Automating Government, Global Economics and Democracy

I recently completed a course in Machine Learning from coursera.org offered by Stanford University with Andrew Ng as the professor. The course covers many aspects of machine learning, its purposes, including pattern recognition, data compression, and others,  various mathematical models including linear and logistic regression and neural networks, and the actual programming required for modeling, testing and validation. It has been a long time since I programmed anything very substantial so I was very happy to learn that the higher level languages that are now commonly in use handle matrix math like a breeze allowing for the development of very sophisticated neural networks with relatively few lines of code. Not very long before that, I took another course from coursera.org on Global Macro Economics. The diversity of the courses that I study is not simply due to curiosity.

After having observed how people handle the economies of the world and watching the results in terms of happiness, economic well-being, distribution of wealth and many other factors, it is clear that people are doing a mediocre job at best of governing. When you think about it, the reasons for this are not very surprising. When we elect representatives to our provincial governments, the Canadian Parliament, or in the US to the US to Congress, the Senate or the Presidency, we hope that these representatives have some idea of how to run a country. The reality is that most are from various walks of life and many of the higher level representatives have law backgrounds. They know very little of economic, environmental or psychological studies on what impacts the relative well being and most could certainly not be considered experts. No doubt their political life is an education unto itself, but what they learn is not necessarily based on any reality that impacts the masses. More likely their education is based on political influences.  So why on earth would we expect a very positive outcome of a mediocre democratic system?  Even the diversity of viewpoints which could be theoretically expected from a diverse group of people is generally stifled by party leadership.

As we are moving towards a world where artificial intelligence (AI) is utilized in everything from accurate medical diagnostics to ever safer and eventually self driving vehicles, where sensors are becoming ubiquitous in society and measures of everything are being taken, doesn’t it make sense to automate some of the functions of government? While I am not suggesting that we do away with any government, if we were to simply set the parameters of where we want society to go, and the many variables  that shift the course of economics and society, perhaps we can also create machine learning algorithms that can steer the economy more successfully than our governments have.

If climate can be modeled with some degree of accuracy and auto-driving cars can successfully navigate the complexity of safe driving on busy roads, the analysis of “Big Data” pertaining to government functions, political decision making and economics is surely not very far out of the grasp of current computer analysis and machine learning algorithms.

As an individual who understands the potential in Machine Learning and the basics of Global Macro Economics, I recognize the potential for growth in these combined fields of endeavor. Projects like the “Brain” project and other AI initiatives will undoubtedly improve the tools, the methods and the capacities of our AI engines. As we apply these ever more powerful tools to an ever more complex world model that is becoming increasingly difficult for our political systems and representatives to manage, perhaps we can find some new and interesting answers to questions such as: how do we eliminate the extremes of poverty, increase global happiness and develop better health care and educational systems and policies. And how do we do that while ensuring sustainability with a low ecological footprint? Undoubtedly, if we had the capacity to evaluate all of our historical data from the perspective of sequence of events, we would discover new relationships between initiatives and outcomes that might help us to steer the future course more effectively.

Like every other use of AI, such an application would need to be structured in bits and pieces at first, taking on the evaluation of specific areas of governance. Eventually, however, with access to far more information and measures than any one person can possibly make sense of, AI systems would be able to manage certain government functions more effectively than our elected representatives and would be able to respond to global shifts more effectively and safely.

As a relative novice in both the fields of AI and Global Economics, I would love to hear the comments of those who have more experience and expertise in each of these fields. A collaboration of government, scientific, health and economic experts would be a welcome start to such an initiative. For those who may already be aware of existing initiatives, I would love to hear from you, so please contact me at my e-mail: garth.schmalenberg@gmail.com

Garth

 

 

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Happy Planet Index

The Happy Planet Index, unlike other forms of measuring of the health of a country, measures the relative happiness of the people in that country irrespective of most other measures that countries are normally subject to such as GDP, trade  surpluses or infrastructural considerations. We might ask then why the list is topped by Costa Rica and Vietnam.  The Happy Planet Index is calculated as follows:

Experienced happiness is measured by a poll of people in each country, Life expectancy is from the UN Development Report and Ecological footprint is from the WWF.

When the people of Costa Rica were polled, they were actually found to be quite happy in comparison with most other countries. They were not the highest by any means. Vietnam, on the other hand, came somewhat further down the list than countries like the US and Canada in terms of how they ranked purely based on happiness. So why did they rank second on the global Happy Planet Index?

