Monday, September 23, 2013

Technological leapfrog

Education and Technology in Bangladesh
I was reading the other day that the 12th largest shopping mall in the world is in Bangladesh. Bangladesh!? With a little further research, it turns out that seven of the largest 10 shopping centers in the world are in developing Asia.  My picture of Bangladesh and other similar countries as dusty or flooded areas of rural occupants with scraps for clothing and emaciated from hunger obviously needed some updating.

With a little research, it has become obvious to me that economic development in the emerging Asian economies is going to occur at a much faster pace than what we have seen in Western economies over the last 50 to 100 years. Among the major advantages that the developing economies have is the ability to take advantage of recent scientific and technological advancements and “leapfrog” over the existing developed societies.

For example, it would take many years and billions of dollars to trench and lay cable to every home in India or Bangladesh to provide phone and Internet services (and of course cable TV so they can watch MTV.) But they do not have to do that; they are jumping straight to wireless services for communication, Internet access, and televised entertainment and education.

Cell phone penetration in the top 20 countries includes of course the United States and China, but also includes India, Indonesia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Vietnam, and Thailand. Of the 6 billion mobile phone subscriptions around the world, 5 billion are in developing countries.

Back to the shopping center. Though it is true that large megamalls are appearing in developing Asian cities, there is certainly nothing like the scale of retail shopping establishments we see in the US, Western Europe, or Japan, and that will likely never happen because e-commerce will spread far more rapidly in these regions than will brick-and-mortar retail shops (maybe I should invest in the Indian and Indonesia equivalents of UPS and FedEx?) Similarly, rather than large banks with satellite stores scattered throughout the cities and countryside, these areas will continue to expand the use of smart phones for banking and to purchase everything from a vending machine drinks to groceries, clothes, and perhaps even cars.

The government will also take advantage of new technologies and science to provide better services to their citizens, with increased security compared to that in the Western economies. Avoiding all the problems that hazards the US Social Security system, which is plagued with identity theft and fraud, India is creating a national online identity database for the entire country based on biometrics (fingerprints, iris scans, & facial photographs) which will make it possible to verify every individual's identity, instantly, with a smart phone or other device. This ambitious program plans to include more than half the population by 2014.  In this country there is rampant paranoia of the 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 variety when it comes to government having the ability to verify your identity. However, this is the coming world standard, and to refuse it will continue to allow economic fraud of every type, and make it easier for known criminals and terrorist to operate within our society.  I personally find the latter possibilities a much greater threat than giving the government the ability to biometrically confirm who I am.

Meanwhile, federal and state legislatures have passed and continue to renew laws and policies entrenching existing legacy corporations and their outdated technology, and they resist new expenditures that would actually help maintain our lead as a technologically advanced citizenry. Whether it be satellite or cable television, our subscriptions are the most expensive in the world. Whether it be land lines or cell phones, our subscriptions are the most expensive in the world. Whether it be wireless or hardwired, our Internet access is the most expensive in the world (and among the slowest and most limited in the world.)  It's time to move forward before we are left behind.