Bernardo M. Villegas
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Unlimited Capacity of Human Inventiveness (Part II)

           Let me turn to another form of technological revolution, the mobile phone. As late as 1989, when we started the CRC College of Arts and Sciences, I remember one of my students who was well connected with some top managers of then telecom monopolist PLDT.  He knew how to pull strings with some senior executive of PLDT, that was responsible for former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore remarking that 98 per cent of Filipinos as late as the early 1990s were still waiting for their telephone lines and the remaining 2 per cent were waiting for the dial tone.  My student showed me his very bulky mobile phone which he had to carry around in a brief case.   Thanks to the deregulation promoted by the government of President Fidel Ramos, by the late 1990s and early years of this present century, mobile phones became much smaller and much cheaper.  Despite my being given the monicker of "prophet of boom," I would never have dreamed that the Philippines would become the "texting capital" of the world.  And as the BCG report quipped, "Laptops soon became equipped with mobile data, and fast public WiFi sprouted up in cities.  By the time the iPad arrived in 2010, offering a truly portable alternative to boxy company laptops, the barriers between work and home life had been demolished.  If you were awake, you were online."

          Those of us who have reached and passed retirement age have seen in our lifetime how myopic the neo-Malthusians are for putting a limit to human inventiveness.  I have just discussed the implications of the silicon revolution and the arrival of mobile communications on our daily lives in the first decades of the 21st century.  We have just scratched the surface of technological change.  Much more can be said about fiber optics, imaging technology, barcodes, robotics, and satellites.  I still am trying to digest what I saw in the innovation center of Samsung in Seoul, South Korea.  In a special briefing I got from one of their top executives two years ago, I saw consumer products that they are lining up for the next five to ten years.  It was unbelievable!  They are incorporating android technology into consumer durables beyond mobile phones.  There will be androids in washing machines, television sets, micro ovens, and a host of consumer appliances.  The human voice can be activating these devices in no time at all.

          I know what the pessimists are already thinking as I write these lines.  They will say that despite all of these impressive technological innovations, more than a billion people on this planet are still suffering from dehumanizing poverty.  The explanation, though, has nothing to do with limited resources.  It has all to do with human errors in economic policy and management, corruption or bad governance, and unequal distribution of income and wealth.  It is very short-sighted to propose limiting population as the solution.  Already large segments of the human race are suffering from very low fertility rates and rapid aging.  We must help those emerging markets that still have a young and growing population to apply wisely the numerous technological changes to increase the productivity of the resources--both human and physical--available to them and design economic policies and strategies that will distribute more equitably the benefits of technological and economic growth. It will be these emerging markets like Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines that will help their more advanced neighbors in East Asia and the rest of the world to cope with the threats of the demographic winter from which they are suffering.   For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia