Getting on in digital economy

DELEGATES to the UNESCO Conference on tangible and intangible impacts of ICTs in the digital age (in a library at Kainsky-Maisnky, Russia) listen to a lecture on the evolution of writing technologies from the typewriter to digital gadgets.

DANIEL SIKAZWE, Khanty-Mansisk, Russia
SITUATIONS normally get worse before they get better in the physical, real world but in a connected world where all business moves online, things are better before they get worse.What’s going to get worse in a connected society does not get the attention of individuals who are in a race to reap the benefits of faster, easier and more exciting ways of doing business until the bizarre happens! Think about this question.
“How many of us can get home when technology- GPS, fails?” Boris Miroshnikov, the vice-president of Russia’s Citadel Group of Companies asks the simple question in a conference room packed to the rafters by government officials, information and technology experts from the BRICS-CSO region, a grouping that comprises the economic giants Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa and many other countries in the developing world.
Silence falls. And then raptures laughter once delegates have involuntarily digested what seems to be a question for kindergarten toddlers. The laugther is the rare sound of intellectuals who spend most of their time developing or using information communication technologies that are shrinking the world into the palm of individuals connected to the internet. A world whose challenges are solved by the light touch of finger tips.
Whether it is laugther about a comical question asked or the folly of asking such a question in a highly-connected world remains as blurred as the divide between the dilemma of going or not going when there is both something to lose and something to gain whatever we do.
The digital economy is upon us – transforming our lives beyond recognition.
“Wikipedia knows everything and connects both ends but what are they going to do when power is out?” asks Buyakevich Maxim the head of Information and Press Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation.
Certainly, individuals and organisations are making huge investments in power supply systems that ensure there is continuous connectivity but power is not everything.
The shape of things to come will be more visible when increasingly consumers, producers, investors, exporters, importers, public policy, makers, academics, students, consultants, administrators, lawmakers and everyone playing an active part in the global digital economy has experienced the effects of embracing every new technology in the wake of rapid changes — additions and modifications taking place in ICTs.
Administrators and public policy- makers globally are headed for serious problems when it comes to making decisions about how to ensure the safety of citizens who fall victim to the machinations of criminals and other lawbreakers whose anti-social activities are being made easier by information communication technologies. The conflict between censorship and freedom is becoming more pronounced as more and more people use ICTs.
The fast emerging digital economy is not complicated but complex. To benefit from the digital economy, a thorough understanding of its complexity and an abandonment of the fallacy of its complicatedness must be discarded.
The difference between complicated and complex systems is better explained by Nicholas Nassim Taleb, in his ground-breaking book Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder published by Random House.
“Artificial, man-made mechanical and engineering contraptions with simple responses are complicated but not complex, as they don’t have interdependencies. You push a button, say a light switch and get an exact response, with no possible ambiguity, in the possible consequences,” writes Taleb.
On the other hand, complex systems like the digital economy spurred by ICTs can be compared to society, economic activities, markets, cultural behaviour which even though man-made, do grow on their own. They resemble biological systems; they multiply like rumours, gossip, ideas, technologies and businesses. The digital economy and the ICTs driving it are like biological systems. They require this depth of understanding by policy-makers to ensure citizens not only reap the benefits but also enjoy protection from possible abuse.
“The problem right now is that the internet was not designed to be controlled. It was designed to be free, to keep on growing,” asserted Dr Mohammed El Guindy, an Egyptian information security expert whose specialisation is in cybercrime security.
The irresistible growth of the internet and the bewitching allure of connectivity and success that are shaping our time are unfortunately outsmarting policy makers, politicians and the legal fraternity. They continue to tackle today’s security threats posed by cybercriminals the old way – creating laws and more laws.
“We continue to fight online crime with legal means but cybercriminals are not bound or threatened by any legal regime,” Miroshnikov says.
His view is supported by Cordel Oral Green, a Jamaican lawyer who is the chief executive officer of the National Broadcasting Commission of Jamaica. Green believes while legal regulation remains important in protecting citizens, one way is not enough in a complex digital world.
“To ensure the safety of citizens, we are going to have to use a combination of measures. Legal regulation is not enough. We must begin to provide information literacy to citizens so that they have the capabilities to protect themselves first before they have recourse to the challenged legal regime,” says Green.
Information or digital education will not only help to shrink the divide between the rich and the poor as well as provide security to victims of cyber or digital crimes, it will help to create a more egalitarian society. More importantly, it will help to boost the declining natural intelligence of young people and adults who cannot function without technology or artificial intelligence today.
“In the past, it used to be a crisis of lack of understanding. Now it is a crisis of too much understanding. The kind of understanding that can easily be eroded by failure of technology,” declared Evgeny Kuzmin, the vice-chairperson of the Intergovernmental Council for the UNESCO Information for All Programme (IFAP).
When information or digital literacy has taken root, no doubt there will be no one who will not find their way home, however heavy the traffic, however dark the night, whatever technology failure happens.

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