Development

Emerging Technologies and Social Justice–The Missing Link


Monishankar Prasad*

 

New Delhi, October 9, 2016 (Alochonaa): Technology is aspirational as well as embedded in the micro practice of everyday life.  Technology has enveloped and ensconced us in its bear hug embrace. Technology has inherent values of its founders which drive its proliferation and its outreach of this sociotechnical construct. Apple, the maker of the now less than iconic iPhone, with its repeated ‘static’ variations believes in the working philosophy of dishing out the cutting edge even if the consumer is not ready, as it creates a white space and then waits for the audience to pick up the tab, such as the headless jack in its latest variant. The product managers at Apple are not the biggest fans of user centric ethnography certainly.

Smart Phones are getting more sophisticated by the day with AR/VR (Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality for the uninitiated such as the latest Samsung Device) external add ons, which redefine the user experience. The digital revolution is the outcome of the twin drivers of a ‘Flat World’ and Globalization (although due to Brexit, the reverse de-globalization is now fashionable), which a less than USD 50 smartphone available in the global south. Prices of data packages have hit rock bottom, due to telecom price wars such as in India with Reliance Jio triggering a market consolidation. As investor Naval Ravikant had quipped in a lengthy narrative journalistic article in The New Yorker, that Uber happened due to ecosystem effects of GPS, market demand and the smart phone, all of which was not Uber’s contribution [1].

 

Uber was simply at the right time, at the right place as a transportation technology company. ICT4D or leveraging the power of Information and Communication Technology for Development for bridging the digital divide or for bringing the power of Web 2.0 to the unserved communities in the global south, is carried out as a Bottom of the Pyramid market expansion strategy as the developed markets are not rendering the right margins on the NYSE. Profits are the cornerstone for unleashing the tamed spirits of neoliberal capitalism.

As Phillip Mirowski states, neoliberalism is a constructivist political project as it needs the government to actively curate the market space (Mirowski, 2009 in Davies, 2016).

The purpose of this article is not to sing uncritical paeans to the myth and magic of unfettered Silicon Valley style techno capitalism but to breathe back the spirit of social justice into this testosterone fueled paradigm (think about the film Social Network about the founding of Facebook for a cultural analogue). Emerging technologies as a cognitive framework is driving the conversation on ‘Smart Cities’ to ‘Digital India’ in its namesake India to the ‘Smart Nation’ narrative in Singapore. Sociologist Shiv Visvanathan writes eloquently that an idea of a smart city amputates the idea of a city in to an amputated grid of IT technologies without integrating the informal sector of the economy such as the migrants and the scavengers [2].

Prof Visvanathan captures the pulse of the narrative that frames ‘aggressive’ emerging technologies paradigm as a silver bullet to the issues of the day. When political solutions to governance problems dry up, the emerging technologies messaging comes in handy as a smoke screen.

 

Emerging Technology as a concept ties in the growth mindset of neoliberal thought which weaves in with modernity and profit motive very well. The angel investor behind a technology would not share the same egalitarian values as a principal investigator of a National Research Foundation research project. The values of solidarity, liberty and equity are in contradiction with emerging technologies that find resonance in the valuation imperative.

 

The unicorns are the stuff of legends while millions struggle to drink clean water. The market is an exceptional adopter of good ideas whose time has arrived such as financial inclusion through digital resources such as blockchain as physical retail banking assets shall not be required to serve the unbanked consumer, but digital healthcare would still need to be aligned with incumbent public health systems with real doctors to heal the sick.

The context is critical for emerging technologies to be mapped as a social good with embedded values of social inclusion. Science is a social institution and the mainstreaming of an ‘emerging technology’ in the marketplace would require the ethic of social justice, as the consumer who pays for the product or service is ultimately as much a member of the socioeconomic community as the startup founder.

References:

[1] http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/05/18/tomorrows-advance-man(information retrieved on 28th September 2016)

[2]          http://www.dailyo.in/politics/indian-media-cities-sewage-chikungunya-swachh-bharat-dalits-demolition/story/1/12971.html (information retrieved on 28th September 2016)

 

*The Writer is a Delhi Based Research Consultant. 

** Alochonaa.com is not responsible for any factual mistakes (if any) of this analysis. This analysis further is not necessarily representative of Alochonaa.com’s view. We’re happy to facilitate further evidence-based submissions on Bengal history. Please send us your submission at alochonaa@gmail.com

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Categories: Development

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