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You are here: Home > Books blog > BookBlog20210522 Degrees of political freedom while transitioning toward a data centric society based on commons

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Published on 2021-05-22 12:00:00 | words: 4273

The title is quite long and "dense"- and, more than an article, would deserve one of my mini-books (or more).

And, actually, that is what is going to happen- eventually.

Hence, this short (for my standards) article is within the "book drafting" series.

I can easily say that this article is probably going to disappoint more than a few of my continuous readers.

First and foremost, those who saw previous drafts that have been "pending" for a couple of weeks- as this is missing most of the material that you saw there.

Then, some of the occasional readers and commentators- as this is going to share more hints and digressions that what, as I stated within the "incipit", will be within forthcoming books.

Anyway, there is one point that was in all the previous drafts, and that is contained also in this (short) article: it is about my future publishing activities.

If you want to read only what concerns the future publications, and not the logic associated with it, you can skip now to the part of the article after the long block in Italic.

If you read some of my posts online since 2007 (back then, on stage6.divx.com, posted with the "nom de plume" aleph123, that I reused also for a website and as author of a book), or even my e-zine (published 2003-2005 as part of my "return to Italy" plan, you know that my online publishing, beside commentary on current affairs based upon my past experiences (in business and other non-personal areas), has a couple of purposes.

Sharing my work-in-process drafting of books and preparation of new initiatives or project, is most certainly one.

And, after I "dropped" most of my network abroad after my decision to halt the above mentioned return to Italy (instead, decided to shift to Brussels), I had lost one element that in the past helped to develop new ideas: challenges and debates.

Incidentally: my "return to Italy" plan included actually merging my UK Ltd into an Italian company, so that they could have a UK base, and I could have resources focused on software development and service management that I had helped train and develop, but eventually I was just to help restructure and reposition, while anyway coaching some staff into future management both on the commercial and service management side, by working alongside with them, officially as "account manager and partner" (part-time: but if you are used to work and coordinate remotely, often what you do part-time seems to others to have a continuity that makes them assume that you are always there; it is just a matter of knowledge organization and time management).

Yes, I worked at least partially remotely since the late 1980s, also coordinating somebody else's activities (including people that I never met before and, in some cases, were to be only voices, never faces).

But my old network around Europe was based on mutual observation on activities, before either of us involved the other in their activities, or suggested that one of us get involved in somebody else's activities (or advise others to contact one of us).

Frankly, since 1990, I never really needed a CV or references- as on each mission I was called either by somebody I had worked with or for, or, viceversa, called to join me somebody I had worked with.

My old network had a characteristic: generally, I was a "bridge".

Corollary: almost never was called when things were running smooth- usually, there was something to fix and something to put back on track, before somebody else, cheaper and more "local", could be handed over continuation.

I promised that this article would be short- therefore, I will do one of my usual tricks: pulling from my online hat a post that I had shared elsewhere as a mere commentary on news or a shared link, and instead was just sitting around in my virtual filing system (the one between my earlobes), looking forward to a chance to say "and what about...".

In this case, it is a post on Facebook that I released on 2021-05-16.

For those who read the only book that I published in Italian (in 2014, it is available for free here- title: "Strumenti per la comunicazione e promozione di idee"), the themes hinted at within that Facebook post sound probably familiar.

As they do sound familiar to start-ups and others in Italy that I supported in the early 2000s, as it was actually an approach that designed and used since the late 1980s.

I will leave a "deeper" discussion on these items to a future new release of that book (this time, will be in English), but this current article is about a different book.

Maybe taking few steps back in time could be useful- a digression of sorts, that is useful, anyway, to understand what my forthcoming publications will focus on.

To make it easier to skip...

... I will mark this digression in Italic: just skim over, if you want.

In the early 1980s, before I started officially to work, I added to my hobbies electronics and physically intervening on home computers, beside selling them (and software or games to use with them).

Transmission of knowledge was the reason why I did study various subjects and techniques since I was a kid- including first archeology to understand past cultures, then how the brain worked, then cultural anthropology and related subjects, then computers (my first program was in Fortran IV on punched cards), and, in the early 1980s, also how to design languages and "destructure" written communication- BNF etc, all that became useful much later, in business.

At the same time, I was toying with active politics, in Italian French and, a bit, English (I studied in school only Italian Latin French).

And my English? Well, 20 hours in the first year of high school, as voluntary membership of an experiment to add a second language, with a teacher from Bristol (I think), and 10 hours in the second year (then, kept working by reading books); it was really in politics first, and then in business, that I had a chance to develop some language skills "on the ground".

