The “scandal of invisibility” as a new priority for international development

What is identification and why is it so important?

The “scandal of invisibility” [1] is the situation of millions of people who are not taken into account in any official statistics, and thus who cannot fulfil the rights enabled by being registered. In most countries, civil registration is a condition to have access to citizenship, property, and also health care, the education system, social protection, among other rights.

Moreover, some studies show that in history, identification has been essential to help countries grow. In particular, it is before the industrial revolution of the 19th Century that Great Britain developed its identification system. This system was crucial in supporting the economic development of these years, especially because it enabled to secure property rights.

The legislative background

The United Nations declared identification at birth a human right in the Article 7 of the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. However, today, almost half of the world population live out their lives unrecorded by any state or civil registration[1]. The largest unregistered populations live in South Asia and on the African continent (both regions together account for 79% of all unregistered births), where until very recently, national systems of civil registration have not succeeded in recording a majority of births.

Developing countries may have struggled with this issues, and this for various reasons

In Tanzania for instance nearly half of children born in the developing world are not registered. Tanzania has one of the lowest rates of birth registration in the world: only 8% of children have birth certificates. Research[2] shows that lack of birth certificate leads to the social reproduction of poverty from one generation to the next, because identity documents are essential in order to benefit from Tanzanian social rights (health in particular).

In Indonesia[3], research shows that the poorer and rural population is the one who had the lowest registration rate. Some measures have been taken by the government in order to improve access to civil registrations services, and to support the families in the process, but many of them are still not part of the system.

The recent call from the international community

In 2000, the Millennium Development Goals launched at the United Nations already focused on health topics, and relied on data for fertility, mortality and causes of death, and underlined that data and measurement of progress were essential. More recently, in 2015, the Sustainable Development Goals ( also have underlined the need to improve the world’s identification systems (the SDG 16 aims to achieve “legal identity for all, including birth registration” by 2030). The objective is not only to give people access to the basic needs of health, education, etc., but also to take all the populations into account when development progress is measured.

Also, the World Bank launched the Initiative “Identification 4 development” ( aimed at bringing development partners together, and raising funds to help the poorest countries to develop identification system and make sure that the poorest are registered and can access social services.

The new Development Agenda raises awareness on the issue, and set this civic identification as a priority. We can hope that programs and measures that will be implemented will enable the most of us, and especially the poorest in developing countries, to fulfill their basic needs.






[1] Breckenridge Keith, and Szreter Simon, Registration and Recognition: Documenting the Person in World History, 2012, Oxford: Published for the British Academy by Oxford University Press, 2012

[2] Birth Rights: Birth registration, health, and human rights in Tanzania, Wood, Summer, ProQuest Dissertations and Theses

[3] Sumner, Cate, Indonesia’s Missing Millions: Erasing Discrimination in Birth Certification in Indonesia, Policy File Policy File, Center for Global Development


[1] Setel, Philip W; Macfarlane, Sarah B; Szreter, Simon; Mikkelsen, Lene; Jha, Prabhat; Stout, Susan; Abouzahr, Carla. (2007). A scandal of invisibility: making everyone count by counting everyone. The Lancet, 2007, Vol.370(9598), pp.1569-1577

#AllHairMatters or Nah?

When Sundial, the company behind Shea Moisture brand, released the latest in its #EverybodyGetsLove campaign, the black-owned beauty company made it clear that their new target audience is white.

There was one token black girl – a mixed woman – with long, curly hair. Her and two white women talked about “hair hate.”

How can a black beauty line tangle through the issues of hair hate without talking to black women about the impact European beauty standards have had on them? Black hair has long been treated by societal bias at large as unkempt, dirty and undesirable. Ciara and Alicia Keys wear braids and it’s called urban. Kylie and Kendall do it and it’s claimed the new, chic trend. I think it’s what drives the psychic impulse that has black women spending 80% more on beauty products than other women. Despite that buying power, beauty aisles have very limited haircare selections for black hair.

White women have options on options. So its surprising Sundial felt the need to expand their line. They didn’t put nearly this much effort into launching their Madam C.J. Walker collection last year. Then again, capitalism is capitalism and businesses are meant to grow. But if you built your brand on the scalps of black women, you don’t have to erase them to include white women. You don’t have to find the fairest, most racially ambiguous black girl to tokenize alongside them. Cater to us all, rather than participate in the long practice of erasing black women.

Not different from the Pepsi debacle, a hashtag protest led to immediate shutdown of the ad and a quick apology.

Wow, okay – so guys, listen, we really f-ed this one up. Please know that our intention was not – and would never be –…

SheaMoisture 发布于 2017年4月24日

But if we have the power to shut down ads, shouldn’t we ask for more? It’s not enough to withdraw your money from one capitalist venture and switch to another or quiet down once the ad comes down.

