The Innovation Bug

By Maya Plentz

When people ask me how come I am so interested in technology and innovation I tell them that is thanks to my father, Ayrton Fagundes, who taught me about tech, policy, and ethics in journalism. And Bloomberg TV of course, a complete immersion on a perfect digital newsroom. But my father was very influential early on in my career.

A well-know figure in the corridors of power in Brasilia, covering politics for the Jornal do Comercio and RBS, writing a daily column, after the country suffered years of military dictatorship, during the democratic transition period. At one point he shifted to work for the government, as the chief spokesperson for the Secretaria Especial de Informatica (SEI), a Brazilian government agency that dealt with trade policy, intellectual property, and regulation in the area of information technology.

My interest in new technologies, research and innovation also stems from my early training as a dancer, when I studied classical ballet and contemporary dance. I studied anatomy and physiology to improve my training regimen and all innovation that was available to recover faster from the injuries inherent to the training demands of a professional ballet and contemporary dancer.

Then I trained to teach the Alexander Technique, a method that is arguably the best example of a really coherent understanding of neuromuscular fine-tuning that can be applied to dance and voice production training. Innovation at its finest.

Later, I worked as a film and video research assistant to the acclaimed dance historian David Vaughan, in the archives of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, and its Film and Video Foundation’s collection, in New York.

I studied innovation related to film and video production of dance and choreography, in particular special effects, uses of cutting edge editing software, and surveyed the development of the first software designed to help choreographers record and rehearse their dances, that Merce Cunningham developed in partnership with a university in Canada.

Back to school after my dance career ended because of an injury, I spent 5 years at Columbia University, witnessing and partaking on the digital revolution of Higher-Education in particular in the Humanities, the Arts, and Social Sciences.

Then Bloomberg TV, of course. Completely digital news production. Before broadcasters were talking about digital transformation and disruption in the news business, Bloomberg was already digitalizing the newsroom. It was really an incredible experience, total immersion in the digital world of news production.

And, in the last couple of years, working with some of the finest innovators in the UK, US, Latin America, and at the European Commission, and speaking at UN conferences on the persistent digital divide, 5G, IoT, AI, and women’s economic empowerment.

Controversial Policy Helps Brazil’s Computer Industry Thrive

(My father is quoted here)

Sao Paulo, Brazil

31 December, 1983


Brazil’s growing and profitable computer market is like a forbidden fruit dangling in front of multinationals like IBM and Burroughs.  Since 1977, foreign companies have been frustrated in their attempt to enter the lucrative market ($2.78 billion in sales in 1982 for mini-micro-and medium-size computers).

In that year, the government’s special Secretariat of Informatics instituted its “market reserve” policy, which limits the manufacture and sale of such small computers to Brazilian firms. The multinationals are restricted to the production of the larger, more complex and sophisticated computers. The government justifies the rule in terms of national security, so much so that the Informatics Secretariat, which sets rules for the computer industry, comes under the jurisdiction of the National Security Council and is directly linked to the Brazilian president’s office.

For the government, the increasing use of computers by banks, industries and research centers is too sensitive to allow the dominating presence of multinational companies. Also, authorities do not want Brazilian computer makers to be dependent on U.S. and European know-how.

Edson Fregni, president of the Brazilian computer manufacturers association and a leading market reserve advocate, says: “We need time for our sector to grow, develop and compete. Without market reserve, the multinationals with their more sophisticated technology, products and production methods would wipe us out.”

Opponents of the policy contend that Brazil’s computer industry, as well as other industries that depend on computers, run the risk of becoming permanently behind the times.

“By barring multinationals, Brazil is condemning itself to technological backwardness and preventing itself from becoming competitive on the international market,” says N. Knowlton King, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Sao Paulo, Brazil’s largest city and its industrial and financial nerve center.

The president of IBM’s Brazilian subsidiary, Robeli Jose de Libero, told Brazil’s Congress, “I see no advantage to this form of discrimination which only leads to (financial and technological) losses.”

“The end of the market reserve would be good for us and for Brazil because that which is not forbidden has a better chance of developing and competing on the international scene,” added Georg Strozberg, one of the directors of Burroughs’ Brazilian subsidiary.

Fregni, of the computer manufacturers association, countered: “A technology can only be considered obsolete if it does not meet a country’s needs, and our industry today produces computers perfectly capable of solving Brazilian problems. They meet the needs of an underdeveloped country such as ours.”

He added: “There may be a gap between our technology and that of other, more developed countries. But the important thing to remember is that this does not mean that we are technologically backward. If the technology we have developed and continue to develop responds to our needs, then it is not out of date.”

Carlos Roberto Gauche, vice president of Prologica, a Brazilian computer manufacturer, says the market reserve rule is important to Brazilian independence.

“In the event of a war, for example, the more dependent a country is in technological terms, the more vulnerable it becomes,” he says. “If Brazil does not develop its own computer technology, it will become the slave of whoever owns the technology. Now is the moment to have our own technology. Either we achieve our independence now, or we never will.”

Brazil’s protective policies have resulted in high prices for computer users. The locally made equivalent of an Apple II can cost more than twice what a genuine Apple II sells for in the United States.

Fregni says the restriction “is not eternal.”

“Once our computers are able to compete on the international market, the reserve will begin disappearing, and I think that by the end of this decade we will be able to compete on equal terms with the multinationals,” he says.

Ayrton Fagundes, spokesman for the Informatics Secretariat in Brasilia, the capital, agrees.

“Six years ago there were no more than 10 Brazilian computer manufacturers,” Fagundes says. “Today, there are 108 companies that produce not only computers but the so-called peripherals, printers, terminals and disks as well.”

He says 16.4 Percent of the 8,844 computers installed in 1980 were Brazilian-made. That rose to 42 percent of the 14,249 computers in 1981 and 67 percent of the 24,339 computers last year. Figures for 1983 have not been compiled, he says.

One area of the industry that is not protected by the market reserve rule is the production of software, the programs and instructions that go into the computer so that it will do what the user wants it to do.

However, Fagundes says a study is being made on the feasibility of extending market protection to the software sector.

Software imports are permitted, but are gradually being restricted to those that do not have Brazilian-made equivalents, Fagundes says.

Fregni says that one of the most serious problems facing the industry is the widespread use of programs that are easily smuggled into the country and then copied.

“Many companies simply copy these programs and then sell them for prices that are far cheaper than those that are developed inside Brazil. This illegal practice hinders creativity and technological development,” Fregni says.

TICKER:  IBMC (BRU) (85%); IBM (NYSE) (85%); IBM (LSE) (85%);







Copyright 1983 Associated Press
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