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Eastern Cape ICT Summit

Very encouraging words were heard at the EC ICT Summit in Port Elizabeth (Nelson Mandela Bay) this morning from the Hon. Noxolo Kiviet, the province's Premier. Her prime rationale for why the EC government and Premier's Office is so interested in ICT development in this province, is that, "ICT's can mediate the relationship between citizen and state." Technology can "braoden the presence of state" for people especially in rural areas.

This is the enlightened stance that can bridge divides in our province between the impoverished rural areas and the highly developed sectors in cities and rurality. Ms. Kiviet called for an information driven approach to land reform, something that must surely happen as racial lines still distort the reality of the people populating this land.

Ms. Kiviet also told me that she has thrice in the last month been at schools in the Elliotdale area, near where our solar schools project has been realised and is running, and that her interests are aligned with the truly broad base. I believe that Ms. Kiviet will continue the kinds of broad based policies that we have seen from her female predecessor, Nosimo Balindlela. This bodes very well for our province.

Siyabulela!
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: August 17th 2010 09:12

How Complex is the Net?

Craig Calhoun's response to Manuel Castells' trilogy The Information Age, brings up an important topic and one which comes to my mind often, namely that of the human experience of infinity, and a related concept, namely complexity. Similarly to Baudrillard, Calhoun questions whether we can track complexity in, e.g., global power relations or finance markets simply using personal experience. He points out that the tools made available to us by analysis etc. are in contrast to personal experience and are or may be required for a deeper understanding of globalisation.

I use the word complexity in the above, whereas Calhoun just intimates it. The complexity I refer to is counter-intuitive and not accessible to ready reasoning by laypersons. So to most of the planet's inhabitants the discussion is in fact incomprehensible and they react in wonderment at developments around them and in the news about politics etc.

The relationship between these two concepts is mathematically founded. Complexity arises in real world networks when networks along several related dimensions are considered. Trying to understand such interrelatedness by simple brute force enumeration (simply counting individual pairs of relationships) in diverse networks as biological, political, social, etc. generates massive numbers. These numbers, although they can be made to dwarf such physical amounts as the number of atoms presumed to exist in the entire universe simply by increasing the number of networks involved in the analysis, still do not come close to infinity. In fact, one can prove that even as one uses this enumeration to "count up toward infinity" (something one cannot really do - hence the inverted commas), one is still just as far from ones goal as when one started. This is a typical counter-intuitive result that one experiences when dealing formally and logically with infinity, and one which cannot be derived from experience. Friends of mine, who say that they have experienced infinity in cosmic appreciation of some natural feature miss the point. That is that there can be no experience as such of infinity, unless it is mediated by the paradoxes formally demonstrated by mathematics, such as Hilbert's paradox of the Grand Hotel (how to get your room in a full hotel). Also in some of the proofs that demonstrate clearly the difference in types of infinity, one of the most elegant enlightening is Cantor's diagonal argument, fantastic and ably explained here (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cantor%27s_diagonal_argument). Humans cannot experience infinity, we can only experience mediocre amounts of information. We live in a very thin sandwich of reality which while appearing vast to us is very much finite. We are for instance not aware of the infinity of a continuous wave of a single note, our senses cannot perceive it. It is only through imagination and extrapolation that we can appreciate the very very large and the very very small. For instance, we can couple the sound of the note and the expression of that note as a line on an oscillograph, and a mathematical construct, the sine curve in order to get into the very very small. However, our extrapolations and imagination are still bound to our reality and they cannot possibly fathom experience (in a deep human sense) the paradoxes of infinity.

To come back to the discussion on understanding the complex systems that we have built up today, we can pose the question: are these finite or infinite systems? Any network theoretician will tell you, that a snapshot of the system is finite, no mater how many transactions at how many nodes on the graph, or how many arcs there are connecting these nodes. However, where the system does become infinite is in its dynamic nature over time. The arcs on the graph may namely be weighted with shifting weights at any point in time, and the graph can be seen as "multi-dimensional" as various nodes participate in several separate whose topology varies over time. Thus our analytical tools and experience cannot form a complete picture of the processes going on. We can only map portions of the processes in the Net in terms of snapshots or consider dynamic process in terms of reduced dimensionality and the tools we use are not founded in our experience, they are mathematical. The snapshots are thus immediately inaccurate as the network is constantly changing, also the process models are a priori inaccurate (like weather forecasts) -- we are able thus to postulate a "Net Uncertainty Principle" (a la Heisenberg), which states that the analysis of a single transaction won't tell us about the flows in the Net and an analysis of the flows will necessarily abstract which transactions took place. To make matters worse, there are large amounts of transactions about which it is extremely hard to get information. These transactions relate to "sensitive issues", such as weapons or drug transactions. These transactions only work if they are made in secret. Current regulations and the Net architecture allow this anonymity and secrecy.

