Monday, June 30, 2003


Science magazine this week has an article on the Cochrane Collaboration. Started about a decade ago, and now involving 14 centers and perhaps 10,000 volunteers, the Cochrane Collaboration seeks to improve the knowledge base of medical practice. It has undertaken to draw clinical lessons from the literature of controlled medical studies. 50 panels have been working, and they expect to do about 10,000 reviews, to cover some one million studies that have been published in the last half-century. The job will not be completed for about another decade. (Then of course, it will be necessary to keep the reviews updated incorporating new literature as it is published.)

The experience to date suggests that the clinical reviews could be used to improve clinical practice considerably, but Science suggests that there are major difficulties getting the information to practicing physicians, and considerable resistance in the medical profession to changing practice on the basis of meta-studies of clinical research.

Still, the Cochrane Collaboration is perhaps the best example that I know of in organizing peer reviewed research results in the form of useful knowledge for application. Would that there were more efforts to organize knowledge for development patterned on the Collaboration.

I have been reading “The Archaeologist was a Spy” by Charles H. Harris, Louis R. Sadler. I find it interesting as history, as an adventure tale, and in terms of science and development policy.

The book is nominally about Sylvanus Morley, who was an archeologist famous for his work on the Mayan civilization in the first part of the 20th century. (His book, “The Ancient Maya” is still in print after 50 years and a dozen printings.) He was also the director of the Museum of New Mexico and School of American Archaeology, and is credited both with helping to create “the Santa Fe style”, and regretting the ultimate effects of the proliferation of meretricious imitations of that style in making Santa Fe New Mexico the tourist attraction it had become even in his lifetime. He is also described as “arguably the finest American spy of World War I.”

The book recounts the service of a number of U.S. scientists as intelligence agents in World War I, including Roy Chapman Andrews. Most of these scientists used their scientific work and affiliations as covers for their spying. At the time, this appeared a good idea not only to the government but also to some of the key scientific institutions in the U.S.—institutions that willingly lent their support to the cover stories. Some of these spies later in their careers became important leaders in American science – Andrews for example become director of the Museum of Natural History in New York.

Franz Boaz, a German immigrant to the U.S., described as having pro-German sympathies, was the most distinguished American anthropologist of the time. Boaz wrote an open letter to the editor of The Nation magazine, which was published in 1919, disclosing that he had “learned that at least four anthropologists, while serving as government secret agents, had introduced themselves to foreign governments as representatives of reputable American scientific institutions engaged in legitimate research.” He suggested that doing so was unethical, and that doing so brought the entire U.S. scientific community discredit and threatened the integrity of scientific work. The letter caused a considerable debate. Eventually the governing council of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) formally disavowed Boaz’ position, he was removed from that council, and Boaz was forced to resign from the National Research Council.

The book suggests how much scientific opinion has changed since that time, citing the AAA statement (page 316):

“Do no damage—either to those whom we study or to the reputation of our professional community…..Do not deceive. Explain the purposes of your presence and your research, as well as the possible consequences for the people whom you study. No surreptitious or covert research, and no secret reports to sponsors, especially those whose purposes are other than scientific (such as the State Department, the Army, the CIA, the Drug Enforcement Agency.)”

The reason I am blogging is because I have become quite annoyed by this statement. I can’t decide if it is disingenuous or duplicitous.

Most anthropological research is funded by governments, either directly or indirectly (e.g. by tax deductions for philanthropic contributions to scientific institutions). Information that goes to the government, goes to the government; one must assume that information going to a government science agency is available to its sister government intelligence agency. Most of us believe not only that government funded research results should be open to the funding agency, but that it should be open more generally to the scientific community to allow verification of assertions made on the basis of data. Whatever the anthropologist’s purpose is in doing the research, he/she can not know nor describe the purposes of others who will use their information.

