Technology in Development
We wish to
- How has
information technology advanced in recent history, and what is the role
of these technologies in squandering and/or saving our natural
conditions Optimize Invention and Innovation and Facilitate the
Acquisition of Technology?
- What are
some of the negatives associated with technological change?
- What are
the recommended roles for government, the private sector, and the
scientific, research, and development communities?
[Growth and Impact of
Information Technologies] [Factors
Influencing Technological Change] [Priorities
For decades, environmentalists have been
warning that human economic activity is exceeding the planet's limits. Of
course we keep pushing those limits back with clever new technologies; yet
living systems are undeniably in decline. These trends need not be in
conflict—in fact, there are fortunes to be made in reconciling them.
The book, Natural Capitalism: Creating
the Next Industrial Revolution, explores the opportunities for
businesses in an era of approaching environmental limits. Natural capital
refers to the natural resources and ecosystem services that make possible
all economic activity, indeed all life. These services are of immense
economic value; some are literally priceless, since they have no known
substitutes. Yet current business practices typically fail to take into
account the value of these assets—which is rising with their scarcity.
As a result, natural capital is being degraded and liquidated by the
wasteful use of such resources as energy, materials, water, fiber, and
The first of natural capitalism's four interlinked principles, therefore,
is radically increased resource productivity. Implementing just this first
principle can significantly improve a firm's bottom line, and can also
help finance the other three. They are: redesigning industry on biological
models with closed loops and zero waste; shifting from the sale of goods
(for example, light bulbs) to the provision of services (illumination);
and reinvesting in the natural capital that is the basis of future
Growth of Information Technologies
growth of technologies, such as information technology (IT), has been
astounding. The implications of this global revolution may both threaten
and protect the future of our planet. Here we will
examine the rapid growth of modern technologies, some of the implications
of those technologies for global change, and how we may best guide our
technological growth and development for the betterment of our planet.
1990 and 1996, international telephone traffic more than doubled from 33
billion to 70 billion minutes per year
- # of
computers worldwide tripled in the ‘90s (now over 400 million)
using Geographic Information Systems increases roughly 20% each year
- In the
last 3 decades, the computing power of a single computer chip has
increased by a factor of 64,000.
- At a
given instant, all of North America’s long distance telephone traffic
could theoretically be carried on a single pair of optical fibers, each
the thickness of a human hair.
technologies promise to serve the most remote locations e.g. Mountain
farmers in yak caravans in Laos and Myanmar now use cell phones to find
the best route to market during the rainy season.
the role of these technologies in squandering and saving our natural
One semiconductor manufacturing plant can
use as much electrical power and water as a small city.
In 1993 it was estimated that manufacturing a
typical computer workstation weighing 25 kilograms, generated 63
kilograms of waste, 22 of them toxic.
Computers and telephones present a major
waste disposal issue as new models quickly become obsolete. Recycling computers and other electronics is difficult and time consuming, and
rarely cost effective.
Use of computers should save paper. Right?
Wrong. From 1988-1998 average per capita paper use of printing and
writing paper in industrial countries rose by 24%. Decreases in
newspaper and advertising uses are more than supplemented by increased
use of office paper and paper in packaging.
telecommunication technology may encourage people to live farther
apart, encourage us to travel further to shop or recreate. Travel time
becomes more productive with cell phones, laptops and wireless
technology. No communications revolution in history has ever been
associated with a net reduction in travel.
High tech companies are getting better at dealing with
pollution and waste, publishing environmental health and safety
reports, showing progress toward decreased pollution and resource
consumption in manufacturing.
Improved technologies allow improved monitoring and
dissemination of pollution information (Fig. 2)
Europe is leading the way in responsible
manufacturing, disposal and recycling of electronics by forcing
prohibiting the use of some toxins in manufacturing, requiring the
producer to institute collection systems, and distributors to accept
old electronic devices when selling new.
Up and coming e-book and e-paper technology
promises to make electronic media easier to read, perhaps replacing
much of the paper that runs through the office printer.
Telecommuting and videoconferencing should reduce transportation
needs. An innovative program at AT&T has led the way in working
remotely. The company claims that over the past year, the telework
program (established in 1992) avoided 110 million miles of commuting,
saving approximately 50,000 tons of carbon dioxide, 5.1 million
gallons of gasoline, 220,000 tons of hydrocarbons, 1.7 million tons of
carbon monoxide, and 110,000 tons of nitrous oxide.
Factors Influencing Technological Change
Bank and the National Research Council brought together members of the
international community for an assessment of the impact of technological
innovation on developing countries. The findings of this symposium are
found in "Marshaling Technology for Development: Proceedings of a
Symposium", published in 1995. This is one of the primary resources used
in the preparation of these notes.