The author of the index includes one other major factor in the rating, specifically, the index includes the resource usage of the country, which in theory should give a measure of the sustainability of that nation based on the fact that it uses few resources and will therefore be able to sustain its level of happiness over a longer period. Based on these two factors combined, Vietnam did well because its’ current level of resource usage is very low on a per capita basis.

There are obviously factors that the HPI does not take into account which might make this index incorrect. For example, countries like Vietnam, in their effort to achieve greater “success” for the people, are tending towards an open market economy. While not necessarily a bad thing, it also means that the ecological footprint of today is most likely not the footprint of tomorrow. In China, as an example, a more open economy has meant that  it generates more wealth overall, at the same time importing pollution from and exporting resources to more wealthy countries such as Canada and the US where the absolute level of happiness as citizen polls indicate, are higher than in China and Vietnam. This is precisely because we benefit from their footprint increase while at the same time decreasing our own footprint. Unfortunately, this can’t be adjusted by a mathematical re-allocation of footprint, because the impacts are real. So while Vietnam’s happiness polls are likely to go higher with increased wealth, it’s ecological footprint is likely to soar, thus lowering it’s happy Planet Index.

What is the answer to this dilemma? Thankfully, the government of Vietnam has some awareness of its need to grow sustainably. It’s Ministry of Environment asks the right questions and, at least on the surface, it is striving to manage this process of growth and sustainability.  Provided that the government is able to manage the corruption found in the political realm and enforce strict standards to significantly limit environmental impacts, it may have a chance of maintaining it’s good standing on the index. But there are pressures on the Vietnamese government as with any other country. People do not want to be poor and they do not want to be only partly happy. Businesses, likewise, want to take advantage of available resources. Even major projects in other countries may impact Vietnam’s well-being. For example, water flowing through China supports much of Vietnam’s river economy. As water is stressed by a growing industrial base, so too will be Vietnam’s environment . The increasing demand for light metals such as aluminum for automotive and many other applications have resulted in mining operations which threaten to strip the rich bauxite resources from Vietnam primarily for export while leaving behind lakes polluted with Red Mud and coffee crops poisoned with heavy metals downstream. A growing number of coal fired power plants from their vast reserves of coal will provide power for the millions of people and the growing industrial base while turning the coal into  CO2 which impacts climate and airborne pollution similar to that which has so severely impacted the cities of China. While there will be jobs created for some Vietnamese, like China and every other newly industrialized country, they will begin to suffer the impact of automation. While theoretically having the potential to benefit the people by reducing costs and increasing availability of many goods, it may also leave the country stripped of resources, while  significantly curtailing job creation, destroying some industries such as localized agriculture which provides many people with a meager but reliable income, and leaving the people possibly even worse off than they were before. Ensuring that industrial benefits and wealth are fairly and wisely distributed will be one of the greatest challenges.

The Happy Planet Index is a good start. It is a measure which tells us where we are and gives hints at where we need to be heading. On the other hand, it is not an exact measure and it is not a recipe for success. For that, we need to look deeper at the political, business, agricultural, familial, social, spiritual and other systems that contribute to our well-being.  As much as I would like to have faith that people will do the right things to make a better life for the vast majority, the evidence in most countries suggest that we are prepared to sacrifice future happiness for current desires. This appears to be even more true for those who have most benefited from the wealth and those in positions of power who are willing to exploit all resources to benefit themselves with very little regard to the impact they are having on others. Let us hope that the majority learn from our mistakes and strip the power from the most egregious offenders.

A read of the World Happiness Report is extremely enlightening. The report outlines the sources of happiness and discounts the view that wealth and happiness necessarily go hand in hand. It also measures happiness differently than the happy planet index, relying on methods defined by the Gross National Happiness index developed in Bhutan which puts Denmark at the top and yet it identifies some of the same policy related issues. The Bhutan index identifies four major pillars for happiness.

1. Equitable and equal socio-economic development
2. Preservation and promotion of cultural and spiritual heritage
3. Conservation of environment and
4. Good governance which are interwoven, complementary, and consistent.

While we can never guarantee the benefits of any national policy, politician or political system, it is certainly worth having a closer look at those countries which top the happy planet index as well as the World Happiness Report index, especially those that have  happy people and a more sustainable lifestyle to see what they are doing right. It the case of Vietnam, voting for your government representatives is impossible unless you are involved with government. Those of us who live in democracies should never be fooled into believing what our government representatives want to tell us unless there is hard evidence. Before you vote, if you truly want a happier society and a happier life, read these reports and study these indexes and allow them to inform your thinking before voting. We will all be better off if our governments and government representatives take us in more humane and gentle directions.

