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Showing posts from 2019

Rockefeller Foundation Workshop on Responsible AI Futures

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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 …

Keynote and Fireside chat on AI4Good at NEXT event Hamburg

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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 …

Keynote alongside the legendary Jimmy Wales

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Click on the highlights of the Techfestival in Copenhagen on 7-9 September and you will see me positioned next to Jimmy Wales, the legendary founder of Wikipedia. This is such a big highlight of my career. It is such an honor to be situated alongside a person of this caliber - I continue to be in awe of how he managed to resist commercializing Wikipedia and continuing to keep it up as one of the top most loved sites around the world.

The Techfestival itself was an amazing event with a spectrum of fantastic people and even more amazingly, many with backgrounds in the humanities -literature, philosophy, the arts in general. Their backgrounds explain why this event brought sustained good conversations, thoughtful reflections and creative ideas to the fore which was not tech centric but society centric, about what it means to be meaningful, democratic, social, happy, and connected with one another - basically putting the human over tech in this conversation. I appreciated that very much …

My East Asia book tour

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The last two weeks have been thrilling! With my book being translated into Chinese, I got on the road to speak about the "The Next Billion Users"  with academics, development and tech practitioners, activists, and the lay public in Singapore, Macau, Hong Kong and Taipei. The news of the typhoons in China and Taiwan and the ongoing protests in Hong Kong did make me wonder how this would play out, adding a streak of adventure to this whole journey. But not only did everything run smoothly, but people across board were so extraordinarily kind, hospitable and generous with their time and attention that I am determined this is just my beginning with this region.

The book talks started at the launch of the Innovation lab in Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore. The workshop aptly called "Interrogating Innovation"  brought together speakers from across disciplines and countries and shed light on the obsession with innovation, the implicit normative meanings…

Brainstorming at the AI & Democracy CIFAR Workshop at Microsoft Research Montreal

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I was invited to participate in the 'AI Powered Information Ecosystems & Democracy' workshop held at the Microsoft Research Lab in Montreal and sponsored by CIFAR

The premise of this workshop was to engage a "diverse groups of researchers from academia and industry with practitioners and civil society representatives, to encourage collaborations between those involved in the research and development of computations tools with those with focused expertise in policy, journalism, civil rights, and democratic values."

The basis of this workshop was to outline all the opportunities and challenges that AI-powered information ecosystems (like social media, search engines, or content-sharing platforms) have brought upon in recent years and in particular to the strengthening of our democratic institutions around the world.

It was an intense workshop where we worked in core groups on topics such as communities, elections, misinformation, and regulation and when in there,…

Talking to Tech: Keynote at EMERCE Next in Amsterdam

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Wonderful experience speaking as one of the few academics in a room full of young tech entrepreneurs at the EMERCE Next event in Amsterdam. I gave a talk based on my new book 'The Next Billion Users' published by Harvard Press earlier this year. I spoke about the myths that aid agencies and tech industries perpetuate about these new user groups based on their biased understandings of them and rooted in little empirical evidence. Worse yet, even in the face of vast evidence that contradicts these worldviews, this thinking still persists so I hope I was able to disrupt a little bit these conventional approaches. I got questions on Article 13 on copyright policies under the new GDPR which indeed is so far from the world of media piracy in developing countries. I emphasized how we need to look also at why these policies are barely enforced based on historical and unfair media business models in the global south. Other questions grappled with the ways the "West" and the …

Motivational Speaker for Gemeente Amsterdam Diversity Program

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I cannot emphasize enough how much I love Amsterdam. It really feels like home for me and that's saying a lot given that I have moved so much since I was a teenager. From India to the United States (San Francisco, New York and Boston), I finally came to the Netherlands about a decade ago. So, was really happy to get an invite from the Gemeente Amsterdam (the Amsterdam municipality) to give a motivational talk for a program they have initiated a few years ago to improve diversity and support those less represented in positions of power.

Of course, usually I associate the municipality with paying my taxes and water bills and all the tedium of city governance. Had to block that Pavlovian training temporarily as I went about participating and speaking about my life story to this wonderful group of young mentees and mentors of this diversity program.