What if an anthropologist working in the Middle East had become aware of the 9/11 plot? Would that scientist not have had a human obligation to try to save the 3,000 people who died? How could such an obligation have been met were the anthropologist not to directly or indirectly get that information to the CIA or FBI? Could the report of the conspiracy ever be other than secret?

I certainly hope that development programs, especially donor agency financed development programs, will be informed by social science research. This is one of the best ways to assure that programs will function as hoped, and meet the needs of the people they are to serve. How can a field anthropologist possibly affirm that the information he/she collects will not be used by development program managers in ways neither the scientist nor the subjects would find acceptable. Cultural change is if not the purpose of development projects, almost inevitably their result—and many of the changes are not pretty!

How much damage and deception has been the result of social scientists work, albeit the inadvertent result? How can anthropologists know, much less explain all the consequences of their work, or even the most important consequences? By definition, a social scientist can not know that there will be no unintended negative consequences of his/her work! How can an anthropologist possibly always avoid observations that would be considered surreptitious by the observed? How many people in the studied communities will ever be fully aware of how those studies have been reported in the scientific literature—and does their ignorance not imply that those publications are in an important way, covert?

I certainly hope that social and behavioral scientists will seek to be honest with their subjects, and that spies will use other branches of human endeavor for their cover stories. But gaining new scientific knowledge and publishing it openly seems to let the genie out of the bottle for good or for ill. I think the good far outweighs the ill for the vast majority of scientific knowledge, and I hope that scientific regulatory policies are in place to prevent scientific research for which negative consequences can be foreseen. Still, a social scientist who is unwilling to take any risk of doing damage or deceiving people would be like an extreme Buddhist who will not move for fear of harming some life, even that of a bacteria on the ground. And an anthropological pronouncement that denies that anthropologists will do damage or deceive seems to me itself to be damaging and deceptive.

Sunday, June 29, 2003


David Victor of the Program on Energy and Sustainable Development of Stanford University made a presentation at the workshop on energy systems in which he suggested, as have others, that there are parallels between electrical power and ICT sectors.

Obviously, the electrical power grid and the telecommunications network are both utilities. The utility of each depend not just on the network, but on the devices it enables at the ends. Paul David famously suggested that the full economic benefits from electrification were not realized until electrical machinery connected to the grid was installed in factories, transportation systems, and other applications. He suggested that this took more than a generation after neighborhood grids energized by small generators were combined into large grids about the turn of the last century. He suggested that a comparable effect in the field of ICT might be the creation of the Internet, and that we could expect to see the most important benefits from the computer revolution realized in the next few decades.

Electricity was developed as a system for the provision of electrical lighting, and clearly the early applications were considered to provide benefits exceeding costs. Thomas Hughes, in his book “Networks of Power” traces the early history of electrification, noting the development from lighting technology, to urban trolleys, to other applications. He described a technology system in which what we would now call “killer apps” in an ICT context were added to the electrical network, adding more and more value to that network.

Indeed, we can consider radio, television, refrigerators, air conditioning, and computers to be applications of electricity adding new value to the electrical network. I suppose an interesting aspect of the history of electrification was that before it arrived, power from steam engines or water wheels was distributed from one engine to a large number of machines. With electricity, it became possible to have small motors, attaching a motor to each machine.

ICT began with telecommunications, with telegraph and telephone as perhaps the first “killer apps”. The first computers were stand alone devices. The PC revolution, which resulted in large numbers of “micro-computers” lead to the radical expansion of the Internet, and we began to think in terms of grid computing and large computer networks.

The following table contains data shown to me by my colleague Christine Qiang (from Pohjola, Matti (2003). “The Adoption and Diffusion of ICT Across Countries: Patterns and Determinants”, To be published in The New Economy Handbook, Academic Press, 2003).