But I was used to school experiments: in elementary school, my class was part of an experiment to teach "set theory" ("insiemistica") from an early age- useful, and probably what helped me to develop a "systemic" perspective: thinking about sets, and operations on sets, makes you think about the whole- and was also useful decades later, when I had to work with relational databases.

When I was about to complete high school, my real interest was to go into philosophy of language or theoretical physics or international political science/economy (what I had seen "on the ground" since I was 17, in Italy and a bit abroad).

But then, as the first was not available in Turin, and the others were really somebody at the time with dubious potential for employment if you were not connected, I decided to start Information Technology.

In Turin, at the time (1984), was a mix of at least three universities: mathematics, physics, and engineering- with a bit of a jumble of business subjects (e.g. operational research).

Then, in the Army had a chance to volunteer in various activities where I used much of the above- and learn new tricks-of-the-trade, from people and from books (yes, I know, never volunteer in the Army for anything- will be just an add-on to your duties, but I liked being given the opportunity to do something more than just count the number of days until my compulsory year was done).

My business career since 1986 has been mainly in software & people- actually, the former was mainly in software for businesspeople (Decision Support Systems, Management Reporting, Data Warehousing, Business Intelligence, etc), and the latter was both on IT and non-IT, even before officially first had my first customer on cultural and organizational change in 1990.

To make a long story short: eventually, I let something else take precedence over my academic studies: first my first job for the Italian unit of an American consulting company, and then of a French company- also because, in the university, I had some funny cases, such as when I was told that my solution was too original for two people out of hundreds to have proposed it, and, as I was attending only exams (was working), I could not be the one, and therefore must have been the one who copied, as proved by the professor's (wrong) map with seating positions...

...with a logic like that, eventually decided that I had better uses for my money.

Anyway, never ceased studying about those subjects (my favorite was computability, something that later was useful in my business number crunching roles), but dropped out- except for 1993-1996 when I was working on cultural and organizational change mainly for a customer, until 2012 I almost never was in Italy a whole week in the same time for more than a week.

In the early 1990s, while working for that customer on change, I had contacted the US DoD on "re-inventing the government" to ask access to material (software and plenty of reading material) that had been prepared for that initiative.

I still remember using for tests the TurboBPR software that was to be used to evaluate quantitatively options related to Business Process Reengineering activities (yes, I received a CD-ROM with material, called BPR-CD, and was within the mailing list for few years).

Again: something that was to be useful much later, including when I started working on business and marketing planning for new initiatives and start-ups.

Around that time, an American colleague asked me if I would be interested in joining Mensa and having an introduction to IEEE (an engineering association), considering my skill and other elements, after we had worked together few years.

At the time, my American colleague was puzzled when I said that actually I had been a member of Mensa since 1989.

Until I lived in UK, where it was more "normal", I never disclosed my membership- too many nuisances and smart asses around: I had enough of people who assumed that bringing in IQ tests at a social event to test you was more acceptable than asking you to test your vitals.

I know that some look forward to show repeatedly how smart they are, but, frankly, way too many end up being a "one trick pony", i.e. never take risks by trying to do something where they might risk failure, or innovate by success, and end up doing always more tests, or "roadshows" of that unique skill where they have already proved to be the best in the room more often than not.

But I was glad to accept the invitation for IEEE (opened up access to a wealth of knowledge, moreover continuously updated by those with in-depth, specialized knowledge), and became an associate, eventually a member- stopped on-and-off few times (as I did with Mensa), but overall was "in" between 1997 and 2018, when I stopped while reconsidering, in our hyperspecialized world, if should still stay as a member (incidentally: from 2016 until 2018 was also member of ISACA, originally an IT audit association, that is also the "custodian" of COBIT, selecting the Estonian chapter as, at the same time, from late 2015 was e-resident in Estonia: I wanted to have "first hand" news about compliance etc).

I still routinely follow webinars on various technologies and scientific advancements- and being a member of IEEE was also useful when I was living in Brussels, as I was routinely invited to meeting in Belgium and The Netherlands organized by IET and other engineering associations.

Actually, the company Philips more than once was the sponsor of events I attended- and I had a chance to see how some concepts blending technology and society and social choices were approached by different cultures, something that I had seen in the 1980s in politics as a kid in Europe, and, thanks to my girlfriend in Germany in the early 1990s (she was a Stadtplannerin in a small town in South-West Germany, not too far from Stuttgart), had had a "preview" of different concepts on interactions between society and technologies.

