in the lead of smart city developments, gathering around itself a whole ecosystem of start-ups, SMEs, large firms, non-profits and citizens to jointly create smart cities.
Yet, in spite of those efforts, a formally-defined European smart city model that could easily be picked up by other European stakeholders does not yet exist. The creation of such a model should be the next step in claiming our own European ‘smart city identity’.
At the basis of the European smart city model should be the so-called ‘quadruple helix’ – bringing together government, citizens, academia and industry to build smart cities in a way that combines the advantages of the top-down approach (safeguarding public interests) with bottom-up steered creativity.
For public organizations to remain a central stakeholder in this process – all while putting citizens’ needs center stage – they need to implement an actual Research, Development and Innovation (RDI) role for cities. The European model of Living Labs, where users and producers are brought together on a neutral platform to co-create and test innovations, is ideal for this.
The European model could thus overcome some important shortcomings of the American and Asian initiatives, securing the upfront buy-in from the people that will actually have to live, work and have fun in tomorrow’s smart cities.
At the same time, living lab research also allows us to tap directly into citizens’ own creative and valuable ideas, once again securing their buy-in and enthusiasm as they actually become smart city co-creators. Such an approach would make the European smart city model really stand out; all elements are there, we just need to formalize, operationalize and upscale them!
European incentives to help mitigate smart city implementation risks
Obviously, next to the central role of the users, financial considerations come into play too when building a smart city. Today, innovation support to mitigate risk is mainly granted to very immature technologies.
Yet, in a smart city context, risk not only resides in technology development, but also in its implementation. While the European Commission has started to acknowledge this, national innovation agencies are still often clinging to old techno-push frameworks.
In order to make the European CAAP model work, it is critically important that we continue to adapt our innovation programs to this new reality.
On the one hand, we need to help smart city partners leverage Europe’s experience in living lab research methodologies (through the European Network of Living Labs, for instance) to make sure implementation of new technologies is done first time right; and on the other hand, new measures are required to helping them mitigate the financial risk of smart city deployments too.
Photo credit: Guy Mayer
In order for the Digital Single Market to live up to its full potential, we need to open up and re-think old models, and thoroughly change our mind-set. An excellent example of such a forward-thinking, inclusive and transformative tool is the model of open innovation.
Working for the benefit of citizens and businesses has always been the EU’s driving philosophy and nothing makes a stronger case for that than our efforts towards the completion of the EU’s Digital Single Market (DSM).
We are proud to have laid the groundwork for the timely and successful implementation of the European Commission’s DSM Strategy, a key project expected to add an estimated 500 billion euro to the European economy and provide a substantial boost to job creation.
In order for the DSM to live up to its full potential, we need holistic introduction and support processes that involve all stakeholders equally.
We need to open up and re-think old models, and thoroughly change our mind-set. An excellent example of such a forward-thinking, inclusive and transformative tool is the model of open innovation.
Open Innovation 2.0 (OI2) is a new paradigm based on principles of integrated collaboration, co-creation of shared value, cultivation of innovative ecosystems, unleashing exponential technologies, and extraordinarily rapid adoption. I see the DSM the same way – a collaborative space for consumers, NGOs, the public and the private sectors to all benefit from.
OI2 is revolutionary in that it allows citizens to have an active role in the innovation process – to work together with industry, academia and the public sector to come up with new ideas and stretch the boundaries of technology and societal behaviour to create new markets, products and services.
All of this happens accessibly and in real time, including prototyping and experimentation to determine each idea’s potential for upscaling, thereby transforming consumers into co-creators.
Such an open and transparent ecosystem, however, also poses its own challenges around the assessment and protection of intellectual capital and the establishment of trust and cooperation.
OI2 enables Europeans to deliver the highest and most innovative results by leveraging all the talent and resources of the community. And as supporters of OI2 like to say ‘innovation can be a discipline practiced by many, rather than an art mastered by few’.
We need to combine and double down on our efforts in order to strengthen stakeholders’ trust in a modern, future-proof and sustainable framework for Digital Europe; to uphold the rights of all online consumers and introduce policies that support entrepreneurship and innovation.
