Will big data algorithms soon control our lives?

By Stephan Manning.

Just a few decades ago it was unthinkable that a computer could ever be as smart as a human. But in 1996, the super-computer Deep Blue beat world champion Gary Kasparov in chess, and in early 2017 Google’s AlphaGo defeated the best human player in Go. In his fascinating new book Homo Deus, Yuval Harari argues that the combination of big data and self-improving algorithms will soon outsmart humans entirely and make human decision-making obsolete. Even today, it just takes 150 Facebook likes for psychometrics software such as Cambridge Analytica to know your needs, fears and hopes better than your parents do, and just over 300 likes for such software to know you better than you know yourself.  All based on analyzing your likes against Millions of other likes and profiles. No wonder the Trump campaign made effective use of that software last year to better target their voters. But this is just the beginning: Recently, researchers from Wits University in Johannesburg, South Africa, were able for the first time to directly link a human brain to the Internet – creating the first ever ‘Brainternet’. Based on increased connectivity, smart algorithms may soon be able to monitor and analyze all our biological functions, thoughts, interactions, and purchases, and know much better what we want and what makes us happy than we do. Harari argues that in the end humans may delegate all important decisions – choices of careers, partners and places to live – to algorithms that exceed our brain capacity manifold. So will big data algorithms eventually control our lives?

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Business schools must step up and engage in intellectual activism – here’s how

By Alessia Contu.

A professor of politics in an elite US liberal art college recently remarked to me:  “I must confess my stereotype of someone working in a business school is of one who serves the one per cent.”

Noting our shared political and intellectual persuasions, she questioned: “how can you work in a business school?”

My colleague is right, of course.  Business schools are not perceived as intellectual ‘hotbeds’, and even less crucibles of critical and progressive thinking.

Business schools are often portrayed as universities’ ‘cash cows’, something former minister of universities and science David Willetts acknowledged in 2013.  A Chartered Association of Business Schools Report in March confirmed that business schools are big business worth more than £2.4 billion annually.

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To All Academics: Let’s Boycott Commercial Publishers!

By Stephan Manning and Keshav Krishnamurty.

In his new article “Putting the ‘Public’ Back into ‘Publication’”, Mike Valente uncovers the outrageous profit-making model of commercial publishers of academic journals. Publishing houses like Elsevier and Springer generate enormous profits without actually contributing anything to knowledge production. They neither produce content nor pay the ones who do. They do not even review papers, but instead delegate this task to voluntary academic editors and reviewers. Yet, publishers continue to charge $30 or more per paper download and $4,000 to $20,000 for annual journal subscriptions. Thanks to online distribution and reduced printing costs, publishers can turn 40% of their revenues into profit. Commercial publishing has not only hindered public access to academic knowledge, but has created high costs for university libraries and justified high student fees. So, why does nobody care to change this profit-making model, and what would it take to change it?

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The Enloe Strikes Back at the Phantom Menace of Business Militarization

By Keshav Krishnamurty.

UMass Boston was honored to host distinguished guest speaker Prof. Cynthia Enloe (Clark University) during the lunch session of the AIBNE Frontier Conference on October 23, 2015. Prof. Enloe is one of the most prominent and distinguished scholars in the world to study the complex intersections of feminism, women, the military, war, politics and the international economy.

After being introduced by Prof. David Levy (UMass Boston College of Management), Prof. Enloe spoke about how she spent a lot of time thinking about the field of militarism and the processes of militarization, the processes by which anything and anybody can be infused with militaristic ideas and depends for their well-being on militarization. These processes can occur at the macro-level and micro-level, from daily life to public policy. Her talk, she said, would be about the militarization of business, a process that happens in several different ways.

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Is the Volkswagen Scandal Surprising? How Profitability Pressures Drive Corporate Misconduct

By Stephan Manning.

The Volkswagen diesel scandal has been dominating recent news headlines. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is accusing the German automaker of using a ‘defeat device’ that manipulates results of health-threatening nitrogen oxides emissions tests by switching the engine to a low-emissions mode when detecting a test. Following the accusations two weeks ago, VW’s stock price has dropped by 40%; Martin Winterkorn has lost his job as CEO; VW will be removed from the Dow Jones Sustainability Index; and the German multinational is facing a lasting damage to its long-built reputation. On top of that, the automaker will need to refit up to 11 Million diesel cars and vans running with the ‘defeat device’ worldwide, incurring costs of $7.3 Billion or more. Current investigations focus on various top executives responsible for letting the fraud happen, including research and development (R&D) managers Ulrich Hackenberg and Wolfgang Hatz. But is the scandal just the result of the ‘criminal energy’ of individuals, or is it a more systemic problem? Do rising pressures in a competitive global economy – meeting customer needs and shareholder expectations, driving down costs, adhering to norms and standards – perhaps promote individual cheating and corporate misconduct?

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Who Cares About Plagiarism? Let’s Make Dissertations More Valuable Instead!

By Stephan Manning.

Here we go again: Ursula von der Leyen, Germany’s Minister of Defence, has become the latest target of VroniPlag* Wiki – an ongoing campaign against plagiarism in German doctoral theses, which has famously led to the downfall of several German, mostly conservative, politicians, including Annette Schavan (former German Minister of Education) and Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg (former Minister of Defence). Since it started in 2011, the campaign has resulted in the revocation of 26 PhD titles obtained by politicians and other people of public interest. In fact, plagiarism in doctoral theses has become one of the major reasons for office-bearers in German governments to lose their jobs prematurely. How is that even possible? Who cares about plagiarism in dissertations anyway? Don’t we copy and paste all the time? And why care about plagiarism when nobody actually reads those dissertations to begin with?

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Morals vs. Interests: Why the Mediterranean Tragedy Continues

By Stephan Manning.

Most of us have been horrified by recent news: in the last few days hundreds of people have died or gone missing in the Mediterranean Sea trying to migrate to Europe from Africa by boat in their desperate hopes for a better life. According to the International Organization for Migration, since the beginning of 2015, more than 10,000 people – from West Africa, Somalia and other regions struck by poverty and violent conflict – have made their way to the coasts of Italy and Malta via Libya in often overcrowded boats. Nearly a thousand have presumably died on this journey this year alone. And this is just the latest chapter of an ongoing tragedy. In 2014, nearly 3,500 people died trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea, which many call the deadliest migrant crossing in the world. In face of recent events, the European Commission has expressed a “moral and humanitarian obligation to act”. But is this call sufficient to mobilize action and prevent such tragedies? In fact, this announcement sounds like an echo of similar calls from the past. For example, following the death of 360 migrants off the coast of Lampedusa on October 3 2013, Cecilia Malmström, European Commissioner for Home Affairs, said: “Let’s make sure that what happened in Lampedusa will be a wakeup call to increase solidarity and mutual support and to prevent similar tragedies in the future.” Yet, things have apparently become worse, not better since then. So why is there no solution in sight despite our “moral duty to act”? And what does it really take to address the problem?

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