Data points

Published November 29, 2021
Workers remove fences next to the entrance of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) headquarters last week in Geneva after next week’s WTO ministerial conference, the global trade body’s biggest gathering in four years, was postponed at the last minute due to the new Omicron Covid-19 variant.—AFP
Workers remove fences next to the entrance of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) headquarters last week in Geneva after next week’s WTO ministerial conference, the global trade body’s biggest gathering in four years, was postponed at the last minute due to the new Omicron Covid-19 variant.—AFP

Controlling information for national security

China has blocked public access to shipping location data, citing national security concerns, in another sign of its determination to control sources of sensitive information. The number of Automatic Identification System (AIS) signals from ships in Chinese waters dropped dramatically from a peak of more than 15m a day in October to just over 1m a day in early November. The AIS was initially developed to help avoid collisions between vessels and support rescue efforts in the event of a disaster. But it also became a valuable tool to enhance supply chain visibility and for governments to track activity in overseas ports. “The intelligence extracted from this data endangers China’s economic security and the harm cannot be ignored,” warned a Chinese state media report on November 1 on AIS stations in the coastal province of Guangdong. Companies wanting to send important data abroad now need to undergo a security assessment with the country’s data watchdog.

(Adapted from “China blocks access to shipping location data,” by Eleanor Olcott, Harry Dempsey and Steven Bernard, published on November 23, 2021, by the Financial Times)

A world of ‘Muskism’

In recent weeks, the term “metaverse” has started popping up all over the place. While it actually comes from a 1992 science fiction novel, the idea is much older: one example is the holodeck that appeared in the “Star Trek” franchise. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos was obsessed with the TV show as a kid; last month he sent William Shatner, the actor who played Captain Kirk in the original series, into space. “Billionaires, having read stories of world-building as boys, are now rich enough, as men, to build worlds,” writes Jill Lepore. “The metaverse is at once an illustration of and a distraction from a broader and more troubling turn in the history of capitalism.” Ms Lepore says the Shatner stunt is just one example of ‘Muskism’ in which today’s biggest tech companies have been creating more and more grandiose missions. Muskism is a form of capitalism in which companies worry about all manner of world-ending disasters, about the all-too-real catastrophe of climate change, but more often about mysterious ‘existential risks’ from which only techno-billionaires, apparently, can save us.

(Adapted from “Elon Musk Is Building A Sci-Fi World, And The Rest Of Us Are Trapped In It,” by Jill Lepore, published on Nov 4, 2021, by The New York Times)

Stipend for remote work vs WFH

Companies shifting permanently to remote work should consider offering employees a coworking stipend. That way, those who want to work from home can, but those who need another space to work can choose from a variety of coworking options. This idea is not without precedent: Automattic, the company behind WordPress, created a stir in 2017 when it shut down its San Francisco office because no one was showing up. Instead, it offered a $250 monthly coworking stipend to employees who preferred to not work from home. Other companies, such as Basecamp, Mozilla, and GitLab, have similar policies. Here are the benefits:1) It gives employees the flexibility and autonomy to choose what is right for them. 2) It helps in recruiting talent. 3) It can help your company appear more professional. 4) It can help your employees be more innovative, well connected, and productive. 5) It can help your company save costs.

(Adapted from “Coworking Spaces Offer a Post-Pandemic Office Alternative,” by Travis Howell, published by MIT Sloan Management Review)

Professor-less universities

In Pakistan, politicians seek to please their constituency by building universities regardless of professors or quality since the focus is on ‘brick and mortar’. Higher Education Commission (HEC) guidelines for a university, too, are focused on land and hardware with no requirement of professors or quality. Consequently, universities in Pakistan are not successful in imparting quality education and thus award extremely poor-quality degrees to students. The Public Sector Development Programme allocations must focus on financing professors. Given the high failure rates and dropouts, human capital flight, and emitted peer review, HEC scholarships are a very inefficient way of nurturing professors. In addition, since publications and PhD quality standards are loosely defined, quality assurance is limited, and knowledge capital remains of uncertain level, vitiating peer review. It is important to jumpstart the 231 universities that Pakistan has.

(Adapted from “Professor-less Universities in Pakistan,” by Fasiha Fatima, Muhammad Jehangir Khan, Nadeem Ul Haque, published on November 16, 2021, by the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics)

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, November 29th, 2021

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