A brave new digital world is rapidly emerging as Internet access, smartphones, and other technologies spread quickly through less wealthy nations. But could this sometimes be doing more harm than good?
A fascinating new report from the World Bank examines the impact that these digital technologies are having around the world. It’s a sobering reminder that the spread of technology often isn’t the panacea that many hope it will be.
The study did find positive aspects, which they call “digital dividends,” such as new economic growth and increased access to education. But it states that they are unevenly distributed, especially in developing nations. Poorer countries and individuals that lack access to the technologies will fall behind their peers, the report warns, and in some cases social inequalities could be exacerbated.
As the New York Timeswrites, this contradicts some of the assumptions behind Silicon Valley efforts to spread Internet access to poorer nations, such as Google’s Internet-by-balloon effort, Project Loon, and Facebook’s subsidized Internet service, Internet.org. In India, Facebook’s effort, which provides only limited access to the Internet beyond the social network, has indeed already come in for some severe criticism.
It also seems like an important counter to an overarching philosophy of techno-optimism that sometimes seems to pervade the tech industry. Richer countries need to bear this in mind as well. The spread of more advanced digital technologies like artificial intelligence and robotics could start giving some companies huge advantages, while eradicating or fundamentally changing many jobs.