Photograph by Chetan Karkhanis

Developing Countries Need Robots Too

Ask any economist why some countries are poor and some countries are rich, and they will probably answer, “productivity”. Essentially, this means that people in rich countries are rich because they are able to create more wealth with less effort. But how do they do this? One of the primary ways is through better technology.

Unfortunately, instead of being recognized for its contribution to wealth, better technology is all too often demonized as a threat to employment, particularly in low-income countries without social safety nets. Intuitively, people care more about the jobs and income streams that already exist than the potential future savings from automating their jobs–a bird in hand, as they say. But a new paper by Mehmet Ugur and Arup Mitra of the University of Greenwich shows that even in very poor countries, technology is far less threatening than it may appear.

We have argued here before that robots are not taking our jobs: in the long run on a macro level productivity increases have no relationship with either the total number of people employed or with the level of unemployment. This is because when automation or … Read the rest

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Brave New Potato

On Friday, 7 November, the US Department of Agriculture cleared the path to commercialization for a “genetically modified” potato developed by J.R. Simplott.

This is big. This is very big.

It’s big for a host of reasons, but at the top of the list is one: French fries. The United States alone produces some 20 million pounds of potatoes each year, two thirds of which wind up in frozen products. Most of those are French fries. The American consumer eats 120lb of potatoes per year, on average. Global potato production is ~73 billion pounds/year (365 million tons). That’s a lot of spuds.

It’s also big because this is not the first time a biotech improved potato has been developed by innovators. In 1995, Monsanto developed a potato resistant to the Colorado potato beetle, its main pest, and shortly thereafter added resistance to major viral diseases. Though hugely popular with growers, who loved that they didn’t have to spray heavy duty pesticides to kill the notoriously adaptable beetle, organic ideologues intimidated and bullied McDonald’s and their major French fry suppliers into dropping the product, and Monsanto shelved it. But Simplot (a … Read the rest

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Demons Haunt Los Angeles

In 1997, the late Carl Sagan published a book titled “The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark.” It is an eloquent paen to the power of science and critical thinking to free humans from the demons of darkness and superstition. In it, he described one of his greatest fears:

I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time — when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues… when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness…

That day may be upon us.

According to the Los Angeles Times, “The Los Angeles City Council voted in late October to draft an ordinance that would prohibit the sale or planting of GM seeds and plants.

One individual in Los Angeles who … Read the rest

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Newsflash: You Don’t Have to Pirate Content

Today, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) launched its innovative new Website: WheretoWatch.com (WTW).  The search engine is a simple way for consumers to find all the movies and television they are interested in viewing — from new episodes of The Mindy Project to classics like Casablanca and even Oscar contenders still in theaters, such as The Theory of Everything. Indeed WTW allows consumers to:

  • Search for movie/TV show availability on digital downloading sites, streaming sites or in stores;
  • Find theater times and locations for every newly released movies nearby;
  • Receive notifications when the content they are interested in becomes available from their favorite providers.

The site works by aggregating content from a range of outlets, including Netflix, Amazon, iTunes, Xbox and smaller indie sites such as Snag Films and WolfeOnDemand. By simplifying the search process, consumers will be able to find exactly what they are looking for exactly when they want it: it marries accessibility to content for customers with protection of the intellectual property for creators of the content.

Even more importantly, however, WTW reaffirms the commitment that Hollywood is making toward more legally available content. … Read the rest

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Flaws Remain in OTI’s “Cost of Connectivity”

The Open Technology Institute recently released the latest version of its “Cost of Connectivity” report. We at ITIF have repeatedly criticized past “Cost of Connectivity” reports for their flawed methodology (criticisms, by the way, shared with many others). The most recent OTI report continues this tradition, relying only on advertised broadband plans in a handful of cities. In keeping with this tradition, we offer the following constructive criticism in hopes that OTI will continue to improve their methodology going forward. One big improvement in this year’s report is the decision to drop the comparison of “Triple Play” bundles, with the recognition that the variation in cost and quality of programming bundles from country to country is too great to offer a meaningful comparison. Hopefully next year’s report will recognize the U.S. broadband market for the success it is and leave us with even less ammo for criticism.

It is not clear that we can draw any real conclusions from this year’s collection of data, given the tiny sample size and the disparity between advertised and actual speeds in Europe, not to mention the remarkable differences in history, culture, and … Read the rest