The Digital Single Market is a machine made up of many different parts, with innovation at its core. It wouldn’t work at full speed if some or any of these parts were not working harmoniously with each other. It will also not work if innovation is not protected and incentivised. It is the responsibility of all of us to make sure it does.
This contribution was originally published in the Open Innovation Newsletter (special December 2015 edition) of European Commission’s Directorate General for Communications Networks, Content & Technology.
Photo Credit: Daniel Foster
A conversation with Chris Fabian, co-creator of the UNICEF’s Innovation Unit, which act as an incubator and accelerator of technologies and innovative solutions to strengthen child protection.
Chris Fabian: UNICEF has a history of innovating for children. For nearly 70 years, UNICEF has come up with solutions like the MUAC band, oral rehydration salts, and the Mark II Handpump. To meet the challenges all children are facing in this fast-changing world, we need innovations from the ground-up, developed by the people they aim to serve.
UNICEF uses innovation to create solutions that strengthen its work in child protection, health, education, and other areas, bringing essential services to the world’s most vulnerable children.
At UNICEF, our Innovation Unit creates options for children. We act as an incubator and accelerator of new technologies and solutions. The team focuses on startup investments through its Innovation Fund, on mid-stage support and partnerships with technology leaders through its San Francisco node, and on scaling up approaches that show results through its Global Innovation Centre.
Our team has helped build the largest mobile health system called RapidSMS in Nigeria that has reported more than 18 million births by SMS (http://rapidsmsnigeria.org/br) as well as U-Report, which enables over 1.8 million young people in 18 countries to be connected to decision makers via SMS (http://www.ureport.in). We have also built open source platforms like RapidPro which help governments develop applications to understand the situation of teachers (EduTrac), health workers (mTrac), or other vital links to communities through rapid, actionable data (https://community.rapidpro.io/).
TDP: What can the tech community do to help European countries address the current refugee crisis?
CF: The best problem-solvers are often those who have the biggest problems. People who live in resource-constrained communities can come up with incredibly creative solutions. In many places where UNICEF works, we find those constraints. We work with these problem-solvers, in their environments, to help them build and scale solutions.
Here are four of the things that the tech community can do to help address the current refugee crisis:
– Open source development: If you are a designer or developer and want to get involved in building solutions to mitigate the current refugee crisis, make sure you understand the specifics of the problem on the ground and build your technology under fully open licenses (BSD, A/LGPL, CC-BY-SA).
– Share and connect with others: Governments are already working with partners on the ground that are coming together to build open source tools. Connect with them.
– Give money to organizations that are on the ground: Your donation will go further if you give money to organizations which have staff and existing programs on the ground and are well integrated into the overall responses across Europe and the refugees’ routes.
– Propel solutions that are being created by those affected by the problem: One of the best ways to drive immediate change is to support organizations and people that are building solutions locally with technologies that are already accepted in their ecosystem. Solutions on locally built open source technologies can scale quickly.
We have developed a set of principles, including open collaboration and learning from past failures, that have informed our successes and been built from our failures, such as design with the user, understand the existing ecosystem, design for scale, build for sustainability, be data driven, use open standards, open data, open source and open innovation, reuse and improve, do no harm, be collaborative.
TDP: Can you name examples where digital technologies have proved helpful in respect to the current refugees crisis and in particular in helping children?
CF: Last year, UNICEF was preparing to distribute winter supply kits in Lebanon. However, since people have been moving from one place to another due to the refugee crisis, it was difficult to track their locations to distribute the winter kits.
A team of innovation experts at UNICEF Lebanon designed a distribution system (UNISupply) utilizing an all-digital platform and tablet computers to better track and monitor the distribution of winter clothes to Syrian refugee children across hundreds of informal settlements in Lebanon.
UNICEF can now respond more efficiently than before in reaching the most vulnerable children. We can learn two things from this: 1) Technology helps us get information faster than ever; 2) Living in a connected world, we can make locally developed solutions become globally applicable.
TDP: How can digital technologies contribute to address the challenge of integration?
CF: When people are given a voice and can communicate with those around them, they quickly learn that their problems aren’t theirs alone. Realizing that others are going through similar hardships reduces fear, uncertainty, and it allows people to come together to solve problems in unique ways.
