To fight inequality, Indonesia should learn from China and India in combating digital illiteracy

Primatia Romana Wulandari, University of Melbourne

To mark the CAUSINDY (Conference of Australian and Indonesian Youth) held in Melbourne this week, The Conversation presents analysis from academics at the conference.


Indonesia shares similar characteristics with China and India as Asian countries that have more people between the ages of 15 and 64 than young children and the elderly.

Analysts call this surplus of people of productive working age a “demographic bonus”, which can contribute to the rise of China, India and Indonesia as leading economies.

The young populations of these countries are entering a shifting jobs landscape propelled by innovation in digital technology. China and India are moving to prepare their populations to take advantage of the digital era.


Read more: The robots are coming for your job! Why digital literacy is so important for the jobs of the future


But Indonesia has a lot of catching up to do to provide its people with skills including digital literacy, to be able to find employment in a world where the ability to use the internet via digital mediums, such as personal computers, smartphones, tablets and others, will be a necessary skill.

Changing jobs landscape

Before there was the internet, around 30 years ago, more than half of Indonesia’s population (54.7% in 1985) worked the land as farmers.

By 2016 only 34% were still working in the agriculture industry. Some 44.8% work in the services sector and 19.7% in manufacturing.

Data from Indonesia’s Statistics Agency show more than half of Indonesian workers (51.5%) are underqualified or lack the right skills to do the job. This occupational mismatch is often associated with low levels of education. Some 40% of workers’ skills and employment are well matched. And 8.5% are overqualified for their occupations.

The data show Indonesia is facing a skills shortage. One of the skills Indonesians lack is digital literacy.

What China and India are doing

China provides us with a good example of how to take advantage of an internet-enabled digital economy. It accounted for 30.6% of China’s GDP in 2016.

Even though China restricted its citizens’ internet access, by blocking certain websites and applications since 1997 (“the great firewall of China”), it has, on the other hand, driven the development of its native platforms such as WeChat, Weibo, QQ, Renren, Alibaba, JD.com and many others.

With its restrictions, China has reoriented internet adoption and online behaviours by maximising its market potential within the country.

For example, WeChat has grown rapidly since 2011 to rival Facebook and become the nation’s most-used social media app. It has radically changed the Chinese lifestyle and way of doing business. WeChat will potentially overtake Facebook in the future.

WeChat.
from http://www.shutterstock.com

It offers features such as instant messaging, commerce and mobile payment services. It makes a virtual workplace possible by offering components that enable and improve important business functions such as task co-ordination. It provides a convenient virtual wallet that can be used for almost every transaction, from paying utility bills to a coffee.

The Chinese diaspora has spread the use of WeChat worldwide. This is an example of China using its demographic bonus to create opportunities and a competitive environment that allow its citizens to redefine the global economic balance of power.

Meanwhile, India made a serious move to combat digital illiteracy by establishing the National Digital Literacy Mission (NDLM) in August 2014.

With the objective of “making one person in every family digitally literate by 2020”, India has pledged to provide 147 million people in rural India with the necessary skill to use the technology.

This can be seen as a positive move towards a more digital-savvy India that recognises the need of digital literacy for development.

What about Indonesia?

Indonesia currently focuses on traditional infrastructure development, such as roads, ports and a subway system, to improve physical connectivity and mobility. But the government should not lose sight of the importance of providing the population with the infrastructure to access information and technology.

A survey by the Association of Indonesian Internet Providers (APJII) pointed out that people living in the urban areas in Java, Sumatra and Bali enjoy internet access, whereas the rest of Indonesia is still struggling to connect.

According to Akamai, as of March 2017, the internet penetration rate in Indonesia is 50.4%. This is lower than neighbouring countries such as Australia (85.9%), Singapore (81.2%), Malaysia (67.7%), Philippines (52%), Vietnam (52.1%), and Thailand (60%).

The average speed of internet connection in Indonesia (7.2 Mbps) is also slower compared to Singapore (20.3 Mbps), Thailand (16.0 Mbps), Vietnam (9.5 Mbps) and Malaysia (8.9 Mbps).

Despite high smartphone sales (55.4 million users in 2015 with 4.5 million smartphones sold annually), Indonesia remains “a marketplace” rather than a rising power in the global competition. Indonesia is the third-largest smartphone market in the Asia-Pacific rgion, after India and China.