Are we happy to support a black-owned company whose idea of inclusivity isn’t to do the smart thing and simply include white women, but instead it does the American thing and shoves black women aside? When black-owned companies make millions thanks to the support of black buyers, should we not expect them to buy black as well? Had Sundial used a black ad agency, this would have never happened.

And like I said, capitalists are going to be capitalists. But if you have the power to pull ads, why not demand community support. Sundial could be donating money or product to black shelters much like Pepsi should have donated money to #BlackLivesMatter instead of apologizing to Kendall Jenner for paying her a million to insult a civil rights movement. We can’t just smooth this over with a few tweets. We have to comb through the issues.

War games – what you need to know about current North Korea’s nuclear politics

By Dijana Milenov and Mika Kanaya

What is a timeline of five nuclear tests?

1) October 9, 2006

North Korea initiated its first nuclear testing, becoming the eighth country in history.

2)  May 25, 2009

The North Korean official news agency announced that it “successfully conducted one more underground nuclear test…. as part of the measures to bolster up its nuclear deterrent for self-defense in every way.”

3)  February 12, 2013

UN approves fresh sanctions after North Korea stages its third nuclear test, said to be more powerful than the 2009 test.

4)  January 6, 2016

An anchorwoman in the state TV said, “The republic’s first hydrogen bomb test has been successfully performed.” Before the test, North Korean state media said the country “deserved to hold nuclear weapons… to counter nuclear threats by the U.S.”

5)  September 9, 2016

South Korea believes it is the North’s biggest-ever test, raising fears it has made significant nuclear advances. This was the first time North Korea conducted two nuclear tests within the same year.

What is the real issue this time?

Global political situation changed. There is a new president in the U.S., and Pyongyang is trying to reframe their relationship and the power dynamics by pushing the new administration. Despite the international strategies to pressure denuclearization, there is a worry that intercepting missiles could escalate tensions and risk war.

The Japan Times summarized the move as follows:

“Though tensions had been rising dangerously between Washington and Pyongyang in the lead-up to the April 15 anniversary, the biggest holiday of the year in North Korea, the heightened rhetoric and saber-rattling on both sides could begin to cool down — a pattern that has been common in recent years, especially in the spring, when the U.S. and South Korea stage their huge annual war games.

But this year, there is a new issue. In an interview with The Associated Press on Friday, a senior North Korean official said that Pyongyang has determined that Trump is “more vicious and aggressive” than his predecessor, Barack Obama. And Pyongyang is vowing it won’t back down.”[1]

What was a missile which exploded seconds after the launch on Sunday? 

The latest North Korean missile launch may have been of a new and hitherto unknown systems being developed by the leader Kim Jong Un’s regime, a weapons expert said Monday.

The Pentagon has not discussed which missile blew up “almost immediately” after launch early Sunday from near Sinpo on the North’s east coast, and the White House has said only that it was a medium-range device. John Schilling, a weapons expert with the 38 North monitoring group, said the launch failure was indicative of a new systems test.

What type of missiles North Korea owns and what is the real threat? 

North Korea’s big day, the anniversary of the birth of its founding leader, Kim Il Sung, was April 15 and the latest missiles were on display in a military parade. Experts believe the arsenal displayed in Saturday’s parade included a new kind of short-range cruise missile, probably for coastal defenses. North Korea also unveiled its latest submarine-launched ballistic missile and a version of the same missile that can be launched from land-based launchers — both of which use solid fuel and present a far greater challenge to find and destroy before they’re fired off. And it showed off canisters that seemed in line with what would be required for an intercontinental ballistic missile, which is Washington’s major concern.

However, the large and small missiles at the parade was meant to send out a strong message that North Korea is able to “project its power well beyond its own borders”. At the very least, to the U.S. military bases in Japan. At the most, to the U.S. mainland itself.

How does China, a long-term ally of North Korea, handle the situation?

China’s bottom line is that it does not want the collapse of the regime in Pyongyang if that leads to a chaotic power vacuum, possibly filled by the U.S. and its allies. China is also concerned about South Korea’s deployment of an anti-missile defense system (known as THAAD), and by the allies’ annual joint military exercises. So, there is a strong pressure from Beijing on North Korea. They have implemented economic sanctions such as refusing coal shipments and they are talking about cutting off oil shipments. Flights between Beijing and Pyongyang operated by Air China were also suspended on April 17. However, NPR points out tighter implementation of economic sanctions could be challenging.

“Most of China’s giant state-owned enterprises have scant involvement with North Korea; they have too many interests elsewhere to risk getting sanctioned in pursuit of limited profits. Smaller firms more often find smuggling worth the risk, and Beijing often cannot control them, because local authorities protect them.”[2]

President Donald Trump also tweeted on Sunday that Beijing was “working with us on the North Korean problem”. He had stated last week that the U.S. and its allies may “deal with” Pyongyang if China did not.