One my favorite anecdotes was that, until the "limitation" was removed, taxation on cars ended up to support only roads- so, small villages had huge roads- until it was allowed to be used for other purposes.

Another interesting element at the time (again- early 1990s: do you remember the 1980s "99 Luftballoons", the scare of "The Day After", and the Fall of the Berlin Wall, courtesy of Mr. Schabowsky?

Incidentally, here is the video of that famous press conference: a small question "ab sofort?", eight letters, can change the world...

Well, there was a bit of the initial "peace dividend" that most ignored- and I am not talking about the Treuhandanstalt.

Whenever I visited my girlfriend in Germany (the initial plan was to relocate to The Netherlands, and I had switched job, and halted my transition into another job as Financial Controller at the last minute, as the conditions changed and it would have been impossible to do what I had agreed both with her and the company), we went around by car.

I visited from the area around Stuttgart up to Köaut;ln, and one of the questions was: what to do with those towns within (or nearby) a town or village that were US military areas.

So, there too if was a matter of degrees of political freedom- as the Cold War was actually to turn into a transition.

As my friends in the Baltic States were to say half-jokingly few years down the road, when, after Latvia left the USSR, once they saw a long line of cars with lights on during the day travelling toward Latvia, and somebody wondered if the Russians had changed their mind, and were taking back the Baltics.

Then, they discovered that it was just a column of cars from Sweden, as they had discovered Latvian beer, it was cheap, and organized week-end travels...

The current transition, courtesy of COVID19, is actually much overdue, as also without Brexit there were increasing doubts about the ability of the European Union to "hold", considering its differentiation in e.g. welfare and development levels (not just income), as the European Union was based on a hope of inclusion, not on a "survival of the fittest" hyperliberal model.

Living and working in few countries, while being both non-technical and technical (both in IT and on various business domains), and keeping up-to-date on what I considered potentially relevant in my future activities reinforced my "looking systemically" attitude (see previous articles).

I will certainly write about the various "accelerated transitions" that we are about to witness, courtesy of EC and ECB as well as the EU Member States, and all of them are based on one element: data.

Now, data without technology to collect, transform, transmit, receive, integrate, use is just a pile of bits.

But when you transition from "burst" data transmission (i.e. as when physical tapes, cartridges, etc were used), to continuous transmission between known parties, to continuous transmission between parties that only happen to be in the same location, there is a further element that is needed to enable that transmission.

If you have few parties, they can define their own rules by agreement.

If you have many parties, but still with contractual engagements, you can shift to standards, and assume that most of all those involved have a shared interest in keeping the flow continue.

But if you have an unkwown number of parties exchanging data, standards are not enough- as there are other considerations to be added, and "sustainability" takes on a new dimension, as different components could be aligned to different "states" in time, e.g. different levels of technological evolution.

As a friend in Switzerland knows, that was actually my first critique when, after the Tsunami over a decade ago, suddenly there was a huge influx of funding to provide sensors to prevent the same consequences: you cannot simply take technology and deploy it, as shown already in the XX century by some "aid" in Africa that actually was aid for the suppliers from the "donors/lending" countries.

Technology requires also that the society using it has the human and social "infrastructure" (to say nothing about the physical infrastructure) needed to make good use of it.

We in the Western world take for granted a level of systemic integration that COVID19 showed to be "potential" even in our own countries.

Now, imagine when you have multiple actors with multiple levels of "preparedness".

Part of my updates in the past have been not just about "new trends in IT", but also on "new trends in business" (for the domains that I covered), as well as "new trends in society".

And the crossroads between the three: and this is one of the reasons why, routinely, if you were to look my attendance to workshops and webinars online since March 2020, you would see a wide variety of sources and subjects.

You can talk about introducing "integrated reporting" as part of the financial reporting requirements, but that implies having a series of "channels" to collect, process, convey data that in most companies still lack the integration that is nowadays considered "routine" in e.g. invoicing.

In 2014 published a book about what happens when employees start bringing their own personal devices (smartphones, tablets, etc) during their working day, and, furthermore, when companies leverage on that by enabling the transition of corporate information on personal devices- the title was The business side of BYOD: cultural and organizational impacts.

Beside other books on various issues related to data and society that were to follow, up to early 2021 (latest book published, so far), in 2018 published another book, looking at the European Union GDPR from a similar perspective, and the title was, of course, The business side of GDPR: cultural and organizational impacts.

