The International Monetary Fund is an immensely useful organization, able to deliver substantial amounts of financial and technical assistance at short notice to almost any place in the world. It also has the great advantage of almost always being perceived as incredibly boring.
Unfortunately for the IMF, it now needs a slightly higher public profile to convince the US Congress to agree to some important reforms. The Ukrainian crisis may prove helpful, though that appears less likely now – which may be a good thing to the extent that one unintended consequence could be a loan to Ukraine that is larger than it really needs.
If there ever was a problem that’s hard to solve, it’s climate change. It’s a complex challenge requiring more expertise than any one person can possess—in-depth knowledge of the physics of the upper atmosphere, a firm grasp on the economics of technological innovation, and a thorough understanding of the psychology of human behavior change. What’s more, top-down approaches that have been tried for decades—like efforts to pass national legislation and to negotiate international agreements—while important, haven’t yet produced the kind of change scientists say is needed to avert climate change’s potential consequences.
But there’s at least one reason for optimism. We now have a new—and potentially more effective—way of solving complex global challenges: online crowdsourcing.
Studies show that online ratings are one of the most trusted sources of consumer confidence in e-commerce decisions. But recent research suggests that they are systematically biased and easily manipulated.
A few months ago, I stopped in for a quick bite to eat at Dojo, a restaurant in New York City’s Greenwich Village. I had an idea of what I thought of the place. Of course I did — I ate there and experienced it for myself. The food was okay. The service was okay. On average, it was average.
So I went to rate the restaurant on Yelp with a strong idea of the star rating I would give it. I logged in, navigated to the page and clicked the button to write the review. I saw that, immediately to the right of where I would “click to rate,” a Yelp user named Shar H. was waxing poetic about Dojo’s “fresh and amazing, sweet and tart ginger dressing” — right under her bright red five-star rating.
I couldn’t help but be moved. I had thought the place deserved a three, but Shar had a point: As she put it, “the prices here are amazing!”
Her review moved me. And I gave the place a four.
As it turns out, my behavior is not uncommon. In fact, this type of social influence is dramatically biasing online ratings — one of the most trusted sources of consumer confidence in e-commerce decisions.
Erik Brynjolfsson, Director of the MIT Center for Digital Business at MIT Sloan, and Andrew McAfee, Principal Research Scientist at the MIT Center for Digital Business
From the Financial Times
It is easy to be pessimistic about jobs and pay these days. More and more work is being automated away by ever more powerful and capable technologies.
Not only can computers transcribe and translate normal human speech, they can also understand it well enough to carry out simple instructions. Machines now make sense of huge pools of unstructured information, and in many cases detect patterns and draw inferences better than highly trained and experienced humans. Recent advances include autonomous cars and aircraft, and robots that can work alongside humans in factories, warehouses and the open air.
I am 46 years old. The first 23 years of my life I spent in the Soviet Union; the remainder I spent in the United States. I was born and grew up in Ukraine — in Eastern Ukraine, to be exact. In the underbelly of the Ukrainian Rust Belt, called the Donbass, where people work in ginormous smoke belching factories, eat salted pork fat for breakfast and speak Russian.
That was supposed to be my fate too, pork fat and all, but the Soviet Empire collapsed, I got to study economics at an Ivy League doctorate program and am now a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management. Spending half of my life in Ukraine sort of qualifies me to offer an opinion about recent events there. Being at MIT, my opinion comes with more than a hint of technology included.
If you are reading this, you have probably already seen plenty of pictures of burning tires, exploding Molotov cocktails, bodies with blankets over them, armed men with covered faces, and, most recently, youthful opposition leaders shaking hands with the heads of great nations. What I see is an installation of a new “operating system,” or an OS as they are called in the tech world. An OS is an essential set of common rules that enable different parts of a computer, or in this case society, to interact with each other. Without these rules, a nation state cannot function — just like your computer cannot function without an OS.