What was the U.S. response this time?

1) Mike Pence visit to South Korea

U.S. Vice President, Mike Pence on Monday warned North Korea not to test the determination of the U.S. “or the strength of our military forces”. “We will defeat any attack and we will meet any use of conventional or nuclear weapons with an overwhelming and effective response,” Pence said, adding that when it came to North Korea “all options are on the table.”[3]

2) An aircraft carrier group

Last week, President Donald Trump said that an aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson was sent to Korean Peninsula as a warning to Kim Jong-Un’s government. However, a Navy photograph over the weekend showed the Carl Vinson in the Sunda Strait near the Indonesian islands, 3,000 miles from Korean Peninsula.

3) Radiation sniffer plane

The U.S. Air Force WC-135C Constant Phoenix Nuclear explosion “sniffer” has arrived in Japan. There are only two aircrafts of this type and one of them is in Japan since April 12.

Future actions? 

Han Song-Ryol, North Korea’s deputy foreign minister told the BBC that Pyongyang would continue to test missiles “on a weekly, monthly and yearly basis”[4]. “All-out war would ensue if the U.S. took military action, he said.”[5]

The Korea Herald reports that the Carl Vinson Strike Group is due to arrive in the region by April 25, the day that North Korea is due to commemorate the 85th anniversary of the founding of its army. Some experts believe that Pyongyang may choose to conduct its sixth nuclear test, or another missile launch, around that date. The U.S. Vice President Mike Pence will be in Hawaii on April 24-25, concluding his 10-day trip to Asia.







Taiwan: When a phone call becomes an issue.

Shortly after Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election, he took a call from Taiwanese President, Tsai Ing-wen. In doing this he appeared to be ignoring or possibly discarding established US policy on Taiwan, which is that the United States does not have diplomatic ties to the island, which China considers to be its sovereign territory. The phone call sparked much media debate but little explanation about US-Taiwan relations and China-Taiwan relations, yet Taiwan plays a prominent role in a number of issues of vital global importance.

The following is a brief overview of important facts about Taiwan and its importance as well as key initiatives of mainland China that of international significance.

  • Where is Taiwan located?
  • Is Taiwan a democracy?
  • How are Taiwan and China connected?
  • How are the Chinese and Taiwanese governments different?
  • If Taiwan is functionally an independent country, why is there this “one China” policy?
  • Where is the US in this?
  • What happened to Taiwan when the US established formal relations with China (PRC)?
  • What effect does not having official diplomatic status as a nation state have on Taiwan?
  • Taiwan is a small island. How important is it in international affairs?
  • What are some of China’s key interests and initiatives?
  • What is the Belt and Road Initiative?
  • What is the AIIB?

Where is Taiwan located?

Taiwan is an island off the coast of mainland China bordering the South China Sea (SCS). When the Chinese Nationalists (国民党, KMT, Kuomingtang), led by Chiang Kai-shek, fled the Communist Chinese (共产党, CCP, Chinese Communist Party) in the mid-twentieth century, the bulk of the Nationalist army retreated to Taiwan. Other names for Taiwan include Republic of China and Formosa. Taiwan has conflicting claims with China to islands in the SCS.

Is Taiwan a democracy?

Yes. Taiwan has a free press, rule of law-based system of governance, independent judiciary, and democratic elections. It also maintains its own military. Taiwan was governed under martial law by the KMT (the party of Chiang Kai-shek) until July 14, 1987 but then successfully transitioned to a democratic system of governance.

How are Taiwan and China connected?

The governments of both China and Taiwan have their roots on the Chinese mainland. Chiang Kai-shek inherited the leadership of the KMT from Sun Yat-sen, who is regarded by both the KMT and CCP as the father of the Republic of China (1918-1937).

A civil war (the 1949 Communist Revolution) between the Chinese Nationalists and Chinese Communists ended in the defeat of the Nationalists. Chiang Kai-shek and the Nationalist (KMT) army retreated to Taiwan.  Chiang Kai-shek did not acknowledge the Chinese Communists as the legitimate government of the China. Over time the two countries established separate systems of governance, but the PRC has not given up its claims to Taiwan, which it refers to as a “rogue province,” and Taiwan still officially refers to itself as the “Republic of China.”

How are the Chinese and Taiwanese governments different?

China is a single party state under the control of the Chinese Communist Party. Taiwan has developed a two party political system and holds democratic elections. Taiwan has two main political parties–the independence leaning DPP (Democratic Progressive Party) and the KMT.

If Taiwan is functionally an independent country, why is there this “one China” Policy?

In pragmatic terms, the “one China” policy preserves a status quo where China and Taiwan avoid armed conflict and issues related to Taiwanese independence. Countries must choose to have diplomatic relations with either Taiwan or the People’s Republic of China. Taiwan’s official name is still the “Republic of China.” China-Taiwan relations are also referred to as “Cross-Strait Relations.” China has stated that it will invade Taiwan if the island declares independence.

