Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Business and convergent technologies 23 – an open letter to UN-GAID

Posted in business and convergent technologies, UN-GAID by Timothy Platt on January 6, 2010

I have participated in a number of meetings and conferences sponsored by and organized by Sarbuland Khan and his able associates at the United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development (UN-GAID), and with the support of people like Mike and Carol Lackey at AIT Global. The specific areas of focus for these events have varied, but all have looked at information and communications technology, and how it is implemented and used with a global focus. Attention has always covered the spectrum from developed and economically advantaged countries and regions to the less developed and bottom of the pyramid countries and regions. Focus has always been on inclusion and involvement in solving problems and in widening the range of participation in creating and sharing value and benefits.

I usually find writing these postings to be a relatively easy exercise as I know up front basically what I want to say as to all of my key points. I do know the basic points here too, but I have found myself thinking a lot about how to present them for this posting, and possibly in part as I have in effect already written 22 lead-up postings to this, plus preceding supplements. UN-GAID has been important enough to me for long enough that I find it difficult to quite know where to start here. So I will start by sharing the gist of a conversation I had at a UN-GAID meeting with a gentleman who Sarbuland had just introduced me to – a representative from the Dominican Republic. The conference was on green technology and environmental impact, and to add context to this, Haiti and the Dominican Republic had just recently been hammered by not one, but two consecutive major hurricanes – a category of storm that many climate models would predict to occur with both greater frequency and severity under the stress of global warming.

This gentleman shared with me a concern that I have not forgotten and that has shaped much of my subsequent thought as to the have and have not nations. The countries that do the least to contribute to global warming can too often be both the countries most heavily impacted by it, and the countries least able to either prepare for that, or respond to damages incurred. So have and have not is simultaneously an issue of disparity of benefits available, and of costs incurred.

When I sketched out thoughts as to the monetization of information in earlier postings (see for example

Monetizing and Setting Valuations on Information – the crucial question and
Transaction Costs and Friction in Information Economy Systems)

I was sketching out the basis for:

• Increased relative costs for those who cannot effectively tap into new and emerging computing and communications resources, as well as discussing
• Potential disparities in benefits from not being able to connect and participate.

A failure to be included carries increased vulnerabilities with increased costs and reduced benefits that mirror at least as close metaphor getting hit by one of those big storms. But this is a storm that can only end with the breaking down of barriers to inclusion.

Global warming and green technology, and all of the other major areas of focus currently on the table for organizations like UN-GAID have to stay there as areas of critical attention and response. If my memory serves me correctly as to the numbers, some 98% of Haiti is currently deforested and any major – any moderate hurricane can be devastating under circumstances like that. But I write here of the potential we face for either breaking down some of the traditional barriers to inclusion, or for building those old barriers higher and adding new ones. Quite simply, that choice is up to us.

Here the issue is a new and emerging one that has to influence our ability to characterize and respond to all of the other problems already out there, as information and communication technology go through fundamental and in some respects even revolutionary change.

Information and knowledge management, creation and sharing have to be at the core of any viable solutions to any of our major problems – that much is central to the UN-GAID charter. But our newly and rapidly emerging ubiquitous computing and communications capabilities are changing the rules for much of what we do and everywhere and potentially for all of us. So when I write of the potential benefits for inclusion or lack of inclusion in our new and emerging ubiquitous computing and communications environment, I am not as much writing of a new problem put on the table, as I am of the need to reconsider the basic structure of the table itself. Think of this as a meta-problem and a meta-opportunity – an underlying aspect to the range of other pressing issues and problems that will redefine key aspects to all of them and in new and unexpected ways.

So why am I writing this open letter to a United Nations agency that already has a focus on information and communications technology in addressing global problems? I keep coming back to the disruptive nature of this new emerging technology and the new ways computing and communications are being done with it. It is easy to plan and prioritize forward as along a smooth linear trend and we all tend to do that. But when those trends and expectations fail, plans and priorities based upon them tend to do so too and often spectacularly. So I have been writing this series leading up to this open letter with a concern for the need to map out some of the potential nonlinearities we can expect and to highlight the need to identify and address them.

I add that the exercise of writing this series has brought me to think through a lot of the fundamentals in ways that I had not thought through before. I currently have several more postings planned out to add to the series as my ongoing thinking about all of this has evolved from looking into some of the issues and details that come up in it.

The next posting in this series is going to look into the implications inherit to this new and emerging technology to orphan issues and poster child priorities.

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