Conditions that Encourage Invention and Innovation and Facilitate
the Acquisition of Technology
educational system that encourages
creativity and the
pursuit of scientific and technological
An educated and
network of capable
research laboratories, linked
together and able to gain access to
scientific and technological information from the outside world
product development and quality control, including testing
and standards laboratories responding to international standards
Critical technical resources,
including machine shops, precision foundries, and computational
industrial structure that will
sustain a productive "industrial ecology",
in which small, technically oriented and potentially innovative
suppliers serve larger that have access to markets and resources
programs that link researchers and
inventors to the potential users of the knowledge they
generate, as well as to investors
legal system to
protect technological innovation (indigenous or imported)
economic policy environment that
encourages research and development
and investment in innovation
reliable electric power network with
good frequency and amplitude control
Source: Marshaling Technology for Development, National Academy
Negative Impacts of New Technology
Technological innovations often make
critical industrial or agricultural products uncompetitive or
obsolete. This puts countries that have failed to
anticipate change or whose economy relies heavily on a few
traditional products at risk.
Those countries where manufacturing is an important sourced of
employment for uneducated workers face
difficult educational and political challenges associated
with the transition to manufacturing practices that are more
knowledge-based and specialized.
Exposure to new technologies and to international culture and
fashions may weaken long-standing traditions and practices.
New technologies in some cases can assist in the preservation or
exploration of local culture, but developing countries will need
to make such preservation an active focus.
There is potential for the convergence of
developed and developing economies over the long term. This
can result in a decrease in independence for developing countries.
A widening gap between technology "haves"
and "have nots" may develop across countries and across
socioeconomic groups within countries. Such equity issues –
different rates of investment and development in different regions
– can create unrest and led to the persistence of poverty.
The distinction may change from "developed
vs developing countries" to "populations that are technologically
adept and those that are not and between populations that are
plugged into rapidly changing knowledge and those that are not.
Source: Marshaling Technology for Development, National Academy
Opportunities and Strategies by Sector
participants concluded that the demand for food will increase by more than
a factor of two, that a considerable increase in economic investment will
be needed to provide plants, equipment, and jobs, that energy consumption
will significantly increase, that increased prices of some nonrenewable
resources, fuels, and materials will not hinder their availability to
developing countries, that many developing countries will not be able to
provide for the increasing needs for education, basic health and
protective services. They acknowledged that telecommunications,
biotechnology, and materials science and technology are expected to create
new industries, new products, and new jobs, and that new fuels and new
technologies for energy conversion will address some of the increased
Agriculture is seen as the sector that is most dependent on innovation
and new technology to meet increasing demands. Increased food production
is therefore dependent upon new technologies that increase yield.
"Because the world is facing a shrinking land base
and growing demand for agricultural products, the output per unit area of
the food and feedgrains, as well as starchy vegetables, must more than
double over the next 25 years. While there is considerable scope for
increasing yields within the existing genetic potential, scientific
breakthroughs will be needed to fully achieve the needed yields."
- Richard R. Harwood, Michigan State University
Manufacturing and Services
These two sectors have been highly affected by radical innovations in
telecommunications and computers.
electronic industry has generated much of the new technology and is expect
to be that most transformed by advances in these areas. Data-entry,
translation, and financial services have frequently been exported from
developed countries, but it is expected that many of these services will
be replaced with effective voice-recognition technologies.
"Among the so-called services, a country’s ability
to manage and use information will be the single determinant of its rate
Jordan J. Baruch, Jordan J. Baruch Associates
Environment and Energy
Symposium participants conclude that the Earth’s environment cannot
sustain the energy use, resource waste, and pollution that supported
developed countries’ industrialization to present levels of consumption.
Previously, negative environmental impacts were seen to be the inevitable
consequences of development. The primary goal was increased production,
and environmental problems were either ignored or addressed separately.
Currently, manufacturers incorporate "green technologies" and
environmental considerations as an integral part of the design process.
Informatic technologies, computer-aided design, and computer-controlled
manufacturing are used to decrease pollution and make products that are
more readily recycled. New technologies have increased the efficiency of
power plants and electrical devices, and modular and macro-electronic
technologies are changing the nature of power generation and distribution.
In some respects, the energy industry may be following a similar pattern
as that taken by the computer industry (mainframes -> desktops -> laptops
-> networks of small units). However,
renewable energy sources (solar, wind, biomass) provide the only
long-term option for sustainable development. These sources are not
currently economically competitive but are expected to become so in the
near future. Photovoltaic technologies include small, modular components
that can be readily transported to and assembled in remote locations.
Solar thermal generators do not yet compete successfully with cheaper and
more efficient fossil fuel combustion turbines but may be viable options
in tropical regions where coal or gas are scarce. Wind turbines are in use
in areas with persistent winds and costs are decreasing rapidly for this
technology. Of course, solar and wind technologies only produce energy
under favorable weather conditions, which does not always match periods of
peak use. Improvements in storage technologies will make these
technologies more competitive with advanced turbine technologies.