Integration is the realization of common human constructs, even among uncommon partners, in difficult times. During the Ebola outbreak in Liberia in 2014 and 2015, we set up U-Report and helped 60,000 young people communicate directly with people in government to make positive changes. U-Report helped open the door to those realizations. With U-Report, young people are making their voices count and can access new opportunities.
TDP: In a continent as Europe, where there is a huge shortage of ICT workers, can the wave of immigrants be translated into an opportunity? How?
CF: Some of the biggest problems in the world are often not specific to a country or continent. Problems are shared by everyone: whether it’s climate change, job automation, or the migratory movement of 60 million people.
We should be looking at global machinery to solve global problems. From our teams’ experience, we know that the best solutions are often created by heterogeneous people and some of the best opportunities are created by those who have the most needs.
For example, if an organization or someone starts a company to solve a problem that is unrelated to them, that company will most likely fail because of the lack of understanding of the problem that needs to be solved. But, if we take a problem that seems foreign to us and we make it our own, we have a far better chance of making that solution scale.
Now, imagine people from different countries of origin with diverse life experiences coming together: you are actually uniting a strong group of people bringing valuable assets, looking to build a stronger world and a global community of problem-solvers.
Christopher Fabian co-created and has co-lead UNICEF’s Innovation Unit in New York since 2007 - follow him @
photo credit: UNICEF Ethiopia
In an exclusive interview with The Digital Post, Gianluca Vialli speaks about Tifosy, the crowdfunding platform he co-founded which is specifically designed to help football clubs raise financing for their projects.
What is Tifosy about, and how did you come up with this innovative concept?
Tifosy is about helping football clubs become more sustainable and closer to their supporters. Our purpose is to to unleash the huge potential of fans and clubs working together in partnership to develop the game they love. The concept is actually not mine, but I met the CEO Fausto last year and decided that this can be a great way to improve the game and I wanted to be a part of it.
Football nowadays goes way beyond those eleven men who wear the club colors and fight on the pitch every week for their fans; indeed, it is increasingly becoming a real business. How do you think Tifosy can make a difference in the future of the Beautiful Game in this sense?
What we hope to be able to do is to help football clubs become more sustainable in the way they do business. We do this by helping to raise the finance needed to invest in the future – for example in training facilities, or in improvements to the stadium – which can improve the club’s performance on the pitch or simply help them develop commercially. A properly-run football club needs to get itself out of debt and have be self-sufficient, and we try to help them set that up. The final point is that football clubs must start to listen to their fans. If they do that, and gain their loyalty and trust, the fans will always be there and happy to support when you need it most.
The ongoing digital transformation, along with the technology that fuels it, has enabled supporters to interact with their clubs beyond the ninety minutes of the matches. What strategy/model should football business actually follow to make the most of today’s digital opportunities?
They need to see their fans not as numbers on a web page or through the turnstile. Football fans need to be partners with the club in the future. This means building a strong connection and relationship between fans and club, and being open and transparent about how the club is being run. In terms of digital opportunities, the internet gives clubs all the tools they need to create a dialogue, involve fans in the running of the club, and ask for their support when needed. Most clubs aren’t doing those things yet, but it’s starting to change.
Both digital world and football industry are growing truly fast. How do you see this relationship evolving ten years from now, and how can these elements help each other thrive?
If you look at the US sports market, they’re already way ahead of us in terms of how they are using digital to dramatically improve the experience for fans. Football is playing catchup, but as the world’s biggest game it’s only a matter of time before it gets back to being the leader. In 10 years I think we’ll see a much more involved and immersive experience for fans, and an even closer relationship with the clubs. It’s going to be the people’s game again.
Gianluca Vialli is an Italian football manager and former footballer who played as a forward. Since retiring, he has gone into management and punditry and is a commentator for Sky Sport Italia
photo credit: Peter / Daylinews24
To date, 15 European countries have introduced coding into their schools’ curriculums with many other countries in the process of doing so. However, more could be done to support informal coding activities as well as in schools from both governments and European institutions.
October saw the end of another successful Europe Code Week, during which thousands of CoderDojo volunteers, parents, and ninjas took part in events around Europe.
The initiative which began three years ago, by Neelie Kroes of Young Advisors, aims to expose individuals, both young and old, from all across Europe to develop a greater understanding of coding and its importance in today’s digitally connected world.
