On October 26, as part of the World Bank’s celebration of the 10th International Open Access week, I moderated a panel discussion on behalf of the Bank and the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC). Experts shared their experiences, success stories, and identified remaining challenges in advancing Open Access. External participants and Bank Group staff were invited to the event, which was also live-streamed and recorded.
In 2009, the World Bank envisioned “open” in exactly the same way you “see” the word . . . an open door . . . and waiting behind the door . . . access to buildings and ideas, people and events. And in the Bank’s case, access to a plethora of information on projects throughout the world, current ‘of the moment’ information on open projects, outcomes and lessons learned culled from closed projects, small grants that showed impact and improvement, research into cutting edge topics that affect everybody like climate change and displacement, and much more.
Along with my colleagues on the ICT sector team of the World Bank, I firmly believe that ICTs can play a critical role in supporting development. But I am also aware that professionals on other sector teams may not necessarily share the same enthusiasm.
Typically, there are two arguments against ICTs for development. First, to properly reap the benefits of ICTs, countries need to be equipped with basic communication and other digital service delivery infrastructure, which remains a challenge for many of our low-income clients. Second, we need to be mindful of the growing divide between digital-ready groups vs. the rest of the population, and how it may exacerbate broader socio-economic inequality.
These concerns certainly apply to artificial intelligence (AI), which has recently re-emerged as an exciting frontier of technological innovation. In a nutshell, artificial intelligence is intelligence exhibited by machines. Unlike the several “AI winters” of the past decades, AI technologies really seem to be taking off this time. This may be promising news, but it challenges us to more clearly validate the vision of ICT for development, while incorporating the potential impact of AI.
It is probably too early to figure out whether AI will be blessing or a curse for international development… or perhaps this type of binary framing may not be the best approach. Rather than providing a definite answer, I’d like to share some thoughts on what AI means for ICT and development.
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Disruptive technologies are redefining the way of life. Everyone is buzzing about drones, driverless cars, autopilot planes, robots, and supply chains, starting from the entertainment industry, to agriculture and food sector, to private sector, to humanitarian and development fields. Drones delivering food, water, or health supplies, using off-grid power, innovative mobile apps, and other technological developments are all very exciting and unknown at the same time.
How will drones impact the supply chains and service delivery in the future? What are the opportunities and risks associated with utilizing drones to deliver supplies? What is the role of technology in helping us reach Sustainable Development Goals? I can’t pretend I have answers to any of these questions, nor do I dare predict what our future may look like in 10,20,30 years. However, it sure is interesting to look at the recent technological developments and try to understand what their role may be in the future.
That’s where the unlikely and innovative story of Zipline International Inc. and the Government of Rwanda comes in. Last fall the Government of Rwanda partnered with the California-based robotics company Zipline International Inc. and became the first country in the world to incorporate drone technology into its health care system by delivering blood and medical supplies to 21 hospitals across Rwanda’s Southern and Western provinces.
Technology is shaking up labor markets around the world. Increasingly intelligent machines are taking over routine jobs. Three-D printing is making many traditional, labor-intensive production processes obsolete. In total, almost half of all jobs may be at risk in the United States due to automation. Job losses are no longer just limited to blue collar occupations, but increasingly also affect high-paying white collar jobs such as in insurance, in the health sector or even in government bureaucracies. Is this the end of work as we know it? Not so fast, say some, who argue that technological progress and automation have not necessarily led to less demand for work on aggregate. An often cited example is the fact that the introduction of the automatic teller machine was accompanied by an expansion in retail banking jobs as banks opened more branches.