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Letter from the editor | 266

Algorithms, microchips, and the elite

In December, British newspaper The Economist published excerpts from an article based on weekly news reports written by an artificial intelligence program. The result demonstrated both the power and limitations of machine learning: the text imitated a journalistic writing style and mentioned topics often covered by the newspaper, using proper and correct grammar—but it did not make sense.

The algorithms behind such programs are not yet capable of writing this editorial, but applying sequences of rules and logical procedures to a data set can help to solve a variety of other problems: from finding the route home with the least traffic, recommending music and films, and buying and selling shares, to stock control, warehouse maintenance, and logistics.

This issue’s cover story explains how these algorithms are created and describes some of their current and future applications. Their omnipresence is linked to the ease with which large amounts of information (known as big data) are now collected, stored, and processed by increasingly powerful computers.

The base component of virtually all electronic equipment, including computers, is the microchip. In a world that is increasingly dependent on such devices, consolidating the global microchip manufacturing industry is a major step forward in the development of innovative machines and solutions. Following an announcement by American company Qualcomm that it plans to open a chipset factory in Brazil this year, Yuri Vasconcelos provides a comprehensive overview of Brazil’s attempts to enter the microchip industry.

The Business Innovation Movement (MEI), run by the Brazilian National Confederation of Industry (CNI), was formed to encourage innovation in industrial companies. The movement is this year celebrating its 10th year of efforts to incorporate innovation into daily business routines. Its work, which is the subject of a report on page 39, seeks to influence public policy and corporate environments, as well as sharing successful experiences that have accelerated the adoption of innovative strategies.

MEI brings together business leaders from the industrial sector—this is the Brazilian elite who are the subject of research by political sociologist Elisa Reis. Institutional position is key to how Reis defines the elite, which she says is formed of people who control material and symbolic resources, occupying high positions with the opportunity to influence or make important decisions. In an interview she discusses the main objective of her research: to understand, often using comparative studies with other countries, how the Brazilian elite is related to poverty and inequality.

Reis studied her PhD at MIT at a time when there were very few women and foreigners at the institution and plays an active role in international scientific organizations. Close to retirement, she intends to continue her research and teaching activities—”I feel constantly challenged when I am teaching”—and advocates the production of knowledge as a collective effort. She recognizes the desire for originality, but believes this inclination contributes to a high level of fragmentation, making it difficult to consolidate and generalize results: “Teamwork is essential in academic research.”

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