Monday, June 3, 2013

Technology lift

A recent study from the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras argues that making cheap tablets available to millions in India may lift them out of poverty. This is a path worth pursuing as poverty is fundamentally driven by lack of access to information and capital. The competence and even desire can be shown to be uniform across the masses but market failures in information have held nearly 1/3 of the world’s population back and pinned them to incurable poverty. This is a shame for a civilization claiming to have made progress in virtually every dimension but has little to show for it.

Lack of access to information is the worst contemporary societal disease, as it leads to poverty, disease, crime and moral decay. As the leaders of countries across the world clamor to build and enhance physical infrastructure such as roads and bridges, they forget the leverage afforded by improved information infrastructure. The world has already moved on from the need for physical transport to mental engagement. With 3D printing around the corner, the trucks, trains and airplanes that carry physical goods are about to become obsolete. Further, with computer languages and mathematics rendering the world flatter than a pancake, the only advantage remains to be in information and knowledge.

If the IIT hypothesis holds good, then the distribution of millions of tablets across the country at $50 a piece, may usher in a wave of innovation. If the leaders of the country are serious about making a difference, here is a golden opportunity to run an experiment that cost nearly nothing. But then, one can never underestimate bureaucratic friction, corruption and sheer incompetence in policymaking, in a country, vastly famous for it.