The views expressed in this and other papers associated with the NIC 2020 project are those of individual participants.
ICT REVOLUTION: SOME REVERBERATIONS
This short paper touches on some of the reverberations the Information Communication Technologies (ICT) Revolution has set off. It is more of a kick start for our discussions than a compressive analysis of the subject.
When the Agrarian Revolution took place, no one recognized it as a revolution while it was underway, not even for centuries afterward. The Industrial Revolution, again, was not called a revolution while it was coursing through the entire Western world, but only in late 19th century, after seeing the effects of revolutionary changes in the industrial landscape. The ICT Revolution has the distinction of being recognized as one even as it was unfolding. The magnitude and the impact of this phenomenon have come to be felt widely and quickly the world over. But for the same reason, the judgments about this revolution are often rushed and unrigorous.
Though the first commercial computer was produced in the early 1950s, the widespread use of computers and the consequent Information Communication Technology did not come into common use till about 1980s. Internet came into public use only in the 1990s. But, once ICT put out its roots in the key domains of our collective life such as academia, government and business there was no stopping of its tentacles reaching into every aspect of our life, whether at work, at play or at home.
However, the spread of ICT through the world has not been even or equitable. ICT has added one more layer of division between the haves and the havenots, leading to a Digital Divide. The world is now struggling to cope with a technology that has tremendous potential as a boon but with its own attendant threats of a bane.
The ICT Revolution has not merely given technological tools to boost innovation and productivity but to a much larger and deeper articulation of how humankind should live as a society. As with the Agrarian Society and the Industrial Society, ICT has led many to dream of an Information Society. Visions of Information Society have been articulated not only by the technologically advanced nations but even by the developing world, as evident in Africa, South America and Asia. Poor countries actually see ICT as an opportunity to leapfrog over generations of technologies to cope with their persistent economic and social ills.
As UN Secretary General Kofi Annan pointed out “it is precisely where no infrastructure exists that (ICT) can be particularly effective, helping people to leapfrog generations of telecommunication technology and infrastructure and empower people.”
Let’s first look at some specific domains in which ICT has had its greatest impact.
Impact on Innovation & Productivity
The reports on the effect of ICT on innovation and productivity are mixed. Some evangelists had extolled the virtues of ICT and predicted all sorts of innovations and productivity gains, much of which are yet to be realized. On the other hand, the luddites continue to claim that ICT has made little or no difference. The truth seems to lie, as usual, somewhere in between.
An OECD report, released in 2003, concludes that “all the evidence suggests that ICT remains a major positive dynamic force in OECD countries…and an important driver of growth and productivity.”  The report also identifies a number of factors that will enhance the positive effects of ICT. These include not only continuous investment in ICT development and deployment, but also policy frameworks that are conducive to investment and competition, upgrading of related skills and major organizational changes.
The above factors are not confined to the experiences of OECD countries. An IMF Working Paper, also released in 2003, reports that ICT’s contribution to growth in Asian...