The true millennium bug

By Guilherme Becker

We were not expecting this. We were not prepared for this. The year was 1999 and the world was faced with one of its greatest expectations ever: the 2000s. The new millennium. A new era. A time forged from the previous decades, especially in the 1990s, but then also completely different. From the 2000’s on, kids would grow up connected to computers and electronic devices with limitless potential. There was the Internet, with a whole new way of communication. Worldwide. Connection. There were cableless tools. There were Nokia’s, Motorolas, Sony Ericsson’s, and then the IPhone, and Android. A beautiful picture.

Those were only some of the expectations of that time. And you could say that indeed we live in this world today. But back then, blocking the door to that new period, there was a possibly huge problem. A problem that could actually stop the development of this beautifully cybernetic world or maybe postpone it for a couple of years: the so-called millennium bug. Continue reading “The true millennium bug”

Communicating solidarity in trying times: La radio per l’Italia

By Arianna Rizzi

« Are you ready? We are going to live an unprecedented moment of union. For the first time in Italy’s history, all the radios unite in an extraordinary moment of sharing and participation to celebrate our great country – Italy – with music … »

On 31 December 2019, the first Chinese cases of a novel virus were notified to the World Health Organisation (WHO). At that time, what we now call “coronavirus” had a different name – “2019-nCoV” – and seemed to concern only an area remote in space and time from the Western world. But it was not long before COVID-19 had its outbreak in Europe, and Italy was among the first countries to be hit by the epidemic – now declared a pandemic – in the European region.  Continue reading “Communicating solidarity in trying times: La radio per l’Italia”

Leave no man behind: let’s talk about the fourth industrial revolution

By Jelmer Herms

It is probably a truism at this point, but we are not living the same way we did 20 years ago. Technology and innovation are changing our lives at a pace they have never really done before. CNBC News aptly put it in perspective like this: It took 75 years for 100 million people to adopt the telephone. The video game Pokémon GO reached that number of users in about one month.[1] The impact of technology is felt quicker and to a greater extent than ever before as a result of our globalized and interconnected world. But of course, more than just video games and telecommunications are developing at a rapid pace. Family Guy, at the end of its episode “The Peter Principal”, manages to point out in just a very short dialogue exchange how technology revolutionized the way we think about delivery services like Amazon, but also how hard it is to truly experience such change as remarkable or otherwise noteworthy:

Stewie: Oh, I bet he’s delivering those marmalade jars we ordered.

Brian: Doesn’t that feel like a million years ago? Yeah, we don’t need those anymore.

Stewie [To Delivery Guy]: Sorry, just send them back.

Brian: You can just do that?

Stewie: Oh, yeah, you can just refuse delivery.

Stewie: You’ve never done that?

Brian: I-I genuinely did not know you could do that.

Stewie: Well, you can. Anything you order. If you don’t sign for it, it has to go back. Everyone does it.

Stewie: Most of what America is now is just boxes going back and forth.[2]

As rapid innovation is becoming a new normal, it is also becoming a new kind of mundanity, and I think we should be wary of accepting the rapid pace of technological change as normal, even though you could make a strong case that almost nothing has changed in the ways that matter most. In fact, considering the quantity of global crises over the last years, I would expect nothing less than a sceptical view on our development, or the idea of a teleology of human progress. I agree that in most of the ways that matter, humans have not changed at all. Looking at the last 20 years or so, issues of social justice and socio-economic inequality remain, global terrorism has become more prevalent, man-made climate change is an unrelenting cause for distress, and civil war in the Middle East, famine in Africa, or the recent fires in the Amazon have traumatized, displaced or in the worst cases ravaged entire cultures. So of course, humans haven’t really changed as a species, but the technology we wield has. And this has had (and still can have into the future) undoubtedly positive effects as well.