All new Champions who get in touch about starting a Dojo are asked, how did you hear about CoderDojo? For a month or two following Code Week a number from not just in Europe cite Code Week as their reason for wanting to join the community!
CoderDojo continues to grow massively throughout Europe. From the beginning of this year to October 2015 over 160 Dojos have been verified in Europe, with many more people registering their interest in setting up Dojos in their communities as well.
Coding at school: How do EU Countries Perform?
A great achievement this past year has been the creation of the European Coding Initiative, a multi-stakeholder group whose aim is to promote coding and computational thinking throughout Europe, both inside and outside of the classroom.
A number of organisations and CoderDojo partners such as European Schoolnet, Liberty Global and Microsoft are all involved in making sure this initiative strives to empower young people and promote the importance of learning to code.
To date, 15 European countries have introduced coding into their curriculums with many other countries in the process of doing so.
National governments are beginning to realise that the introduction of coding into schools not only helps children develop computer literacy skills but also equips youth with many other valuable skills in areas such as logical thinking, problem-solving and teamwork.
Exposing youth to coding through the formal education system and outside through informal clubs like CoderDojo will also assist with closing the digital skills gap that is being experienced across Europe.
Not all children who learn coding will become software engineers and this is certainly not the aim of CoderDojo!
However, it is estimated that 90% of all jobs require candidates to have basic computer skills and CoderDojo is enabling youth to be successful, competent adults regardless of their chosen career direction.
Best Practice Project: Erasmus +
This year we were delighted to become involved in an Erasmus+ project. In conjunction with partners CIT, The Nerve Centre, WiMi and IBE, it aims to create toolkits which will be utilised by new and existing members of the CoderDojo Community.
By surveying the existing CoderDojo Community, our partners are in the process of developing a CoderDojo International Toolkit which will be a detailed set of recommendations, methodologies and guidelines covering all aspects of establishing and operating a CoderDojo Chapter.
While continued support from European programmes such as the Erasmus+ project is vital, we believe more could be done to support informal coding activities as well as in schools from [CM1] both governments and European institutions.
Introducing coding into school curriculums is a huge step in the right direction, so is making ICT training compulsory for incoming teachers.
But this is not enough. Supporting programs like CoderDojo, held outside of formal education system, give European institutions a viable avenue for ensuring more youth are exposed to coding in a meaningful and creative way.
CoderDojo provides an opportunity for children to maintain and further develop an interest in coding whether it was gained from taking part in Code Week, or from a computational thinking class in school.
Throughout our four years of existence, we at CoderDojo has learned that having Dojos outside of a classroom setting helps to encourage young people’s creativity and allows for self-led learning.
Dojos are largely unstructured and young people are given the opportunity to work on projects of their choosing which makes learning to code seem less like another subject and more like a hobby.
In order for CoderDojo to grow and reach more young people, European institutions need to:
1. Make the development of coding skills for youth a top priority.
2. Recognize its place not only in the formal education system but also in informal learning environment.
3. Promote coding at a local level within their communities.
4. Continue to highlight initiatives like CoderDojo and Europe Code week and encourage all stakeholders to get involved.
For the past two years, Europe has provided between 1/3 and 1/4 of the world MOOCs, although big platforms are based in the US., says Michael Gaebel from the European University Association.
Michael Gaebel: While there is talk that the hype is over, the number of MOOCs is still on rise.
The Digital Post: Is Europe still lagging behind?
Michael Gaebel: For the past two years, Europe has provided between 1/3 and 1/4 of the world MOOC production. Hence, I would not really see this as staying behind. What is true that the big MOOC platforms and also many of the companies providing services and technology are based in the US. But this is due to economics (availability of venture capital) rather than education.
The Digital Post: How to catch up with this gap? What measures should be launched at European level?
Michael Gaebel: We would not necessarily support to encourage a stronger response to MOOCs. We think MOOCs have played and still play an important role in promoting and mainstreaming e-learning, both within and outside of the institutions. They have been useful in raising awareness and interest, and stimulating a debate on the broader use of e-learning.
However, they are just one particular (and also not so clearly defined) type of digital learning. We believe that it is important to reflect and explore how institutions can make best use of digital learning, and also consider the role of “e” in research, and governance.