Indonesians can use social media such as Facebook and WhatsApp, but they do not have fast and reliable internet access to browse and research online, let alone create business opportunities.

Research by Edwin Jurriens and Ross Tapsell recommends that the Indonesian government start paying attention to the digital divide if Indonesia is serious about its objective to combat inequality.

Start with simple but necessary steps

Indonesia needs to develop policies with clear objectives to spur internet adoption and digital literacy.

If President Jokowi is serious about creating “1000 technopreneurs by 2020”, the government should start by:

  • working with the private sector to provide internet access and telecommunication services for rural areas

  • training citizens to use digital technology via formal and informal education programs nationwide

  • promoting and providing incentives to develop native online platforms.

This could involve, for example, holding hackathons to solve the real issues that Indonesians face daily, such as traffic jams, floods, finding markets for local products, access to health services and referral, options for different service providers, a channel to provide feedback to improve services, etc.

Instead of leaping towards the objective of creating “technopreneurs”, Indonesia could begin with a simple objective to start a nationwide movement to combat digital illiteracy, a hidden inequality that persists in Indonesia.


Read more: Researchers find Indonesia needs more digital literacy education


Indonesia should also provide an environment where tech startups can thrive, through tax rebates and investments, to really benefit the Indonesian economy.

For example, Gojek, one of the most successful local startups, was founded and is led by Nadine Makarim, an Indonesian. However, it could only succeed after receiving backing and investment from Warburg Pincus, KKR and Farallon Capital – all American-based equity firms.

The ConversationWe may celebrate Gojek as a successful Indonesian example of a startup that has helped to solve local issues by allowing access to convenient services. But, if we fail to understand who are “the real owners” of the business, Indonesia will only be “a marketplace”, not an emerging economy.

Primatia Romana Wulandari, PhD Candidate School of Social and Political Science, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Too few women in science: why academies are part of the problem


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National science academies must do more to draw women in.
Mitchell Maher/International Food Policy Research Institute/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Dorothy Ngila, Stellenbosch University and Nelius Boshoff, Stellenbosch University

Women’s role in science has been hotly debated and discussed in recent decades. Policy-oriented and scholarly studies have explored a range of topics on the issue. From girls’ participation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM); to how women are represented and perform in STEM occupations and women’s access to technologies – it’s all been studied.

But only one study has examined women’s representation and participation in national science academies. This silence is ironic. These academies honour scientific excellence and synthesise scientific findings to support evidence-based policymaking. This means they are well placed to contribute towards strengthening their countries’ national innovation systems. They can advocate to get more girls and women participating in STEM, and advise on system-wide application of the gender lens in research and innovation.

So one of the first steps, surely, would be for academies to address their own gender gaps. But there’s a data problem. Academies simply don’t know how they’re doing when it comes to the representation of women compared to their counterparts within the science-policy environment. So they’re unable to monitor their progress.

That’s why the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) and the InterAmerican Network of Academies of Sciences embarked on a study to collect baseline data about women’s representation in the membership and governance structures of national science academies. We chose academies affiliated with the academy international umbrella body, the InterAcademy Partnership. It represents more than 110 national academies of science in both the global North and South.

A common message emerged from our research: with one or two notable exceptions, women are massively underrepresented in national science academies compared to their male peers.

Women in the minority

The information was gathered through two separate but related online surveys during 2014 and 2015.

The InterAmerican Network of Academies of Sciences surveyed the partnership’s 19 national science academies in North America, Latin America and the Caribbean. The South African academy surveyed 84 academies in the other world regions: Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia, South Asia, South East Asia and the Pacific, Western and Northern Europe, South Eastern Europe and Central and Eastern Europe.

There was a response rate of 63%: 65 of the InterAcademy Partnership’s 103 national academics provided us with data. A full table of the data is available in this article published in the South African Journal of Science.

The Cuban Academy of Sciences (27%) and the Caribbean Academy of Sciences (26%) had the highest representation of women in their membership. A “member” was taken to mean any person elected into the academy. The national science academies of Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru, Uruguay, Honduras and Canada also featured on the list of the top 10 academies with the largest shares of women members – between 16% and 23%.

