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The Next Technology Revolution : Will the Developing Countries Steal the Thunder?

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The $20 Akash tablet has created a buzz in the global village. It has been hailed as a major landmark in the realm of personal computing. The success of Akash made the pundits to predict that the next technology revolution will happen in the developing world. Some used an old cliché to say that "it was an idea whose time had come".

The pundits overlooked a simple fact. Akash was not born out of the technology created by Indian scientists in India laboratories. They merely used the existing technology more efficiently and tweaked it a bit to produce the world's cheapest tablet. That is what is worrying the West. However, the biggest headache for which it has yet to find a cure is the flooding of the global markets with "Made in China" products.

Don't be surprised if the next PC tablet with a ridiculously low price tag comes from the Dragon Kingdom. Most of the gizmos coming out of China have limited shelf life. But they are so dirt cheap that people don't mind replacing them only a tad less frequently than a toddler's diaper.

For centuries the East dominated the rest of the world on the strength of its superb craftsmen. The muslin of Dhaka is the stuff folk tales are made of. The Taj Mahal is, of course, an obvious example of the skill of Oriental craftsmen. The real revolution, apart from the ones which resulted in regime change, was the Industrial Revolution. According to an entry in Wikipedia, "The Industrial Revolution was a period from 1750 to 1850". It changed the face of agriculture, manufacturing, mining, transportation and technology. It had a profound effect on the social, economic and cultural conditions of the times. "It began in Great Britain, then subsequently spread throughout Western Europe, Northern America, Japan, and eventually the rest of the world."

The Industrial Revolution was the mother of all revolutions in the field of science, technology, economic, trade and commerce. It even changed centuries old customs and values. Most importantly, it tilted the balance of political and economic power irrevocably in favor of the West. The rest of the world since then has been playing a losing game of "catching up".

Those who argue, rather dream, that the next technology revolution will take place in the developing world seem to have missed out on a number of factors which favour the West.

A study by Richard Florida, Charlotta Mellander and Kevin Stolarick of the Martin Prosperity Institute "provides a wealth of data to measure the relative standing of 82 nations on technology, innovation, human capital and other measures of economic competitiveness."

They measured technology and innovation by identifying three criteria - research and development effort, scientific and research talent, and the level of innovation. They combined them in a new, comprehensive Global Technology Index.

Their findings are revealing. The US ranks sixth. Israel is in first place, followed by Sweden, Finland, Japan, and Switzerland, which make up the top five. South Korea, Germany, Denmark, and France round out the top ten. Canada ranks 13th. The BRICs are much further down the list, with Russia 22nd, China 26th, Brazil 31st and India 38th.

In 2008 Hafez Mohamed, then Director of Al Baraka Bank, South Africa, delivered a lecture on the theme of "Why Muslims are so powerless". His observations can be applied to other religious and ethnic denominations. According to him the world Jewish population in 2008 was 14 million. "Yet the 14 million Jews are more powerful than the entire 1.5 billion Muslims." To this we can add "the rest of the human race".

He gave the reason why the Jews are so powerful. He placed Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud , Karl Marx and Paul Samuelson in the category of "Movers and Shakers of History. In the category of "Medical Milestones" he gave the names of the Jewish medical scientists who invented or discovered the vaccinating needle, polio vaccine, leukaemia drug, isolating hepatitis B, syphilis drug, Neuro muscular treatment, endocrinology, cognitive therapy, contraceptive pill, understanding of the human eye, embryology and kidney dialysis.

In the past 105 years, 14 million Jews have won 180 Nobel prizes.

Hafez Mohamed pointed out that the Jewish scientist invented the micro- processing chip, nuclear chain reactor, optical fibre cable, traffic lights, stainless steel, sound movies, telephone microphone and video tape recorder.

The European Foresight Monitoring Network has prepared a report titled "Global Technology Revolution 2020". The purpose was to inform the US National Intelligence Council's 2020 project and help provide US policymakers inputs on how world developments could evolve, identify opportunities and potentially negative developments that might warrant policy action.

Of interest to use would be the chapter on how emerging economies should use technologies for sustained growth. The report said "If they can address multiple barriers to implementation, emerging economies such as China and India in Asia and Brazil and Chile in South America will be able to use technology applications to support continued economic growth and human development for their populations. China and India as emerging technological powers will have the best opportunity to approach the ability of the scientifically advanced countries to use applications to achieve national goals."

As far as India is concerned the success of Akash holds the key to its future strategy. India simply do not have the institutions and infrastructure for playing a meaningful role in ushering in the next technology revolution. Their strength lies in the wise use of available tools, perfected by others, for "achieving the national goals".