Anticipating the impact of cutting-edge technology on democracy and development

Anticipating the impact of cutting-edge technology on democracy and development

Photo Credit: Menno van Dijk/iStockPhoto

What might nongovernmental organizations, governments and world leaders have done differently if, fifteen years ago, they could have predicted the transformative effect that mobile phones and Internet access would have on the world’s poorest countries? What can we do now, if we look far enough down the road, to anticipate the next waves of revolutionary technology?

Technology has brought us to the doorstep of a world once only imaginable. Google cars now drive themselves across California. An autonomously piloted drone can be purchased on Computers are acting more and more like people. This year, one passed the Turing test, a measurement of a machine’s ability to mimic human behavior. There are working prototypes of spray-on skin and mind-controlled prosthetic limbs. A thousand robots can work together to complete a common task. Things are changing fast.

These technologies will shape the future of the world and change development as we know it.

Funders, governments, practitioners and technology leaders need to anticipate the impact of emerging innovations on democracy and human rights and plan accordingly. Technology can empower activists and dictators alike. To be prepared, we should start asking questions, such as: How will development and civic engagement change when citizens in the most remote parts of the world have access to the Internet? How might drone journalism provide safe, reliable access to conflict-affected parts of the world? How can wearable technology innovations like Google Glass make citizens freer or, conversely, be misused by governments to monitor and control citizens?

FHI 360 is jumpstarting this important conversation with a series of provocative events in which experts in technology, academia and international development will explore how technology innovations might expand freedom and increase the responsiveness of governments to human development challenges.

The first of these events, entitled “Miles Beyond Mobiles,” to be held September 15 in Washington, DC, will feature leading minds on the technologies that could affect democracy, human rights and media, such as nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, predictive markets, global wireless internet access, wearable technology and drones.

M&E Tech will explore the many ways that new technologies are expanding the possibilities for improving our efforts in monitoring development programs and evaluating our short- and long-term impact, via events in Washington, DC, on September 25–26 and New York City on October 2–4. Our experts will debate how to balance the demand for real-time quantifiable results with the reality of working in communities lacking basic infrastructure like electricity and running water.

The question is not will technology transform development, but rather how will we ensure that technology transforms development for the better? We must start planning now to capitalize on the opportunities that technology presents to make life better on every continent.

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