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Disruptive Technology: Opportunity for Productivity or Social Equity Concerns?


Last weekend, the Alliance for Innovation held its annual BIG Ideas Conference around Disruptive Technology. Learn more here. Unlike other conferences, this one positions its key notes as provocateurs to make everyone feel uncomfortable and stretch to think about the future.  One of the sessions was on local government's role and leadership around quality access to broadband.  Some takeaways from the provocateurs:  

BIG Ideas 2016 discussing broadband

  • We are transitioning from building smart communities to intelligence as technology is neutral but knowledge is a commodity and needs to be the focus.
  • Broadband is the 4th utility but there is no one way to get there.  Identify what your assets and unique place is, and identify a strategy and approach that matches.
  • Once you have broadband what do you do with it?  We need to focus on utilizing and managing challenges around big data, engagement to help citizens, non-profits, and private sector (understand the value and what is available to them) and culture (focusing on customer services and love or learning to build a risk-taking and flexible workforce).

The resulting conversation pushed everyone to address the divide that arises between productivity improvements and social equity challenges. Take these two quotes:

Productivity:

“The true cost of a bus ride is higher than we currently charge. We have replaced our bus system with a ride-sharing service. The cost per ride is less than the bus. Driverless cars would be even cheaper and more efficient."

Social Equity

"Part of my problem is technology is moving so fast...are we putting in systems that are ultimately going to destroy community? For example,should we invest in broadband so schools are no longer necessary?  If we create these virtual communities are we creating systems that no longer rely on our neighbors because we satisfy our other needs through technology.  We are excited about the potential of technology but there is not enough thought of the consequences."

Technology (broadband, automation, etc.) is the infrastructure of our times just as railroads, highways, etc. where the infrastructure of the industrial revolution. Like that time, it's going to result in productivity improvements (faster shipment of good) but also social equity issues that will need to be addressed. With the construction of the railroad, many areas found massive economic opportunity but others became ghost towns. Who are the ghost towns of the technology revolution? We designed social systems to address the social equity issues that arose during the industrial revolution and we will need to redesign/create ones to support the new social ills arising from this transformation. Government's role is to lead conversations around the opportunities technology brings but also be a catalyst to discuss the resulting equity issues.

 

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