Finland, Switzerland, Sweden, Israel, Singapore, the Netherlands and the United States are leading the world when it comes to generating economic impact from investments in information and communications technologies (ICT), according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Information Technology Report 2016.
On average, this group of high-achieving economies at the pinnacle of the report’s Networked Readiness Index (NRI) economic impact pillar scores 33% higher than other advanced economies and 100% more than emerging and developing economies. The seven are all known for being early and enthusiastic adopters of ICT and their emergence is significant as it demonstrates that adoption of ICTs – coupled with a supportive enabling environment characterized by sound regulation, quality infrastructure and ready skills supply among other factors – can pave the way to wider benefits.
The breakaway of these seven economies is significant for other nations given the role that networked readiness is likely to play as the world transitions to the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The Global Information Technology Report 2016 finds high levels of confidence among business leaders that capacity to innovate is increasing, which suggests that other nations, too, could start to see more economic and social impact from ICT. However, on a cautionary note, the NRI data also suggest that individuals are driving ICT adoption much more enthusiastically than either governments or business, where no clear trends are discernible across regions since 2012.
Who leads the Networked Readiness Index in 2016?
The 2016 edition of the NRI finds Singapore as the highest-placed country in the world when it comes to networked readiness. Finland, which topped the ranking in 2014, remains in second place for a second year in a row, followed by Sweden (3rd), Norway (4th) and the United States (5th), which climbed two places. Making up the rest of the top 10 are the Netherlands, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Luxembourg and Japan.
While the upper echelons of the NRI continue to reflect a strong correlation between networked readiness and per capita income, roughly 75% of the countries included in this year’s index show a score improvement in 2016. However, convergence both at the global and regional level remains elusive, with four regions – Eurasia, Emerging Europe, the Middle East, North Africa and Pakistan (MENAP) group, and sub-Saharan Africa – having widened the gap between the most and least networked-ready since 2012.
Elsewhere in the NRI, of the large emerging markets, Russia remains unchanged at 41st position. China comes next, moving up 3 places to 59th. South Africa improves markedly, climbing 10 places to 65th, while Brazil partially recovers from a previous downward trend to 72nd this year and India drops two places to 91st.
Europe remains at the technology frontier; seven of the top 10 NRI countries are European. Yet the performance range is wide, with Greece dropping four places to 70th position and Bosnia and Herzegovina closing the group at 97. Several Eastern European countries, notably the Slovak Republic, Poland and the Czech Republic, are making big strides, landing spots in the NRI top 50. Better affordability and large improvements in economic and social impacts are making major contributions to this success. Italy is another notable mover this year, improving 10 places to 45th position as the economic and social impacts of ICT are starting to be realized (up 18 in the global impact ranking).
The Eurasia region continues its upward trajectory, with the average NRI for the region increasing significantly since 2012. In particular, it is notable that the improvement is observed across all four elements that make up the index: environment, readiness, usage and impact. The region is led by Kazakhstan, which continues on its positive trajectory of recent years to land in 39th position.
Malaysia leads the Emerging Asian economies in 2016 and moves up one spot to 31st position overall. The country continues to perform strongly, supported by a government which is fully committed to the digital agenda. The top five in the region in terms of overall ICT readiness remain Malaysia, Mongolia, Thailand, China and Sri Lanka as in 2015. The group of Emerging Asian countries has been moving up and converging since 2012. Individual usage in the region is still one of the lowest in the world, but has been growing strongly in recent years.
The performance range by countries in the Latin America and Caribbean region remains widely dispersed with almost 100 places between Chile (38th) and Haiti (137th). There was no clear trend from 2015 to 2016 in terms of relative performance, with Chile and Haiti staying put and, of the remaining group, half of the countries improving their ranking and the other half dropping. Considering the absolute NRI score, however, the region has been moving up and converging since 2012. In order to foster the innovation forces that are key for thriving in the digitized world and the emerging Fourth Industrial Revolution, many governments in the region will urgently need to reinforce efforts to improve their regulatory and innovation environments.
The United Arab Emirates (26th) and Qatar (27th) continue to lead the Arab world in networked-readiness. In addition, the MENAP region (Middle East, North Africa and Pakistan) is home to two of the biggest movers in this year’s ranking: Kuwait (61st, up 11) and Lebanon (88th, up 11). In both cases, individuals are leading the charge, with the business sector catching up and strongly contributing to the successful performance. While governments are lagging behind in terms of digital adoption (Kuwait, 81st; Lebanon, 124th), the business community in both countries is registering an increased weight on ICT in government vision and efforts to improve the regulatory environment.
