CHAPTER 2 Marshaling Technology for Development: Assessing the Challenge
Technological change is a complex process. For some radical innovations - as was the case for the airplane, radio, and nuclear weapons-curiosity, new knowledge, or political will create a need; the need will lead to an invention; and the invention will evolve into a new technology. The new technology, if successful and useful, will diffuse and will replace older technologies, just as the railroads replaced canal transportation and motor vehicles and airplanes replaced railroads. It will then spread through trade, the exchange of information, deliberate technology transfer, conquest, or industrial espionage.
For incremental innovations, the process is more subtle, even imperceptible. Because of modifications on the factory floor, one firm's products will be better designed, more efficiently made, or more effectively marketed than those of other firms. Success will generate imitators, and the new product gradually will become the industry standard, pushing aside similar products and, if it continues to improve, replacing other technologies. This process is more analogous to the evolution of biological species, and it can be just as effective at bringing radical change.
CONDITIONS FOR CHANGE
But exactly what are the conditions that encourage invention and innovation, both radical and incremental, and facilitate the acquisition of technology? This question has been studied extensively at the firm level, but almost entirely in the developed countries and in the context of competition among developed countries. Less clear are what fundamental conditions within a developing country enable producers to be innovators in world markets.
A modern, effective technological infrastructure enables a country to generate and utilize knowledge and innovation. The evaluation and acquisition of new technologies are made easier when the society and the economy, including availability of investment capital, are intrinsically receptive to innovation. The important elements of such a technological infrastructure are:
For successful innovation, it also is imperative that a country's people and their leaders view the effective utilization of technology not just as an option but as the key to successful and sustainable development-and that they be prepared to act. One of the factors undoubtedly contributing to the economic success of Taiwan in recent years is the number of Ph.D.s in leadership positions' including the current cabinet members and the prime minister. Among many countries, especially the poorer ones, a widespread commitment to technology has yet to emerge, hindering the process of technological development that has been so successful in Europe, the United States, Japan, and other parts of Asia. For those developing countries, it is essential to emphasize technological literacy in the schools-indeed, among the entire population.
It also is important that each national research community concentrate on the needs of its country. For a developing country, this usually means a strong emphasis on applied research and development, working on problems in search of solutions, without neglecting the basic research that provides a base of talent and a window on the knowledge generated elsewhere. It also means having the flexibility to cut across the traditional academic barriers to carry out the interdisciplinary studies that are so important in the technological market.
Management issues are also critical. New technologies usually require new techniques for their management, starting with selection and acquisition of equipment, and proceeding to training of workers, process and product design, marketing, quality control, cost containment, labor utilization, and safety. Learning from the experience gained in other places is the best method, where possible, but attention must be paid to local conditions-economic, physical, and social-and local capabilities. Transfer of technology must embrace transfer or development of the skills necessary to manage technology.
Finally, developing countries will find it advantageous to pool their scientific, technological, and educational resources with those of other, similar countries because few of them have enough skilled scientists and engineers and resources to make many breakthroughs alone. They must be receptive to the importation of new technologies, whether through foreign direct investment, joint ventures, or licensing from other countries. The ability to share resources and identify opportunities for technology transfer will depend on the establishment and maintenance of communications, transport, and personal links among countries.
Obstacles to the universal adoption of biotechnology projects and products are cultural, educational, economic, governmental, and infrastructural in nature. If, for example, difficulties are encountered in delivering agricultural products to market, no change in the qualities of those products will overcome the infrastructural problems. In other words, there is no reason to introduce genetically engineered apples that ship better in a region where the apples rot on the trees because they cannot be shipped to market.
- RITA COLWELL
It is one thing to recognize that the information and technology desired are available, but it is quite another to gain access to them. That will require that the developing countries strengthen their linkages with the rest of the world by investing in the infrastructure needed to receive and transfer information. In this undertaking, partnerships are key: between research institutions in developed and developing countries, between domestic and foreign firms, and between research institutions and the private sector.
The physical infrastructure needed to support connectivity includes computers and telecommunications hardware and software (including connections to the Internet and World Wide Web) and reliable supporting power and communications networks, as well as the transportation basics-roads, airports, navigation. A modern information and communications infrastructure will provide up-to-date technical information and publications and will allow instant communication among scientists around the world. Technical information services linked to worldwide information networks can distribute knowledge quickly and cheaply to the productive sectors. Thanks to satellites, the developing world can leapfrog immediately to advanced telecommunications capabilities, bypassing the long road already traveled by the industrialized world.
