Viewpoint: In Global Shift, Poorer Countries Are Increasingly the Early Tech Adopters
Thursday, May 12, 2016
Historically, industrial revolutions haven’t been kind to poor people. Despite the potential benefits technology can offer, the immediate impact on the lowest-paid members of society has often been negative. If it wasn’t putting people out of work, then technology was usually endangering them through hazardous working environments or long-term exposure to pollutants. And even today there is evidence that technology-driven economies are favoring just a small group of successful individuals, and thereby exacerbating inequality.
But now, with what the World Economic Forum (WEF) is calling the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we are seeing a different story unfold. Where steam once led to mechanization, electricity to mass production, and IT to automation, this fourth revolution is fusing technologies to achieve something new. Not only are the world’s poorest having their lives radically improved by these advances, but in some cases they are actually the first to benefit.
This marks an important and potentially powerful global shift. It can sometimes take decades before people on the bottom rung of the economic ladder can afford access to new technologies, even though they are often the ones with the most to gain. But the revolution now under way has the potential to usher in big improvements in quality of life with low-income countries as the early adopters. That means it can help close the global health gap between rich and poor.
Take the example of civilian drones. Despite much talk about gimmicky applications like drone-delivered pizza, the real potential lies in transporting medical supplies. A number of companies like Matternet are working on this in the United States but have been held back by regulations, because until last month it was illegal to fly a commercial drone without approval from the Federal Aviation Administration. However, in Rwanda the government is embracing the technology.