Information Infrastructure 2001 per 1000 inhabitants
Mobile Telephones Telephone Mainlines Personal Computers Internet Users
Northern America 382 660 623 467
Western Europe 572 747 325 345
East Asia and Pacific 278 222 158 177
Eastern Europe & Central Asia 199 232 81 65
Middle East and North Africa 163 147 62 61
Latin America and the Caribbean 142 145 49 63
Sub-Saharan Africa 30 19 12 9
South Asia 9 20 4 4

Connection to the Internet requires both a computer and telephone service. I would assume that most people who have computers also have telephones. The data above suggest that availability of personal computers is the limiting factor for Internet connectivity.

It has been estimated that 1.5 to 2 billion people have no access to commercial electrical service, and that perhaps 3 billion people are underserved (in terms of affordable access).

It may be that with most PCs connected to the Internet, Internet growth will now be slower, limited to the rate of growth of the network of PCs. Thus, the cost of providing Internet service to someone with a PC and telephone is much smaller than the cost of buying a PC and then connecting to the Internet. Moreover, rates of growth may later be limited by the availability of telephone lines, and even by the lack of adequate electrification.

Victor pointed out in the workshop that there were similarities in the historical monopolistic development of the electric power grid and the telephone network. The growth of mobile phones and Internet service was much more rapid than of fixed lines, in part because the differentiated services could be institutionalized with market competition, taken out of the historical monopolistic pattern.

I also see a parallel in that electrical devices were typically owned by the users and marketed by firms other than the electric company, as computers were owned by users and marketed by other than the telephone company.

Victor’s comments on the difficulty of development of markets for electrical power, and the problems of developing adequate regulatory capacity (in developed as well as developing countries) seem to me likely to apply also to developing markets for communications and adequate ICT regulatory capacity.

In short, I suspect that those of us interested in ICT development in poor nations might well make common work with the electrical power people in understanding the underlying social and economic institutions and forces, and how they may be utilized for sustainable development.

Saturday, June 28, 2003


The workshop I mentioned yesterday was really quite interesting. On the one hand, the economists focused on the policies and institutions needed to obtain economic growth; on the other hand experts from various sectors focused on the physical problems occurring with land, water, sanitation, transportation, energy and urbanization.

Development, in the sense of economic growth, it was agreed would not occur without good economic policies. It was apparent that the consensus is growing that institutions are also critical to economic development. It was suggested that the good economic performance of India and China were the results of policy changes that had been made, but that the lagging regions in each country were the result not only of geographical disadvantages, but of institutional variations within countries.

It was also agreed that the policies and institutions that promote economic growth were also largely responsible for success in innovations in societies, and especially for high rates of technological innovation. It seems likely to me that in countries with policies that encourage economic growth and technological innovation, ICT innovation will be strong, and will almost inevitably contribute to economic growth.

Unfortunately, history suggests that there will be a large number of countries that do not achieve economic growth. The experience in Africa has been a stark contrast to the recent successes in India and China. One questions. One question that was raised in my mind, was whether ICT could be used to encourage and support the development of good policies and institutions in countries with low historical rates of growth – i.e. poor countries.

It is well known that there are strong correlations between per capita GDP and many indicators of wellbeing. Thus one can expect economic growth to contribute to improved nutrition, improved health, improved education, etc. It was also noted that the graphs demonstrating these correlations can be interpreted in quite a different way.

Thus, for a given level of per capita GDP, one finds wide differences in health indicators. The same level of infant mortality can be found in relatively rich countries with poor health policies and institutions as in relatively poor countries with good health policies and institutions.

Thus we are lead to further questions. For example, what are the policies and institutions that will be needed to allow a strong rate of ICT innovation to improve nutrition, health, education, etc. Can ICT be instrumental in improving these policies and institutions.

Extrapolating, it seems clear that growth and sustainability are not identical, and that we must investigate the policies and institutions that promote both, or at least the set of policies and institutions that are needed to make growth and poverty reduction sustainable. I think it is clear that ICT has a role in sustainability and in supporting policies and institutions for sustainability, and that this role differs somewhat from but is complementary to the role of ICT in development.

