How technology shifts are transforming the developing world

Enormous changes enabled by software will help millions of people in the developing world live healthier lives, bring new ideas to life and participate in the global economy.

Last year, the World Economic Forum established the Global Agenda Council on the Future of Software and Society, whose mission is to help society navigate the huge societal shifts coming from software technology, both positive and negative. As part of that effort, the Council conducted a survey to gather insights into some of the transformations occurring in society as a result of software, the results of which have been published in the report – Deep Shift: Technology Tipping Points and Societal Impact.

The survey asked a wide range of entrepreneurs, experts, and government officials for their views on when the adoption rate of specific technologies will reach a point which results in major societal impacts, such as implantable mobile phones and robotic

One outcome of the survey that emerged was the potential of software-driven technology – such as ubiquitous computing, wearable technology, artificial intelligence, data analytics, the Internet of Things and 3D printing – to directly impact millions of people in the developing world.

One of these trends, ubiquitous computing, lets people seek and share information, freely express ideas, and develop and maintain relationships almost anywhere in the world. Although just 43% of the world’s population is connected to the Internet today, the combination of increasing computing power on software-powered smartphones and decreasing connectivity costs is driving exponential growth in Internet access, providing a helping hand for entrepreneurs in developing countries.

Rural Ugandan farmers with a smartphone, for example, can use cloud infrastructure to tap new opportunities to get their products to market; the software enables the farmers to share best practices, find market prices and weather updates, and even buy and sell cattle online. And the ability to use software to connect and better leverage data for a healthier tomorrow is remarkable. In Kenya, mobile data is being used to identify malaria infection patterns and pinpoint hotspots that guide government eradication efforts.

3D printing software is also helping transform the developing world, where researchers are engineering ways to create affordable 3D-printed equipment for farmers. These tools, ranging from simple chicken feeders to complex water quality testing devices, give farmers the ability to grow their businesses at a lower cost. 3D printing also has incredible potential in the field of human health. Today, doctors in Africa are 3D printing personalized prosthetics for amputees, vastly increasing quality of life.

The predictions outlined in the report point to a future with more opportunities for more people. Together, we can help navigate the great changes to come from software.

Technological Tipping Points and Societal Impact is available here.

The Annual Meeting of the New Champions 2015 is taking place in Dalian, China, from 9-11 September.

Author: Victoria A. Espinel, President and Chief Executive Officer, BSA – The Software Alliance, USA; Chair of the World Economic Forum Industry Council on the Future of Software and Society

Image: A French farmer uses his GPS screen which displays a colour representation of a wheat field following the treatment using satellite-generated data in Chateaubriant May 29, 2012. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

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