Professor Xiaolan Fu speaks at UNCTAD Multi-year Expert Meeting

Professor Xiaolan Fu recently spoke at the UNCTAD multi-year expert meeting on enhancing the enabling economic environment at all levels in support of inclusive and sustainable development, and the promotion of economic integration and cooperation, which took place in Geneva, Switzerland from 19- 20  March, 2018. She discussed digital technology, economic diversification and structural transformation. She noted that we are in an age of exponential technological change and artificial intelligence where intelligentization is ubiquitous and everything is connected and intelligent. She stressed that intelligentization has a two-sided impact on economic diversification and structural change. In terms of economic diversification, on one hand, it enhances connectivity and empowers humans. Mobile phone technology, internet, Cloud, 5G, and big data improves connectivity and access. It also drives efficiency, making the impossible possible. On the other hand, it can replace humans as can be seen in terms automation, robotics and Artificial Intelligence (AI).


In terms of structural change and diversification, she argued that there is a rise in new industry and the economy. According to her, there is increase of jobs in some sectors and replacement of jobs and exist in others. She gave the examples of jobs at risk of automation; in the US 47% of employment is at risk of automation, in India and Ethiopia, the percentages are 69% and 85% respectively. She stressed that the share of jobs at risk of automation is higher in developing countries because of greater income inequality, high numbers of unskilled labour and deepening global income divide. She however noted that there are opportunities for developing countries to take advantage of technology to boost economic diversification by building the digital competencies of their population. They can do this through a number of ways including digital skills for all and digital skills for ICT professionals. Digital skills for all involves teaching people basic digital skills and adoption in terms of education, literacy, familiarity with technology, devices, services and usage. Digital skills for ICT professionals involve teaching basic computing skills, familiarity with basic and complex algorithms, teaching sophisticated programming skills, creativity, teamwork, digital entrepreneurship, critical and logical thinking.


Prof. Fu concluded that new technologies for digital competencies are very important for developing countries. She emphasised technology-mediated teaching and learning, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), open access to scientific literature and scale education using the Internet as important if the digital divide between developed and developing countries is to be bridged.