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EL ESPECTADOR

A Democratic Imperative Of The Technology Revolution

If societies really want to tackle inequality, they'll need to do more than just improve access to new technologies.

A Colombian woman reaps the benefits of South America's tech revolution.
A Colombian woman reaps the benefits of South America's tech revolution.
Gonzalo Hernández*

-OpEd-

BOGOTÁ — Everyone talks about how we're in the midst of a technological and scientific revolution that's rapidly transforming our world in ways that exceed previous revolutions.

New technologies come to us so fast that it seems almost unnecessary — and repetitive — to keep mentioning them. And yet, we cannot overlook how such technologies are redefining our societies and institutions. But what's most important here is not just that people have access to these technologies, but that they reap the benefits of such advances and share in the dividends.

However sophisticated or confusing they may be, the key issue with these technological changes is wealth distribution. If yesterday we were focused on returns from land and machines, today we must pay special attention to the dividends of digital technologies, artificial intelligence and genetic engineering.

These new dividends, like past ones, can be either democratizing in their impact or help concentrate power in the hands of the few. But if they're to permeate society on a democratic scale, we first need a society that absorbs like a sponge, and that, in turn, depends on another basic factor: better education.

Have we already missed the train?

Improved education is needed not just at the higher levels of science and technology, but also in primary and secondary schooling, which creates better citizens. Unfortunately, in Colombia, too many people are excluded from quality education.

This is another reason why education must be a long-term, state policy, rather than subject to the short-term whims of whatever administration happens to be in power. And that means more government spending, which can be financed by more progressive taxes and a smaller military budget.

Colombian students walk to class –– Photo: Michelle McFarlane

One cannot have a truly democratic society if economic inequality allows a few to also hoard all the political power and wield it over the great majority. There can be no democratic society if everyone can access certain technologies, but only a few will reap its economic rewards. A decent education is one that permits a better social distribution of the dividends of science and technology.

Citizens should not allow the frequently used terms of this revolution — words like technology, digital, 4.0 or 5.0 — to confound the most basic social demands that include, and are a precondition to, democratic access to the dividends of science and technology. Colombia is no exception, and unless it embarks on a concerted revolution in education, it won't be able to properly assimilate the tech revolution.

Indeed, this is a particularly important challenge for developing nations like ours, which are already playing catchup when it comes to education. If we missed the train already, as they say, what happens now that the train is moving that much faster?


*Hernández is an economics professor at the Pontifical Xavierian University in Bogotá.

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Society

How India’s Women Are Fighting Air Pollution — And The Patriarchy

India is one of the world's worst countries for air pollution, with women more likely to be affected by the problem than men. Now, experts and activists are fighting to reframe pollution as a gendered health crisis.

A woman walking through dense fog in New Delhi

*Saumya Kalia

MUMBAI In New Delhi, a city that has topped urban air-pollution charts in recent years, Shakuntala describes a discomfort that has become too familiar. Surrounded by bricks and austere buildings, she tells an interviewer: "The eyes burn and it becomes difficult to breathe". She is referring to the noxious fumes she routinely breathes as a construction worker.

Like Shakuntala, women’s experiences of polluted air fill every corner of their lives – inside homes, in parks and markets, on the way to work. Ambient air in most districts in India has never been worse than it is today. As many as 1.67 million people in the country die prematurely due to polluted air. It is India’s second largest health risk after malnutrition.

This risk of exposure to air pollution is compounded for women. Their experiences of toxic air are more frequent and often more hazardous. Yet “policies around air quality have not yet adequately taken into account gender or other factors that might influence people’s health,” Pallavi Pant, a senior scientist at the Health Effects Institute, a nonprofit in the U.S., told The Wire Science.

“It’s unacceptable that the biggest burden [rests on] those who can least bear it,” Sherebanu Frosh, an activist, added. People like her are building a unique resistance within India.

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