Where is the US in this?

The short answer is that the United States supported Chiang Kai-shek and the KMT over competing warlords in the early twentieth century and later over the Chinese Communists. China was invaded by Japan in 1937 and joined the Allied Powers when the United States entered World War II. The dynamics of armed conflict in China during the twentieth century are complex. The United States maintained diplomatic ties with the “Republic of China” under the KMT until 1976.

What happened to Taiwan when the US established formal relations with China (PRC)?

The United States switched its official diplomatic ties to the PRC in 1979 following then President Richard Nixon’s landmark 1972 visit to the Chinese mainland. The PRC replaced Taiwan in the United Nations and on the UN Security Council in 1971. The United States continues to maintain strong economic ties with Taiwan, its fourth largest trading partner, and also sells defensive armaments to the island per the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act.

What effect does not having official diplomatic status as a nation state have on Taiwan?

Lack of official status puts Taiwan in a difficult position internationally. It operates independently of mainland China, but cannot claim the rights and privileges of an independent nation state. As the PRC grows in power, it has taken steps intended to bring the island under the control of Beijing.

It is difficult for Taiwanese representatives to participate in international organizations and decision making bodies, including academic conferences, model UN meetings, and the Olympics. Recently, China has pressured a number of countries to deport Taiwanese passport holders to the PRC, claiming them as “Chinese citizens,” and arrested a pro-democracy activist who is a Taiwanese national.

Taiwan is a small island. How important is it in international affairs?

As China gains international strength and prominence, it also grows in international influence. Taiwan is one of many areas in Asia that maintain democratic systems of governance, and its political system is affected by Chinese influence. In some senses, Taiwan is a bellwether for how democracy and democratic institutions in Asia are responding to China’s growing influence.

Hong Kong is another such case. As a former British colony that returned to mainland China in 1997, the city is supposed to operate under an autonomous and democratic system of government for the next 30 years; however, there are signs that Hong Kong’s democratic institutions are being eroded. Other Asian democracies–Japan, South Korea, Singapore, and India among them–must negotiate their own strategic interests with an increasingly powerful Chinese state.

What are some of China’s key interests and initiatives?

China has initiated economic initiatives, including the “Belt and Road” and established the AIIB as a competitor and possibly alternative to the World Bank. It has acted to assert claims to the South China Sea, which is an area of importance in terms of commerce and natural resources.

What is the Belt and Road Initiative?

The Belt and Road initiative is also known as One Belt, One Road (OBOR) (一带一路). The Belt and Road initiative is the PRC’s strategic economic initiative to develop a southern “maritime Silk Road” and land-based Silk Road or “belt” through Central Asia and extending into Europe.

What is the AIIB?

The AIIB (Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank) is an organization spearheaded by mainland China as an effective alternative to the World Bank, which it views as an institution dominated by the United States and other western countries. The United States, while invited to join the AIIB, has not done so. China has attracted the participation of AIIB countries by offering incentives, such as investment in the infrastructure of participating countries. AIIB strategically advances China’s economic interests and complements its Belt and Road (一带一路) initiative.

It’s the French presidential election this weekend. Expect the unexpected.

A lot of people went to bed on the night of November 8, 2016, confident that they would wake up to news of President-elect Hillary Clinton’s election victory. This is not, of course, what happened. Donald Trump’s stunning win confounded pollsters and pundits alike, much as had the UK’s decision to Brexit months earlier.

Political unpredictability has continued apace in 2017, and France’s presidential election represents an early test of whether the nationalistic tremors of 2016 will continue to haunt liberal democracy in its heartlands. One thing’s for sure: no-one can confidently predict the results of this contest. But to borrow a phrase, there are some known unknowns to brush up on ahead of time.

How does France elect a president?

Presidential elections in France are a two-step process, with the top two candidates from this Sunday’s first round progressing to a head-to-head run-off a fortnight later – which means that, whatever happens, we won’t know who’ll become France’s next president on Sunday, but we know who won’t. The two-stage system aside, the process is quite straightforward – the candidates with the largest vote totals progress.

So who’s in the running?

In recent years, two main parties have dominated French politics: the left-wing Socialists, and the center-right Republicans. The current president is Socialist François Hollande, who announced last year that he would not seek re-election, in large part due to staggeringly low approval ratings, which hit an eye-popping low of 4% (not a typo!) late last year.

As in any election without the incumbent running, the field is wide open this year – albeit to an extent unprecedented in French politics, for several reasons. First, with or without Hollande, France’s Socialist party is in disarray: similar to Democrats in the US and the UK’s Labour Party, it is riven by in-fighting between left wing forces and more centrist impulses.