What is the relative importance of applications of ICT to improve economic growth, versus to improve nutrition, health, and education, and versus to assure the sustainability of development?

Friday, June 27, 2003


I have been attending a two day workshop on this topic organized by Carnegie Mellon University and sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the United Nations and the World Bank.

The participants have noted that we can expect billions more people by 2050. and that in order to meet the economic goals that have been set, the Gross World Product will have to be about $140 trillion at that time. They further note that the world can not support that level of production using the methods used today.

Agricultural production would not meet demand, and agricultural resources (soils, water, etc.) would be unsustainably depleted. Energy resources would be depleted. The burden of pollution of water, soil, and the atmosphere would be huge. Deforestation, desertification, depletion of fisheries, and reduction of biodiversity would all be excessive. Human health and welfare would suffer.

I was surprised how little discussion of information and communication technologies there has been in the workshop, given its title.

Knowledge Based Efforts

From my perspective after a career in public policy, there are a number of things that have to be done to develop the public policies needed for sustainable development that require ICT. These things simply will not be possible without the technology.

First, development policies and programs, to be sustainable, must be knowledge based. It is imperative that there be a firm scientific basis, and I include social as well as physical and biological sciences in the needed base. The technology must be there. And there must be knowledge of current development efforts, their immediate impacts, and the social, economic and environmental trends that they fuel.

The scientific and technological understanding needed to describe and deal with sustainable development will not be achieved without major investments in ICT for the physical, biological, and social sciences, and the agricultural, biomedical, and engineering technology communities. Networking is critical.

Monitoring environmental changes and projecting them into the future must be done at local, national, regional and global levels. It requires unprecedented utilization of remote sensing, GIS, and other ICTs.

ICT and the Policy Process

It is a simplification, but consider policies:
· to the result of the efforts of activists;
· developed and implemented by policy makers, decision makers, influential elites, the media, and other key groups;
· with the support of the general public;
· and ideally with strong links among these groups to ensure accountability.

Activists promoting sustainable development must be able to network at local, national, regional and global levels. It occurred to me that if 40,000 people participated in the World Summit on Sustainable Development, each of them represented 150,000 other people of world’s population. The WSSD represents a exceptional event, but one that will only be repeated every decade or so. There is need for extensive and intensive networking of much larger number of activists at local, state, national, regional, and global levels. This can’t be done without the telephone, Internet, etc.

Policy makers and opinion leaders worldwide will have to be convinced of the importance of sustainable development, and will have to understand the implications of different policies and policy instruments. Achieving this at local, national, regional and global levels probably needs an unprecedented number of ICT instruments, from multimedia presentations, to policy modeling suites, to decision support systems, to distance education, to use of media for improving knowledge, attitudes and practices for sustainable development.

Developing public support for the policies that will have to be implemented will require mass media approaches.

I think that e-democracy approaches, combined with e-government are absolutely vital to developing the linkages that will make policy makers and implementers accountable to activists and the public for development, for poverty reduction, and for the sustainability of these efforts.

Empowerment with resourcefulness

Henry Mosley at the meeting pointed out that the most important issue is empowering the key actors with the resourcefulness to do what needs to be done for sustainable development.

I rather like the idea that when we think about intellectual activity, the basic element should not be the individual person, but rather the person with his/her “surround”. For me, my surround includes my PC, and a personal library of hundreds of books. I also like the idea of considering communities and organizations as intellectual units. I think knowledge is often socially constructed by groups, and that without looking at the group one can not understand intellectual processes. And clearly communication media are increasingly important in communications within communities and organizations, indeed new ICT are enabling radical restructuring of the boundaries of our communities and organizations. I think Dr. Mosley would agree that ICT can help improve the resourcefulness of people and communities, especially by improving their access to and power over information.

