For better or for worse, technology can make a difference

A lot has been written in the past about technology and the innovation that is associated with it. From humble beginnings, technology has enabled companies like Microsoft, Google, Apple and Toyota to become some of the biggest companies in the world.

More recently, we have seen the effects of innovation within companies such as Uber, Airbnb and Alibaba. None of these companies own stock or assets of their own, yet are trailblazers in their respective industries challenging existing business models.

Have we seen the end of technology innovation? Most certainly not. In fact, some may argue that we are in the most innovative age yet when it comes to technology. A staggering 90% of all the data in the world has been generated over the last two years. Internet-based companies are awash with data that can be grouped and utilized. Is this a good thing?

Tech enabler

South Africa is currently going through one of its worst economic slumps in recent history. After two consecutive quarters of negative growth, the country is in a technical recession which may be upgraded into an outright recession if growth figures don’t pick up over the last two quarters of the year.

Are we alone in this? Again, we are not. For many years, China was struggling to build its economy as it came to grips with being one of the only surviving communist governments in the world. After many countries changed their views on China, the country went about the hard task of building its economy, and it was very successful.

An article on the China Daily website showed that technology played a significant role in this and will play a major role going forward.

Premier Li Keqiang said that technologies such as artificial intelligence and intelligent robots will revolutionize workforces. This was said during his opening speech at the 11th Annual Meeting of the New Champions, also known as Summer Davos being held in the coastal city of Dalian .

Farmers in China’s remote mountainous areas now can see specialty products reach urban consumers in a matter of one or two days, with prices several times higher than if they are sold locally. This is all possible because of booming online trading platforms and express delivery networks.

The article adds that Li used this as an example to highlight how technology and innovation can accelerate a more inclusive economic growth that features meaningful job creation and sustainable development, a main theme of the three-day meeting.

The shared economy

Indeed China has a lot to share with the political and business leaders from other countries attending the meeting on how jobs can be created through promoting innovation and entrepreneurship.

The article states that over the last four to five years, more than 50 million new jobs ( 13 million annually), have been created in the country, a remarkable achievement that is also fundamental to inclusive growth that benefits all people.

All this has been made possible due to the government endeavour to drive mass entrepreneurship and innovation, which, as a result, has seen 14 000 new enterprises registered each day over the past three years, as Li said.

As part of China’s bid to upgrade and transition its economy to more sustainable growth, technology and innovation are playing a key role in helping foster a rapid development of new industries and business models such as e-commerce, mobile payment and bike sharing.

The new growth momentum has not only created 70% of all new jobs last year, but also laid a firm foundation for China to realize its annual growth target of around 6.5%.

The stellar economic performance is a boon to the world economy that is still suffering from an insufficient recovery, given that China imported $1.6 trillion of goods last year, while outbound trips reached 130 million.

From strength to greater strength

In the past, we have spoken about artificial intelligence and the benefits it can add to industries and economies. But what effect is it having on the profitability of specific companies? An article on the Technology Review website discusses this in detail.

Top of the list is Nvidia. Nvidia has gained expertise in AI and used it to transform itself. Once known as a maker of chips for gaming, it is now a leading player in deep learning and autonomous vehicles. Amazon, No. 3, is on the list again for its ambitions to build an AI-powered store and place the technology at the heart of the home of the future.

Companies focused on DNA analysis and developing gene therapies are a dominant group on the list—23andMe (No. 4), Spark Therapeutics (No. 10), Illumina (No. 22), and Oxford Nanopore (No. 32) among them.

Since 2010, SpaceX has been highlighted six times. It’s on again in 2017 (at No. 2) on the strength of its ability to stick rocket landings and then recycle its crafts for another go-round, potentially changing the economics of space travel. IBM has made the list every one of the past seven years; this year it’s at No. 39 for its work with block chain, cloud AI, and quantum computing.

Early adopters

Technology has grown so rapidly that it has fundamentally changed the way we do business and the way company’s are made up.

Companies that are slow adopters of technology will always be on the back foot in a market where business will never be able to be done in the same way again. An article on bloomberg.com shows how company’s business models are benefiting from technology.

Chinese companies are setting global trends in technology products or business models in areas such as supercomputers, technology-enabled transportation, digital payments and artificial intelligence. China’s technology companies and its home grown tech ideas are spreading everywhere. The world is cribbing from China now.

The article adds that the US and other countries have seen a flurry of apps that are inspired by Meitu, the Chinese app that pretties up selfie photos. American startups are copying China’s fleets of on-demand bicycle rentals for getting around crowded cities. Apple and Facebook are trying to remold their messaging apps in the image of China’s ubiquitous WeChat. Before there was Tinder for hookups, there was similar dating app Momo in China. Every company that makes drones is following the lead of China’s SZ DJI Technology.

The article adds that the influence of Chinese tech in the world arguably started with telecommunications equipment company Huawei Technologies. It branched first into Europe and forced stodgy local rivals such as Sweden’s Ericsson and Alcatel-Lucent of France to cut prices and copy Huawei’s more advanced methods of updating older gear with fresh software. (Some European officials have said Huawei has benefited unfairly from Chinese government subsidies, a claim the company has denied.)

More recently in India, Chinese smartphone brands including Xiaomi and Vivo are among the top sellers in the rapidly growing Indian smartphone market, and China’s e-commerce king Alibaba is helping digital payments and online shopping catch on quickly there.

With the world moving to technology based solutions at a rapid pace, we need to ask ourselves two questions: Do we see value in technology: and, what kind of adapters are we, early or late?