Paying to be

I listened yesterday to an interesting episode of Melog, the radio programme hosted by Gianluca Nicoletti on Radio24.

You can find the podcast here (in Italian)

The episode focused on the meaning and implications of Meta‘s decision to charge a monthly fee for the blue badge on Facebook and Instagram. Meta has followed a similar announcement made by Elon Musk for Twitter.

Nicoletti’s program features in-studio guests and calls from listeners. The guest of yesterday’s episode was Paolo Benanti, a Franciscan father who researches neuroethics, technology ethics, artificial intelligence and who is a lecturer at the Pontifical Gregorian University

I was struck by one of the points they made: their description of the evolution of social media during the last 30 years.

First, the decade from 2000 to 2010 which started with the Y2K millennium bug and ended with the Arab Spring. Those ten years, they have carried the promise that the power of new digital spaces could reduce inequalities and bring democracy across the world.

Second, the decade between 2010 and 2021 started with the public offering of Facebook and ended with Capitol Hill and January 6th 2021. Facebook gets into the stock exchange and transforms itself from an open digital space for connecting with others and building a new form of social capital into a corporation able to make an immense amount of money thanks to an algorithm that has slowly closed us into filter bubbles and echo chambers. The decade ended with the assault on Capitol Hill and social media inundated and transformed by fake news, conspiracy theories, hatred and the collapse of social trust.

The third decade has just started. The algorithm that monitors and guides our preferences is still there, but we now have a new possibility: to pay for a blue badge and the privilege to be part of a particular group of people. There will be social media and internet that, if we pay, will be safe and protected and the internet and social media for everyone else.

We have come full circle. The inequality social media promised to break at the beginning of the century is now built into them with a monthly fee and resembles the inequality in the society. Paying for the blue badge will give status—the sense of belonging to a privileged social group. We have those who can afford the badge (a few) and those who cannot (the majority). Those paying will be paying to be.

Fascinating episode. Definitely worth listening if you can understand Italian.

Five development questions to ChatGPT

I listened before the Christmas break to an episode of One and Tooze, which had a segment about AI and the latest release by OpenAI‘s ChatGPT. This is the bot launched by OpenAI, which had more than a million users within a week of its release.

Open AI explains that “ChatGPT is a language model trained to produce text. ChatGPT was optimized for dialogue by using Reinforcement Learning with Human Feedback (RLHF) – a method that uses human demonstrations to guide the model toward desired behavior.” They also add: “These models were trained on vast amounts of data from the internet written by humans, including conversations, so the responses it provides may sound human-like. It is important to keep in mind that this is a direct result of the system’s design (i.e. maximizing the similarity between outputs and the dataset the models were trained on) and that such outputs may be inaccurate, untruthful, and otherwise misleading at times.”

OpneAI warns that “ChatGPT is not connected to the internet, and it can occasionally produce incorrect answers. It has limited knowledge of the world and events after 2021 and may also occasionally produce harmful instructions or biased content. We’d recommend checking whether responses from the model are accurate or not. If you find an answer is incorrect, please provide that feedback by using the “Thumbs Down” button.”

I wanted to test it by asking five questions related to my research and works in development and you can read the Q&A below. I also asked ChatGPT to write me the starting paragraph for a blog about ChatGPT. Are is the answer it gave me:

Welcome to our blog about ChatGPT, a powerful language processing tool developed by OpenAI. ChatGPT is a variant of the GPT-3 model, which has been trained on a massive dataset of internet texts and can generate human-like text in a variety of languages. In this blog, we will delve into the capabilities and potential applications of ChatGPT, as well as examine some of the ethical considerations surrounding its use. Whether you are a developer looking to build chatbots or a language enthusiast looking to learn more about natural language processing, this blog has something for you.”

Here is the Q&A

Q1 – Give me a definition of a complex system

ChatGPT – A complex system is a system that is made up of many interconnected parts that work together in complex and unpredictable ways. These systems are often found in natural systems, such as the human body or the ecosystem, but can also be man-made, such as a computer network or a social organization. Complex systems are difficult to understand and predict because of the many factors that can influence their behavior.

Q2 – Define political economy analysis

ChatGPT – Political economy analysis is the study of the interaction between political and economic factors. It seeks to understand how political institutions, policies, and decisions affect the economy and vice versa. Political economy analysis often focuses on the ways in which power and influence are distributed within a society and how these dynamics affect economic decision-making and outcomes. This approach can be used to study a wide range of issues, including economic development, trade policy, and the distribution of wealth and income.

Q3 -Define a portfolio approach for social system shift

ChatGPT A portfolio approach to social system shift is a strategy that involves pursuing multiple, diverse, and complementary interventions simultaneously in order to bring about significant and lasting change in a social system. The idea is to create a balanced and diverse “portfolio” of interventions that can address different aspects of the problem and increase the likelihood of success. This approach recognizes that social systems are complex and dynamic, and that a one-size-fits-all solution is unlikely to be effective. Instead, it seeks to identify a range of interventions that can work together to bring about the desired change.

Q4 – What is adaptive development in international aid and cooperation

ChatGPT – Adaptive development in international aid and cooperation is a approach to development that emphasizes the need for flexibility and adaptability in the design and implementation of development programs. The idea is that development programs should be designed in a way that allows them to adapt to changing circumstances and to the needs of the communities they are intended to benefit. This approach recognizes that the complex and dynamic nature of development means that it is difficult to predict exactly what will work in any given situation, and that development programs must be able to adapt and evolve over time in order to be effective. As such, adaptive development often involves a focus on learning and evaluation, and on building the capacity of local communities and organizations to plan, implement, and adapt development programs.

