How Software Will Transform Global Society: Lifting the Developing World

Enormous changes enabled by software will help millions of people in the developing world live healthier lives, bring new ideas to life, and participate in the global economy.

Last year, the World Economic Forum established the Global Agenda Council (GAC) on the Future of Software and Society. Our mission is to help society navigate the huge societal shifts coming from software technology, both positive and negative. As part of that effort, in March, we conducted a survey to gather views and provoke discussion on some of the transformations occurring in society as a result of software. We asked a wide range of entrepreneurs, experts, and government officials for their views on when the adoption rate of specific technologies will reach a point that results in major societal impacts--everything from implantable mobile phones to robotic pharmacists to cities with no traffic lights. One outcome that emerged was exciting in its ability to directly impact millions of lives today: the potential of software to empower the developing world.

As chair of the GAC, I had the privilege to work with a diverse team of technology experts to identify six of the biggest software-driven technology trends that are shaping our society: ubiquitous computing, wearable technology, artificial intelligence, data analytics, blockchain, the Internet of Things, and 3D printing.

Taking just one of these trends, ubiquitous computing, access to the Internet helps people seek and share information, freely express ideas, and develop and maintain relationships almost anywhere in the world. Although just 43% of the world's population is connected to the Internet today, the combination of increasing computing power on software-powered smartphones and decreasing connectivity costs is driving exponential growth in Internet access, providing a helping hand for entrepreneurs in developing countries. A rural Ugandan farmer with a smartphone can use cloud infrastructure to tap new opportunities to get her products to market. Software enables farmers to share best practices, find market prices and weather updates, and even buy and sell cattle online.

The ability to use software to connect and better leverage data for a healthier tomorrow is remarkable. In Kenya, mobile data is being used to identify malaria infection patterns and pinpoint hotspots that guide government eradication efforts.
3D printing software is also helping transform the developing world. Researchers are engineering ways to create low cost, 3D printed farming equipment for farmers in the developing world. These tools, ranging from simple chicken feeders to complex water quality testing devices, give farmers the ability to grow their businesses at a lower cost. 3D printing also has incredible potential in the field of human health. We are already seeing great medical advances from 3D printing. Today, doctors in Africa are 3D printing personalized prosthetics for amputees, vastly increasing quality of life.

The predictions outlined in this report point to a future with more opportunities for more people. Together, we can help navigate the great changes to come from software.

To read the entire "Deep Shift: Technology Tipping Points and Societal Impact" report, click here.