It might be an island thing. Though in many ways the world has shrunk, most of our people still live in a 19th to 20th century world. In news media, many examples of such incompatibilities are apparent. In industry, in universities and in the country as a whole many invisible incompatibilities exist. One may say that it is a language issue, but I beg to differ. It is not just among the rural Sri Lankan, but also among the English speaking Colombo crowd too. In the last 30 years or so the development of technology and the engagement of people from all over the world have made the world shrink.
In my view the biggest development happened in the computer technology (in both hardware and software fronts). In the hardware front it has made the computers available for individual usage even on the go (40 years ago they were bulky, expensive and in 1977 the president, chairman and the founder of DEC corporation USA, Ken Olson famously said, “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home”). In the software front they have become very user friendly, figured out their glitches and become fashionable, manageable and less intimidating.
Secondly, making use of the above developments the World Wide Web (the internet) has made it a connected world, which now has nearly 3 billion users. As of the end of 2013, 39 percent of the world population is connected to the WWW and nearly half of them lives in Asia. The number of users in Asia is more that of both Europe and North America put together. Google X, a company associated with the internet giant Google Corporation, is planning on making internet available for the whole world within the next year. They have been testing high altitude balloon powered internet for more than a year now. They even bought a wind power generator company to provide power to these balloons.
With above advancements a myriad of internet-related services, social media networks, software developers, data analysts, and related industries have seen a massive growth. In addition, all these developments have affected areas such as genetics and biotechnology, chemistry, physics, marketing, production, medicine and pharmaceuticals, delivery services, banking and finance, transportation, lodging, logistics, economics, politics, etc. Parallel to all these some other technologies such as biotechnology, nanotechnology, green technology came into the field as organized technological fronts.
If one has studied the industrial revolution in 18th to 19th century, it wouldn’t be hard to understand that we may be going through another such historic event at present. Unfortunately, some of the industrial revolution related events such as agricultural revolution is not yet complete in Sri Lanka. Leaving the past aside we may be able to create a new opportunity this time around if we organize ourselves as one unit. One of the biggest reasons demanding this level of organization is the fact that current policy makers, officials and business leaders belong to the generation prior to the beginning of this strategic inflection point.
I did not intend any disrespect to them but we all have to admit that the current younger generation is far savvier with these new technologies and the decisions we all are making is going to affect their world. If we can collectively setup a platform for them to thrive, Sri Lanka will be a different place in the future.
What would be the makeup and the mandate of such an organization? I think it should be funded and represent both the public and the private sector with people who are current in the technological knowledge in a variety of fields. This organization should look into the technologies which could bring strategic advantage of upcoming technologies to the country as a whole and advise the relevant industries and public officials. Additionally, they should create awareness among the general public and the potential users. The existing organizations such as NSF, MOTR, and CoSTI, all suffer from the above shortcomings.
This is not to devalue what they are doing currently. All these organizations are doing a fantastic job on advising and popularizing the existing technologies but I am talking about technologies such as Synthetic Biology, Big Data, Artificial Intelligence, 3D Printing, etc. I am talking about suggesting upgrades of payment systems of simple things like a traffic fine at the point of offence if the person is accepting the violation, without affecting the revenue streams of both the postal services as well as the Police. I am talking about preventing the obsoleteness of horses felt after the first industrial revolution.