Keynote and panel discussion at Deutsche Welle in Bonn

Brilliant experience in the last two days at Deutsche Welle (DW) at the FOME Symposium organized in Bonn on Rethinking media development – New actors, new technologies and new strategies. I gave my keynote on how the rise of the Next Billion users , low-income users in the global south coming online for the first time, is transforming the media sphere and how we need to center them in our imagination as we proceed to tackle the challenges on how to build a sustainable information ecosystem. Couple of take aways here for the field of journalism and media development when going global with these strategies:

1.  Let us not discount SMS and WhatsApp as the prime and often the sole media distribution outlet. WhatsApp and Facebook is the internet to the NBU market. We need to keep that in mind while we write content for the NBU market and how they will experience it on these devices

2. The internet is the poor person’s leisure economy – thereby, for getting them interested in the media content, speak to issues that interest them and not just about the usual topics on poverty – the poor are more than their economic status.

3. Governments are often the main advertising revenue source for media outlets and Development agencies have specific agendas which are rooted in classic development paradigms of poverty and needs based alleviation strategies. Media outlets due to these constraints tend to write the same kind of narratives and stories which thereby create a tremendous gap between what people want to read and what is written. This explains the rise of non formal media actors and influencers online. We need more than ever a diversity of stories beyond the usual stereotypes and cliches of the NBU

4. Journalists should build their brands as it gives them more freedom to express themselves and be a little more independent from their organizations; this also is a win-win for media outlets as they can safely distance themselves from these opinions and yet allow for their expression under the growing censorship regime

5. Fake news per se does not kill democracy as that would imply that information is a key instrument for decision-making. Not quite so as its more affective and people are willing to let a few lies go for the pursuit of a bigger truth (that they have been neglected by the state, media, etc. and its time they fight back and that the means does justify the ends); moreover membership to a group in this age of lonliness matters more so and thereby we need to build empathy of why people are attending to certain kinds of misinformation and reacting in particular ways and what are the broader reasons that is pushing this kind of disruption

Keynote at Digital Fortress Europe in Brussels

I delivered a keynote on ‘Amplified activism from afar” in addressing border-making through social media and how diasporas can be powerful forces to contend with in the shaping of national agendas, policies and even grassroots social movements.

This was for the ECREA organized event called “Digital Fortress Europe: Exploring Boundaries between Media, Migration and Technology” held in Brussels end October.

The two-day conference served as a forum to “reflect on the relations between media, migration, and technology. These relations demand our fullest attention because they touch on the essence of what migration means in societies that are undergoing democratic challenges. Research shows that media and technologies play a vital role for people who migrate, but that the same media and technologies serve to spread xenophobia, increase societal polarization and enable elaborate surveillance possibilities. With its intensifying anti-migration populist discourses, humanitarian border crises and efforts to secure borders through technological solutions, the European context provides a pulsating scene to examine such deepening relations. Taking place in the heart of Europe’s political capital, this conference aims to critically reflect on what the much-debated notion of “Fortress Europe” means in the digital age and how it can guide our future thinking on media and migration. As such, scholars of media, communication, migration and technology will be stimulated to contribute to critical discussions on border politics and migration debates.”

Got great questions on how we can track online social movements and the ethics of inserting ourselves as researchers into these highly sensitive content based forums online. Other questions were about elaborating on who gets representing in these diasporas (as they are not monolithic groups) and how they balance diversity within a group fighting for self-actualization with being united for a singular cause.

Overall, wonderful forum that brought together academics, policy makers and journalists and artists in search of how to best inform and enable freedoms across board.

Rockefeller Foundation Workshop on Responsible AI Futures

The Rockefeller Foundation has committed itself to shape the design and impact of Artificial Intelligence on Society with a series of workshops and vision documents. The first in its series – ‘Designing a Responsible AI Future’ just took place in Bellagio Italy on Oct 9-12 ,2019. I was invited to contribute to this effort alongside technologists, thought leaders, academics, and artists, although admittedly, while diverse in their disciplines and focus, were primarily from the Anglo-Saxon region. 

So the conversation was dominated by United States concerns and issues with an emphasis on decentralization of tech, and focus on the harmful effects of fintech, facial recognition, and other innovations as a means of building a responsible AI. While undoubtedly accountability matters very much so, from a global perspective, the opportunities of AI, and the importance of convergence of diverse platforms into these hyper-ecosystems emerge from the vantage point of scarce resources and thereby to push for efficiency and everyday governance, close relations between the private and the public sector as part of a larger development paradigm and most importantly, to leverage on the motivations of the users and their high enthusiasm for all things tech which is quite the opposite of the typical mindset nowadays among users in the global north.

Either way, was very informative in mapping these perspectives and understanding these overarching biases in policy and practice in the Global North, particularly among Europeans and Americans.

Keynote and Fireside chat on AI4Good at NEXT event Hamburg

The NEXT 19 at Hamburg – what an event! Beautifully curated with the right mix of humor, creativity, seriousness and playfulness – the kind of thoughtful event required for the public to engage with important and timely subjects It was a brilliant move to connect this festival with the Reeperbahn Festival which basically mixed the crowd of tech people, creative industry folks -media, design, advertising…

I had a blast doing my keynote on my book The Next Billion Users.  The audience really engaged and I am getting really into going back and forth with them during my talks these days. I always get the surprisely reactions of how come I am so optimistic in this time of the doom and gloom of social media killing democracy, our minds, our communities and more and of course, we have been here many times before. We fall in love and we fall out of love with tech – that which we love, we fear, we loathe and then it starts all over again. Like I said at the tail end of my talk – you cannot reform that which you do not love. We need to fall back in love with tech. Its like a marriage, not an affair. We are in for the long haul – for better and for worse. 

Also was cool to gather around for a fireside chat on AI for Good  with Lorena Jaume-Palasí, founder of The Ethical Tech Society, a non-profit organization researching processes of automation and digitization with regards to their social relevance and Astrid Maier, chief editor at Xing, who moderated this conversation.

To top it off, Hamburg is just such a cool city and I stayed in a water tower hotel which was a nice cherry on top. Cool crowd. Cool event.