Our research shows that institutions care developing strategies and enhance capacities and resources.
National approaches should support these developments, and also support inter-institutional cooperation and synergies, and then there is also the question of how to develop a European dimension, and e.g. use the existing instruments
This concern e.g. Bologna lines and instruments – such as mobility, and there are also legal issues to be considered, such as use of data, copy rights, IPRs etc. The EC has made a good contribution in promoting open access and open educational resources.
Michael Gaebel is the head of the Higher Education Policy Unit, which focuses on issues related to higher education learning and teaching, including the Bologna Process, lifelong learning, e-learning and MOOCs, internationalisation and global dialogue. Before joining EUA, Michael worked for more than a decade in higher education cooperation and development in the Middle East, the former Soviet Union and Asia. From 2002 to 2006, he was the European Co-Director of the ASEAN-EU University Network Programme (AUNP) in Bangkok.
photo credit: S B F Ryan
The Google probe seems to prove that the EU is way too focused on fighting old wars. However, if it wants to put in place a system where innovation thrives it must care less for the existing IT industry and do more for those that do not exist yet.
Already during the early 1990s – in the Bangemann Report – the information and communication technologies (ICTs) have been politically understood as a strategic development priority of the European Union.
ICTs were high on the agenda of the Lisbon Strategy whose goal was “to make Europe the most competitive and dynamic knowledge based economy in the world”.
In the Europe 2020 Strategy, the Digital Agenda for Europe is one of the seven flagship projects. Its overall aim is “to deliver sustainable economic and social benefits from a digital single market based on fast and ultra fast internet and interoperable applications.”
Schumpeter: Profit is result of innovation
European policies in the field of innovation are based on the Schumpeterian assumption that innovation is the key driver of economic growth and entrepreneurial profit. The latter is a politically wise compromise between the leftist idea that profit is result of worker exploitation and right-wing argument that profit is the result of voluntary and mutually beneficial transactions between two parties.
Joseph Schumpeter believed that investing in knowledge and innovation pays off. Therefore, public policies should create incentives for the enterprises to innovate and more should be invested in knowledge, innovation and any digital-related activity. Such idea in Europe enjoys large support.
The resulting policies include funding or subsidising research and innovation through Framework programs such as Horizon 2020, tax breaks for firms that innovate as well as protecting innovation through copyright protection, patent law etc.
A kind of protection are also the regulatory and competition procedures that the EU has been regularly filing against high-tech companies that seemed too powerful at the time.
Hayek: Open innovation to everyone
Schumpeter was not alone in believing in the power of innovation. Another Austrian economist understood the importance of innovation but identified a complementary issue – that the challenges are numerous, that ideas in a society may be dispersed and that as many as possible should get the opportunity to innovate, not only those that are already doing it.
This idea – that the knowledge is “in the open” – became fashionable with the emergence of the internet, the open systems, the open source software, the open scientific publishing and the open innovation. But it was there since the 1930s under the general label of open society.
Hayek would understand how important it is to build infrastructures that give opportunity to innovate, do not monopolize innovation, do not limit innovation to existing players and allow innovative companies and business models to emerge, grow and succeed.
He would understand that excessive copyright and intellectual property protection harms innovation. While it is to some extent an incentive for innovation, when applied too strongly, these protections make patent portfolios a tool for limiting competition.
Scientific excellence, business impotence
When one compares the high quality of European education systems and excellent science on the one hand and the digital industry’s impotence on the other, the explanation is exactly in the balance between Hayekian and Schumpeterian view on innovation.
The innovation and entrepreneurial system in the US is open to new entrants. Many Europeans are going across the Atlantic with their ideas. The start-up culture is flourishing in the Silicon Valley and is well supported by the legal, business and financial mechanisms.
On the other hand Europe is unable to create a company that could compete with IBM, Microsoft, Apple, Google or Facebook. What the EU seems to be capable of doing is just binging them to court. Whichever company happens to be the biggest has problems with the EU competition officers. In this respect Google is the new Microsoft.
But Microsoft and its media Player, Internet Explorer and Windows operating system were not dethroned because of the regulatory actions of the European politicians who are always eager to justify their existence by doing something “for the people”, “for European industry” and “against multinationals”.