Because over the last twenty years we have also, for better or for worse, connected billions of people to each other through the power of the internet, forging new transnational networks and alliances that have greatly contributed to the wellbeing of many across the planet. We now have entirely automated vehicles driving around, and they drive better than any human ever could. We have developed self-learning AI that can not only beat us at turn-based games like chess or checkers, but also at much more complex real time games, such as the classic RTS Starcraft II. [3] Computers can help us save lives and identify dangerous criminals, but they can also help us make entirely new forms of art, like this programme that writes (admittedly pretty bad) music by itself [4]. That is, in my view, nothing less than extraordinary: all of us here are alive in the period being called the Fourth Industrial Revolution.[5]

But can we say that as active citizens, we are asking ourselves the right questions on how to deal with the fact that we are in the middle of an Industrial Revolution? Are we directing our attention to making sure we are investing time and effort into the technologies that could help us the most? Are we structurally modernizing our democracies, our cultures, and our discourse to adapt to this revolutionary time? I’m not always so sure. It seems to me that the public sphere is not particularly on board with this idea of an Industrial Revolution, except for when Apple comes out with the ‘revolutionary’ new iPhone, which features a marginally improved camera and some new software updates.

To me, it seems that the actual revolution of innovation is being led by an exploding technocratic billionaire class. And many within this small group of people are mostly concerned with keeping their customers satisfied. But I think there is a massive difference between designing a product for a consumer, and designing a tool for a democratic citizen. I think it is fair to say that, as one example, social media has not been designed with the idea of existing within the framework of an inclusive liberal democracy: Facebook has caused extreme views getting disproportionate attention, and led to rampant misinformation that swayed election results because of its click-based monetization model, which rewards the loudest and most controversial voices.

In those cases where we design technology for the broader public, we should think more carefully about who benefits from innovation and technological advances, and to make sure that we don’t create systems that favour groups of people by design. And let me just add that my problem is not that people are getting rich by developing new technologies. I am not trying be some kind of neo-Marxist, urging you to eliminate class struggle by killing the wealthy, or to destroy any of the processes driving our technological innovation.

What I see is a technical operational challenge to the capitalist economy. Both innovators and citizens could play a much more active role in driving solutions to what I see is the major issue of this moment: the challenge of economic inclusivity. The problem as I see it, is that less and less people can participate on equal terms in this labour market. Of course, some skills or educations will always be more desirable than other kinds depending on the market and the environment, and I see no real issue with that dynamic continuing into the future. But we are reaching a point where technology is so efficient and innovation has accelerated so much, that it is very likely there will eventually not be enough labour to perform for entire segments of populations. Think of not only “low-skilled” labour, even though they will be hit the hardest, but also middle management positions, doctors, or all kinds of support staff eventually being overtaken by automation and artificial intelligence. The issue of keeping people included in the labour market cuts across class lines, and I think it is not central enough to our understanding of national politics.

While some answers to this issue have been presented in politics, they have come only from across the Atlantic, in the US. The American Democrat Andrew Yang is running for President of the United States on a platform attempting to tackle exactly the issue of automation and the increasingly exclusive labour market, and he has gathered a surprising amount of bipartisan support. [6] But his chances of winning are still minimal compared to mainstream top dogs like Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, or the guaranteed Republican nominee, Donald Trump. Here in Europe, I have not heard of any running national public official looking to address the Fourth Industrial Revolution, or even mentioning the issues I have talked about here (and I hope, of course, that anyone can prove me wrong on this: I don’t speak every European language). This, I think, speaks for the need for a change in perspective more than anything else.

If we want to manifest political change that strives for a more inclusive society not only in terms of social justice, but also in terms of economic stability and employment, then framing that discussion in an accessible and appropriate manner should be considered essential. By popularizing the idea of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, by making people think about our current moment not as mundane, but as extraordinary, we can help make people aware that the neoliberal logic of radical personal responsibility with regards to your employment can be successfully contested or suspended. It could help us reframe how we view unemployment and eliminate the stigma on it, which in turn could help us think in more positive terms about how to find people new jobs, if we even want to continue with striving towards full employment at all. Talking about a new Industrial Revolution can also help us kickstart a broader conversation about new and exciting technologies that we could feasibly incorporate into our societal structures. Finally, talking about the Fourth Industrial Revolution as an explicit operational issue can help us become more willing to let go of the economic and political models of the past, and to instead embrace new and innovative technologies and models for organizing our society.

We need to do more than just reform: it’s about time we revolutionize.