Biotechnologies that yield higher productivity of fuel crops and more
efficient conversion of biomass to energy are expected to make commercial
use of biomass energy sources, biotechnologies more attractive.
"The present great wave of new technologies and
technological concepts collectively represents a new environmental
technological offensive. Properly directed and financed, this offensive
could open pathways to an environmentally sustainable future as well as
restore damaged environments. Technological innovation by itself is a
necessary, but insufficient, means to that end."
- Robert M. White, National Academy of Engineering
Symposium participants concluded that research and development in the
health industry do not yield technologies that are useful to developing
countries, largely because such needs do not currently involve lucrative
markets, despite the large number of people affected. The good news is
that two significant advances provide services to large populations at
reduced costs and can be used by both developed and developing countries.
Many procedures that previously required significant periods of
hospitalization can now be performed in outpatient clinics with access to
information resources ,and the length of hospital stays continues to
decrease rapidly, which decreases costs and risks of infection. As well,
telemedicine, wherein a central facility staffed by physicians can
diagnose and treat patients in remove locations, allows doctors to
"examine" patients through interactive video and communications equipment
that allows viewing and reception of diagnostic data and x-rays.
Health Sector Research and Development Needs
Reproductive health technologies.
Developing countries especially need contraceptive technologies for
men and women, as well as methods that simultaneously protect women
from infection since they bear the heaviest burden from sexually
Cost-effective delivery systems are needed for providing vitamin A
and other essential diet supplements to children, whose health is
the most vulnerable to nutritional deficiencies.
Vaccines. Immunizations will
protect children against the most common childhood diseases and
against diseases that carry large burdens of morbidity or mortality
in the tropics.
Primary health care. Expanded
facilities are needed for primary and outpatient clinical care,
including the use of cost-effective diagnostic and treatment
technologies through telemedicine.
Chronic diseases. Cost-effective
interventions are required to control the growing prevalence of
chronic illness – heart disease, cancer, stroke, lung disease, and
diabetes – and to reduce the use of tobacco, which exacerbates these
Information and surveillance technologies.
Such systems could anticipate the emergence and spread of
little-known or local diseases and drug resistance in common
HIV. Research could tackle the
problem of behavior modification to prevent the spread of the
disease and monitor new strains of HIV and different transmission
patterns to complement the large research programs of the advanced
Source: Marshaling Technology for Development, National Academy
Infrastructure - Health Issues
Mechanisms to Receive Information
Mechanisms to Act on Information
Strong in some
countries. Weak in some LDCs
(medical establish-ment, mass media, general public)
(medical establishment) to weak (prevention)
(e.g.,MDCs vs Rwanda)
(international agencies) to weak (some LDCs)
Often weak and
of Environmental Degradation
developed countries (popular cause)
Strong in MDCs
(often very politicized)
Strong-to-weak in LDcs
Less-Developed Country; MDC = More-Developed Country
participants found that the per capita expenditure on education in
developing countries is about 50% that of countries that are members of
the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. In most
developing countries modern technology is scarcely used, and many teachers
assert new technologies wouldn’t work due to poorly prepared, overworked
teachers and poorly equipped, crowded classes, and should, therefore, not
be introduced. This is a sort of catch 22 as competent science teaching,
required for technological literacy, requires knowledgeable teachers and
appropriate laboratory equipment. As well, because education is highly
sensitive to local culture and language, tools and technologies borrowed
from outside typically must be redesigned for viable integration with the
knowledge base. However, soft technologies (e.g., theories of learning,
educational standards and translation and voice recognition programs) can
contribute significantly, and universities in some developed countries are
partnering with schools in developing countries to teach students the
importance of the world wide web while equipping them with skills that
will allow them to be innovative and resourceful when using it (e.g., the
MIT African Internet Technology Initiative).
Priorities for Developing Countries and the
International Development Community
participants point out that many of the countries that most need to rely
on new technologies to address pressures on food supplies, health and
education services and the environment are not in a position to benefit
from the telecommunications/computer revolution in the short term because
they don’t have the necessary levels of capital, infrastructure, human
resource capability, basic services, and/or technological awareness. They
conclude that it cannot be assumed that the transfer of current or future
technologies will be appropriate for such countries, and, thus, the
international development community must continue to focus on the needs of
these least-developed countries.
demands associated with increasing population will only be possible if all
sectors of the world community participate in problem solving. Experts
assert that new roles for government, the private sector, and the broader
community must be assumed to meet such demands.
