The Fry Up: Algorithm charter unveiled, Not the Watson you think, VC in a small country, Paying your share

Friday Fry Up is Computerworld New Zealand’s weekly look at the world of IT.

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World-first algorithm charter, maybe

Hard to speak to the veracity of a headline in a press release that claims to be a world first, but the algorithm charter announced by Statistics Minister James Shaw deserves a mention. Not least because it commits 21 government entities to the managing how algorithms are used. Specifically, they are expected to:

  • Strike the right balance between privacy and transparency.
  • Prevent unintended bias.
  • Reflect the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi.

All worthy goals, but is it a realistic ask?

Signatories are committing to six broad principles which include ensuring that information about algorithms used is available to the public in plain English, data is fit for purpose by identifying and managing bias, and human oversight is retained. There is also a principle around embedding a Te Ao Māori perspective in the development and use of algorithms, although the document notes that it can’t fully address Māori data sovereignty considerations.

While the charter doesn’t technically define what an algorithm is, it asks organisations to focus on algorithms that “have a high risk or unintended consequences and/or have a significant impact if things go wrong.” To that end, there is a risk matrix to determine the algorithms with the potential to cause the most harm.

While not exactly the national AI strategy that many have been calling for, it is hopefully a step in that direction. The charter will be reviewed in 12 months to ensure it isn’t causing too much of a compliance burden, stifling innovation—and if it’s actually helping.\

In the footsteps of IBM

It’s a Microsoft deployment, but we couldn’t help think of IBM when life insurance company Fidelity Life announced it had completed the first phase of its $25 million technology project.

The project has been nicknamed ‘Watson’. Not for the Thomas J. Watson who founded IBM, but for Gordan and Shirley Watson, who founded Fidelity Life.

And like IBM’s Watson, Fidelity’s Watson is promising great things. In the latter’s case, the project is “built on the idea of reimagining life insurance for New Zealanders.” The first phase was to migrate 3,000 policies to a new Microsoft Dynamics 365 cloud platform.

TAM, SAM, SOM

Acronyms are a sector’s special code. So, if you know what TAM, SAM and SOM mean, it’s likely you’re in the venture capital game. They are total addressable market, serviceable addressable market, and serviceable obtainable market, respectively. Or to put it in another way: the customer base a founder dreams of, the customer base that exists for the founder’s product, and the customer base that the founder might just have a chance of selling to.

Being a successful start-up is a hard road, and software has to be one of the most difficult, especially in a small country with a tiny domestic market. Even so, in New Zealand we have a few companies that have beaten the odds, often with the help of government agencies like New Zealand Trade and Enterprise. The organisation has put on a series of seminars about for aspiring start-ups as part of Techweek, including a session with Ambit co-founder Tim Warren discussing how to engage VCs in six rounds of funding. You can check it out his five tips here at Computerworld New Zealand.

Telco levy tardiness

The Ultra Fast Broadband network gets all the glory, but its cousin the Rural Broadband Initiative (RBI) is just as important for ensuring we have the widespread connectivity necessary for economic growth. The RBI is mostly funded by something called the Telecommunications Development Levy, which for the past few years has been set at $50 million, and from next year will be reduced to $10 million. The same levy also pays for the relay service for the hearing-impaired and improvements to 111 emergency services calling.

Being liable to pay the levy is a double-edged sword. It means you are big enough to be earning more than $10 million revenue from New Zealand consumers. It also means you have pay up. Calculated as a percentage—so that those that earn the most, pay the most—the lion’s share falls to Spark, Vodafone and Chorus. But smaller telcos like MyRepublic also have to contribute.

We mention MyRepublic because it was issued with a civil infringement notice by the Commerce Commission, after not providing audited accounts by the due date. “MyRepublic failed to provide the required information by the due date and only did so after being pursued by the Commission for several months. MyRepublic was issued with a written warning for a similar breach in 2018,” the commission noted.

It is no doubt a financial burden on a company that it has to pay a levy, but it is a cost of doing business in this country and as such it’s hard to disagree with Telecommunications Commissioner Tristan Gilbertson when he notes, “MyRepublic has now breached its TDL obligations for two years in a row. This is unacceptable—it undermines the integrity of the system and is unfair on the New Zealanders who depend on the critical infrastructure and services supported by TDL funds.”

We have sought comment from MyRepublic but have not heard back. We will update this post if we do.

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