But the key actors are everyone. As Dr. Mosley pointed out, mothers are key actors in the home in promoting the health of their family members, and in developing and sustaining a healthy home environment. Farmers are key actors in the rural area. Engineers, business people, government officials, bankers, and drivers all must behave in ways that contribute to the sustainability of development. How do we go about affecting the behavior of the nine billion people who will be here in 2050, and the generations that will set the global stage for that future population. There is a huge job of education, continuing education, and reeducation to be done. I don’t see how that job can be accomplished without a radical change in educational approaches, and a radical development and deployment of ICT based learning tools. And I think that a massive effort to improve the ICT in the surrounds of people, and the communications among them is even more fundamental to achieving sustainable development.

Thursday, June 26, 2003


Thomas Kuhn used the term paradigm in a number of ways in his book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, but central to his concept was that a community of people will collectively define a model of some aspect of reality and that the model will identify some kinds of information as relatively important and others as less important. Kuhn’s paradigms were not some ultimate truth, but relatively consistent bodies of theory and observations which could be superceded. Indeed, a key to his thought is that a crisis can occur in a paradigm as it fails to explain more and more observations. While new paradigms can be created explaining the anomalies, these are typically hard to sell to the adherents of the old paradigms. Moreover, the old paradigms may still be the most useful – few would seek to use Einstein’s relativity theory to calculate the trajectory of a missile when Newtonian dynamics are available.

On June 23, 2003 my entry in this Blog discussed institutions and development. One of the foundations of the discussion was a distinction between two things which we might characterize as paradigms:
· The project paradigm, that development takes place as a result of successful implementation of development projects; and
· The institutional paradigm, that development is the process of building institutions that enable social and economic progress.
I sought to make the point that evaluating development efforts using a project paradigm may totally miss what is happening if an institutional paradigm is more appropriate. (Kuhn might suggest that the proponents of each paradigm will never by convinced by holders of the contrary view, and that paradigms die out only as their proponents do.)

We can adapt the concept of the paradigm in discussing our models of the introduction of information and communication technologies in developing countries. It seems likely that we can define communities of practice which more or less share a specific model. I would suggest that we are frequently presented with observations which challenge our existing models and understanding.

There is a huge interest in understanding the effects of ICTs on organizations, institutions, and countries as a whole. Similarly there is a great interest in evaluating ICT projects and ICT programs. Evaluation of the effects of the technology, of a project, or of a program, however, depends fundamentally on the conceptual model one has – what causal relationships are deemed to be important, and what observations are deemed to be pertinent.

One point seems clear. There are many studies that indicate that most ICT projects fail. On the other hand, it is very clear that the diffusion of ICTs have been exceptionally rapid and that ICTs are used in huge numbers of applications revolutionizing many fields. How can this be? How can large numbers of failed projects result in unprecedented success of the technologies?

Perhaps the reason is that the project paradigm is not the right one. Perhaps a more complex paradigm that focuses on the rate of construction of the infrastructure, on the rate of development of “killer apps”, and on the information and communications technology system is better for understanding what is happening. Perhaps people using a project paradigm, and evaluating the success or failure of individual ICT projects are doing a disservice to the cause of ICT for Development.

In many cases more than one paradigm can be applied to explain the same situation. Where the paradigms suggest different causal relationships and attend to different observations, one may suggest something of a crisis. Moreover, where there are crises in the paradigms we use, the evaluations that they spark are suspect.

The New Zealand Digital Library
The New Zealand Digital Library is a research programme seeking to develop technology for digital libraries and to make it available publicly. The website is described as providing "several document collections, including historical documents, humanitarian and development information, computer science technical reports and bibliographies, literary works, and magazines. All are available over the Web, and can be accessed through searching and browsing interfaces provided by the Greenstone digital library software." Included are libraries of agricultural, food and nutrition, and health information for development professionals. Several languages are represented, including English, French, and Spanish, as well as Arabic in a demonstration library. To illustrate the value of this site,

One of the classic collections it contains is:

The Humanity Development Library
The Humanity Development Library alone "contains a total of 160,000 pages and 30,000 images, which if printed would weigh 340 kg and cost US$20,000. It is available on CD-ROM at US$2 for distribution in developing countries" as well as on the web at this site.