Too slow to innovate, too slow to legislate
It is simply in the competitive nature of the digital economy that the playing field is levelled every few years. And a company can come from anywhere and become a major player.
Microsoft did that to IBM with personal computer operating system and desktop applications that included the infamous Media Player and Internet Explorer. Google changed internet search and advertising. Apple redefined the mobile phone. Facebook invented the social media as we know it.
Unfortunately it is not entirely true that these companies come from anywhere. They do not come from Europe. And no matter how hard the EU makes life harder for them … the next Google will not come from Europe because of that.
Media Player was succeeded by iTunes. Internet Explorer was not succeeded by Opera but by Chrome and Firefox. Actually what the EU tried so hard to regulate is today a commodity nobody cares about.
Browsers and media players are a thing of the past, apps are in fashion today. It is very likely that when the EU is done with picking on Google, we will be finding our stuff on the Internet through recommendations on social networks such as Facebook. And Facebook will be made obsolete by something like Snapchat.
Here’s why the EU seems to be fighting old wars. A lot of civil servants will have something to do and a lot of lawyers will make money in such legal procedures. Eventually the consumer will be better off too. But because there will be other companies innovating, not because of any legal action.
More Hayek, less Schumpeter
Competition in the digital world is fierce. It is made worse by the fact that every few years the whole scene is disrupted by something totally new. The EU should focus on putting in place a system where such innovation would thrive in Europe and will be brought to market and to Wall Street from Europe.
To do so it must care less for the existing IT industry and the existing big science that takes advantage of the EU programmes. It should do more for those that do not exist yet, that do not have lobbyists in Brussels and who are not the usual suspects for getting public research money.
It should unify and relax intellectual property regulation. It should do more for business start-ups and SMEs in science and innovation. Not to mention the common digital market. In short, there should be less Schumpeter and more Hayek in the European innovation and digital policies.
Or, in the words of the Bangemann report:
“Actions must be taken at the European level and by Member States to strike down entrenched positions which put Europe at a competitive disadvantage: it means fostering an entrepreneurial mentality to enable the emergence of new dynamic sectors of the economy; it means developing a common regulatory approach to bring forth a competitive, Europe-wide, market for information services; it does NOT mean more public money, financial assistance, subsidies, dirigisme, or protectionism”.
What is depressing is that this report is more than twenty years old.
photo credits: Dennis Skley
The big question is this: do administrators and politicians understand what the consequences of the “smartness” they are injecting into public infrastructures?
Recommendation 1: Focus on peer-to-peer technology.
In its infancy, the Internet’s designers opted for an architecture of distributed communication. This means that, within the network, each node is equal to any other node without the intervention of a central source. Such networks are often called “peer-to-peer” (P2P)—equal to equal. Within these networks, everyone has access to the same tools without having to ask for permission.
This distributed, horizontal architecture of the Internet has been the determining factor for its disruptive nature. It undermines traditional hierarchies, and provides opportunities for newcomers to upset antiquated business models in no time.
This leads to an on-going struggle between old and new powers. To keep the Internet open to new entrants and provide everyone the same opportunities, net neutrality remains crucial. Unfortunately, net neutrality often comes under pressure politically, and must be defended from those with ulterior motives.
The “open” Internet has also been the basis for the explosion of digital social innovation in our modern society. Its structure offers people opportunities to create things of real value through self-organization, sharing, and the production of knowledge and goods.
Not as isolated individuals, but as networked innovators in contact with peers around the world. Through international cooperation, digital tools have become sophisticated enough to create sustainable and scalable economic models. P2P Foundation keeps track of all these developments on their blog, which I highly recommend.
The term “sharing economy” often crops up when discussing these new models. But, beware, it is a treacherous term. “Sharing economy” is often used to describe the business model of companies like Facebook, Google, Airbnb, and Uber.
These companies subscribe to values that are fundamentally different from a “sharing economy”— values that make the term “capitalism platform” seem more appropriate. In the hands of companies like these, Internet users’ data is centrally stored and exploited.
To assess whether a new service is truly social and reciprocal in nature, you first must analyze its business model. Who is the owner? Is the technology open or closed? What is their policy on data? Is production process a fair one?