In Africa, meanwhile, women comprise on average 10% of academy members. Academy of Science of South Africa is the only academy on the continent that ranks among the top five organisations for women membership (24%). The Uganda National Academy of Sciences was second in Africa (13%), followed by the academies of Ghana and Cameroon (both 11%).

The average share of women members, across all 63 national science academies that responded, is 12%.

More women in governance

Interestingly, women fared better when it came to national science academies’ governing bodies. Here the average was 20%. In Africa, the Academy of Science of South Africa recorded the largest share of women in academy governance (31%).

It’s not clear why and at this stage we can only speculate about possible reasons. For instance, there could be a general recognition among academies that women need greater representation. A logical first step would be to include those already elected into the academy in the governing body. An equally plausible hypothesis is that women volunteer their time more readily.

The Academy of Science of South Africa arm of the survey also asked whether academies had either a committee to address gender or diversity issues, or at least someone to advise on them. The answer was “no” from 61% of academies. A third – typically academies with a larger share of women in their membership, specifically in North and Latin America – had a dedicated committee. The remaining 6% of academies relied on individuals’ input and guidance.

We would have liked to obtain more data. But we believe the number and spread of participating academies provide a good base for future surveys. Based on the data, we propose several recommendations for the InterAcademy Partnership and its affiliated academies.

Recommendations and unanswered questions

First, member academies should annually collect, analyse and report gender-disaggregated data. This should then be published in the partnership’s annual report. The document can then be used to discuss the gender dimensions of its membership activities. It’s also important for member academies to establish permanent organisational structures related to gender. These can provide strategic direction and implement the academy’s gender mainstreaming activities.

Several aspects of women’s representation in science weren’t explored in this study. How much of a role does unconscious bias play in academies’ election or selection as members? Are the criteria for membership limiting women’s chances? What about socio-cultural aspects? Many cultures have male and female work spheres, confine girls to less valued “women’s work” and underestimate women’s intellectual and technological capacities.

This bias can be replicated in the processes of nomination, evaluation and selection of women and men, for example, for research grants, fellowships, prizes, key aspects that contribute to building the scientific excellence that is associated with honorific recognition of an individual by an academy of science.

These are important questions and issues. Further qualitative research will help to engage the unsettling narrative which emerged from the data in our study.

The Conversation*Authors’ note: We would like to acknowledge the work of the Organisation for Women in Science for the Developing World, one of our partners on this project._

Dorothy Ngila, PhD Student, Stellenbosch University and Nelius Boshoff, Senior Lecturer in Science Studies, Stellenbosch University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Reblogged: Super-intelligence and eternal life: transhumanism’s faithful follow it blindly into a future for the elite

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Distant Earth.

Alexander Thomas, University of East London

The rapid development of so-called NBIC technologies – nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology and cognitive science – are giving rise to possibilities that have long been the domain of science fiction. Disease, ageing and even death are all human realities that these technologies seek to end.

They may enable us to enjoy greater “morphological freedom” – we could take on new forms through prosthetics or genetic engineering. Or advance our cognitive capacities. We could use brain-computer interfaces to link us to advanced artificial intelligence (AI).

Nanobots could roam our bloodstream to monitor our health and enhance our emotional propensities for joy, love or other emotions. Advances in one area often raise new possibilities in others, and this “convergence” may bring about radical changes to our world in the near-future.

“Transhumanism” is the idea that humans should transcend their current natural state and limitations through the use of technology – that we should embrace self-directed human evolution. If the history of technological progress can be seen as humankind’s attempt to tame nature to better serve its needs, transhumanism is the logical continuation: the revision of humankind’s nature to better serve its fantasies.

As David Pearce, a leading proponent of transhumanism and co-founder of Humanity+, says:

If we want to live in paradise, we will have to engineer it ourselves. If we want eternal life, then we’ll need to rewrite our bug-ridden genetic code and become god-like … only hi-tech solutions can ever eradicate suffering from the world. Compassion alone is not enough.

But there is a darker side to the naive faith that Pearce and other proponents have in transhumanism – one that is decidedly dystopian.

There is unlikely to be a clear moment when we emerge as transhuman. Rather technologies will become more intrusive and integrate seamlessly with the human body. Technology has long been thought of as an extension of the self. Many aspects of our social world, not least our financial systems, are already largely machine-based. There is much to learn from these evolving human/machine hybrid systems.

