This blog has been developed in conjunction with the publication of The Great Connecting: The Emergence of Global Broadband, and How That Changes Everything. Now that the book has been released, this blog will pivot a bit.
As I’ve traveled the US on a book tour, I’m frequently asked what we should prioritize in The Great Connecting. There are many reasonable answers, but my answer is this:
If schools are first adopters, that is good. Schools can make immediate use of curricular materials. Schools can teach students (and the community) the promise and peril of the internet. Schools are respected institutions, and generally not political.
Or put another way, if the first usage of the internet in a community is for gambling and porn, that’s bad. If the first use is for assisting teachers and students, that’s good.
There are many initiatives underway that will facilitate broadband expansion across schools in developing countries. My efforts at this point will include assisting these efforts. I anticipate that I will focus on schools and broadband until Starlink is reaching developing countries — which should be in 2021. At that point there will be a lot to discuss!
Facebook has posted an update on efforts to control hate speech in Myanmar.
The company has been criticized for years for its slow response in Myanmar to hate speech targeting the Rohingya minority. According to the United Nations, Facebook played “a determining factor” in the genocide and forced migration last fall of 700,000 Rohingya to neighboring Bangladesh.
Facebook now elaborates on many steps it has taken to address hate speech in Myanmar, including:
- hiring more Burmese language content editors
- making reporting tools easier to use
- improving AI systems to flag questionable content
- better coordination with civil society groups
- building digital literacy programs for users
- updating content policies
- banning a number of users
- increasing the use of unicode-compliant fonts
- hiring third party auditors
By Facebook’s own accounting, the company is catching much more hate content for prompt removal.
Given that Facebook’s efforts in Myanmar have been variously described by civil society groups there as insufficient and secretive, the company’s new blog post taking responsibility for its actions and citing specific steps it is taking is encouraging and commendable.
Simultaneously, however, Reuters has released a new, mostly scathing investigative report on Facebook’s efforts in Myanmar. The detailed analysis finds over 1000 posts, comments, and graphic images online targeting the Rohingya, some as old as six years.
Reuters researchers tried, mostly unsuccessfully, to report hateful content to Facebook. The Reuters analysis also pointed to many technical shortcomings of Facebook systems. In one glaring example of how the Burmese to English translation engine falls short, Reuters reports that a Burmese comment reading “Kill all the kalars you see in Myanmar; none of them should be left alive” is translated to English as “I shouldn’t have a rainbow in Myanmar.”
So in competing reports, Facebook says it is doing a lot with respect to Myanmar and making solid progress. Reuters reports that Facebook is not doing nearly enough, and the situation is still very dangerous. Both views are undoubtedly true.
Zephyr S, the solar-powered drone built by Airbus, has set a new flight-endurance record of nearly 26 days. Flying at an altitude of 21 km by day, the drone recharges batteries using solar panels, and uses two electric motors to stay aloft. At night the drone relies on battery power and also makes a slow descent to about 17 km.
Solar-powered drones may someday do at least some of the work of satellites, providing platforms for earth imaging, telecommunications, and scientific research. Drones cost only a fraction of the cost of satellites.
Airbus has built a launch facility in Western Australia which it plans to use for worldwide deployment of its aircraft, but the company says it can also establish regional launch facilities if necessary. Zephyr drones can traverse between one and two thousand kilometers per day.
Airbus is one of several companies pursuing solar drones — although that list does not now include Facebook, which dropped out of the race. Airbus soon will launch a larger version Zephyr T, used for bigger payloads.