Poverty and Development Division
last updated : 20 December 1999
TECHNOLOGIES AND THE PROCESS OF GLOBALIZATION: EMERGING TRENDS
In general, ICT encompasses all technologies used in collecting, storing, processing and transmission of information in the form of voice, data or image. This includes microelectronics, opto-electronics and related technologies. Despite some differences in the definitions of ICT, there is general agreement on the main components which already exist or are likely to be introduced in the near future. These are: (a) electronic computers and, particularly, personal computers with increased capacity and performance and containing microprocessors and enhanced memory storage capacities; (b) wired and wireless telecommunications; (c) software for information storage and processing, communication interfacing and systems operations; and (d) home multimedia machines and electronic appliances. In addition, other technologies include cash cards to store money electronically, smart cards containing microchips encoded with various classes of confidential information, mobile video-phone communication services and electronic notepads with voice and handwriting recognition.
It should be emphasized that new ICTs function interdependently. They are also converging. The assembly of ICT is an intelligent information network. Sensors and detectors, computers and knowledge-based systems, control systems and display systems are interconnected into communication networks, allowing these networks to be able to perform the information functions required by their users. In combination, they form a national information infrastructure and are linked to the global information infrastructure.
Electronic computer systems
Computers of various types form the core of ICT. Modern computers can be broadly divided into three categories based on the performance factors of throughput and speed: personal computers, mainframe computers and supercomputers. Personal computers are now approaching mainframes in throughput and supercomputers in speed. Software, which runs any computer system, processing and manipulating information and directing the communication interfacing, is being increasingly integrated with hardware as computer systems are developed in a package form in order to increase functionality. The next generation of computer software will be capable of flexible information processing such as images and sounds on a real-time basis. A low-cost personal computer to work with the Internet, the so-called "network computer" is being developed. This will be, in effect, an intelligent telephone. Users will be able to rent software from service providers and will not need to worry about new versions and updates of their system. It is likely that the network computer will revolutionize computing once again.
Another trend is the merging of communication, home electronics, broadcasting and publishing into all-in-one computers (figure IV.1). Most personal computers will come with voice and fax facilities, making telephones and fax machines redundant. Similarly, digitalization makes compression and decompression of images easy. Household appliances are evolving and are being merged to computer systems. Communication and broadcasting are becoming integrated digital devices. Today's personal computer is the most multifunctional tool of all consumer products or appliances for business, education, entertainment and services; it brings together seamlessly graphics, telephony and multimedia. A shift from proprietary to open architecture has facilitated this. For example, the network computing architecture announced by Oracle Corporation provides a flexible and unified framework with a consistent interface for the development and deployment of distributed business applications within a variety of network architectures. This allows client-servers, legacy systems, the Internet, Microsoft and Netscape to share a common open standard for Internet commerce. With network computing architecture, customers can utilize their existing ICT infrastructure to take advantage of new technologies while using existing service platforms.
Conceptually, the information superhighway is an electronic communication network which provides connectivity for any conceivable transaction, for example, entertainment, home shopping, banking and video-conferencing, to name a few. The Internet is one example of this concept. It provides connectivity between more points than any other alternative networks and at a comparatively low cost. It currently connects 25 to 30 million users in more than 140 countries, and the Internet population is expected to reach 200 million by the year 2000. Network information centres which provide services for higher-level use now exist in many countries in the region, including Australia, India, Japan, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Republic of Korea, Singapore and Thailand. Information service providers are also available in the above-mentioned economies as well as in Bangladesh; China; Guam; Hong Kong, China; Indonesia; New Zealand; Philippines; and Taiwan Province of China.
The Internet was started as a network among researchers supported by government and industry. Since the early l990s, the commercial dimension of the Internet has emerged from growing business networks. The cohabitation of non-commercial and commercial sectors in the Internet is the current reality. This situation has raised several concerns: (a) there is no governing body or agency; (b) there are no service quality guarantees; (c) there is no security of transaction; (d) information on the Internet is unstructured, unsorted and difficult to find; (e) operations are often unstable; and (f) there are no proper payment schemes. These issues will have to be solved before the Internet can become a real information superhighway.
At present, ICT in many developing countries is primarily targeted at the privileged and the business community which can afford the current, relatively high, cost of connectivity. In order to increase the use of the Internet by the rest of the population, low-cost links are required, using the basic telephony that is already in place or satellite connections. Recent developments in satellite technology have facilitated reliable, high-quality, rapid communications services to remote areas. These systems use hybrid terminals which share the antenna and transceiver sections, thus greatly reducing capital investment and the heavy installation costs associated with fixed-line networks. This leading-edge technology could allow rural areas to connect quickly and cheaply to the rest of the world.4
4 "Satellite communications: moving into the next millennium", presentation by Transtel Satellite Communications at the UNCTAD "Partners for development" Summit, Lyon, France, 9-12 December 1998.
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