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Technology Joins Nations Together:

By Eva Moy
News Editor

The third and final plenary session of the Industry Summit focused on the role of technology in bringing both the developed and developing nations of the world together as one global society.

"The New World Divide: Is Technology the Gap or the Bridge?" featured Robert B. Palmer, president and chief executive officer of Digital Equipment Corp.; Boris G. Saltykov, minister for science, higher education, and technology policy of Russia; and Lester C. Thurow, professor of management and economics and former dean of the Sloan School of Management.

This panel was chaired by Fred Moavenzadeh, director for construction research and education and professor of civil engineering; and William Weld, governor of Massachusetts.

The panelists brought a wide range of national, social, and economic backgrounds, as well as experience in academia, government, and industry to the discussion.

"We are living in a global village. If we want to survive, we have to share values," create trust, and network on a micro-level, said Klaus Schwab, founder and president of the World Economic Forum, in a closing statement.

"In an age where information moves at the speed of light, you can't hide from anyone else in the world," Weld said. Cooperation provides a "positive sum gain," with greater wealth and economic parity for all countries, he added. "International is domestic."

Nations must share technology

Although technology is one factor which separates developed nations from developing nations, Thurow believes that it is neither a bridge nor a gap. The great divide is actually between those who have technological information and skills (or desire that knowledge) and those who do not, he said.

Thurow also believes that socialism hinders technological advancement. Third world countries must realize that participation in global trade is beneficial, both economically and technologically, he said.

Saltykov agreed that although Russia is technologically advanced in many areas, it cannot compete well on a global scale. Protected by the state umbrella of communism for over half a century, there was no need for marketing or financial infrastructures. Now, with a lack of administration and a centralized system, Russia "does not have enough resources for a normal level, normal speed, of improvement," Saltykov said.

Communist China, however, has been able to advance rapidly in recent years because of better management and better incentives to workers, such as property rights, Thurow said. This is partially because a large proportion of managers come from Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore, as well as overseas, he continued.

Another factor is that in Asian cultures, "Their average illiterate peasant is willing to make great sacrifices to make sure they have literate children," Thurow said.

On the other hand, American capitalism has been shortsighted, Thurow said. But, society as a whole benefits when all of its members contribute to long-term investment. There is a long-term benefit, for example, when someone pays for a child's education for 16 years without immediate return.

Regardless of political characterization, however, Thurow urged nations to adopt an "export-led, open market economy."

"Electrons do not recognize national bounds," Palmer said.

Academia, government, industry

A common theme voiced by the panelists was that a coalition between academia, government, and industry must be established in order to successfully develop and share technology on a global scale.

Palmer described the "rapid and unrelenting rate of technological progress" in information technology, as experienced by Digital. In the last 20 years, the computer power to price ratio has doubled every 18 months, telecommunication has been driven by advances in silicon and fiber optic technology, and microprocessors and storage units have increased in capacity.

With two million computers and 10 million users connected by the Internet over 70 countries representing every continent, communication is now faster than ever, Palmer said.

The implications of these new technologies are complex and far-reaching for those who choose to participate, but the risks are also high, Palmer added.

The panelists outlined a number of roles government should take. To minimize these risks, the government should play a role in establishing standards, providing security, and protecting intellectual property rights, Saltykov said.

Weld said The government should ensure that the laws and tax codes promote future, long-range activities. Thurow suggested creating a world science foundation to promote international cooperation in research.

The private sector may be more willing to take risks if the government defines the rules, Saltykov said.

In terms of academic institutions, Thurow asked, "Are we willing to use our institutions to look forward?" MIT is pumping out technology very quickly, partially through foreign graduate students, but it is also siphoning back technology as quickly as possible, he said.

On a more basic level, Thurow warned that in the future people will need to be mathematically competent, as well as literate, in order to survive. "Even when you have a good 12 years of education, it isn't good enough," he said.

Given that almost one-third of all Americans earned college degrees and one-third do not graduate from high school, it will be up to the politicians to bring these groups together, Thurow said.