Picture: joshsdh, Flickr

Sources:
[1] ‘’What is the Fourth Industrial Revolution?’’ CNBC News. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v9rZOa3CUC8

[2] Family Guy S15E18, The Peter Principal.
https://www.springfieldspringfield.co.uk/view_episode_scripts.php?tv-show=family-guy&episode=s15e18

[3] RTS, Meaning Real-Time Strategy. For more on Starcraft II AI, see: https://deepmind.com/blog/article/alphastar-mastering-real-time-strategy-game-starcraft-ii

[4] http://computoser.com/

[5] https://www.weforum.org/about/the-fourth-industrial-revolution-by-klaus-schwab

[6] https://www.yang2020.com/

The Back Office: The Digital Age

All-focus

Albert Meijer

I’m a child of the eighties, which explains my love for mismatched coloring schemes, my Wham!-inspired wardrobe and the continuous Tears for Fears-soundtrack playing in my head.
One of the perks of being an eighties kid is growing up with Modern Technology. My parents sometimes still text me IN ALL CAPS, but my fingers have the adaptability of a Karma Chameleon. Shaped by Gameboys, Nintendo, cellphones, smartphones and the Cloud, I’m pretty confident about my tech skills.
That’s great, because in the modern-day Euroculture office, there’s a constant move towards the Digital Age. Two proud moments of this semester are the introduction of
our new and improved website, complete with a state of the art new application system, and the start of the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). By now, 10.000 people, from Azerbaijan to Zimbabwe, signed up to learn from some of our top professors. The Future Truly Is Now.
The next step – which is a small one for mankind, but a giant leap for a
  humble course coordinator – is bringing tech back into the Euroculture classroom. We’ve already included some students in the MOOC, but now we’re discussing classroom conferences, the ‘flipped classroom’ and ‘blended learning’ – fancy names for making cooperation between Euroculture students in different universities possible. Exciting stuff, as you can imagine!
The Dream of the Eighties is alive in Groningen – I’m just praying that in ten years, I won’t be replaced by an intelligent robot. 
     

Click here for more by Albert Meijer.

The Euroculturer Recommends:

“Local Customs: Rhineland Carnival – Warum ist es am Rhein so schön?” by Mona Moentmann

“Is It Time To Panic? American Foreign Policy Under Donald J. Trump” by Lauren Rogers

“Erasmus for the World? Approaching Two Decades of the Erasmus Programme” by Daniele Carminati

 

                                                  

Why does Ireland have the EU’s strictest abortion regime? Applying and Repealing the Eighth Amendment to the Irish Constitution

 

repeal-8
A mural in Dublin calling for the repeal of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution of Ireland, which bans abortion.

Eoghan Hughes

With a significant pro-choice victory in Poland as the country’s conservative PiS government performs a U-turn on restricting access to abortion in the case of incest, rape, fatal foetal abnormality and risk to the mother’s life, it is easy to forget that the EU still has one State in which very few of the above constitute a legitimate cause for abortion.

Last year the Republic of Ireland became the first country to legalise same sex marriage through a popular referendum with an overwhelming victory, which seemed to signal a new liberal turn in a country many people across Europe and the world associate with conservative Catholicism. Yet Ireland, despite calls from the EU, the Council of Europe and the UN, has retained one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world, where fatal foetal abnormalities and rape are not considered legal grounds for the termination of a foetus and where, even in the cases where woman’s life would be endangered by seeing a foetus to term, a woman might be denied the necessary treatment. Enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic of Ireland (Bunreacht na hÉireann) the Eighth Amendment prevents a woman having an abortion because the foetus is considered to have an equal right to life:

“The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.” Continue reading “Why does Ireland have the EU’s strictest abortion regime? Applying and Repealing the Eighth Amendment to the Irish Constitution”

“We don’t say goodbye” – Long Distance Friendships: Can They Work?

Packing every semester, leaving everything behind and starting the process all over again is something that you love or you just get tired of. How long can you keep going? For some MA Euroculture fellows, the period of the Master programme is already too much. For others, it is just the start of a long-lasting expatriate life.

Mayra Lopes │mayralopes@uol.com.br

They met during the weekend before the classes started. She had come all the way from another continent, carrying a heavy bag and trying to cope with the jet-lag that kept her awake all night. The first time they spoke was on Facebook. He was already living in the city, so kindly offered his ‘classmate-to-be’ a hand to settle. They bonded instantly and became very good friends. But, as we all know, they had to say goodbye when the semester came to an end. They promised to keep in touch. Deep down, they knew it was never going to be the same.

