Innovation Everywhere—Why the World Isn’t Flat Enough

moderator: Alex (Sandy) Pentland, MIT Media Lab, School of Architecture + Planning, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT
author: Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia
author: Nancy Hafkin, Pact
author: Damien Balsan
author: John M. Stelling, Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics (APUA)
published: March 6, 2013,   recorded: September 2005,   views: 3042

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The rising tide of digital communication has not lifted all boats equally, and threatens to leave others stranded altogether, worry some of these panelists.

Nancy Hafkin notes a continued gender gap in internet use around the world. In Italy, where there’s high web penetration, “women user rates are the same as Krygizstan.” What’s worse, according to Hafkin, in virtually every country of the world women are underrepresented in information technology education and careers, with the worst cases found in both Africa and Europe. She warns that the percentage of women enrolling in the U.S. as computer science majors in college has dropped 80% since its peak in 1985.

John Stelling perceives an “unequal dissemination of technologies that exist.” While medical advances can eliminate many diseases, life expectancy is dropping in places like Russia due to alcoholism and HIV. Women’s mortality in West Africa is about 35 times higher than in the U.S., and Stelling believes that deployment of information technology could “create new opportunities” to deliver health care more efficiently, accurately and conveniently to such developing regions. The issue involves broadening the reach of such technology so that more than wealthy pockets of these nations can benefit.

Damien Balsan finds reason to hope for a massive transformation of developing societies through relatively simple means like his ultra low cost mobile phones, which perform as “credit card acceptance devices for merchants.” In places like China, a vast number of retailers don’t accept credit cards, holding back the economy, says Balsan. Electronic payments, says Balsan, generate hundreds of millions of dollars of additional consumer spending, which ultimately drives growth in a nation’s GDP. A government-sponsored program in Mexico promotes such payments in remote areas, allowing women “to buy milk or things for their babies.”

Jimmy Wales has less faith in government action. He boldly claims, “Technology will give rise to prosperity in the world through highly distributed activity…. Realistically people figure out themselves what they need and how to achieve it.” Government functions best by “protecting individual rights…so people can use technology to better their own lives.”

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