Keep happy,

Garth Schmalenberg

 

 

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A New Tagline for my Blog: The world according to Garth

This blog is an evolution in thought. Originally, my goal was to use the blog for sharing expertise that might lead to business. it was called OrganizationalUnity.com, at the time and my primary focus in writing was to look at ways to change how businesses operate and how they might gain operational efficiencies by improving the way they work, particularly from a human perspective. Having had a lot of business and coaching experience, I knew that businesses experienced a lot of internal turmoil and that competition between leaders of different divisions could be destructive and I was aware of this phenomenon also existing within the public sector. I was convinced that there was a better way and decided to write some articles on how organizations might change their cultures and I put together some program and coaching material to help bring about changes.

Over time, I was becoming more and more aware of the severity of the climate situation and the issues and opportunities related to creating more sustainable businesses which might also contribute to environmental sustainability. At that point the name of the blog changed to SustainabilityCulture.com. I wrote articles about how businesses might benefit from taking more sustainable approaches. But I didn’t just do it off the cuff, I studied, took courses, read about the issues, interviewed people who were deeply involved in creating awareness of the need for sustainability and wrote articles about them as well.

As I wrote, I discovered some of the many challenges to creating a sustainable world and while focusing on business messages, started drifting more towards political, economic and cultural nuances that slow our collective progress towards a more sustainable world. So my articles changed yet again, although I felt the focus was still more business oriented than anything else. As I traveled in different continents, I began to become more aware of the social challenges faced by their people. My travels included Uganda, where I spent 6 months as part of an internship for my MA in Human Security and Peacebuilding, Chile, Vietnam, India, Kuwait, Bahrain and Curacao. My focus continued to shift. Not that I am any less aware of the environmental issues, but rather that creating a sustainable world requires much broader and deeper thinking than focusing on the environment alone. It was during this period that I began to write on other topics, many of which have very little to do with business or the environment, other than the fact that businesses have the financial power to influence political and economic outcomes. So for example, when I look at issues related to peace, it cannot be done without contemplating the relationship of political decisions to the economy, small arms and the military industrial complex. Peace is also impacted by employment, salaries and automation, which are all impacted by business decisions. The continuing growth in the fields of technology, additive manufacturing, communications, nanotech and artificial intelligence among others also contribute a great deal to our future outlook.

After much contemplation, I decided that at very least I could create a better tag-line. I recognize that most of what I am saying is generally relevant and reasonably well researched. But it also contains opinion that is designed to encourage contemplation of different view points. I generally endeavor to see situations from more than one view point but I’m also not afraid to put a different spin on any situation that is current in the world based on my experience and study. » Continue reading “A New Tagline for my Blog: The world according to Garth”

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Creating Sustainable Peace and the Canadian Reaction to ISIL and terror in Canada

A recent article (Ottawa Attacks: Terrorists’ not who we think) in Canadian International Council’s website outlines that we may need to re-think our response to “terror” in Canada.Their article provides excellent insight into the situation at home and alludes to something we must also consider with regard to our overseas response.

Most of the press coverage of the war against ISIL portrays all of the members of ISIL as killers and rapists, even the coverage provided by ISIL themselves. This is how the “terror” tactic works. It causes instability and fear amongst the populous and creates doubt in any existing government’s ability to provide protection. Undoubtedly, there are some within the ranks of ISIL who are the leaders and showmen, who do whatever is necessary to strike fear into the people they encounter and who effectively duplicate their message to make us believe we should fear all of them. If we were to actually learn about the members of ISIL, we would likely find that the mayhem is led by a few individuals who use the US and Canadian bombing as a justification to prove the righteousness of their actions.

Let us remember that during WWW II, many Germans supported the ideology that was promoted by Hitler, not because they actually agreed with his methods or master goals, but because of some of the ideas that they felt would make their lives better. In addition, they were being fed propaganda about their enemy that justified actions they might not have taken otherwise. As individuals within a populous which they believed to be generally supportive of Hitler, they would not want to be seen as non-supporters for fear of loosing their status or their lives. While supportive of their leaders, certainly not all were as radical as the leadership and given the opportunity many would likely have stopped the fighting much sooner or chosen a different approach if they could see another path to the lesser goal of economic prosperity for the vast majority.