Yet the often Utopian language and expectations that surround and shape our understanding of these developments have been under-interrogated. The profound changes that lie ahead are often talked about in abstract ways, because evolutionary “advancements” are deemed so radical that they ignore the reality of current social conditions.

In this way, transhumanism becomes a kind of “techno-anthropocentrism”, in which transhumanists often underestimate the complexity of our relationship with technology. They see it as a controllable, malleable tool that, with the correct logic and scientific rigour, can be turned to any end. In fact, just as technological developments are dependent on and reflective of the environment in which they arise, they in turn feed back into the culture and create new dynamics – often imperceptibly.

Situating transhumanism, then, within the broader social, cultural, political, and economic contexts within which it emerges is vital to understanding how ethical it is.

Competitive environments

Max More and Natasha Vita-More, in their edited volume The Transhumanist Reader, claim the need in transhumanism “for inclusivity, plurality and continuous questioning of our knowledge”.

Yet these three principles are incompatible with developing transformative technologies within the prevailing system from which they are currently emerging: advanced capitalism.

Perpetual doper or evolutionary defunct?
Shutterstock

One problem is that a highly competitive social environment doesn’t lend itself to diverse ways of being. Instead it demands increasingly efficient behaviour. Take students, for example. If some have access to pills that allow them to achieve better results, can other students afford not to follow? This is already a quandary. Increasing numbers of students reportedly pop performance-enhancing pills. And if pills become more powerful, or if the enhancements involve genetic engineering or intrusive nanotechnology that offer even stronger competitive advantages, what then? Rejecting an advanced technological orthodoxy could potentially render someone socially and economically moribund (perhaps evolutionarily so), while everyone with access is effectively forced to participate to keep up.

Going beyond everyday limits is suggestive of some kind of liberation. However, here it is an imprisoning compulsion to act a certain way. We literally have to transcend in order to conform (and survive). The more extreme the transcendence, the more profound the decision to conform and the imperative to do so.

The systemic forces cajoling the individual into being “upgraded” to remain competitive also play out on a geo-political level. One area where technology R&D has the greatest transhumanist potential is defence. DARPA (the US defence department responsible for developing military technologies), which is attempting to create “metabolically dominant soldiers”, is a clear example of how vested interests of a particular social system could determine the development of radically powerful transformative technologies that have destructive rather than Utopian applications.

Designing super-soldiers.
Shutterstock

The rush to develop super-intelligent AI by globally competitive and mutually distrustful nation states could also become an arms race. In Radical Evolution, novelist Verner Vinge describes a scenario in which superhuman intelligence is the “ultimate weapon”. Ideally, mankind would proceed with the utmost care in developing such a powerful and transformative innovation.

There is quite rightly a huge amount of trepidation around the creation of super-intelligence and the emergence of “the singularity” – the idea that once AI reaches a certain level it will rapidly redesign itself, leading to an explosion of intelligence that will quickly surpass that of humans (something that will happen by 2029 according to futurist Ray Kurzweil). If the world takes the shape of whatever the most powerful AI is programmed (or reprograms itself) to desire, it even opens the possibility of evolution taking a turn for the entirely banal – could an AI destroy humankind from a desire to produce the most paperclips for example?

It’s also difficult to conceive of any aspect of humanity that could not be “improved” by being made more efficient at satisfying the demands of a competitive system. It is the system, then, that determines humanity’s evolution – without taking any view on what humans are or what they should be. One of the ways in which advanced capitalism proves extremely dynamic is in its ideology of moral and metaphysical neutrality. As philosopher Michael Sandel says: markets don’t wag fingers. In advanced capitalism, maximising one’s spending power maximises one’s ability to flourish – hence shopping could be said to be a primary moral imperative of the individual.

Philosopher Bob Doede rightly suggests it is this banal logic of the market that will dominate:

If biotech has rendered human nature entirely revisable, then it has no grain to direct or constrain our designs on it. And so whose designs will our successor post-human artefacts likely bear? I have little doubt that in our vastly consumerist, media-saturated capitalist economy, market forces will have their way. So – the commercial imperative would be the true architect of the future human.

