Imagine your life in the year 2100, where being born in the developed part of the world means you are healthy and living in a beautiful city of tech wonders.
Meanwhile, on the news you see developing countries with classrooms filled to the brim, outdated computers with western brand names, and people mostly working on farms.
You think to yourself: Are we still using the lottery system where the winning ticket is being born in a rich country?
Left in the digital dust
We believe a world like that could exist if the technological gap is not closed, especially when considering the introduction of technology such as artificial intelligence (AI).
This digital divide has not always been an issue. Before some of the great technological advancements of the 19th and the 20th century, there was little sign of inequalities between countries. However, after many great inventions like electricity, advanced factory systems, and computers came about, so did the inequalities.
These inequalities stem from having only a select few having access to technology. This means they get access to new jobs and the productivity gains they bring about. In the West, some people have gotten their degrees entirely online and now work in computer science.
On the other hand, today, a sub-Saharan country might not have enough electricity to prepare food. For them, pressing buttons on a keyboard to generate thousands of dollars in income seems like something out of a dream.
In our view, this development is dangerous.
The United Nations Technology Bank is a leading contributor in the work toward sharing technology with the least developed countries in the world. They work actively with partnerships and affiliates to strengthen the general giving-culture toward the most rural parts of the world.
A rural school receiving computers and internet access transforms students’ access to education, empowering them and expanding their opportunities. Through receiving digital tools and resources, local businesses and entrepreneurs in developing countries will also be able to elevate their products and reach new markets.
In developing countries, 90% of domestic productivity growth stems from donated foreign technology. As things stand today, these digital donations are only a temporary lifeline, extending a glimpse of greatness donation by donation.
We will not minimize the digital divide by only donating technology. To take it even further, we should not only share our technological wealth, but rather aim towards assisting them with their own development.
Teaching a country how to fish
The famous saying “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime” is full of social wisdom, but also applies to the sharing of technology.
And yes, giving away technology is an important starting point. However, data shows us that the most innovative countries are the richest. If we just provide developing countries with the tech, the profits will go right back to the rich countries.
This means that the developing countries will not have any companies reinvesting their profits, no local communities flourishing, and no resources available to compete for new products.
As competition breeds innovation, we see this issue as key in closing the digital divide.
Bridging the gap
In India, technology has led to a reduction of poverty and increased contribution to the world’s economy. By producing more goods themselves and thus getting more people into non-agricultural jobs, India is making a real turnaround.
We believe that other countries could do the same, but they need our help to get going. The experienced fisherman should assist initially, before stepping aside and allowing them to cast their own lines.
The less developed countries should be able to harness the technology in a way that will create lasting change and sustainable progress. The assistance they receive will equip them with the tools to address their own challenges, shaping the future into their advantage.
By having them develop their own goods rather than just receiving them from others, the technological gap can be closed, bridging the digital divide, instead of just inviting digital doom.
Costantini, V. (2014, July). Technology transfer, institutions and development. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 88, 26-48.
Lahiri, R. (2023, August). India's technology industry: Driving GDP growth, employment, and innovation. Retrieved October 2023, from Grant Thornton Insights: https://www.grantthornton.in/insights/blogs/indias-tech-industry-driving-gdp-employment-and-innovation/
Torkington, S. (2023, October). These are the world's leading science and technology hotspots. Retrieved October 2023, from World Economic Forum: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2023/10/innovation-technology-wipo-countries-ranking/