The same is likely true with ISIL. While many of their adherents may support the concept of a “new caliphate” and agree with their right to freely choose their religious and political path, it is also likely that most of the adherents do not rape or kill in the way that it has been portrayed in the media. Very likely the vast majority are the foot soldiers of a rebellion. Many of these foot soldiers, while supporting their rebellion, likely do not participate in the atrocities or in worst case do so to show their devotion to the cause when in the presence of radical leadership or others who they fear may turn them in for not supporting the movement. Such was the case for the Germans as well. The book “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined” by Steven Pinker, outlines many psychological experiments that demonstrate how normal people react more violently when surrounded by others who they suspect support a violent cause. » Continue reading “Creating Sustainable Peace and the Canadian Reaction to ISIL and terror in Canada”

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A new vision of Prosperity and Business for our future.

In this post, I’ll cover:

  • What makes us prosperous?
  • What makes us happy?
  • How our vision and worldview influences our happiness, our prosperity and our businesses

What makes us prosperous?

On the surface, personal prosperity comes in the form of income, money, investment equity and personal assets. But when you really think about it, prosperity isn’t a physical thing. It’s a feeling of gratitude. When we feel thankful, we also feel richer.

So for example, if I have a Lexus and I’m thankful for it, I might feel prosperous. But if I lack gratitude when I realize that it’s a 20 year old car, that feeling of prosperity rapidly dissipates. Or supposing that my colleague has a more expensive BMW that I’d rather have or that someone has the same car but a bigger fancier house that I am envious of. Without gratitude, at very best, this kind of prosperity is relative to your surroundings.

» Continue reading “A new vision of Prosperity and Business for our future.”

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The Case of the Missing Development: Chapter 3 : “Where has all the money gone? Long time passing”

I had left off in the last chapter (“North to Gulu”) having described some of the challenges leading to the missing development in Uganda. But to be fair, development is not really missing, there’s just not enough going on to offset all of the challenges. Many NGOs are working towards solutions and, as mentioned earlier, most are staffed with local people who know the culture and who have the capability to help solve the problems. In addition, most of the credit has to go to the people themselves, who struggle day to day to fix their problems, to get back to living a normal life, to rebuild their homes, re-establish their farms, re-start their education, find jobs and make their lives a little easier. These are, for the most part, hard working people who are open to being assisted, not people who are addicted to being assisted.  The challenge for them is that without the tools and facilities that we take for granted, life is naturally difficult. But to find solutions, it was necessary to dig deeper into the challenges.

In this chapter, I’ll look at a few of these challenges in depth.

  • Impact of Disease
  • Education Systems
  • Where has all the money gone? 
  • Who are the perpetrators in this case?

The answers may surprise you…

  » Continue reading “The Case of the Missing Development: Chapter 3 : “Where has all the money gone? Long time passing””

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North to Gulu: The Mystery Deepens

This is the second in my series about my trip to Uganda. As in my first post in The Case of the Missing Development, I had many questions to answer about factors that were contributing to a lack of development. Many of my answers would come during my journey to Gulu. (if you haven’t read that post, go there first for context).

First, for any first time travelers to Gulu, if you don’t have your own vehicle or private transportation, your best bet is to take the postal bus north from Kampala. The postal bus is well maintained and safety is considered. If you have trouble mixing with the local people or if you are shy, you may find this your best bet since more ex-patriots travel on the postal bus. As for me, I enjoyed the trip north, but quickly learned to love being with the Ugandan friends and after my first trip on the postal bus, I began venturing out to the other bus lines on which I generally found myself alone as the only foreigner. It was great.

The Ugandan people are extremely friendly. One smile, a friendly hello and I always found myself in deep conversations. It was on the way up to Gulu for the first time that I met Joyce, a woman who worked for the church in Gulu and who later introduced me to Patrick, a young man who had extra room in his (rented) house and with whom I found not only a place to stay, but who became like a younger brother to me. Patrick, I later learned was one of the many children who was abducted by the LRA and ended up spending 8 years serving, first as a soldier at the age of 13 and then after being shot in the leg, he served in the LRA medical camp. I still keep in touch with him on skype and facebook. This was an opportunity to learn first hand about the war and about child soldiers.

Topics for today? First, reconciliation after the war, second, some of my thoughts on the economy and corruption… Read More » Continue reading “North to Gulu: The Mystery Deepens”

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The Mystery of Africa: The Case of the Missing Development

As a follow up to my internship for an MA in Human Security and Peacebuilding, I contemplated writing my final report, not as a thesis, but in the form of a mystery story, looking at how development had been stolen from the people of Uganda (and indeed other parts of the world) and examining the issue of Development and Aid Effectiveness.

