Nmachi Jidenma is an international development specialist passionate about using technology for development. She focuses on International Entrepreneurship at Engine. @nmachijidenma
Last week, I was at the Techonomy 2012 conference in Tucson, Arizona, where about 250 technology and business leaders gathered to explore how technology and innovation can accelerate progress in business and society. At the conference, various issues at the intersection of technology and the economy were explored in what proved to be an enriching, intellectual dialogue. From futurist Ray Kurzweil’s discourse on the merger of man and machine, to researcher Gordon Bell’s discussions on lifelogging and its impact on augmented memory, I left the conference with a stronger faith in technology’s role in improving society.
Among the various “techonomic” issues explored, what struck home for me was the impact a mobile world and big data can have in transforming economies in emerging regions of the world.
In recent years, the world has witnessed an explosion of data as billions of new devices connect to the Internet. By some estimates, in the past two years, ten times more data has been created than in all of human history. Though the privacy and security implications of this data remain issues of concern, its potential use cases are significant. When used for good, big data can be used to mine and model various social issues around the world from food shortages to the dynamics of global urbanization.
In regions like Africa, the impact can be tremendous. Already, the continent is experiencing paradigm-shifting growth. In the past decade, six of the world’s top ten fastest growing economies have been from Africa. With the current boom in mobile technology adoption, the potential of technology to enable the continent to leapfrog decades of economic progress and usher in prosperity for the populace is immense. From finance to healthcare, there is an opportunity to empower hundreds of millions of people through a confluence in the use of mobile technology and big data intelligence. The runaway success of M-Pesa in Kenya provides evidence of the sort of revolutionizing effect technology can have on emerging economies. The hope is that the next decade will usher in smarter governance through mobile data.
At the same time, the rising influence of robotics technology and its future impact on the face of unemployment and job growth both in the U.S. and abroad is of particular importance. As robotics ushers in more efficiency and just-in-time processes to a dynamic planet, how do these trends affect job growth domestically and internationally as well as the future of work? How do they affect the future of emerging regions of the world and their future roles in the global economy? How do they affect business processes such as outsourcing and the skill sets needed to compete in an increasingly automated world?
At Engine, these questions are important to us because they bring to the fore technology's important role in shaping the global economy. We are passionate about how things like mobile and big data can be used for good around the world, especially in emerging regions where technological progress can significantly fast track development. There is a unique opportunity for governments to use actionable information from data patterns to shape policy in a rapidly changing world. That way, we can build a smarter planet and a more prosperous future for all.