For sustainable economic transformation, it is better to avoid companies driven by shareholder-value, and back organizations driven by social values. That means that procurement processes should favor open and fair technologies and in this way you can maximize the power of social entrepreneurs, citizens, and p2p initiatives.
Care should always be taken when making policy, and in the development of innovative tools that not only large companies and research institutions are allowed to sit at the table. Small and medium sized companies should be actively involved in these processes.
In addition to economic development, digital social innovation has the potential to enhance technological literacy. A good example of this potential is The Smart Citizen Kit project.
The project allows people to measure environmental variables (e.g. air quality, noise levels, etc.) themselves, and to share the information they’ve gathered with others. This produces data (and visualizations of that data) that policymakers and scientists might find interesting.
More than that, participation in this project helps to increase awareness and understanding of measurement. By being involved in the generation of data, and by using open source hardware and software, people begin to understand that measurement is not an objective process. Such an insight is of great importance in an era where salvation is expected to appear in the form of big data.
To give meaning to data, we need algorithms to analyze it. And, the results of these analyses often provide arguments for policy.
But, what are algorithms? Who designs these models? And what is their worldview? Instead of simply focusing on opening up data, we must also focus on opening the computer models and algorithms used to analyze the data that informs the policies upholding our democracy.
Recommendation 2: Be open. Be fair.
The credo of the “Maker Movement” is: “If you can not open it, you do not own it” (Maker’s Bill of Rights). Yet, while products are becoming smarter, we seem to be getting dumber.
We can barely open up our smart devices without the risk of destroying them. The concept of “self repair” no longer exists. Take the car, for example. Until recently, a car was something you could repair yourself. All right, maybe not yourself, but surely the neighbor or the garage around the corner could take care of it for you.
These days, cars house mobile computers that rarely disclose their secrets.
Starting in 2016, all cars in Europe will be equipped with a black box, called an “e-call,” which will be able to independently contact emergency services. Europe has decided that the car is no longer private property by including a component that you can neither open nor remove, and that constantly keeps watch over you.
Unfortunately, this applies to many smart city solutions: you can not open them. Before governments make such technologies law in our society, they must be the subject of civil debate.
New technologies should abide by the values you uphold as a society. Providers should be assessed on questions like: Is the technology based on open hardware, open source, and open data? Is the idea of “Privacy by Design” taken into account? Do they make use of a distributed peer-to-peer model? And, last but not least: Is the production process fair and sustainable?
It should be a fundamental principle that a government only invests in open technology. Currently, when municipalities have to choose between two administrative systems, there is no semblance of an open market.
There are usually only two players in the game. You either choose this one, or the other; and—whatever you choose—you’re stuck with it for decades to come. We’d be much better off using systems based on open technology.
Additionally, we must ensure that publicly purchased technologies are fair technologies. We must realize the suffering that often hides behind many gadgets and technologies.
Think about the exploitation of children in the mines of the Congo, or the miserable working conditions in China. Not to mention the toll manufacturing process takes on the environment, and the gigantic mountain of e-waste it generates. It is our task to strive for fair technology and build on an economy that puts human rights in the center.
Recommendation 3: Work within the “Quadruple Helix” model with the citizen as a full partner.
In one of its reports, the OECD called for better cooperation between government, industry, and academia by bringing all three together in a so-called “Triple Helix.” Since then, all economic advisory bodies are based on the interactions of these three entities.
The main problem with this model is that society gets completely pushed aside. Here and there, one hears murmurs of the “Quadruple Helix”: the idea that citizens should be central to these decisions.
Yet, idle thoughts and whispers rarely result in substantial change. Social actors belong at the table, and should be involved in policy and decision making processes.
Another problem with this model is that innovation does not necessarily originate in large companies and universities. Digital social innovation also comes from the broad, inventive ecosystem of creators, hackers, and social entrepreneurs. In the search for disruptive solutions, we need innovative strategies based on those outside the “Triple Helix”.
Recommendation 4: I’m smart, too.
Not a day goes by without some sort of Smart City initiative cropping up. The Smart City movement is convinced that technology is the answer to big city problems. But technology is not neutral, and must always be questioned.
