In the past decade, the world has seen various technological growth and disruptions. Innovations are coming up almost every day across the world. Due to its exponential rate, the world is yet to see the real impact of the 4th industrial revolution. What we know is that the digital revolution brings higher efficiency, improve living standards, provide remarkable solutions to solve human problems. However, today, we also begin to see the damage brought by this new era such as new security concerns like a breach in data privacy and technological system, manufacturing of public opinion in the case of Cambridge Analytica, hoax, etc. These are the damages caused by tech industries. On the other side, the tech industries have not fulfilled all of its promises to solve the world's most pressing problems. Inequality still exists, GDP is falling, and climate change is getting worse. This article will examine the "homework" of the technological industries and provide suggestions on how the government, businesses and civil society need to start solving the problem. Therefore, these billion-dollar worth industries could go beyond ad-revenue industries and make a lasting impact.
One of the main promises of the fourth industrial revolution is to increase well-being and basic income. The revolution has indeed brought various new technologies and disruptions. Regardless, two problems will be recognized which are inequality and climate change. Firstly, in terms of inequality, despite the rapid increase of smartphone adoption in the world, there are still a lot of people that do not get access to technology. According to ITU, the growth of internet users has decreased in recent years. Approximately 50% of the world is already online, but to bring the rest to the same position requires a lot of investment and resources from both IT companies and the government. As part of the world which is still offline mostly located in rural areas. Not to mention, the accelerated speed brought by the internet will further distance the digital divide between societies.
In the past, it was found that certain race is less likely to gain access to the internet compared to another. Therefore, more should be done to bring equal access to the internet to the whole world in order to provide a balanced opportunity for all to reap its benefits. Not just the access but the literacy towards the internet itself. This is highly important as the jobs of the future will most likely require certain technological savviness. If digital skills are not learned by the next generations, this will again create a divide between societies as those with the lack of these skills might not get the opportunities brought by the digital revolution in the work industry. As a result, inequality persists with a larger gap than ever.
The second issue is climate change. There are recent initiatives such as the creation of electric cars and solar panels to reduce emissions. However, technological adaptation needs to go beyond mitigation and start to combat the effects of climate change. In early 2020, we could already see the demise of climate change with the disastrous fire in Australia and Jakarta massive flooding. Not to mention, the threat of water scarcity which could already be seen in certain parts of the world. WWF estimates that by 2025, only one-third of the world population will enjoy normal water supply. Looking at the social inequality today, those with power and money or often said the top 1% will survive this environmental threat and those who already suffer will suffer more.
Figure 1. Environmental Damage of Digital Industry
Moreover, the tech industries are not only urged to innovate in environmental aspects, but they also need to start being more accountable for their environmental footprints. This infographic highlights the damage brought by digital technology from the production, usage, up to the final usage of the product in which most of the parts are turned to waste. With the current pace of technological product cycles that produce annual new products, more and more waste will be accumulated. If these environmental problems are not addressed as soon as possible, the current generations will have to adapt to the new climate conditions in the near future.
In order to tackle these problems, solutions must come from various stakeholders from the government, private sector, and society. Firstly, the government needs to implement rules and regulations on recycling and waste management of technological companies. Moreover, campaigning for internet literacy and programs to promote connectivity and infrastructure must further be made especially to those in the rural area. Second, for the private industries to collaborate with the government in managing their waste, create more sustainable products and create proposals to solve ongoing issues. This could be done by creating more businesses with social causes which are often described as 'zebra' entrepreneurs. These entrepreneurs accumulate capital and solve societal challenges at the same time. Lastly, civil society and individuals to be specific must begin to adapt their lifestyle to be more sustainable, such as not buying new products too often and increase the product life cycle.
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