Since the beginning of the COVID19 crisis, beside updating on my usual subjects, decided that, as anyway was probably going to be stuck for a while, it was the right time to do what I had postponed for few years, i.e. updating my hands-on skills on AI from the 1980s-1990s, that at least since the early 2010s had not touched (albeit in late 2017 started procuring material and studying in preparation of activities that I was supposed to do from 2018, and then had to postpone due to budget constraints).

No, I do not plan to become an "expert", just to be in the top 20% in terms of knowledge, so that I can take on roles as "bridge" between experts- as I did with other domains.

The difference is that, in the past, sometimes that "top 20%" was mission-based, i.e. after the end of the mission I did not need to keep that level of skills (albeit on many subjects "kept in touch" to see at least trends), while, in our data-centric society to be, the sheer volume of sources, actors, methods of interaction, and resulting volume of data will probably require to "embed" part of that "specialist" knowledge into everyday business and social reality.

In the end, it is akin, as I wrote few times, to writing: centuries ago, receiving a formal education for the well-off implied to be able to read and talk about subjects- writing was a "technical skill".

Well, the delay from the initially planned 2018 was a blessing in disguise, as in 2020 the quantity and quality of resources available for free online was staggering, if compared with what I had in the 1980s and 1990s (zilch), or even in the late 2000s (when a data package was in megabytes, not in gigabytes or unmetered, as it is now).

Moreover, even in 2018 online computational resources for AI were still expensive, while now you can have access to free software and free (virtual) hardware, as well as free (introductory) courses.

Then, it is up to you to develop...

In my case, as I wrote above (but it is worth repeating), the concept, as with any "technology" (both IT and non-IT), is to continue on my role as "bridge" is always the same: learn enough to understand the mindset, should you need to be a "bridge between two worlds" (it happened often).

And, in any case, this routinely involved doing "test projects"- not just exercises, or case studies, but picking up a real issue that I wanted to approach using whatever new paradigm I had observed, analyzed, studied, and design, build, and deliver (or use) a "product", be it a service, a concept, an idea, or, more often than not, any of the previous ones plus some software components (or, at least, concepts).

When I had my old rate of 1600 EUR / 1000 GBP / 8h (reduced about 30% for partners), my own salary was anyway much, much lower that many expected- as I "dumped" into my own activities (including continuous "research")- but, in the 1990s and 2000s, it was still expensive just to keep up-to-date, as it implied travels, seminars, workshops, etc.

Nowadays the key resource is time (and a connection), and also hardware is few orders of magnitude cheaper than it was just a decade ago, for somebody "testing" ideas.

Back then, skipping a long line of intermediaries, each one adding a mark-up, was next to impossible, unless you had already channels that you could trust.

Nowadays, as for the "update" and "learning" element, it is a matter of will (and a modicum of abilities).

In 2019 and 2020 already released a couple of books that partially covered some of the themes that are within the title of this article.

But in 2022 plan to release other books that I had put on hold since 2018, pending some further research.

Since late 2020, I added to the AI update also the Edge side (i.e. computing as close as possible to where the data are created and "move around"), using both material that I had procured in 2017, and some additional material.

A contact yesterday forwarded me an invitation for a webinar related to Edge but with a robotic bent.

For the time being, my interest is limited to extended the AI and Edge elements with... business and social integration.

As discussed above, since I started working officially in 1986 we shifted approach.

We moved from data exchanged using mainly rules defined by consensus between a limited number of parties (or even imposed by a leading party), to standards (wherever I turn, there is a new micro-standard), to the current Wild West of "data exchanges at the Edge".

Each round actually reduced the "degrees of political freedom".

You can write a new law- but if e.g. smartphones are a virtual duopoly Android-IoS, how much freedom do you really have, when your law is constrained by your own jurisdiction boundaries?

The case study of GDPR is interesting, as it is actually being integrated de facto also by jurisdictions that were not involved in its definition (or its evolution).

And this is the last element: what are or should be "commons", in a "data-centric society"?

For now, I will leave you with these few questions.

Incidentally: as since late 2019 started to release, along with articles, "data artifacts" (from datasets to webapps to Jupyter Notebook that allow to reuse, extend, replicate data and analyses), from late 2021 will start releasing something else- always experiments, but I hope that, being, as always "a bridge" between different domains, my experiments might inspire others more focused on specific domains to expand, integrating something that, being focused, they had not considered, but could actually generate new solutions that only their own "domain focus", contaminated by these new elements, could generate.

Stay tuned- I will write more in the future, even before I will publish the above mentioned books.