System-led evolution.
Shutterstock

Whether the evolutionary process is determined by a super-intelligent AI or advanced capitalism, we may be compelled to conform to a perpetual transcendence that only makes us more efficient at activities demanded by the most powerful system. The end point is predictably an entirely nonhuman – though very efficient – technological entity derived from humanity that doesn’t necessarily serve a purpose that a modern-day human would value in any way. The ability to serve the system effectively will be the driving force. This is also true of natural evolution – technology is not a simple tool that allows us to engineer ourselves out of this conundrum. But transhumanism could amplify the speed and least desirable aspects of the process.

Information authoritarianism

For bioethicist Julian Savulescu, the main reason humans must be enhanced is for our species to survive. He says we face a Bermuda Triangle of extinction: radical technological power, liberal democracy and our moral nature. As a transhumanist, Savulescu extols technological progress, also deeming it inevitable and unstoppable. It is liberal democracy – and particularly our moral nature – that should alter.

The failings of humankind to deal with global problems are increasingly obvious. But Savulescu neglects to situate our moral failings within their wider cultural, political and economic context, instead believing that solutions lie within our biological make up.

Yet how would Savulescu’s morality-enhancing technologies be disseminated, prescribed and potentially enforced to address the moral failings they seek to “cure”? This would likely reside in the power structures that may well bear much of the responsibility for these failings in the first place. He’s also quickly drawn into revealing how relative and contestable the concept of “morality” is:

We will need to relax our commitment to maximum protection of privacy. We’re seeing an increase in the surveillance of individuals and that will be necessary if we are to avert the threats that those with antisocial personality disorder, fanaticism, represent through their access to radically enhanced technology.

Such surveillance allows corporations and governments to access and make use of extremely valuable information. In Who Owns the Future, internet pioneer Jaron Lanier explains:

Troves of dossiers on the private lives and inner beings of ordinary people, collected over digital networks, are packaged into a new private form of elite money … It is a new kind of security the rich trade in, and the value is naturally driven up. It becomes a giant-scale levee inaccessible to ordinary people.

Crucially, this levee is also invisible to most people. Its impacts extend beyond skewing the economic system towards elites to significantly altering the very conception of liberty, because the authority of power is both radically more effective and dispersed.

Foucault’s notion that we live in a panoptic society – one in which the sense of being perpetually watched instils discipline – is now stretched to the point where today’s incessant machinery has been called a “superpanopticon”. The knowledge and information that transhumanist technologies will tend to create could strengthen existing power structures that cement the inherent logic of the system in which the knowledge arises.

This is in part evident in the tendency of algorithms toward race and gender bias, which reflects our already existing social failings. Information technology tends to interpret the world in defined ways: it privileges information that is easily measurable, such as GDP, at the expense of unquantifiable information such as human happiness or well-being. As invasive technologies provide ever more granular data about us, this data may in a very real sense come to define the world – and intangible information may not maintain its rightful place in human affairs.

Systemic dehumanisation

Existing inequities will surely be magnified with the introduction of highly effective psycho-pharmaceuticals, genetic modification, super intelligence, brain-computer interfaces, nanotechnology, robotic prosthetics, and the possible development of life expansion. They are all fundamentally inegalitarian, based on a notion of limitlessness rather than a standard level of physical and mental well-being we’ve come to assume in healthcare. It’s not easy to conceive of a way in which these potentialities can be enjoyed by all.

Will they come along for the ride?
Shutterstock

Sociologist Saskia Sassen talks of the “new logics of expulsion”, that capture “the pathologies of today’s global capitalism”. The expelled include the more than 60,000 migrants who have lost their lives on fatal journeys in the past 20 years, and the victims of the racially skewed profile of the increasing prison population.

Grenfell Tower, London, 2017.
EPA/Will Oliver

In Britain, they include the 30,000 people whose deaths in 2015 were linked to health and social care cuts and the many who perished in the Grenfell Tower fire. Their deaths can be said to have resulted from systematic marginalisation.

Unprecedented acute concentration of wealth happens alongside these expulsions. Advanced economic and technical achievements enable this wealth and the expulsion of surplus groups. At the same time, Sassen writes, they create a kind of nebulous centrelessness as the locus of power:

The oppressed have often risen against their masters. But today the oppressed have mostly been expelled and survive a great distance from their oppressors … The “oppressor” is increasingly a complex system that combines persons, networks, and machines with no obvious centre.