This has served to fragment the electorate. The official Socialist candidate, Benoît Hamon, is struggling under the weight of his predecessor’s unpopularity. Meanwhile, two former Socialist ministers, Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Emmanuel Macron, have each seized chunks of the party’s traditional vote from the left and the right with their own new movements, Unsubmissive France and En Marche!, respectively.

The right wing has also splintered. The National Front, led by Marine Le Pen – the daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen, who scored a place in the run-off election in 2002 – has seized on antipathy towards Muslim immigrants to lead many first-round polls this year. Meanwhile François Fillon, the Republican candidate, is riven by allegations of financial impropriety relating to salaries given to members of his family, which have threatened to upend his candidacy.

OK, so it’s a broad field. But who’s going to win?

It’s very hard to predict who will make it through to the run-off – let alone win – but right now there are four viable candidates who, polls suggest, each clustered at between 18% and 23% of the vote. Mélenchon, with a radically leftist agenda, has been gaining recently at the expense of Hamon, and is running at around 18%, for what would be a close-fought fourth. Fillon has resisted calls – even from among his own party – to drop out, and his support seems to have stabilized, as he is currently running in a close third. Macron and Le Pen, meanwhile, have been trading the lead for the last few weeks, with each averaging around 23% of the vote.

The state of the French presidential polls at the time of writing. (Wikipedia)

The results of the run-off will depend, of course, on who makes it through. As things stand, one candidate – Macron – would win his head-to-head with each of the other three viable candidates, while another – Le Pen – would lose all of hers. (Mélenchon beats Fillon in the least-likely match-up.) But polling the run-off accurately is difficult while other candidates remain in the race, particularly when three out of the four leading candidates represent parties who have never won the presidency. In particular, if Fillon continues his comeback and makes it through to the run-off against Le Pen, the achingly familiar prospect of an experienced but scandal-plagued establishment candidate losing to a xenophobic outsider seems plausible.

How important is this election?

In a word, very. In constitutional terms, the French presidency represents something of a middle way between a mostly-symbolic head of state like the German presidency, and the powerful executive in the American system. Compared with America, periods of “cohabitation” – where one party controls parliament while another occupies the presidency – have been relatively rare, and in these instances, the president tends to take a back seat.

But one area in which French presidents have the most control is in foreign affairs, and France’s election this year represents, in a certain sense, another referendum on the European Union. Only the far-right Le Pen has vowed to leave the Euro currency, but both she and Mélenchon have adopted the fateful promise made by Britain’s David Cameron to renegotiate France’s relationship with the EU and put the resulting settlement to a formal referendum vote.

Meanwhile, Le Pen and Russian President Vladimir Putin have been open about their mutual respect, and Fillon is also notably more comfortable with Russia than other Republican figures – while Macron, the only avowedly pro-European candidate has been hit with a barrage of cyberattacks and fake news. Again all this sounds familiar, perhaps that’s because it is.

Both politically and geographically, France is much more central to the European project than Britain ever was, so a rebuke by voters would represent a much more existential threat to the Union – creating precisely the kind of instability that Russia’s Putin is said to want.

What else is there to know?

The polls are changing daily, and the election is now too close to call, according per multiple outlets. While this uncertainty creates volatility, in everything from markets to geopolitics, at least pundits and the public alike are more prepared for multiple outcomes than they were on the mornings of June 24 and November 9, 2016, when British and American voters created political earthquakes. It’s always useful to know what you don’t know.

Waymo, Otto, Uber, Google: A Lawsuit in Need of an Explanation

Amongst the many stories of Uber’s recent controversies, you may have heard of a lawsuit between Waymo and Uber. The case centers on intellectual property infringement, which is already a complicated, technical issue on its own when you break down how a judge or jury determines if the technology is infringing on a patent.

Let’s break down just what’s going on in this situation:

What is Waymo?

To understand what Waymo is, we need to go back to Google Co-Founder Larry Page’s open letter in which he announced that Google would become a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc., a holding company that will be the parent company for several of the company’s endeavors. This includes X, the company’s “moonshot factory” or investment lab, GV and CapitalG, the company’s two investment arms, and Waymo, the company’s self-driving car project that spun out of X.

Waymo began as a self-driving car research project at X (then called Google X) in 2009. The name Waymo, which Alphabet unveiled in 2016, is short for “a new way forward in mobility.”

Seems like a weird phrase to shorthand.

Yes, yes it does.

Let’s go back to this Alphabet company. Why was it created and did it replace Google?

Google still exists and includes everything you would associate with the brand: search, ads, YouTube, Maps, Chrome, and Android. But now it’s one of several entities under the Alphabet umbrella.

When it comes to the why, that’s a bit trickier to explain. There’s plenty of speculation that the creation of Alphabet is all about improving visibility into the company’s operations and revenue breakdown for investors. Each of these companies now operates independently, with separate budgets and revenue that are reported out in the quarterly earnings the company is required to file by the US Securities and Exchange Commission, the the governing body of the US financial markets.