Background to the Case

Billions have been poured into development and aid over the past 50 or more years since colonial Africa gained its independence. Despite the vast amounts of effort, the thousands of organizations and the maturing culture of development work as reflected most recently in the OECD’s Paris Declaration of 2005, the Open Forum’s Istanbul Principles on CSO Development Effectiveness, and the more recent joint meeting in Busan 2011 during which the OECD recognized the Open Forum’s efforts, the gap between rich and poor persists and the health, education and well being in many parts of the continent remain in a dismal state. Development, for many, has gone missing! People are suffering and dying as a result.

Who are the victims of the crime, who are the suspects and who are the perpetrators?

First, can we say it is a crime? Here I can only pose another question: If it is true that many people live on precious little, that children sometimes go malnourished, that many die from curable diseases, that government sponsored health care in many villages is almost imperceptible, that most children go without adequate education, that girls are mutilated (FGM) for “cultural” reasons, that HIV is rampant, that women are beaten or abandoned by their husbands without recourse to justice or compensation, that roads are near impassible and rarely fixed, that huge amounts of government and donor money end up in the hands of the certain elected officials who act with impunity, that police fail to act in many cases unless they get paid by the victims (or in some cases perpetrators), that government representatives become the prime examples of corruption, would you say there’s a crime going on? And can I be fair in making all these statements? I’ll examine most of these issues in future chapters. You be the judge.

In more practical terms, it is a question: Why are so many Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), government agencies, intergovernmental agencies and other organizations focused on Development and Aid Effectiveness and yet making relatively little lasting progress. Or is that really true at all? Why do the challenges of development seem so intractable? Are they?

What will it take to create sustainable solutions which reflect the needs of all the people of the world?

Not satisfied with just learning about the case, I wanted to live it, indeed, as a good detective, to solve it! Really?

Can a white guy from North America who had never been to Africa, in the space of a 6 month internship, find the solution(s) to a problem that millions, many of whom are much more clever, have failed to solve in 50 or more years? Doubtful.

So what can be realistically achieved? In my role as a participant, amateur detective, researcher and activist, I could at least learn some of what other people have learned through experience and research and then do my own research, add my own experiences and come up with my own theories. Add to that I could propose a few new concepts, share of a few ideas and, perhaps, take a few substantive actions. What is also clear is that this story is not the basis of my Academic report because it is far to broad in its scope.

My Journey Begins

In my attempts to investigate “The Case of the Missing Development”, I spent 6 months in Uganda from May to November 2012. Recently having returned to Ontario, I’m experiencing a little culture shock and a little temperature shock. But my enthusiasm for untangling the case hasn’t waned.

While I have found many answers, it can also be said that, each answer comes with a new question. While unraveling some aspects of the case, others become more perplexing.

Read on to investigate with me and share your comments ….

» Continue reading “The Mystery of Africa: The Case of the Missing Development”

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Debt relief of Africa and Impoverished Nations

After studying more about the issues of debt in many impoverished nations, the question that kept coming to mind was,

Where is all the wealth?

A healthy world would undoubtedly have sufficient resources to feed every person, to provide health care and to give each individual a decent living. But success continues to elude the global community.

The situation of poverty in many countries is deplorable. Expecting impoverished countries to get themselves out of poverty is unreasonable because the impoverished are trapped in a causal loop. Poverty removes the possiblity of adequate education, health care and proper nutrition for billions. Each of these factors reduces the probability that children of the next generation will have incomes sufficient to allow them to pay taxes. WIthout taxes, the governments are unable to pay back billions in loans that have accumulated over the years. While they strive to provide security and a minimal form of governance, they are saddled with crippling  interest payments on loans of prior generations.

How should wealth be re-distributed?

» Continue reading “Debt relief of Africa and Impoverished Nations”

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Trickle Down Economics doesn’t work. Let’s shake it up with the Salad Dressing Theory of Economics (Take 4)

After even more thinking about how to address issues of social in-equality, I updated the original article.  So here is the updated version (Take 4, 6 Feb 2013).

Trickle Down Economics isn’t working the way it was intended and never did.

What’s really happening is more like the separation of Oil and Vinegar. The more you let an economy stagnate, the more the wealth floats to the top like Oil and ends up in the hand of the rich with less in the hands of the poor. But having all the oil on top makes terrible salad dressing. Separation continues until someone creatively does something about it.

There are two scenarios that we are seeing playing out (and a third scenario that could make a difference):
1) The poor can shake up the economy or,
2) The rich can shake up the economy or,
3) (The government can shake the economy)

» Continue reading “Trickle Down Economics doesn’t work. Let’s shake it up with the Salad Dressing Theory of Economics (Take 4)”

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