Technology has been at the heart of human progress since the earliest times. At the end of the 19th century the application of science to manufacturing techniques or to agricultural practices became a basis of production systems, eventually increasing most workers’ incomes.
In the twentieth century investments in R&D transformed knowledge into a critical factor of production, and industrial laboratories began producing inventions that soon found their ways to the shop floor.
Entrepreneurship and market incentives accelerated technological progress to meet consumer demand. In just the past 20 years the store of indigenous knowledge has begun to reach people more widely.
A recent study of the World Bank has quantified the importance of technology showing that technical progress accounted for 40-50% of mortality reductions between 1960 and 1990. Medical breakthroughs such as immunisations and antibiotics resulted in faster gains in Latin America and East Asia in the 20th century than Europe achieved through better nutrition and sanitation in the 19th century.
Worldwide life expectancy at birth has increased 60 to 70 years from 1970-75 to 1995-2000; infant mortality rate has dropped from 100 to 50 per 1000 live births from 1970 to 1999; and undernourished people have gone down from 900 million in 1975 to 800 million in 1999. Technological progress has played a great role in accelerating food production. It took nearly 1000 years for wheat yield in England to increase from 0.5 tonnes per hectare to 2, but only 40 years to go from 2 tonnes to 6 tonnes per hectares.
Starting in 1960 a green revolution of plant breeding, fertilizer use, better seeds and water control transformed land and labor productivity around the world. There are people more literate and better educated and have higher incomes (GDP per capita on 1985 PPP basis increased from $1000 to $2500 from 1975 to 1998). There has been considerable progress toward gender equality.
Industry is more conscious of environmental sustainability. Like the printing press of earlier centuries, the telephone, radio, television and fax of 20th century opened up communications, reducing isolation and enabling people to be better informed and to participate in decisions that affect their lives. Tied to these technologies is the free media, a pillar of all functioning democracies.
In the new millennium the challenges still remain, and quite large. Across the world unacceptable levels of deprivations in people’s lives exist. The magnitude of challenges appears to be daunting. Not all regions of the world have advanced at the same pace and achieving same level.
Differences among regions and countries are particularly marked in economic growth, which generates public resources to invest in education and health services and increases the resources people have to enjoy a decent standard of living and improve many other aspects of their lives.
At the end of 2000 about 36 million people were living with HIV/AIDS – 95% of them in developing countries and 70 per cent in Sub- Saharan Africa. Infant mortality rate was as high as 105 per 1000 live births in Sub-Saharan Africa (in 1999) as compared to around 12 in OECD countries.
Regional variations in human survival, education and income are too high. In East Asia and Pacific people still have no access to potable water. World inequality is very high. The richest one percent of world population received as much income as the poorest 57%. 75 per cent of world population received only 25% of the world’s income (inn PPP$).
It is this threat which is an opportunity for international business to create, diffuse and use technology to serve humanity and also earn sufficiently. Turning technology into a tool for human development requires purposive effort. Investment in technology can have enormous returns.
Though international and intra-national variations exist, but everything is not so gloomy about technology itself. Today’s technological transformations are pushing forward the frontiers of medicine, communications, agriculture, energy and sources of dynamic growth.
These advances have a global reach: a breakthrough in one country can be used around the world. The human genome, mapped primarily by researchers in the UK and the US is equally valuable for biotechnological research the world over. The internet was created in the US, but its cost-slashing consequences for information and communications enhance people’s opportunity in every country.
Information and communications technology, biotechnology and just emerging nanotechnology are making advances faster, more fundamental and driving costs down. In this context it is necessary to have a detailed look at these technologies in detail.