So, back to Waymo. Why was it spun out of X?

Companies are spun out of X when they’ve moved past the research stage and are ready for commercialization. If Alphabet is confident the company has a sound business model and product that’s ready for the market, it’s moved out of X to become a stand-alone company. According to Waymo CEO John Krafcik, “what you’re feeling from the Waymo team is confidence that we can bring this [technology] to [people].”

How exactly does Uber fit into all of this?

Uber, like many other technology and automotive companies, is developing self-driving car technology of its own as part of its Advanced Technologies Group. CEO Travis Kalanik first began recruiting engineers for the project in Pittsburgh in late 2014.

Pittsburgh seems pretty random.

It’s not. It’s home to Carnegie Melon University (CMU), which has a well-respected robotics department where many of the top experts in the field spent time conducting research. Originally, Uber partnered with CMU’s National Robotics Engineering Center to develop the technology. Then, Uber poached about 50 people from CMU, which was about one third of the Center’s researchers.

Wait, Uber stole all of the workers away from its partner?

That’s a story on it’s own. Let’s just say it was not a popular move in the technology community.

Did Uber’s technology from the CMU partnership infringe on Waymo’s patents?

No. The patent infringement issue starts with Otto, a startup that was developing self-driving technology for trucks. The company was founded by former Google employees Anthony Levandowski, Lior Ron, Don Burnette, and Claire Delaunay. Levandowski formerly led Google’s self-driving car project and incorporated Otto two weeks after leaving the search giant. The team first announced the existence of the company in May 2016. Only three months later, Uber acquired Otto for $680 million.

Why did Uber acquire Otto? And when are we getting to the patent infringement?

We’re finally getting there. There are a number of reasons Uber bought Otto, including its relationship to car manufacturers, its talent, and its technology. That technology includes LiDAR, or light detection and ranging. LiDAR works by using lasers to detect objects, space, and anything else in an environment by tracking how long it takes for the laser to hit the object and bounce back to create a 3D map. It’s a mechanical form of echolocation. The technology is used for autonomous guided vehicles (aka self-driving cars) to detect everything on and around the road, from other vehicles to obstructions.

This is the technology that Waymo is suing Uber over.

So why does Waymo think Uber is infringing on the LiDAR technology? And when did they file the lawsuit?

The lawsuit began in February. According to Waymo, it all started with an email: “One of our suppliers specializing in LiDAR components sent us an attachment (apparently inadvertently) of machine drawings of what was purported to be Uber’s LiDAR circuit board — except its design bore a striking resemblance to Waymo’s unique LiDAR design,” the company announced in a Medium post.

That email sparked an investigation by Waymo, which eventually led the company to discover that a month and a half before he resigned, Levandowski downloaded more than 14,000 proprietary files, including the designs of the company’s LiDAR technology and circuit board. Waymo also claims that other former Google employees downloaded confidential information about suppliers and manufacturing. The full filing goes into details about just what these employees supposedly stole.

In the filing, Waymo asked the court for an injunction against Uber’s self-driving car program. Translation: Waymo wants to stop Uber from continuing to work on the technology.

How did Uber respond?

Uber released a statement to Business Insider on February 24th denying all allegations, claiming the lawsuit is “a baseless attempt to slow down a competitor.”

Levandowski also released a response of sorts. The Otto founder exercised his Fifth Amendment right to avoid self incrimination on March 30th. He also hired his own criminal counsel for the suit, though he is not formally named in Waymo’s filings.

Uber officially filed its formal response to the lawsuit on April 7th, which included details about the differences in the two company’s LiDAR technologies, the lack of evidence around the 14,000 files.

Did Waymo respond?

Waymo originally claimed that Uber failed to disclose the proper documents related to the lawsuit on April 3rd. Waymo asked Judge William Alsup to compel Uber to produce all of the documents or assume the company is hiding documents.

Waymo also reiterated its claims in its response, saying “Uber’s assertion that they’ve never touched the 14,000 stolen files is disingenuous at best, given their refusal to look in the most obvious place: the computers and devices owned by the head of their self-driving program.”

So where does the lawsuit stand now?

The last update with the lawsuit has to do with Levandowski’s Fifth Amendment claim. William Alsup, the judge presiding over the case, rejected Levandowski’s request and ordered Uber to disclose documents created by a third party when it conducted due diligence for the acquisition of Otto. The due diligence report must be included without any redactions related to Levandowski in a “privilege log,” which is a document a party in a lawsuit produces that they do not think should be opened in court because of the proprietary nature of the material.

Waymo filed the last update in the case, filing an opposition request over Uber’s motion to keep the dispute private by going into arbitration. Uber originally filed for arbitration because of Alphabet’s employee agreements state that any disputes with the company should be settled in arbitration. But Waymo believes this is not a valid claim, as Levandowski is not the defendant in the case, Uber is.