Surplus populations removed from the productive aspects of the social world may rapidly increase in the near future as improvements in AI and robotics potentially result in significant automation unemployment. Large swaths of society may become productively and economically redundant. For historian Yuval Noah Harari “the most important question in 21st-century economics may well be: what should we do with all the superfluous people?”

We would be left with the scenario of a small elite that has an almost total concentration of wealth with access to the most powerfully transformative technologies in world history and a redundant mass of people, no longer suited to the evolutionary environment in which they find themselves and entirely dependent on the benevolence of that elite. The dehumanising treatment of today’s expelled groups shows that prevailing liberal values in developed countries don’t always extend to those who don’t share the same privilege, race, culture or religion.

In an era of radical technological power, the masses may even represent a significant security threat to the elite, which could be used to justify aggressive and authoritarian actions (perhaps enabled further by a culture of surveillance).

Life in the Hunger Games.
© Lionsgate

In their transhumanist tract, The Proactionary Imperative, Steve Fuller and Veronika Lipinska argue that we are obliged to pursue techno-scientific progress relentlessly, until we achieve our god-like destiny or infinite power – effectively to serve God by becoming God. They unabashedly reveal the incipient violence and destruction such Promethean aims would require: “replacing the natural with the artificial is so key to proactionary strategy … at least as a serious possibility if not a likelihood [it will lead to] the long-term environmental degradation of the Earth.”

The extent of suffering they would be willing to gamble in their cosmic casino is only fully evident when analysing what their project would mean for individual human beings:

A proactionary world would not merely tolerate risk-taking but outright encourage it, as people are provided with legal incentives to speculate with their bio-economic assets. Living riskily would amount to an entrepreneurship of the self … [proactionaries] seek large long-term benefits for survivors of a revolutionary regime that would permit many harms along the way.

Progress on overdrive will require sacrifices.

God-like elites.
Shutterstock

The economic fragility that humans may soon be faced with as a result of automation unemployment would likely prove extremely useful to proactionary goals. In a society where vast swaths of people are reliant on handouts for survival, market forces would determine that less social security means people will risk more for a lower reward, so “proactionaries would reinvent the welfare state as a vehicle for fostering securitised risk taking” while “the proactionary state would operate like a venture capitalist writ large”.

At the heart of this is the removal of basic rights for “Humanity 1.0”, Fuller’s term for modern, non-augmented human beings, replaced with duties towards the future augmented Humanity 2.0. Hence the very code of our being can and perhaps must be monetised: “personal autonomy should be seen as a politically licensed franchise whereby individuals understand their bodies as akin to plots of land in what might be called the ‘genetic commons’”.

The neoliberal preoccupation with privatisation would so extend to human beings. Indeed, the lifetime of debt that is the reality for most citizens in developed advanced capitalist nations, takes a further step when you are born into debt – simply by being alive “you are invested with capital on which a return is expected”.

Socially moribund masses may thus be forced to serve the technoscientific super-project of Humanity 2.0, which uses the ideology of market fundamentalism in its quest for perpetual progress and maximum productivity. The only significant difference is that the stated aim of godlike capabilities in Humanity 2.0 is overt, as opposed to the undefined end determined by the infinite “progress” of an ever more efficient market logic that we have now.

A new politics

Some transhumanists are beginning to understand that the most serious limitations to what humans can achieve are social and cultural – not technical. However, all too often their reframing of politics falls into the same trap as their techno-centric worldview. They commonly argue the new political poles are not left-right but techno-conservative or techno-progressive (and even techno-libertarian and techno-sceptic). Meanwhile Fuller and Lipinska argue that the new political poles will be up and down instead of left and right: those who want to dominate the skies and became all powerful, and those who want to preserve the Earth and its species-rich diversity. It is a false dichotomy. Preservation of the latter is likely to be necessary for any hope of achieving the former.

The ConversationTranshumanism and advanced capitalism are two processes which value “progress” and “efficiency” above everything else. The former as a means to power and the latter as a means to profit. Humans become vessels to serve these values. Transhuman possibilities urgently call for a politics with more clearly delineated and explicit humane values to provide a safer environment in which to foster these profound changes. Where we stand on questions of social justice and environmental sustainability has never been more important. Technology doesn’t allow us to escape these questions – it doesn’t permit political neutrality. The contrary is true. It determines that our politics have never been more important. Savulescu is right when he says radical technologies are coming. He is wrong in thinking they will fix our morality. They will reflect it.