We live between hi and bye

That could be the story of anyone who decided to move abroad, for whatever reason. But, the truth is, meeting new people is exciting. It is the easiest way to learn about a different country, culture and even some key sentences in a different language. When you are an exchange student, you meet a huge number of people, coming from the four corners of the globe. When you are away from home and no longer have a ‘comfort zone’, you see that making new friends is easy – and necessary. You become easily attached to these new people, you get used to having them around. They do become your best friends! Plus, we all run the risk of falling in love with that one that lives the farthest away.

mayra long distance love

How to deal with all that varies a lot from person to person; some look behind with nostalgia, others prefer to look ahead and move on. However, having someone you care about abroad forces you to become creative in finding ways to keep in touch. In some cases, distance can even make a relationship grow stronger. That is what happened to the Brazilian couple, Juliana and Marcelo. When Marcelo was accepted to a Master programme in Germany, Juliana decided that it was time to study abroad too, something that she had had in her ‘to do list’ for a long time. She was accepted to the Erasmus Mundus Master programme in Journalism, Media and Globalisation and, even if they were in the same continent, they lived apart from each other for two years. “In the end, missing each other was good for our relationship; we learned to be less attached. We made a deal to see each other every two weeks”, says Juliana. “Low cost airlines are helpful, but being less jealous is also very helpful”, she advises.

mayra computer cat

It has been almost three years since Kato left Georgia to live with her family in France. Even if she only goes back to visit her friends during the summer holiday, she uses technology and creativity to her favour in order to keep in touch. But don’t go thinking that they chat or exchange long emails. “We have Skype Parties! We have some drinks together and, even if they are on the other side of the screen, we have fun and do crazy things. I feel like I am with them”, she says. Of course she misses being around, but these virtual parties, and the fact that she keeps sharing her deepest secrets with her friends from far-far-away Georgia, make her feel a bit closer.

Let’s talk about YOU now

Packing every semester, leaving everything behind and starting the process all over again is something that you love or you just get tired of. How long can you keep going? For some MA Euroculture fellows, the period of the Master programme is already too much. For others, it is just the start of a long-lasting expatriate life.

Just for fun: What kind of exchange student are you?

There are those who are super needy. They always try to make a lot of friends, hang out with every kind of person and are out every night. Hyper-social, they get easily attached and are the first ones to start crying their eyes out on the last day of class. And there are those that prefer not to go so deep. They stay rational and repeat to themselves that this is just another period of their lives, seeing no need to feel emotionally involved with all these people that they are unsure of ever seeing again. If you are in the group of ‘sufferers’ or in the ‘way too cool to worry vibe’, here are some tips that might be helpful to have a blast in the Euroculture way of life:

Good practices for the sentimental:

– Use your sentimental side to your favour; become the PR of the group and assure some of the best memories (and photos) of the season;

– Send some nice birthday/Christmas cards (and maybe one of those best photos) by post – Facebook messages are so impersonal…;

– Keep up with their stories; even if you are far away, try to know what is going on in your friend’s life and be there to give some (even if lousy) advice;

– Try to always have actual conversations with your friends living abroad, say more than “I miss you” – that we all know.

Good practices for the cold hearts:

– Don’t play it too hard. We all know you build this brick wall around you because you fear getting too attached… So, first thing: “Let it be”;

– Keep in mind that this can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Try to get interested about other people’s lives, cultures, idiomatic expressions… It will not compromise your heart and it will help you to become a more tolerant person;

– Enjoy the music. Go out, meet people. If you stay home, you might be letting pass your soul mate and a lot of potential friends!

– Taste new food, be curious and enjoy. It’s alright, none of us expect you to cry and hug for 10 minutes before saying goodbye.

Mayra

Mayra Lopes, Contributing writer

Mayra Lopes started spreading her Brazilianness in Europe a while ago. She studied in the UK, Czech Republic, France and Spain (and in Brazil, of course). Currently in Brussels for the professional track, she thinks she will never see chocolate the same way. Mayra is a journalist crazy about international news, coffee addict and polka dots enthusiast.