So what now?

Prepare for a long lawsuit filled with more filings and claims. Unless some settlement is reached, the case could be dragged out for months.

The American Community Survey – 3 in 1: explainer, engagement, data story

I have thought about creating a census fan page many times. Looking at data all day makes one appreciate the history, scale, and effort of this massive public endeavor. Not only does the census provide official guidance to the formulation of public funding and policy, it has over the years also ritualistically structured our understanding of our environment. Since 1790, the census evolved not just to adapt to the massive increase in population(from under 4 million to 318 million today) and migration(from 5.1% urban to 81% in 2000), but its format has also changed to reflect our attitudes. In this 3 part(hopefully) assignment/makeup assignments, I focused on explaining and visualizing the American Community Survey(ACS), a newer data offering of the census that is a yearly long form survey for a 1% sample of the population.

Last summer, while interning at a newsroom, I built a twitter bot based on the ACS inspired by how nuanced and evocative the original collected format of the dataset is. Each tweet is a person’s data reconstituted into a mini bio. In the year since, people have retweeted when an entry is absurd or sad, but most often when an entry reminded them of themselves or someone they know. It quickly became clear that narratives are more digestible than data plotted on a map. However, I was at a loss on how to further this line of inquiry to include more data in bigger narratives.

Part of my research is to experiment with ways of making public data accessible so that individuals can make small incremental changes to improve their own environment. Many of these small daily decisions are driven by public data, but making the underlying data public is not always enough. While still plotting data on maps regularly, I started to think about narratives. Can algorithmically constructed narratives and narrative visualizations stand alone as long-form creative nonfiction?

There are so many wonderful public data projects that go the extra step out there. Socialexplorer does a great job of aggregating the data, so does actually Projects from timeLab show many examples of how census data has been used for a variety of purposes, even entertainment. And just last week, the macroconnections group unveiled a beautiful and massive effort to expose public datasets with that takes data all the way into a story presentation.

Constraints are blessings…

It’s fortunate that I work in such a time and environment but also very intimidating. What can I contribute to an already rich body of work where each endeavor normally requires many hours and even months of teamwork, not to mention the variety of skills involved? More selfishly, what can visual artists add to the conversation that is beyond simply dressing up the results? This series of 3 assignments is a start.

1. Explainer – the evolution of the census

Instead of focusing on how the population has changed, here is a visualization of how census questions have changed to reflect the attitudes and needs of the times. Unfortunately this was unfinished and only goes from 1790 to 1840 right now.


1790_1840view closeups here – 1790_1840

2. Engagement – how special are you?

I have been procrastinating by spending a lot of time on guessing the correlation. I think that buzzfeed-type quizzes are one of the best data collection tools. Of course there is also this incredible NYT series. People who commented on the census bot often directly address tweets that describe themselves. This is an experiment to get people to learn something about the data by allowing them to place themselves in it.

Screen Shot 2016-04-19 at 9.42.30 PMScreen Shot 2016-04-19 at 9.42.00 PM  This is also still very much in progress:

3. Data Story

To be continued …

What Is A Bot, Anyway?

(with Adrienne)

Bots are having their 15 minutes, so to speak. Recently, Microsoft launched the “Tay” AI bot and chaos ensued. But bots had already been making a name for themselves on Twitter, on Tumblr, and even on collaboration platforms like Slack or Github. But just because we might recognize a bot when we see it, doesn’t help us understand what’s going on. To make the lives of non-coders everywhere easier, we’ve prototyped an app that can create and configure a vertible cornicopia of bots, no code required.

* For those who are interested in a little more detail, we’ve also created a simple example, an activist bot that echoes quotes excerpts from the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association newsletter which is…unfortunately surprising. 

What is a bot?

Broadly speaking, a bot is computer program that acts like a human user on a social media platform. Though we haven’t yet seen the passing of the Turing Test by any artificial intelligence, so it is pretty easy to distinguish the humans from the code. Essentially, a bot takes in some information or content from source A (or A + B, or A + B + C, or…well you get the idea), and then potentially transforms it based on rules the developer has given it, and saves the newly crafted content to a database. From here, the bot could also have instructions to share their creation on Twitter, but it’s not a requirement.

Minimum Viable Bot is just Information In, Information Out.

What are the different kinds of bots?

Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 02.45.59

Bots can take lots of different forms depending on their purpose. Some bots can help you schedule meetings through email. Others are more nefarious, and try to circumvent spam filters in your email or on Twitter. Funnily enough, the hugely popular @horse_ebooks started out as a scam bot, until it was taken over by a reporter from Buzzfeed.

We should note that there is no canonized taxonomy, but we’re going to offer a few informal categories here.