The NRI also sees several sub-Saharan African countries among the top upward movers, including South Africa (65th, up 10), Ethiopia (120th, up 10) and Côte d’Ivoire (106th, up 9). Leadership, in terms of digital adoption, is coming from different groups of stakeholders. While efforts are very much government-driven in Ethiopia and Côte d’Ivoire, the business sector is providing the most momentum in South Africa. The largest barriers to tackle for Côte d’Ivoire will be infrastructure and affordability; reversing the trend of a deteriorating business and innovation environment for South Africa; and boosting individual usage and skills for Ethiopia.
“The digital economy is an essential part of the architecture of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. In order for digital technology to continue contributing economic and social impact, societies need to anticipate its effects on markets and to ensure a fair deal for workers in digitized market environments. New models of governance will be key in this,” said Richard Samans, Head of the Centre for the Global Agenda, Member of the Managing Board, World Economic Forum Geneva.
“Cross-border data flows drive innovation and growth,” says Pastora Valero, Vice President of Government Affairs, Cisco. “The countries and companies innovating most prominently know that it is the free flow of ideas and information, which leads to improvements in processes and products. Initiatives to foster the free flow of data are crucial to supporting the global nature of the data economy.”
“Measuring the economic and social impact of the digital economy is important for making appropriate policy decisions in both developed and developing economies. The Networked Readiness Index is a valuable tool for helping public and private sector leaders in leveraging the potential of technology.” – Soumitra Dutta, Cornell University.
‘ “Digital” is not just about technology. It is a state of mind, and the source of new business models, new consumption patterns, new ways for business and individuals to organize, produce, trade and innovate. In the global game of digital innovation, the performance and progress made by emerging economies such as Singapore, the United Arab Emirates or South Africa for example are remarkable: they may hold the promise of even more spectacular improvements in the ways digital technologies will be harnessed to competitiveness, growth and social progress in the coming years.’ – Bruno Lanvin, INSEAD.
In addition to providing insights into countries’ performance in the unfolding digital revolution, the report notes a number of trends across ICT adoption in 2016:
How much innovation is “digital”? As the global economy becomes increasingly digitized so, it would seem, innovation is becoming much less defined in a narrow technological sense. For example, while the report finds business model innovation on the rise in more than 100 countries, it also finds stagnation in the Business Usage pillar. This would suggest that while innovation is a top priority for many businesses, they are still missing out on opportunities for greater impact through ICT adoption.
Patents are declining as a measure of innovative capacity: While the minds of business executives around the world are increasingly focused on innovation, traditional measures for innovation such as the number of patents registered are telling a smaller and smaller part of the story. This may be related to the fact that the current transformation is nurtured by a different type of innovation, increasingly based on digital technologies and on the new business models it allows.
The ICT infrastructure gap remains a chronic challenge and is getting wider: Of the 12 pillars of the report, infrastructure is the one where improvement is least pronounced. Worse, since 2012 the lowest-ranked countries have been reporting a deterioration in their infrastructure in absolute terms. Infrastructure is a key determinant of a nation’s ICT-readiness alongside affordability and skills, acting as a gateway to increased usage and ultimately economic and social impact.
Social impact needs new momentum in important areas but is picking up overall: While the social impact pillar of the NRI has seen positive change overall since 2012, most regions register a decline in one of its important components, the impact of ICT on government efficiency. Another important social impact indicator, ICTs and access to basic services, is starting to recover in 2016 after years of decline. This suggests that more people are feeling the benefits of online access to healthcare, finance, insurance and other services. Social impacts on the whole rose most strongly in the group of high-income countries over the year.
Asia Needs a Region-Wide Approach to Harness Fintech’s Full Potential
Asia’s policy makers should strengthen cooperation to harness the potential of new financial technologies for inclusive growth. At the same time, they should work together to ensure they can respond better to the challenges posed by fintech.
New technologies such as mobile banking, big data, and peer-to-peer transfer networks are already extending the reach of financial services to those who were previously unbanked or out of reach, boosting incomes and living standards. Yet, fintech also comes with the risk of cyber fraud, data security, and privacy breaches. Disintermediation of fintech services or concentration of services among a few providers could also pose a risk to financial stability.
These and other issues were discussed at the High-Level Policy Dialogue on Regional Cooperation to Support Innovation, Inclusion, and Stability in Asia, organized by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), Bank Indonesia, and the ASEAN+3 Macroeconomic Research Office (AMRO).