This mentoring program is in partnership with a wonderful organization called ECHO which is an expert organization on diversity policy. I…

The Economist coverage of my Next Billion Users book

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I have been a loyal subscriber of The Economist for more than a decade. I first got introduced to it during my Masters program in International Policy at Harvard University where everyone pretty much cited it to make their argument. I am well aware of their neo-liberal bias but am always appreciative of their strong voice, international perspective, and innovative lens to very different and often hidden trends in the current societies. 
So, of course I was absolutely thrilled to see an article grounded in my new book 'The Next Billion Users" with Harvard Press titled, How the pursuit of leisure drives internet use.
Some of their quotes from the article are as follows. 
"According to Payal Arora, a professor at Erasmus University in Rotterdam, the internet is the leisure economy of the world’s poor. Until recently, talk of connectivity in the poor world has almost invariably been clothed in the pragmatic and well-meaning language of development. Aid agencies, internation…

Keynote for the Digital Inclusion Policy Conference in London

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What a wonderful and diverse audience for this keynote for the Digital Inclusion Policy conference held in London by the University of Liverpool. It emerged from some very critical and timely questions such as - What type of skills do people need to ‘be digital’? Do different people from different ages and abilities need different types of skills and training? And how can we foresee what skills will be needed for future work? The conference brought together researchers, civic activists, government think-tanks, policy practitioners, tech entrepreneurs and more from very different contexts and countries which made these conversations more challenging and rewarding. 
My keynote was about Inclusion with the emergence of the Next Billion Users and what that means for equity and justice at a global level in this data-driven age. 
The basis of my talk was as follows:
The mobile phone has been a global game-changer. There are more cellphones than people in China. India is the biggest market …

6 marathon presentations at the ICA-Washington

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It was one of my busiest times I have had at the International Communication Association, the largest annual gathering of communication and media scholars. This year it was held in Washington DC. I presented a diverse set of papers at the main and pre-conference and also landed up having a pre-launch for the new University of California Press journal Global Perspectives where I will serve as the Section Editor for the media and communication section.

It kick-started with me speaking alongside a wonderful panel of speakers - Frank Pasquale and Thomas Poell on 'The Moral order of Datafied Publics' at the Justice and Order in the Datafied Society Pre-conference.  My talk was drawn from the recently published paper with First Monday on Benign Dataveillance? Examining novel data-driven governance systems in India and China. Additionally, did some intellectual judo with Joseph Turow as we clearly had different perspectives on how we viewed the datafication systems in developing cou…

Speaker on Datafication and healthcare at the Royal Tropical Institute

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Looks like May is blowing up on me. Getting intense but fascinating to be moving among very diverse circles from tech activists in Berlin to mobile healthcare ministries and healthcare donors. My book The Next Billion Users is definitely pushing me into many different worlds all grappling with similar questions on fairness, tradeoffs, privacy futures, user aspirations, cultural differentiation and data regulation to name a few.

So on May 9th I spoke at the Future of Health Coverage conference in Amsterdam. This is an event organized in partnership with the Financial Times, Joep Lange Institute, and the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs. These organizations have been some of the ones who started to focus on the importance of financial innovation and the role of mobile technology in improving health systems in developing countries well before it became mainstream through mhealth initiatives and mobile apps.

Some questions explored together were How can we allow those in need to ‘p…

Talk at the iconic Volksbühne theatre on AI for the common good

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On May 6th, I will be heading to Berlin to help launch the School of Disobedience initiative and fittingly it will be at Berlin's most iconic theatre - Volksbühne, home to art and activism in Germany for over a century. The event will feature a conversation with Lorena Jaume-Palasí , the founder of The Ethical Tech Society, a non-profit focused on the social impact of technology and Advisory Council member of AI for the Spanish government. 

