Wed, 25 May 2022

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According to data from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), an estimated 37 percent of the world's population, or some 2.9 billion people were still offline in 2021. Of these, 96 percent were living in developing countries.

by Martina Fuchs

GENEVA, Jan. 19 (Xinhua) -- Gaps in access to technology and internet connectivity in developing countries must be tackled as a top priority, leaders urged during the Davos Agenda 2022 of the World Economic Forum (WEF) on Wednesday.

Starting from Jan. 17, heads of state and government have joined public and private sector leaders for a virtual week-long discussion on "The State of the World."

While the technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution have already led to transformative progress in many domains, the WEF said that more cooperation is needed in order to balance innovation and responsibility, and to maximize the potential of emerging technologies.

"The need for tech cooperation has never been greater," said Samir Saran, president of the Observer Research Foundation during a panel discussion on "Technology Cooperation in the Fourth Industrial Revolution."

"As businesses, societies and individuals, we have never been more dependent on technology and indeed, on our digital platforms. The pandemic has only accelerated this reliance," he stressed.

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CLOSING THE DIGITAL GAP

Bridging the digital divide and ensuring equitable access to the opportunities that internet access provides is a top priority, Saran emphasized.

"We can all agree that making technology available to all has to be a global imperative in the days ahead," he added. Cooperation is crucial in order to provide internet access at affordable prices to those who have until now been under-served, he noted.

"The Global South and the emerging economies will experience the largest transformations in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. For these countries, partnerships are essential to meet development priorities and indeed, growth aspirations."

According to data from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), an estimated 37 percent of the world's population, or some 2.9 billion people were still offline in 2021. Of these, 96 percent were living in developing countries.

© Provided by Xinhua

At the same time, the 2021 edition of "Facts and Figures," the ITU's annual global assessment of digital connectivity, also revealed strong worldwide growth in internet use.

The estimated number of people who have used the internet surged to 4.9 billion in 2021, rising from an estimated 4.1 billion in 2019.

The ITU's report said that measures taken during the pandemic, such as widespread lockdowns and school closures, combined with the need for access to online services such as news, e-commerce and online banking, created a "COVID connectivity boost."

This has brought an estimated 782 million additional people online since 2019, an increase of 17 percent, it said.

EQUAL ACCESS TO TECHNOLOGY

Sunil Bharti Mittal, chairman of Bharti Enterprises, also underlined the importance of internet accessibility and affordability, as well as digital skills, if the full potential of the global digital economy is to be realized.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is the only possible way to tackle world poverty, and reach the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that the United Nations has set for 2030, said Mittal.

"There is no other way, but for us to serve society, and build a very strong digital infrastructure that needs to be provided across the entire globe."

However, he warned that satellite communication is expensive, and "some of the players in the digital ecosystem, and governments will have to come together to provide affordability to those who may otherwise never get connected."

Hans Vestberg, chairman and CEO of U.S. telecoms giant Verizon Communications told the virtual panel that due to the pandemic, "we have probably leapfrogged five to seven years when it comes to digital transformation."

"It shouldn't matter where you're born or where you live, where you come from, you should have the same opportunities," he said.

The digital infrastructure of the 21st century, meaning mobility, broadband and cloud services, must be used to provide access and affordability, he added.

MOUNTING CYBER RISKS

In the WEF's "Global Risks Report 2022" published last week, it warned that while the global digital economy has received a huge boost from the COVID-19 pandemic, so has cybercrime. Ransomware attacks jumped by 151 percent in 2021.

"There were on average 270 cyberattacks per organization during 2021, a 31 percent increase on 2020, with each successful cyber breach costing a company 3.6 million U.S. dollars," the report said.

The WEF released on Wednesday a new insight report showing that national governments have invested over 25 billion U.S. dollars into quantum computing research.

Meanwhile, over 1 billion U.S. dollars' worth of venture capital deals have closed in the past year, more than the past three years combined.

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"Quantum computing promises to disrupt the future of business, science, government, and society itself, but an equitable framework is crucial to address future risks," the report reads.

Kay Firth-Butterfield, the WEF's head of artificial intelligence and machine learning, wrote in the report that the "critical opportunity at the dawn of this historic transformation" is to address ethical, societal and legal concerns well before commercialization.

This week's event serves as a springboard to the WEF's annual meeting in Davos, which is scheduled for early summer.

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