Alexander Thomas, PhD Candidate, University of East London

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

British apartheid

While reading three of Nelson Mandela’s (auto)biographies, I noticed some similarities with how the UK treats (oppresses) a large group of its population. I was not sure what to think of it, and a bit hesitant, held back by not wishing to offend anyone who’s endured apartheid in South Africa, to dare compare the situations.

Now this turns up.

Apartheid in the UK is a reality (article in the Independent). Here is the link to the initial article in the Guardian.

Note the sharp contrast between the US and the UK. On paper, Britain and the US may have similar degrees of inequality, but in reality, very little is similar about it.

This appalling craziness has got to stop. We badly need more equality in the UK. Real equality.

As the main driver for this inequality appears to be the urge to accumulate more money by those who already have plenty, there have to be financial motives behind the UK’s inequality. So, is the UK deliberately – habitually – keeping a large group of people poor enough so that it has a buffer of powerless people it can milk and starve whenever the economy tanks, or what? (The answer to that is “yes”.)

There is money in these “poor doors”, a lot of money.

There is nothing wrong with money. The problem is the feudal thinking. The service charges argument is bullshit. That can be solved some other way.

Someone might consider sueing London over this. Its planning committee made this possible, and signed off on it.

(This is not the “pepperpotting” Ken Livingstone had in mind!)

A better step? Reverse the situation! Make the entire building affordable living on the condition that a few rich folks get to live in it as well.

Food bank row

This morning, the first news today’s papers informed me of was a row over food banks.

fruitApparently, someone – an aide to the current Secretary of State for Work and Pensions – threatened to have food banks shut down if they continued to raise awareness about their activities and about food poverty in the UK. This aide has the wrong idea.

Only a few years ago, in 2011, I noticed a major discrepancy in this area. The Trussell Trust – which runs the food banks in the UK – wasn’t accomplishing even 10% of what Dutch food banks were doing.

  • UK food banks handed out 40,000 parcels per year.
  • 900,000 per year were handed out by Dutch food banks.
  • The population of England & Wales on 27 March 2011 was 56,075,912. The population of Scotland on that day was 5,295,000.
  • On 1 January 2011, the population of the Netherlands was around 16,700,000 persons. That’s almost 45 million people less!

So, while British food banks were handing out 0.00065 parcel per person per year, Dutch food banks handed out 0.054 parcel per person per year. Or did my calculator trip me up badly?

cheeseAround 83 times more food parcels were being handed out in a tiny country with much greater equality and almost none of the appallingly deep poverty of the UK!

That is not the Trussell Trust’s fault.

While the number of food parcels handed out in the UK has gone up substantially since then, it still is nowhere near enough. The Trussell Trust gave emergency food to 913,138 people in the UK in 2013-2014. Presumably, that means ‘once’.

According to the Trussell Trust, 13,000,000 people in the UK live below the poverty threshold. (That’s what it also said three years ago.)

Addressing the UK’s persistent poverty problems would improve the lives of everyone here, not just the lives of the poor. When UK scientists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett investigated the impact of inequality on society, they had to conclude that a higher degree of equality would lead to overall improvements for everyone, not just for the so-called vulnerable.

Conquering poverty would also benefit the nation’s budget, as the estimated cost of child poverty alone in the UK is £25 billion per year in terms of costs to business, the police, courts and health and education services.

Inhabitants of the Netherlands rank among the happiest people on the planet, year after year after year. Dutch children consider themselves very happy children, regardless of their socioeconomic background. The same cannot be said for British children.

At the end of 2010, UNICEF research into child inequality in 24 developed countries showed that income poverty has the greatest impact on child inequality in the UK. The UK ranks alongside countries such as Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. There is little inequality in the Netherlands, however, and the lives of children from the richest families differ little from the lives of the poorest Dutch children.

UNICEF UK commented that addressing income poverty is the crucial factor. ‘David Bull, Executive Director UNICEF UK said:

‘We must not lose sight of the importance of family income to eradicating child poverty in this country. We must ensure that no family with children has to live on an income which cannot provide the warmth, shelter and food they need.’

We need to hand out many more food parcels. There is no shame in handing out food, and none in accepting it either. The embarrassment is in not handing it out.