The panel comprised Ms. Neav Chanthana, Deputy Governor of the National Bank of Cambodia; Mr. Diwa Guinigundo, Deputy Governor of Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas; Ms. Mary Ellen Iskenderian, President and Chief Executive Officer of Women’s World Banking; Mr. Ravi Menon, Managing Director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore; Mr. Takehiko Nakao, President of ADB; Mr. Abdul Rasheed, Deputy Governor, Bank Negara Malaysia, and Mr. Veerathai Santiprabhob, Governor of the Bank of Thailand. Mr. Mirza Adityaswara, Senior Deputy Governor of Bank Indonesia, gave the opening remarks at the conference and Ms. Junhong Chang, Director of AMRO, gave the welcome remarks.
“Rapidly spreading new financial technologies hold huge promise for financial inclusion,” said Mr. Nakao. “We must foster an enabling environment for the technologies to flourish and strengthen regional cooperation to build harmonized regulatory standards and surveillance systems to prevent international money laundering, terrorism financing, and cybercrimes.”
“Technology is an enabler that weaves our economies and financial systems together, transmitting benefits but also risks across borders,” said Ms. Chang. “Given East Asia’s rapid economic growth, understanding and managing the impact of technology in our financial systems is essential for policymakers to maintain financial stability.”
“Asia, including Indonesia, is an ideal place for fintech to flourish,” said Mr. Adityaswara. “In Indonesia’s case, there are more than a quarter of a billion people living on thousand of islands, waiting to be integrated with the new technology; young people eager to enter the future digital world; more than fifty million small and medium-sized enterprises which can’t wait to get on board with e-commerce; a new society driven by a dynamic, democratic middle class which views the digital economy as something as inevitable as evolution.”
Despite Asia’s high economic growth in recent years, the financial sector is still under-developed in some countries. Fewer than 27% of adults in developing Asia have a bank account, well below the global median of 38%. Meanwhile, just 84% of firms have a checking or savings account, on a par with Africa but below Latin America’s 89% and emerging Europe’s 92%.
Financial inclusion could be increased through policies to promote financial innovation, by boosting financial literacy, and by expanding and upgrading digital infrastructure and networks. Regulations to prevent illegal activities, enhance cyber security, and protect consumers’ rights and privacy, would also build confidence in new financial technologies.
Cutting-edge tech a ‘double-edged sword for developing countries’
The latest technological advances, from artificial intelligence to electric cars, can be a “double-edged sword”, says the latest UN World Economic and Social Survey (WESS 2018), released on Monday.
The over-riding message of the report is that appropriate, effective policies are essential, if so-called “frontier technologies” are to change the world for the better, helping us to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and addressing climate change: without good policy, they risk exacerbating existing inequality.
Amongst several positive indicators, WESS 2018 found that the energy sector is becoming more sustainable, with renewable energy technology and efficient energy storage systems giving countries the opportunity to “leapfrog” existing, often fossil fuel-based solutions.
The wellbeing of the most vulnerable is being enhanced through greater access to medicines, and millions in developing countries now have access to low-cost financial services via their mobile phones.
Referring to the report, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said that “good health and longevity, prosperity for all and environmental sustainability are within our reach if we harness the full power of these innovations.”
However, the UN chief warned of the importance of properly managing the use of new technologies, to ensure there is a net benefit to society: the report demonstrates that unmanaged implementation of developments such as artificial intelligence and automation can improve efficiency but also destroy quality jobs.
“Clearly, we need policies that can ensure frontier technologies are not only commercially viable but also equitable and ethical. This will require a rigorous, objective and transparent ongoing assessment, involving all stakeholders,” Mr. Guterres added
The Survey says that proactive and effective policies can help countries to avoid pitfalls and minimize the economic and social costs of technology-related disruption. It calls for regulation and institutions that promote innovation, and the use of new technologies for sustainable development.
With digital technology frequently crossing borders, international cooperation, the Survey shows, is needed to bring about harmonized standards, greater flexibility in the area of intellectual property rights and ensuring that the market does not remain dominated by a tiny number of extremely powerful companies.
Here, the UN has a vital role to play, by providing an objective assessment of the impact that emerging technologies have on sustainable development outcomes – including their effects on employment, wages and income distribution – and bringing together people, business and organizations from across the world to build strong consensus-led agreements.
Our Trust Deficit with Artifical Intelligence Has Only Just Started
“We suffer from a bad case of trust-deficit disorder,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres in his recent General Assembly speech. His diagnosis is right, and his focus on new technological developments underscores their crucial role shaping the future global political order. Indeed, artificial intelligence (AI) is poised to deepen the trust-deficit across the world.
