It has become common to talk about technology as if it were a special sector of the economy that consists of the manufacture of sophisticated electronic products, the creation of software, and the provision of services that depend on information technology.
This is too narrow a definition. Every technique that human beings have invented, from the stone ax onwards, is technology. The ability of humans to invent technologies is their main characteristic. On the other hand, new technologies such as the computer and the Internet have effects that are very far from the technology sector, in the strict sense. We need to evaluate contemporary innovations in a broader context. Here are six points about these changes.
1. Penetration of technology in communications
The penetration of recent innovations in communications technology has been surprisingly fast. At the end of 2015, there were more than 7,000 million mobile phone subscriptions, a penetration rate of 97% compared to 10% in 2000. Internet access increased from 7% to 43% in the same period. In economic terms, this has led to the rise of electronic commerce, the transformation of industries whose products can be turned into bits (music, film and news, for example) and the emergence of the collaborative economy. In the social field, it has altered human interaction. With respect to politics, it has affected relations between the rulers and the governed.
2. Digital divide
There is a substantial digital divide. In 2015, 81% of households in developed countries had Internet access, in emerging countries the proportion was 34% and in less developed countries it did not exceed 7%.
The arrival of the Internet and mobile phones has not managed to generate a sustained rebound in productivity growth. This is most evident in the US, the most productive and innovative economy in the world for more than a century. The production per hour worked in the USA grew at a rate of 3% per year in the 10 years prior to 1966. As of that date, the growth rate fell, falling to only 1.2% in the ten years prior to the beginning of the 1980s. After the launch of the website worldwide, the variable average increased to 2.5% in the ten years prior to 2005. But then fell to just 1% in the decade prior to 2015. No It should surprise us. As Robert Gordon of Northwestern University argues, drinking water, modern sewerage, electricity, telephone, radio, petroleum industry, internal combustion engine, automobile and airplane – all the innovations of late nineteenth century and early twentieth century- were much more transformative than information technologies of the last 75 years. Some argue that statistics do not measure production correctly, by not capturing free services, such as searches, that generate significant capital gains. And think about the benefits of electric light for students.
4. More inequality
New technologies have led to greater inequality, at least in three aspects. One of them is the emergence of markets where the winner takes everything. Another is the increase in globalization, and one last is the explosion of financial operations and other lucrative financial activities.
5. Artificial Intelligence
Some argue that the arrival of robots and artificial intelligence will transform the labor markets, making even very sophisticated skills more expensive. This could, if true, generate fundamental divisions between the owners of the robots and the rest of the population such as those between landowners and landless peasants.
The increase in global communications, the huge technology-enabled corporations and big data pose difficult questions about privacy, national security, fiscal capacity and, more generally, the relationship between governments, corporations and citizens. . Technologies are tools. They offer opportunities and risks. What we do with them, as always, depends on us.