We will be speaking about AI for the common good. I will be giving a talk before hand on the Next Billion Users, drawing from my new book on how this population will push us to rethink what constitutes as "good" practice in AI futures. Currently, artificial intelligence delivers lots of material for projections about the future of societies. It seems to disrupt our concept of space, time and borders. Predominant is the view that AI will become or even is already a tool to create dystopias of oppression. However, this is only the view o…

Keynote at the BRESTOLON symposium network

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Was nice to head back to ZEMKI Bremen where I did my fellowship last year to give a keynote talk on The Next Billion Users book with Harvard Press. This was for the BRESTOLON network which is an interesting formation of academic networks to sustain mentorship across diverse academic cultures and countries. The quality of questions and engagement was wonderful and am thrilled that one can accomplish such a network - a rare feat today! Basically, Brestolon is a research network collaboration between members of the Media and Communications Departments of Södertörn University(Stockholm, Sweden); Bremen University (Bremen, Germany); London School of Economics (London, UK), and Goldsmiths, University of London(London, UK) and Catholic University of Portugal (Lisbon, Portugal). The network was launched in 2013 with a grant by the Swedish Foundation for International Cooperation in Reserach and Education (STINT). Since then, it has gathered annually at the member universities in Stockholm (tw…

Book launch at Athenaeum bookstore in Amsterdam

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Seems like these days I am having a lot of "first" moments. My first studio talk with BBC, which will be broadcast in the next few weeks and then my first talk at a book store. Had my book launch at the Athenaeum bookstore  in Amsterdam. Was such an interesting experience. Completely casual and intimate. A load of chairs and comfy couches clustered tightly together so you could have a real conversation with people. The audience was eclectic from retired people, tech entrepreneurs, media agencies, students, academics, and just folk interested in the topic. The format was smart - Tina Harris, an anthropologist from University of Amsterdam engaged me in a conversation before we opened it up for questions. Nicely done overall. What better way to officially launch my book than to do it in such a lovely setting in my favorite city that I call home now!

New paper on Data-Based Governance out in First Monday

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Hallam Stevens from Nanjang Technological University and I co-edited a Special Issue in First Monday, one of the first Open Access journals on the internet. The theme of this issue is "Data-driven models of governance across borders: Datafication from the local to the global."

In essence, this special issue looks closely at contemporary data systems in diverse global contexts and through this set of papers, highlights the struggles we face as we negotiate efficiency and innovation with universal human rights and social inclusion. The studies presented in these essays are situated in diverse models of policy-making, governance, and/or activism across borders. Attention to big data governance in western contexts has tended to highlight how data increases state and corporate surveillance of citizens, affecting rights to privacy. By moving beyond Euro-American borders — to places such as Africa, India, China, and Singapore — we show here how data regimes are motivated and unders…

First Book Reviews out with Times Higher Ed & E&T magazine

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Am thrilled to read these positive reviews of my new book "The Next Billion Users: Digital Life beyond the West" with Harvard University Press.  It is particularly wonderful to see one of the reviews emanate from the well read Times Higher Ed. 
I am also glad to see the Engineering and Tech magazine take this book up (as well as Tech Crunch a few weeks ago), which signals to me that the tech industry has a growing interest in broadening their worldviews beyond the technical aspects to that which is ethical, cultural and may I even dare to say, philosophical. I really am looking forward to future engagements with engineers, programmers and other stakeholders at the forefront of shaping our digital platforms.
Times Higher Education “This powerful book explores actual online lives in China, India and Brazil and asks why many of us in the West are surprised and sometimes offended by the fact that the impoverished are just as committed as we are to the search for “moments of plea…

Podcast with Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC)

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The podcast interview with Nora Young from Spark Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) is now out. You can listen to it by clicking here.
As the number of people who are connected to the internet around the world grows, the 'next billion' users are likely to be in the developing world, young, with low incomes, and accessing the internet on mobile devices. Payal Arora (Damjan Svarc) In her new book, The Next Billion Users: Digital Life Beyond the West, digital anthropologist Payal Aroralooked at the way young users actually use the internet in a number of developing-world countries, from Brazil to Saudi Arabia. She argues that we in the West have a lot of preconceptions about how those users do — or 'ought to' — behave online. Arora spoke with Spark host Nora Young. The core of your book is that there's a belief in the west that people in the developing world are using the internet for research, education, to find work, practical things. Overall, what did you find …

Book talk at the 10th anniversary of Nantes Institute for Advanced Studies

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It was an honor to give my book talk at the special occasion of celebrating the 10th Anniversary of the Nantes Institute for Advanced Studies.  The overriding theme was to "Think the world differently."

It was a large gathering and nice mix of their past and current Fellows spanning 10 years, private sector companies and media persons brought together to discuss investment in the future of this region and its transformation brought by an influx of new technologies and people.