Symposium Participants’ Recommendations for Institutional Roles
Maintain awareness of the profound influence that technological
changes may have on the global economy. Initiate a planning
process involving all social sectors to create a vision of the
country’s role in the new global market and take steps to
implement that vision.
Create a legal and economic policy framework that encourages
innovation and provides firms and individuals with the ability to
respond to technical change in an agile way. New Technical and
information-oriented institutions and technical assistance
programs, especially related to quality management, may be vital.
Provide incentives to the productive sector to respond to
opportunities for small, technically oriented companies.
Invest in the physical and technological infrastructure,
especially communications and transport, needed to enable the
productive sector to acquire and put to use the most appropriate
and effective technologies, seeking private sector participation
Bring technology to bear in the provision of public services, in
particular to reduce the cost and increase the quality and
coverage of educational and health services. Consider investments
in new technologies for energy generation that are more efficient
and less polluting and in technologies for cleaning up the
Maintain awareness of technological advances in industry and
acquire the most effective production methods and products through
research and development, international agreements, joint
ventures, and imported technology. Gain the capability to access
knowledge through international networks. Be aware of quality
management requirements in international markets and reorganize
procedures and facilities to achieve quality standards.
Adopt organizational changes to better manage intellectual assets,
invest in innovative activity, and improve quality control.
Because most technical change comes from incremental innovations
on the factory floor, be open to employee-initiated changes.
Recognize the importance of employee training to incorporating new
technologies and converting knowledge to value. Be prepared to
join forces with the government and other private firms to
leverage resources for employee training.
Scientific and Research Community
Take a leading a role in advising developing country governments
and the development community of new technologies and their
implications for developing countries. Participate in information
clearinghouses on the Internet to assist researchers and producers
in developing countries.
Identify research priorities for regional and national research
centers, addressing the needs of developing countries. Assist and
encourage research and development on the local level to encourage
the application and adaptation of new technologies in specific
developing country contexts.
Form partnerships with research institutions in developing
countries and encourage research partnerships across developing
Put technology issues at the forefront of individual country
development assistance strategies. Help the least-developed
countries adapt to the changes brought on by the new
telecommunications and computer technologies.
Raise the awareness of developing country governments and other
donors of the opportunities and challenges offered by new
technologies – for example, by supporting seminars and studies on
the implications of technological change for developing countries.
Play a connector role, forging partnerships between developing
countries and the scientific and research community to increase
access to knowledge and apply it to developing country problems.
Help to make information on technologies more widely and easily
available to developing countries. Explore options for providing
information facilities – for example, on energy and environmental
technologies – via networks such as Internet.
Provide honest broker services, an advisory role that could be
performed in conjunction with national scientific academies or
other scientific organizations, to assist governments to evaluate
Finance pilot or demonstration projects that apply new
technologies in specific developing country circumstances.
Assist developing countries in managing the negative impacts of
change brought by the technology revolution.
Marshaling Technology for Development, National Academy Press, 1995
Success Stories - Putting Technology into Practice
technology improves and large amounts of information become easier to
manage, the price of accessing information drops and spatial data may be
utilized by an increasing number of people.
New York City, the New York Public Interest Research Group has
shown how maps can empower local citizens. The organization has
created interactive maps for the city to facilitate their mission
to develop an accessible information system that helps enhance the
stewardship of open space so these areas are linked, diverse and
sustainable for the benefit of NYC.
Perhaps the greatest promise for positive environmental change as a result
of technological innovations in computing and communications lies in the
potential to network.
and radio provide the means to disseminate information around the globe,
but the internet provides the potential to exchange information and data –
a powerful distinction as governments, NGO’s, business, and scientists
strive to move forward.
example of this collaboration is the Global Forest Watch program. In 1999
the World Resources Institute, in an attempt to give the general public a
clearer picture of the threats to the world's forests, initiated the
Global Forest Watch program, combining satellite imagery, GIS, the
Internet and on-the-ground observation.
top image depicts the original frontier forests of the globe and the
lower photo depicts the frontier forests still remaining today.
Suggested Readings and References:
Marshaling Technology for Development: Proceedings of a Symposium,
National Academy Press, 1995.
- State of
the World 2000, The Worldwatch Institute, especially Chapter 7.
Harnessing Information Technologies for the Environment by Molly O'Meara
Christopher. 1998. WIND POWER SETS NEW RECORD IN 1998 FASTEST GROWING
ENERGY SOURCE. Worldwatch Institute.
- Taking a
Byte Out of Carbon: Electronics Innovation for Climate Protection. World
Resources Institute, the Electronic Industries Alliance (EIA), and the
International Cooperative for Environmental Leadership (ICEL). 1998, 60
pages, ISBN Number: 1-56973-265-5.
Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution, by
Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, and L. Hunter Lovins (http://www.natcap.org/sitepages/pid5.php)
All materials © 2001 by the University of Michigan.