Mash Up Bots:
These bots combine different sources of content and post them.
Example: A bot that tweets out a combination headlines.


Image Poster Bots:
These bots post an image, sometimes with additional information, or generated content.
Example: A bot that posts live TV stills and improvises subtitles for them.

Smart Learner Bots:
Some bots will grow more “intelligent” the more they are interacted with. Smart learner bots require an extra level of human care, as Microsoft learned with Tay. To learn more about ethics in bot curation, Motherboard just posted a great explainer with some of the leaders in social bot technology
Microsoft’s ill-fated “Tay”, who “learned” by accepting as valuable everything that was said to it.


Auto Notifier Bots:
Auto Notifiers listen to a content source, and then perform an action when new content is posted, or something changes. It’s kind of like If This, Then That, the extremely popular service for connecting various web platforms together. These bots are also very common in journalism. They frequently take template text and “fill in the blanks” with the latest relevant information. 

Our demo bot is a version of this kind of bot, because we are not transforming our text in any way. We are simply waiting for a new newsletter to be posted, and then periodically tweeting sentences from it.
Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 02.34.11
Example: A twitter bot that tweets each time there is an earthquake near L.A.


Replier Bots:
These bots talk to the user based on rules written by the developer. Sometimes this needs to be something the user says directly to the bot, and sometimes these bots will tweet at someone in reaction to something that’s been said. Many platforms (e.g. Twitter) have
rules for keeping these bots on their best behavior.
Example: A bot that takes nouns from your tweets and turns them into tributes to deities.


Expert Bots:
Much like the phone trees, these bots may either offer (semi-) useful information, or take responses and decide what to say next based on them. These bots can also sometimes be found on e-commerce sites with services like Live Chat. The bot will help to quickly sort the chatter for a human.
Example: The Bank of America customer service bot.


Where do bots live?

  • Email
  • Github
  • Slack
  • Twitter
  • IRC
  • and many more!

How do bots work?

Bots typically have a place where they get their content from. In some cases, this may be a very advanced system. In the case of our demo app and bot we simply feed in a web address pointing to our desired content, and it will post sentence by sentence is located.

Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 02.42.08

With any program that deals with a large amount of data, most of the work is typically in cleaning up the data so that, e.g. in this case, what the bot says is correct.

Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 02.42.15

Some bots will try to detect what is relevant in the data you feed it. Some will simply take the data and reproduce it without a second thought. Tay’s “repeat after me” feature did this, to disastrous effect.
Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 02.44.32

It’s common for one person, once they have acquired the skills, to make and manage many bots! To see this ailment in action, have a look at the work of the wonderful Darius Kazemi!

To end, here is an example of the code that would run our bot that tweets out random sentences from the Boston Police Patrolman Association’s newsletter. This script would typically be set up on a server and run on a schedule.

Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 01.46.03

It may not have been as complicated as you thought to build your own bot! If you would like an even more automated route, have a look at the article How To Make A Twitter Bot with Google Spreadsheets.


How bad does Shelby County discriminates against black businesses?

This bad. (The link is to a YouTube video. And yes, I know the first slide says it’s under 2 minutes but the video is 2:12. That will be updated in later versions.)

I’ve written about the racial disparity in municipal contracting processes – which sounds dry as sh*t, I’d be the first to admit – but it’s actually really important. (Here’s an graphic I created a couple of years ago on the topic.)

The short version: Black people finance their own discrimination when they pay taxes into a county government that then awards an unfair share of county contracts to businesses owned by white men. This has been happening in the county (and city) where I’m from for decades.

My video is an attempt to explain the issue by stressing the consensus values in the middle of Hallin’s Sphere and the deviance of continuing to use tax dollars to give one group an unfair advantage over another.

Here’s the story I was trying to explain. The story includes the numbers I cite, but people who won’t read the story WILL watch a video.

I’d like to redo it and make it snappier, add some sound effects and pictures. Some of the slides with not much text could have been shorter, but there’s no (easy) way in Keynote to vary the length of the slides.

Creating this was a beast. (Pro tip: If you create a Powerpoint, export the slides as JPEGs and import the JPEGs into iMovie, the stills will be so blurry as to be unreadable. A workaround: Use Keynote to create a slideshow, export it as a QuickTime movie and then upload to YouTube or wherever. Or alternately, get a legit video editor like Premiere or Final Cut.)

I think THIS is the future of news. I’d like to create a series of videos like this, ideally under a minute. The series (#MLK50, referenced at the end of the video) will be focused on how public policy reinforces racial/economic injustice in Memphis – and what policies would create a more economically equitable environment.

My “fierce urgency of now” is that in two years, Memphis will mark the 50th anniversary of the violent interruption of Martin Luther King’s vision of economic equality. King came to Memphis to make sure that local government treated mistreated black sanitation workers fairly, but 48 years later, the black community is still getting the short end of the stick.