Without technological literacy, we can only consume, and never produce. Only read, never write. If systems are smart, but we remain “stupid,” can we really say that we’ve progressed?
The major goal of our time is to become smarter and more tech-savvy. This is true not only for the youth, but also for those who currently hold the controls: the people responsible for making policies.
Smart City technologies introduce a huge dependence on suppliers, and IT departments within the public sector often struggle with the vendor lock-in that can accompany administrative systems. Only the suppliers can read and update their proprietary software.
So, who will hold the key to the smart city? Administrators, politicians, IT departments? Or the shareholders of companies? The companies that would just as soon sell their SmartCity software to North Korea as they would sell it to the Netherlands?
The big question is this: do administrators and politicians understand what the consequences of the “smartness” they are injecting into public infrastructures? Take the great promise of “smart lighting,” a showpiece for the energy saving, sustainability agenda. With smart lighting, the light only turns on when someone walks past a sensor. For some people, this provides a sense of security.
Others find it a sinister thought that someone with bad intentions could be waiting for them in the darkness. Depending on the context, light can mean the difference between life or death.
At the border between Mexico and America, for instance, simply walking with a flashlight can mean being shot on sight. Smart lighting might save energy, but it introduces a social dilemma. Will we sacrifice safety for the sake of efficiency?
Let us ask ourselves these questions before we inject technology into the bloodstream of the city, and consider carefully the models and algorithms that will affect our reality.
Let’s make sure that those who are making decisions about the future of our cities have a real understanding of what technology means. Learn what code is, and the standards and values inherent to it. Only then can you make the right choices.
The digitalization of key travel services has the potential to be a great boost for the Italian economy. Almost 60% of reservations in Italy are already made directly online. Tourism is already the major online industry in Italy registering revenues of almost €5 billion per year.
The digitization of the economy has revolutionized the tourism market, radically changing its existing business models. Tourists have become promoters and entrepreneurs have become ambassadors through websites, social media, blogs and other online platforms.
Over time the relationship between market operators, such as tourism entrepreneurs and travel agencies, and institutions such as tourism promotion agencies has changed. To be competitive policymakers need to identify and focus on their country’s key competitive advantages and differentiate the traveler’s experience from other similar destinations.
Digitalization is a great tool for doing exactly this. As we face a more and more volatile macroeconomic environment, developing destinations should consider effective short-term turnaround digital strategies to strengthen their travel and tourism sectors and reestablish their appeal to the international traveler.
We expect tourism to remain a significant driver of future economic growth even if economic, political, and environmental challenges are growing. Policy makers who focus on their country’s most prominent assets and are able to leverage them most effectively, will be best positioned to turn volatility risks into opportunities for long-term stability.
This is why we aim to completely overhaul the Italian tourism promotion agency to equip it for the digital age.
It is important to establish strong relations with key tourism markets. For instance, our Italian tourism strategy is highly focused on the Chinese market. As a consequence Mr. Dario Franceschini, the Italian Minister of Cultural Heritage and Tourism, recently announced that China and Italy have signed a series of cooperation agreements.
A stronger tourism and cultural partnership between the two countries will make Chinese tourists a great driving force for the development of the Italian market over the next ten years. Likewise, India, Russia, USA and other developed and developing countries are and will be solid partners and thriving markets.
[Tweet “The web has disrupted the tourism market”]
It has changed tourist’s habits, and business models. This has been most acutely felt in the areas of promotion and communication. Today, a strategy for digital tourism is mandatory if we are to successfully promote Italy’s main assets, namely life style, culture, food industry, design, and even upmarket goods.
In Italy, tourism accounts for almost 40% of ecommerce. The Italian Government therefore understands the importance of digitalizing tourism. This is why a recent government decree established a 30% tax credit for digital innovation expenditures incurred by firms.
Digital platforms will be used to create a “tourism system” focused on developing integrated ICT services shared by several operators, such as tourist cards, territorial websites, and integrated itineraries. Some provinces and locations are already establishing good practices in these areas that can be spread nationwide.
There is little doubt of Italy’s appeal as a tourist destination. The Country Brand Index 2012-2013, ranks us first for artistic and cultural heritage, history, food and wine. This appeal combined with a digital revolution will be a decisive economic boost for our economy.