Digital hype vs digital dividend

Digital hype vs digital dividend

Reports of price spiralling of essentials are common but road crashes, violence against vulnerable people, anomalies in education and healthcare sectors, and corruptions of different forms and proportions sometimes dominate the media coverage.

However, the historic publicity campaign on the occasion of the Padma Bridge inauguration had erased almost all the 'negative' issues in the country from the media. Such euphoria was also set to be over.

New issues are coming up with the latest being tariff-hike of water and rotational power outage. The quick change of issues and their reappearance mean solution to those problems remains elusive notwithstanding the promises to solve them.

Amid various developments, the most hyped issue of this century has affected everyone on earth. One of ruling party's political manifestoes is the proclamation of the Digital Bangladesh. Living in a globalised society, the people have been obsessed with the use of digital technologies.

This is part of overall enthusiasm not just for connecting individuals to the information superhighway but also heightened perception that this technology would equip them with higher skills and thus benefit them economically and lifestyle-wise.

On the spree of adopting technology, how the economy would add value without real-life activities and efficiency gains for man has not been answered adequately. Empirically, it's hard to say, the superficial use of information and communications technology has contributed to an economic leapfrog, unlike the productivity growth after the first industrial revolution or following the green revolution.

Rather, replication, not innovation that much, has become the trend. Also forgotten are the agenda of safe road, equal opportunities and fair recruitment, incentives for talents and entrepreneurs, clean urban space, modern but environment-friendly villages, decent housing for all, building harmonious society, good governance and so on.

"Tech hype has been distorting people's behaviors and distracting us from one of the most fundamental economic problems of our time," Lee Vinsel and Jeffrey Funk have noted in a NiemanLab article titled 'Hype is a weaponized form of optimism'. They've cited the example of 'video streaming', pointing out that it "is highly unlikely to lead to productivity growth; indeed, often enough it distracts us from our work".

Elected officials, civil servants, university professors, and citizens alike have been seduced by technologies that promised sweeping social benefits and economic growth, the article has observed and added, "Universities have issued wild claims about the impact of AI and robots on jobs, often using quantitative methods that are divorced from economic reality."

Today or tomorrow, each group, citizens of each country and ultimately the vast majority of the global population would see what the real word vis-a-vis the virtual one looks like.

For example, a massive number of Bangladeshis go abroad for education and healthcare services, in spite of availability of digital literatures of technical and scientific matters. Many try to cook by watching video on YouTube but can't produce the most tasty foods when they lack life skills of generations of household cooks and of course professional chefs.

The businesses run on tech platforms like Facebook may anytime face a double-edged sword: they are subject to blackmailing by the host or strict regulations; and if the consumers can't afford to pay possibly higher prices for online services, their interest and that of providers would be at stake.

"Despite the hype of AI and their startups, not a single Unicorn startup is profitable nor is one among the top 500 companies in terms of market capitalization," reads another article titled 'The "Unproductive Bubble": Unprofitable Startups, Slow Growth in Digital Technologies, and Little Commercialization of New Science' written by Jeffrey L Funk. The author has concluded, "...the small market of AI suggests that much of the claims made by the big tech companies about AI are hype, and some of them may even be lies."

Sri Lanka's dream of becoming a development success like Singapore has turned into a nightmare as exposed in recent chaos there. Now, the tenacity of the Digital Bangladesh will be tested by the extent to which it would attain the status of a developed country and how.

Looking at the reality behind the tech hype, Vinsel and Funk have asked political and journalist leaders 'to pull back from the dramatic claims of interested parties' and talk 'honestly about which industries are actually improving productivity and creating stable, high-wage jobs'.


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