Technology can make or break the world. I have witnessed and been at the forefront of the digital revolution. While I have been the biggest admirer of the digital prowess and how it has transformed our lives, I have to admit there is a widening digital divide.
The progress in technology can get us to Mars but has not been able to guarantee the basic gifts of nature—water and air. Global warming, climate change, air pollution, and acute water shortage is threatening the very survival of the human race. According to a United Nations report, only 2.5% of planet’s water is fresh; and by 2050, about 3.9 billion of our planet’s population will live in severely water-stressed regions.
I live in a city which has one of the worst air qualities in the world, which is also affecting the life expectancy of its citizens. The problem is real and manifesting in our everyday life. The time for debate is over, we need to act now.
Technology should be for common good
Technology has revolutionised the way we live. It has changed the way healthcare is provided to people in remote places, supports distant education, and helps farmers get the right price for their crops. Mobile wallets and digital money interfaces have helped the population globally to be financially connected and have helped governments to deliver benefits to the rightful recipients. However, the impact has been seen in pockets, and the true potential of technology is far from being realised.
Internet is a real equaliser in the digital world, yet more than a billion people remain in the ‘Information Dark Age’. Power tussles over critical technologies like 5G, core resources of the digital economy like data, do not augur well with the inclusive digital ecosystem. Information and knowledge is the right of every individual, just as other necessities like education, food, and shelter.
We have all witnessed the true power of the Internet which brought in a new paradigm shift in the way we communicate—where individual voices reach power corridors. From banking to education, groceries to personal relationships, everything is in your palm, in the form of your mobile device. It has turned out to be a powerful tool for the voiceless. This has also paved the way for exponential growth in electronic commerce. Despite such tremendous potential and benefits, there remains a challenge of equal access.
For instance, the nuclear technology that has been associated with ‘threat’, has tremendous potential for generating energy. It can also be used for diagnosis and treatment of life-threatening diseases, including cancer. Also, nuclear energy can power space exploration, which in turn helps in weather prediction, remote telecommunication, identifying the potential of renewable energy, ensuring food security by providing accurate data about climate to farmers, besides tapping into a planetary system for scarce resources.
Artificial intelligence (AI) as a technology has huge potential. It can help predict ailments, crime, weather, and traffic. This technology also helps in predictive supply chain, factory maintenance, and inventory gaps. However, the way algorithms can be manipulated remains an ethical issue. Concerns around job losses have gone up with AI-developed processes and services. AI can predict diseases but it can also alter the genetic algorithm that can be decisive for any race or community’s future.
According to a report by McKinsey, adaptation of currently demonstrated automation technologies could affect 50% of the world economy, or 1.2 billion employees, and $14.6 trillion in wages. Just four countries—China, India, Japan, and the U.S.—account for over half of these. It is imperative that we reskill and upskill the global workforce to be relevant in the digital future, and as industry leaders, our task is cut out.
Technology is neither good nor bad, and depends largely on its application
A digital revolution will fail and will not reach the targeted beneficiaries in the absence of an inclusive policy and strategy. Anything good will only emerge by putting people and the larger ecosystem at the core of all technology innovation. We have to put ‘people first’ in a tech-dominated world.
Future of technology is more human
As I dwell deep into the world with limitless possibilities powered by technology, I am reminded of how human ingenuity can create miracles. I am reminded of the credible story of a cab driver who learnt technology to work on drones and robotic systems that could help farmers sow seeds, and incidentally, I am his proud colleague. Underpinned is a message that our education system has to expand to include those who do not qualify by the conventions, and it is the equal responsibility of us, the industry, to open doors to innovation for one and all.
Good, bad or ugly, let us not forget that technology was, is, and will remain critical for human evolution. This does not mean machines will replace us. In fact, the future of technology is ‘more human’.
The author is managing director and chief executive officer, Tech Mahindra.
Views are personal.