I spoke on my book 'The Next Billion users: Digital life beyond the West' By Harvard University Press as part of the “Digital culture, humanist culture” panel. The theme of this panel was as follows "Digital technology stupefies us with its promises and its threats, particularly for the humanities. Testimonials, demonstrations and viewpoints from the South to help us think differently."

There was a brief introduction by Françoise Rubellin, the director of the Institute and professor at…

New Book with Harvard Press out

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These months have been absolutely exciting as my new book 'The Next Billion Users: Digital Life beyond the West' with Harvard University Press has come out!

This is my first non-academic book, written for a wider audience interested in technology, society and globalization. After two years and multiple revisions later, guided by the brilliant ruthlessness of my editor, I have emerged with my sanity restored again. Now its time to reap the benefits and sit back and relax a bit. I had to really rethink what good writing is and to be honest, unlearn some seriously bad writing habits I picked up with my time in academia.

What is my book about? Check out the book cover which states...

A digital anthropologist examines the online lives of millions of people in China, India, Brazil, and across the Middle East—home to most of the world’s internet users—and discovers that what they are doing is not what we imagine. New-media pundits obsess over online privacy and security, cyberbullyin…

Talk at the International Film Festival Rotterdam on algorithms and media consumption

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Studio Erasmus hosted an event at the International Film Festival in Rotterdam (IFFR) on how does Netflix affect our film tastes? Filip Vermeylen and I were interviewed about the impact of algorithms on popular culture and to what degree did we believe this new innovation was disruptive? Are platforms like YouTube and Netflix restructuring the film and television world? What does the disappearance of traditional 'gatekeepers' mean? And do we actually allow ourselves to be surprised in an age where our media use is analysed in so much detail to create new blockbusters?

This was really timely as I have been working on this for awhile now and especially with my new book, I argue that we need to start looking at the worlds majority of young people as legitimate consumers who happen to be outside the West and often in low-income settings. For too long we have had a condescending view that they are criminals and immortal as they consume pirated goods rather than delving into their ta…

Interview with BREAKER magazine on blockchain and equality

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Did another interview today for the upcoming book 'The Next Billion Users: Digital life beyond the West' with Harvard University Press. It was with BREAKER, a New York based magazine with a cool mission...

"Why BREAKERMAG? Because the world is already in tumult—and along comes a new wave of technology promising yet more change. Blockchain—which includes crypto-assets, ledgers that track those assets, and many applications—is upending whole industries, sparking radically democratic ideas, and creating a new elite. As this uprising gathers momentum, BREAKER Magazine is here to tell the stories of this space and to argue about where the world is going."

My interview was part of BREAKER’s Social Good Week, a series looking at ways blockchain technology can engineer progress and help humanity. This was a good exercise to sharpen my argument and apply it to blockchain and other so called technological novelties that are marketed as being game changers and major disruptors …

Boston Globe article on my upcoming book release

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I have always been a fan of Boston Globe and the Spotlight movie reaffirmed my enthusiasm for their committed coverage for quality and courageous journalism. So was thrilled to have them be the first media outlet to cover my upcoming book with Harvard University Press titled 'The Next Billion Users: Digital Life beyond the West'. 

It's getting real now! Good to have the word out there about something I care so much about.

Check out the article on my book via this link

Keynote for FAT/Asia at the Digital Asia Hub in Hong Kong

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Was fantastic to go back to Hong Kong after more than a decade! I gave a keynote at the Fairness, Accountability and Transparency (FAT) Asia forum organized by Digital Asia Hub, a new and dynamic center on technology innovation and impact in the Asian region. This is the Asian version of the multi-disciplinary conference that brings together researchers and practitioners interested in fairness, accountability, and transparency in socio-technical systems.


It is led by Malavika Jayaram, the executive director of this hub and a brilliant legal mind on technology rights, ethics and responsibility. The theme for this conference goes beyond the futuristic enthusiasm for gadgets to more on responsibility with these new technologies. Their call explains how
"...there is growing concern about the implications of an algorithm-driven society. Scholars and thinkers are debating the potential impact of automated decision-making on equality, autonomy, and dignity, and addressing the need for o…