Among the contents of this library are some books related to the interests of this Blog. These are books from a project I managed. Most were written more than ten years ago, but may still be of interest, especially to those looking for historical perspective on ICT and Development:

Microcomputer Applications In Education And Training For Developing Countries (1987)

Microcomputers and their applications for developing countries (1986 report)

Policy Issues in Microcomputer Applications for Developing Countries (1992)

Bridge Builders - African Experiences with Information and Communication Technology (1996)

Research For Development (1991)

Wednesday, June 25, 2003


Paul Romer suggests that there might be. See for example, “Untangling e-conomics” from the Economist magazine (cited on his website).


Time: It Really Is Money

Brian Arthur also holds this to be true in some situations.

Monday, June 23, 2003


The June issue of Finance and Development (the IMF journal - online) has five articles dealing with the importance of institutions in development: "Root Causes: A historical approach to assessing the role of institutions in economic development" by Daron Acemoglu; "The Primacy of Institutions (and what this does and does not mean)" by Dani Rodrik and Arvind Subramanian; "Testing the Links: How strong are the links between institutional quality and economic performance?" by Hali Edison; "Institutions Matter, but Not for Everything: The role of geography and resource endowments in development shouldn’t be underestimated" by Jeffrey D. Sachs; and "Institutions Needed for More than Growth: By facilitating the management of environmental and social assets, institutions underpin sustainable development" by Christian Eigen-Zucchi, Gunnar S. Eskeland, and Zmarak Shalizi.

These summarize important research that challenges many of the underlying assumptions on which aid is based. Several of the authors defend the position that the current level of economic development is based solely on the quality of institutions. Acemoglu describes their key characteristics as “enforcement of property rights”, constraints on the actions of powerful groups”, and “some degree of equal opportunity for broad segments of the society. Rodrik and Subramanian classify the institutions they feel to be critical as “market creating”, “market regulating”, “market stabilizing”, and “market legitimizing”.

They thus indirectly challenge much of the basis of current aid assessment. If institutions are the key, and institutional development is the long term objective, then institution building should be the objective of development projects, and such projects should be long term in nature. There is still a place for humanitarian projects, but they should be judged in terms of humanitarian objectives and usually not portrayed as “development” projects.

Sachs provides an alternative position, which I find more acceptable – one focusing on many causes for underdevelopment, many paths to development, and several roles for development assistance.

From the point of Knowledge for Development the discussion raises issues that must be addressed. Surely the economic institutions that are discussed have important knowledge processes, and their development should be seen as significant within a knowledge for development strategy and program.

The arguments made are primarily based on regression analysis. I haven’t done so, but it would seem clear that as strong an argument could be made on the basis of correlations for knowledge and technology as the basis for development. Thus, per capita GDP depends on land (natural resources) and capital per worker, and the way that labor, capital and resources are used. At some point, growth depends on increasing productivity of inputs, and that increasing productivity must be obtained by using more productive technology or using knowledge more effectively.

It would seem likely that such improvements of productivity would not be achieved without good economic institutions and policies, but knowledge institutions are also needed. I don’t see how a country with no trained manpower, and no training institutions, and with no technological institutions could ever make the needed transformations of productivity – no matter how good its economic institutions.

In any case, I recommend the papers.

Friday, June 20, 2003

Harry Potter Website

In honor of tomorrow's publication of the newest book, click here.

