Blockchain’s potential for environmental applications – Irving Wladawsky-Berger

MIT Sloan Visiting Lecturer Irving Wladawsky-Berger

MIT Sloan Visiting Lecturer Irving Wladawsky-Berger

From The Wall Street Journal

The World Economic Forum in mid-September released a report examining how blockchain technologies could be harnessed to address serious environmental issues, better manage our shared global environment and help drive sustainable growth and value creation. The report outlined some of the world’s most-pressing environmental challenges and highlighted eight blockchain-based game changers that could lead to transformative solutions to these pressing problems.

“The majority of the world’s current environmental problems can be traced back to industrialization, particularly since the ‘great acceleration’ in global economic activity since the 1950s,” notes the report. “While this delivered impressive gains in human progress and prosperity, it has also led to unintended consequences… research from many Earth-system scientists suggests that life on land could now be entering a period of unprecedented environmental systems change.”

True, blockchain is still in its early stages of development and deployment. Its capabilities have been often oversold, as is the case with just about all promising technologies. But, as the WEF report argues, if blockchain one days lives up to its promise, it could “transform how society operates, becoming one of the most significant innovations since the creation of the internet. The opportunity to harness this innovation to help tackle environmental challenges is equally significant.”

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How can we promote cooperation in an uncooperative society? – Naghmeh Momeni

Naghmeh Momeni, Postdoctoral Fellow, Management Science

From Scientific American

As any economist well versed in game theory will tell you, there are plenty of good reasons to cooperate—and plenty of good reasons not to do so. (Of course, any self-respecting kindergartner could tell you the same thing.)

The fundamental problem with cooperation is that the incentives are askew. While the act of cooperating results in the best collective outcome, it’s not always clear whether it will yield the best individual outcome. There’s tricky cost/benefit analysis involved: If I cooperate and you don’t, you get a benefit and I pay a cost. If you cooperate and I don’t, I gain the advantage and you pay a cost. The prisoner’s dilemma is the most famous example of this predicament.

Certain groups and societies are structured in ways that promote cooperation. Others are not. In these societies, spite can become the norm: individuals are willing to pay a cost for others to lose.

Since cooperation is optimal—if everyone cooperates for the greater good, everyone is better off—we are left with the question: what will it take to promote cooperation in an otherwise uncooperative society?

My colleagues Babak Fotouhi and Martin A. Nowak at Harvard University and Benjamin Allen at Emmanuel College and I set out to find the answer. Through mathematical analysis, simulations and examples from real-world social networks, we found that the key to cultivating cooperation lies in the creation of sparse connections—similar to bridges and brokers—between disparate groups. Our study is published in the July issue of Nature Human Behavior.

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It is not technology that will steal your job – Thomas Kochan

Thomas Kochan, MIT Sloan professor & co-founder, Employment Policy Research Network.

From The Irish Times 

The future of work is in hot debate all over the world. The World Economic Forum, the ILO, the International Confederation of Trade Unions, consulting firms, and universities like MIT have task forces asking what work will look like in the years ahead.

There are two problems with much of these debates. The first is an over-fixation with technology. The second is the view that technology has a trajectory all its own as if there is some iron law of physics that will determine its shape and effects. I challenge both of these premises: Technology will of course be important; it is one of the big “megatrends” that will influence work of the future. But how it, and four other megatrends I will outline below will influence the future depends on the actions we take now. So I want to re-frame discussion in forums about the future of work from one of predicting the consequences of megatrends to one of how to engage the megatrends to produce better work, more inclusive societies, and a broader sharing of future prosperity.

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The problem with big data – Maryam Farboodi

Maryam Farboodi, Assistant Professor of Finance, MIT Sloan Management

From MIT Sloan Management Review

As technology improves, larger companies continue to gain disproportionate shares of the processing power and financial value big data offers.

Because of big data — a term that has come to refer to the immense amount of digital material we generate, store, and manipulate with increasing ability — managers can measure more about their companies and then use that information to drive performance. Need to heighten the productivity of your workforce? Big data can help. Want to analyze customers’ preferences and purchase patterns? Big data can do that, too. Looking for ways to cut costs and increase profitability? Big data: At your service.

But not all companies are flourishing in this new era. Small companies are struggling. Over the last three decades, the annual rate of new startups has fallen from 13% to less than 8%. During that time, the percentage of employment at companies with fewer than 100 workers has decreased by 5%. Meanwhile, big companies are thriving. The share of revenue of the top 5% of businesses has increased by 10% since the 1980s. Large companies also employ a greater share of the U.S. labor force: from one-quarter in the 1980s to about one-third today. What accounts for this discrepancy?

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Beyond Polarization – Jason Jay

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Jason Jay

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Jason Jay

From Technology Review

This past June, I attended a conference in New York City with colleagues from around the world. After our three days together, my European, Indian, and Latin American friends were a bit vexed. The conversation kept getting pulled into the lightning storm of American politics. We struggled to pay attention as our phones flooded with alerts about congressional primaries, Supreme Court decisions, executive orders, and the flurry of terrified, furious, indignant, or despairing comments ping-ponging between political extremes.

Over beers, a few of us “coastal liberal elite” academics and journalists huddled and commiserated about our extended family members in South Dakota, North Carolina, Florida, and Indiana. How could they deny the reality of Sandy Hook, climate change, and science in general? I suspect those same relatives are similarly confused—why are we so eager to support illegal immigrants, anti-police protests, and lawlessness in general?

This polarization is only increasing as we head to the midterm elections. With our country split into factions like anti-fascists, progressives, moderates, libertarians, evangelicals, and Trumpists, it’s increasingly difficult to know how to engage with others who don’t share our views.

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