The Secretary-General, echoing his recently released Strategy on New Technologies, repeatedly referenced rapidly developing fields of technology in his speech, rightly calling for greater cooperation between countries and among stakeholders, as well as for more diversity in the technology sector. His trust-deficit diagnosis reflects the urgent need to build a new social license and develop incentives to ensure that technological innovation, in particular AI, is deployed safely and aligned with the public interest.
However, AI-driven technologies do not easily fit into today’s models of international cooperation, and will in fact tend to undermine rather than enforce global governance mechanisms. Looking at three trends in AI, the UN faces an enormous set of interrelated challenges.
AI and Reality
First, AI is a potentially dominating technology whose powerful – both positive and negative –implications will be increasingly difficult to isolate and contain. Engineers design learning algorithms with a specific set of predictive and optimizing functions that can be used to both empower or control populations. Without sophisticated fail-safe protocols, the potential for misuse or weaponization of AI is pervasive and can be difficult to anticipate.
Take Deepfake as an example. Sophisticated AI programs can now manipulate sounds, images and videos, creating impersonations that are often impossible to distinguish from the original. Deep-learning algorithms can, with surprising accuracy, read human lips, synthetize speech, and to some extent simulate facial expressions. Once released outside of the lab, such simulations could easily be misused with wide-ranging impacts (indeed, this is already happening at a low level). On the eve of an election, Deepfake videos could falsely portray public officials being involved in money-laundering or human rights abuses; public panic could be sowed by videos warning of non-existent epidemics or cyberattacks; forged incidents could potentially lead to international escalation.
The capacity of a range of actors to influence public opinion with misleading simulations could have powerful long-term implications for the UN’s role in peace and security. By eroding the sense of trust and truth between citizens and the state—and indeed amongst states—truly fake news could be deeply corrosive to our global governance system.
AI Reading Us
Second, AI is already connecting and converging with a range of other technologies—including biotech—with significant implications for global security. AI systems around the world are trained to predict various aspects of our daily lives by making sense of massive data sets, such as cities’ traffic patterns, financial markets, consumer behaviour trend data, health records and even our genomes.
These AI technologies are increasingly able to harness our behavioural and biological data in innovative and often manipulative ways, with implications for all of us. For example, the My Friend Cayla smart doll sends voice and emotion data of the children who play with it to the cloud, which led to a US Federal Trade Commission complaint and its ban in Germany. In the US, emotional analysis is already being used in the courtroom to detect remorse in deposition videos. It could soon be part of job interviews to assess candidates’ responses and their fitness for a job.
The ability of AI to intrude upon—and potentially control—private human behaviour has direct implications for the UN’s human rights agenda. New forms of social and bio-control could in fact require a reimagining of the framework currently in place to monitor and implement the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and will certainly require the multilateral system to better anticipate and understand this quickly emerging field.
AI as a Conflict Theatre
Finally, the ability of AI-driven technologies to influence large populations is of such immediate and overriding value that it is almost certain to be the theatre for future conflicts. There is a very real prospect of a “cyber race” in which powerful nations and large technology platforms enter into open competition for our collective data as the fuel to generate economic, medical and security supremacy across the globe. Forms of “cyber-colonization” are increasingly likely, as powerful states are able to harness AI and biotech together to understand and potentially control other countries’ populations and ecosystems.
Towards Global Governance of AI
Politically, legally and ethically, our societies are not prepared for the deployment of AI. The UN, established many decades before the emergence of these technologies, is in many ways poorly placed to develop the kind of responsible governance that will channel AI’s potential away from these risks and towards our collective safety and wellbeing. In fact, the resurgence of nationalist agendas across the world may point to a dwindling capacity of the multilateral system to play a meaningful role in the global governance of AI. Major corporations and powerful member states may see little value in bringing multilateral approaches to bear on what they consider lucrative and proprietary technologies.
There are, however, some important ways in which the UN can help build the kind of collaborative, transparent networks that may begin to treat our “trust-deficit disorder.” The Secretary-General’s recently-launched High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation, is already working to build a collaborative partnership with the private sector and establish a common approach to new technologies. Such an initiative could eventually find ways to reward cooperation over competition, and to put in place common commitments to using AI-driven technologies for the public good.
Perhaps the most important challenge for the UN in this context is one of relevance, of re-establishing a sense of trust in the multilateral system. But if the above trends tell us anything, it is that AI-driven technologies are an issue for every individual and every state, and that without collective, collaborative forms of governance, there is a real risk that it will be a force that undermines global stability.
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