Thursday, June 12, 2003


Yesterday my blog entry noted that developed countries, by virtue of spending much more per capita on ICT than do poor countries, also has a different mix of ICT expenditures. Rich countries have 10 to 20 times as much income per capita as poor countries, and these rich countries may spend twice as large a portion of their GDP on ICT as to the poor countries. They not only may spend 20 to 40 times as much per year on ICT, but they have been doing so for a long time. Rich countries do not simply buy 20 to 40 times as many telephones as do poor countries, they buy satellite remote sensing systems, supercomputers, and other high-end ICTs that developing countries can hardly afford at all.

The digital divide may well disappear for basic ICT, while at the same time it is increasing for high-end technology. The effect of a Northern monopoly on high-end ICT in areas such as manufacture of high-tech products (e.g. pharmaceuticals, airliners, telephone switching systems), military equipment, or services (e.g. arbitrage) may be serious aspects of the digital divide that will not disappear for a long time.

I was expressing these thoughts in a meeting yesterday, when it occurred to me that there is another aspect to the question. Consider cosmology, high-energy physics, and genomics.

The Hubble Space Telescope is to make a new observation starting in a few months. It will map a small part of the sky to a depth five times as great as ever done before, producing images five times as sharp as any made in the past. To do so, the telescope will be pointed at the area for a full month while the telescope is in orbit. This is already a feat that would be impossible without high-end ICT. But the data will be transmitted to earth, and processed by computers to produce the image. Then the optical data will be correlated with data recently obtained on the same area of the sky with a large radio telescope – itself a high-end ICT device. The resulting image is expected to provide mankind’s first look at the universe at the time that the first galaxies were forming.

When I think of the devices used to explore the basic particles of physics, I think of them as large machines – a word that connotes the physical mass and mechanical nature of the devices. But I suspect that high-energy physics is dominated by high-end ICT. Computers are fundamental to the design and construction of accelerators. Sensors are used to obtain data on the sub-atomic events, and extensive computer analysis is done to classify those events. High-energy physics continues to transform mankind’s understanding of the nature of matter.

Celera is the world’s largest civilian user of supercomputers. Not only has gene sequencing become practical on the current scale because of the automation of sequencers, the analysis of the data from the sequencers is very computationally intensive, as indeed is the identification of the genes within the DNA, and the identification of likely functions for those genes through their similarity with known genes in other species.

In these three areas, made possible through high-end ICT, our understanding of the nature of the world has been radically transformed. It is only about a hundred years ago that mankind realized that there were other galaxies, and now we are trying to get our minds around an unimaginably large and unimaginably old universe. Physicists tell us that the very stuff of that universe was very different at its inception. Solid matter is mostly empty space, and quantum weirdness appears to be true even if unimaginable for almost everyone. Genomics seems to be indicating that all life on earth shares genetic building blocks that are much more similar than anyone had imagined. There is almost no measurable difference between man and man, and indeed very little between man and ape.

The religions of the world were founded and their beliefs institutionalized long before these insights into nature were possible. On the one hand, they pose an immense challenge to many religious to find acceptable accommodations between dogma and modern science. On the other hand, some conservatives seek to reject the data of modern science, and indeed to assure that it is not taught in schools nor spread widely in the population. I suspect that a willingness to examine scientific information and to adapt beliefs to accommodate epistemologically acceptable evidence is a key element of modernity –a basis of social and economic development. Almost certainly, it is a characteristic of “knowledge societies.”

The media are full of news of people acting in very destructive ways based on their religious convictions. The bombing suspect arrested in the US recently is alleged to have set off bombs at the Olympics and in health centers based on his Christian beliefs. Taliban in Afghanistan imposed their regime citing their Moslem faith. Jews have established hundreds of illegal outposts in Palestinian territory, citing biblical precedents. Christian fundamentalists in some cases are supporting the invasion of the West Bank citing their beliefs that the historical lands of the Israel will have to be in the hands of the Jews before the second coming of Christ is possible. Moslems and Hindus in the subcontinent kill each other over control of what they regard as “holy places”.