In conclusion, we are dependent on formal methods to understand our world and to deepen our experience of it, but to make truly informed decisions and to make truly informed statements that can guide our nations and policies, we need to go beyond mere experience to analysis and then back again. This is one of the beautiful things about Manuel Castells' The Information Age trilogy. It is grounded strongly in his experience, but coupled with reviews of formal analyses and proofs. Further, the giddying high-level perspectives still hold today and strongly inform how the world has developed and also why Barack Obama's advances have been so slow. Castells manages to integrate formal ideals and analysis with experience to build new experience and thus to raise ones level of interaction with the world. Thus, in this instance, we come a step closer to experiencing the infinite within our networked world, but mathematically speaking our experience and analyses still leave us infinitely far from it.

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: December 25th 2010 04:40

ITU-R - Harmonising the World's Vibrations

I recently attended an ITU-R feedback meeting on the World Radiotelecommunications Conference of 2007 (WRC-07). The WRC is where all the wireless regulators get together and bash out a consensual position for world wireless and satellite usage of spectra and satellite orbitals (so they don't crash) for 4 weeks.

It seems a little strange: An organisation that sets its agenda 6 years in advance, that requires its final agenda to be ratified 2 years in advance of the ratifying meting, must surely be a dinosaur in the these times. Everyone in the Internet industry and other hi-tech branches seems to be intoxicated by the dizzying speed with which developments are occuring.

Add to that a conservative seemingly bureaucratic heart of the ITU, the motto being something like "waste not, want not" as regards radio frequencies, is a questionable thing. People want free radiowaves. Technology allows an ever finer slicing of the airwaves - is this just not enforcing the monopolies and what about deregulating worldwide that is going on in the local-loops.

So, what possible use can such a body have, one might ask?

Quite simply there are some critical aspects of radiotelecommunication, like emergency bands that need to be kept clear of "harmful interference". Also regulations that affect international disaster relief are becoming a priority in the ITU-R. It also regulates things like satellite orbits and is a forum for countries and industries to make known their intentions as far as radiotelecommunication is concerned.

The ITU organisational model is sound, it brings nations together and works on voluntary consensus. While that means, that it has very few means to enforce regulations or to act as adjudicator in feuds between mismatched rivals such as Cuba and the USA. It is a lot like it's cousin - the UN - in that respect.

Also as a virtual organisation it sees itself critically and is in the process of reviewing what regulations are going to be needed in future as most technologies converge to IP.

About the ITU-R: http://www.itu.int/ITU-R

The sibling organisation the ITU-D is on the other hand much more interesting to eKhaya ICT and our venture... but it's good to get to know the whole family!
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: October 3rd 2008 09:37

Participation in Local Government through ICT

I am currently working on a study into the Potential to Utilize Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) to Promote Inclusion, Public Participation and Accountability in Local Governance in South Africa.

Dear Reader, please take this survey:

Attitude:
  • What has your municipality done for you today? (Are you aware of the things your municipality is doing for you?)
  • Do you know the name of your ward councillor? (YES/ NO)
  • Does your municipality respond to your queries (written or telephonic), if you have any? (YES/NO)
Planning:
  • If you could easily find out what your municipality is planning for the next 5 years, would you bother to read the documentation? (YES/NO)
  • Would you be more likely to read the plan, if your neighbourhood has its own section in the plan? (YES/NO)
  • Would you be more likely to read a summary of say 5 pages? Or 1 page? (YES/NO)
Governance:
  • Would you like to be mayor for a day? (YES/NO)
  • Do you think that you can help your municipality function better? (YES/NO)
  • Would you like to be able to send SMS to your councillor and actually get a response? (YES/NO)
  • If you use Twitter, would you follow your municipality? (YES/NO)

Your local government needs you, please respond.

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: February 17th 2011 07:14

President Zuma on ICT for Africa at the AU

In a very telegraphic style, Jacob Zuma pointed out that ICT's are a potential vehicle toward unlocking the potential of Africa and bringing its countries together for our mutual benefit.

The following are all really truisms in any netizens mind, however they are not generally accepted, so to hear this from Zuma is quite a thing:
  • Technology is shaping the future of the world, challenging geographical boundaries and revolutionising economic, social and political activity.

  • Information technology has the capacity to improve living standards for millions of people on the continent.

  • At the same time, it has the potential to reverse existing inequality and marginalisation. For Africa, information and communication technology is not simply about science.

  • Nor should it merely be viewed as another economic sector, like agriculture or mining.
Zuma is a populist - he has his fingers on the pulse of what the people want. In this speech, he has clearly been influenced by the younger set and is projecting a forward thinking South Africa as a guiding light for the continent. This really makes it clear that the people love technology and communicating. (E.g. the favourite feature of awareNet so far is the chat function.) This does represent a shift of power on the continent as hierarchies are replaced by networks. And markets. Control of the media is not as effective, when people are allowed to communicate p2p / f2f in a free manner.

Every metre of fibre laid, strengthens and extends the rope-ladder which is going to hoist the African people out of impoverishment.
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: March 20th 2010 06:08






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