Direct international links between firms are important vehicles of technology transfer. The observed correlation between exporting and growth in productivity arises partly because exporting is an extremely effective source of learning. Foreign direct investment provides not only capital but also technology, management, access to global networks of information, and access to markets. Strategic alliances-between foreign and domestic firms in joint ventures and between domestic firms in the same or related industries-create pathways for the transfer of knowledge. In addition, much technology is transferred through informal means-copying, reverse engineering, reading technical journals, attending foreign conferences and trade fairs, and hiring foreigners with technological expertise.
But how do the users of technology channel their feedback to the generators of knowledge? The establishment of linkages between networks of research laboratories and the private sector will facilitate such feedback. Clusters of research-production-marketing activities, such as applied research parks or university-industry parks, would serve to better link research to production and the marketing of the results. Rather than dispersing assets, such parks can offer synergistic concentrations of knowledge workers and facilities.
In the agricultural sector, much technology transfer occurs horizontally - farmer to farmer. In industrialized countries, many farmers use electronic networks and other modern information technologies to make this process more effective. This would likely work in developing countries as well, thereby facilitating technology transfer among farmers and strengthening their linkages with markets and price information. In the education sector, electronic networking could put teachers in contact with one another, provide classroom materials from domestic or international sources, as well as give both teachers and students hands-on experience in using communications technology.
Regardless of the undeniable improvements in electronic and computer communications, the need for scientists working together to interact daily is unchanged, if only because science is increasingly cross-disciplinary and thus demanding of team effort. This is no less true in developing countries and may be even more urgent in some respects: efforts to develop and extend technologies in most such countries have often failed as a result of the lack of well-articulated teams of trained personnel to facilitate real technology transfer.
- KENNETH I. SHINE, M.D.
THE NEGATIVE IMPACTS OF TECHNOLOGY
The introduction of new technologies may provide beneficial economic opportunities or a necessary lifeline for feeding, employing, and ultimately limiting an expanding population. But negative impacts on society will be felt as well, bringing environmental, social, and political change. If some of these effects of new technologies can be predicted, steps can be taken to recognize and prepare for them.
Technological innovations often make critical industrial or agricultural products uncompetitive or obsolete. This happens in developed countries, as some American textile producers well know, and will certainly occur in developing countries. Such an effect will put at risk any country that fails to anticipate change, or whose economy relies heavily on a few traditional products. Likewise, in those countries where manufacturing is an important source of employment for the marginal or uneducated worker-the case in much of the world-the introduction of manufacturing practices that are more knowledge-based and specialized will cause dislocations, presenting difficult educational and political challenge in most countries. Attempts to hold change at bay, however, by closing borders to innovation will be counterproductive even in the short term. The restructuring of industry and the retraining of workers will require major decisions, significant resources, and, where urgent, outside assistance for the affected communities.
Exposure to new technologies and to international culture and fashions may weaken long-standing traditions and practices, especially among the younger generations. This effect occurs everywhere, but it is less disruptive when the changes come about gradually from indigenous developments. Developing countries may need to fortify key elements of their culture through special school programs and by celebrating and encouraging local literature, music, and preservation of historical sites and local languages. Sometimes the new technologies themselves will assist in the preservation, enjoyment, and even exportation of the local culture. One country's IMAX productions featuring its diverse cultures and natural beauty are seen each year by thousands of school children locally and help to attract many tourists from abroad.
Over the long term, there is potential for the convergence of developed and developing economies through universal access to knowledge. Over the short term, however, the capacity to benefit from access to knowledge, technologies, and markets will depend on the initial stock of educated human capital and real capital. Productivity in services and information-intensive activities will grow faster in the North than in the South, and faster in the newly industrializing countries than in the least developed. Accordingly, further economic divergence may be the outcome in the initial stages of the process.
The danger of a widening gap between technology haves and have-nots exists not only across countries or groups of countries, but also across socioeconomic groups within individual countries. Equity issues surrounding different rates of investment and development in different regions may create unrest and lead to the persistence of poverty unequally within countries. Increasingly, the distinction will not be between developed and developing countries, but between populations that are technologically adept and those that are not, and between those that are plugged in to rapidly changing knowledge and those that are not. But these changes are not elective; they already are becoming reality, and it will be the responsibility and in the interest of all to ensure that all countries and populations have access to knowledge and opportunity.
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