Scientific understanding of the universe, of matter, and of life on earth is being revolutionized by application of high-end ICT. I wonder if it would be helpful if these people justifying violence on the basis of their religious beliefs were exposed to this modern scientific world view, and were asked to reconcile their religious views with the evidence of science. Perhaps they might be a little less certain of their own views, of their own virtue, and of the moral value of killing others with different beliefs.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003


There is a tendency to discuss the “digital divide” in terms of connectivity. Consequently, it is assumed by many that when telephone or Internet connections become very wide spread, the digital divide will disappear. Of course one may define the digital divide so that this is true. To do so would seem to miss a more important fact. The information revolution is likely to benefit poor nations less than it benefits rich nations.

Some technological developments offer the possibility of reducing the connectivity gap, as Braga, Sareen and I wrote recently, new developments in wireless seem likely to extend and expand the improvements in telecommunications connectivity begun with mobile phones, and low cost hardware will bring the Internet to many of those newly connected to the telephone network. Other developments such as grid computing, open source software could lead to more accessible computing services.

Posted Power Point presentation pictures portray these points.

Poor countries tend to spend less of their GDP on ICT than do rich countries. (see Slide 1, with data from the 2002 World Development Report).

Disaggregate those averages. One can consider different ICT expenditures for different people. Lots of people in a given society will share basic ICT access. In the poorest societies, that basic access may be just a transistor radio. More affluent societies may add a telephone, a cassette recorder or a TV to the radio. Rich societies may add still more devices to the basic package, such as both mobile and fixed line telephones, computers, Internet connectivity, DVDs, CD recorders, etc..

There are also high-end ICT that are used by relatively few people in their work. Thus computerized tomography and other medical instrumentation may be used to provide sophisticated diagnostic services in tertiary health care facilities. Supercomputers may be used by weather and climate forecasters to process masses of data from networks of automated gauges and from satellite remote sensing. High performance computing (HPC) may be required by those responsible for airframe design and computer simulation the designed high performance aircraft. The complexity of modern telephone networks is such that analysts must simulate the performance of millions of lines of software with large scale computers. The pharmaceutical industry uses HPC for genomics, especially for the identification of possible functions for new drugs and for development of new diagnostics and vaccines.

In general one will find this high-end technology only in richer countries. Slide 2 illustrates my guess that developing countries not only have lower investments per capita in basic ICT, but fall far behind developed countries in high-end ICT investments.

Slide 3 notes that the average ICT investment is obtained by integrating (summing) from low to high end ICT, but that the integral (sum) is likely to be dominated by two different kinds of elements – low-end ICT expenditures that are made by large numbers of people, and large, high-end expenditures even though they are infrequent.

The basis for the information revolution is the rapid decrease in price for many ICT technologies. Slide 4 is based on the assumption that the marginal value of ICT is equal to its marginal cost at a given point in time. If the technology improves, then the marginal value will improve for all cost levels.

It also seems likely that if telephones become cheaper, people in poor countries will buy more telephones, and indeed will spend more money on telephones. Developed countries may well have saturated markets for some basic ICT, but are likely to buy more high-end technology as that technology improves. Thus, in Slide 5, the distributions for expenditures for ICT are shifted to the right for both developed and developing nations after a period of time.

The point of the exercise is to show that while the gap in basic ICT may be closing, the gap in high-end ICT may be continuing. The improved connectivity to basic ICT in developing nations (both more connectivity, and moving up scale in basic services) certainly offers great promise for those seeking to utilize ICT to meet basic human needs. However, a continuing gap in high-end ICT would suggest an important continuing (and perhaps growing) digital divide.

Friday, June 06, 2003


June 5th was Environment Day, and the ICT for Development Topic has posted a highlight on ICT and the Environment marking the day.

I added an essay for the feature. It is the second in a series on ICT and the Millennium Development Goals. The series of essays is a contribution to the , to be held in December.World Summit on the Information Society