Q5 – Define developmental evaluation

ChatGPT – Developmental evaluation is an approach to evaluation that is used to assess the effectiveness of complex, innovative, and adaptive programs and initiatives. This approach is often used in the context of development programs, where the goals and outcomes are difficult to predict and measure, and where the program is expected to evolve and adapt over time. Developmental evaluation focuses on supporting the ongoing learning and adaptation of the program, rather than simply assessing its success or failure. It typically involves a close collaboration between the evaluator and the program team, and a focus on generating and using real-time feedback to inform program design and implementation. This approach is often used in conjunction with other forms of evaluation, such as formative and summative evaluation, to provide a more complete picture of the program’s effectiveness.

The answers are pretty good. They could be helpful prompts for writing a blog, refreshing my memory about specific definitions, and as inputs to a paper. 

While playing with it, I thought about how it could help my development research and consulting work. It is a knowledgeable assistant that can quickly provide answers and suggestions. I can use it when working on context analysis or political economy analysis. For example, I could ask ChatGPT to provide me with a summary of the political and historical development of a country. I could ask about the main barriers to scaling poverty reduction initiatives in a region or a specific nation. I could ask it to summarise the factors that have, for example, reduced the adoption of digital technology in education.

These can be prompts or suggestions for more focused analysis and collecting primary and secondary data. It is similar to a preliminary scan of a vast library of online documents and helps focus the research on some specific political economy insights.

ChatGPT will not provide literature and references to the text it produces. Instead, it may give the name of a researcher or an author. Therefore, the answers may read as general at times. 

It is an assistant, a very knowledgeable assistant that we should not be afraid of. Instead, we should learn to work with it by recognising what it can do for us and what it cannot and acknowledging that we work with it.

It can help improve how we explore, research, and analyse contexts and social development problems in search of answers to help reduce poverty in the world. 

Let me know what you think.

You can listen/read more about ChatGPT on The New York Times podcasts:

Did Artificial Intelligence Just Get Too Smart?

Can ChatGPT Make This Podcast?

And in The Guardian:

What is AI chatbot phenomenon ChatGPT and could it replace humans?

AI bot ChatGPT stuns academics with essay-writing skills and usability

The ChatGPT bot is causing panic now – but it’ll soon be as mundane a tool as Excel

Photo credit: DeepMind on Unsplash

Remote learning does not work for all: devastating drop in learning outcomes in the U.S. following the Covid pandemic

The pandemic and lockdown have hit hard the education system in the U.S.

As reported by the New York Times, in the U.S., students in most states and across almost all demographic groups have experienced troubling setbacks in both math and reading, according to the first nationwide test results since the pandemic released last month and called the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

Test results in math and readings show that the scores by 4th and 8th graders across all 50 states have plummeted to levels not seen in 20 years.

You can listen to the analysis in this episode of The Daily podcast.

Remote learning during the pandemic does not seem to have worked in the U.S. Why is that?

Social and economic inequality has been a key factor in determining whether remote learning worked or not.

To me, it shows that teaching and learning are interlinked with elements of a wider system of social and economic interactions.

Improved learning orucomes can contribute to shaping the social and economic factors that shape the systems, but, more often that not, these factors impact the learning by students.

The fact that remote learning in an advance economy such as the U.S did not work for the majority of students is surprising because of the resources that have been provided by the government to support its education system. It shows that financial resources alone are not sufficient to sustain remote learning and hybrid teaching approaches.

It shows, in my opinion, that is necessary to look at a range of interlinked factors that shape and influence remote learning, including innovation, digital technology, capabilities, economic inequality, budget allocations, regulatory reforms, etc.

This is where, as we argued in this paper, a systems analysis of education can help.

Photo credit: PMChe Lee on Unsplash

A systems approach to systems restoration

A great article in The Guardian about the biggest river restoration project in Europe which is “on the way to being one of the most beautiful nature areas in Europe.”.

This is taking place in Southern Netherlands on the Meuse River.  reading the article, it struck me, how systems and interrelationships si key elements and outcomes of this project which involves a number of interventions (including natural interventions and rewilding) along the river all of which is resulting in the regeneration of the whole ecosystem in and around the river.

Restored, the Meuse River

“Construction work has already been completed along 50km of the Meuse River floodplain as part of the Border Meuse project to undo 500 years of world-renowned Dutch water engineering. Big infrastructure is at the heart of the Dutch “offensive” – as opposed to “defensive” – approach to sorting out rivers, which involves relandscaping entire catchments, rather than rewetting specific at-risk areas. This approach is particularly revolutionary given that the seed for this project was planted decades ago. By contrast, the UK has only started thinking about implementing natural solutions at scale in the past few years.

“Driving the length of the restored river – which runs from Maastricht to Roosteren – is like being in a time capsule. Some of the older sections of the project, further upstream, are already thronging with life. Borgharen, an area which has been farmed since at least Roman times, was one of the first sites to be let go. Dozens of sand martens are speeding into the cliff by the river to feed their chicks; there are blackcaps, stonechats, skylarks and swallows in the sky.”

“The river shape-shifts as it winds through the landscape. It is home to otters and beavers, and wolves – which are successfully spreading through the Netherlands – are believed to be watching the valley and could move in. Free-roaming animals such as galloway cows and konik horses (whose carcasses are sold as wild meat) graze along the banks. It is a reminder that nature isn’t picky – it will move into an old construction site and quickly transform it into something beautiful. People are free to walk the length of the river along a tangle of footpaths.”

Read the full article here