China takes steering wheel of the digital drive

Friday, November 27th, 2020 08:40 |

We are now in a transformational, knowledge-based, digitally interconnected world. Think self-driving cars, artificial intelligence, Big Data, the Internet of Things, block chain, 5G, 3-D printing and cloud sourcing, and you will have an idea of what the future holds.

In 2017 the world created 2.5 Quintillion bytes of data, compared to 100GB in 1992. Every year, the world is producing more than two million new books, 182 billion tweets, eight million new songs and 400,000 new products.

The ubiquitous mobile phone is now in the possession of the majority of adults. But just ten years ago, we could not have foreseen the kind and number of functions this handheld communication device is currently performing apart from its initial voice and text menu. There is an App for almost anything, enabling billions of people to operate seamlessly from one function to another, using the same technological platform.

But amid this leap in the evolution of mankind, not everyone is on board the information superhighway. Obviously, like in previous technologies, there are individuals, societies or countries that are successfully riding the wave, while there is another equally large section operating on the periphery of these futuristic technologies. According to Global Digital 2019 Reports, in 2019 there were 5.112 billion mobile users and 4.388 billion internet users.

It is against this backdrop that the world’s digital community held a two-day meeting from Monday. Themed "Digital Empowerment to Create a Better Future: Jointly Build a Community of Shared Future in Cyberspace," the seventh World Internet Conference (WIC) that has just ended in Wuzhen, east China's Zhejiang Province could not have come at a more opportune moment.

Further, the conference looked at ways in which Internet based digital technologies can be deployed in fighting COVID-19. The Internet has not only supported the fight against the pandemic medically and health wise, but has also contributed immensely to the resilience and gradual recovery of economies and businesses across the world.

In his message to the conference, Chinese President Xi Jinping noted that in today's world, a new round of scientific and technological revolution and industrial transformation is thriving, driving the rapid development of digital technology.

He observed that since the novel coronavirus outbreak, telemedicine, e-learning, sharing platforms and collaboration systems have been widely used, and hailed the internet's important role in promoting economic recovery, ensuring social progress in countries around the world, and promoting international cooperation against COVID-19.

"China is ready to work with other countries to seize the historic opportunities presented by the information revolution, foster new growth drivers through innovation, break new ground in digital cooperation, create a new pattern for cybersecurity, build a community with a shared future in cyberspace, and join hands to create a brighter future for humanity," Xi said.

Basically, China is sending a positive signal that it is ready to collaborate with the rest of the world towards digital cooperation by making global cyberspace more inclusive, balanced and focused on win-win development.

But beyond discussing the digital gizmos and their dazzling experience, the two-day WIC sought to promote openness and cooperation in cyber communications. It is a scary world just as it is a brave new world. The fast pace with which new technologies are being invented and released into the market is too fast, raising economic disparities and ethical questions.

Due to obvious economic challenges, developing countries are obviously disadvantaged and will continue to be so until there is a move towards some form of digital equity. “Those without internet connections are at risk of being left behind as learning and jobs go online, as commerce shifts online for small businesses, as CARES act funds arrive for the unbanked and as cities move information and resources online,” notes an article titled “Digital Equity, More Urgent than Ever” published by the Center for Inclusive Growth.

The Internet is a double-edged sword. While digital technologies have helped many economies take a leap, they have simultaneously reduced demand for labor and in the process economically disenfranchised millions by denying them their erstwhile sources of income. The digital disruption has gone too far to retrace its steps. In order to effectively address the Internet access gap, the Internet should be treated as a critical public resource and an invaluable lifeline for everybody.

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