Jakarta: A few developing nations are exhibiting stronger capabilities to use, adopt and adapt frontier technologies than their per capita GDPs would suggest, but most are lagging behind, according to an index of 158 countries in UNCTAD’s Technology and Innovation Report 2021 released on Thursday.
Frontier technologies are those that take advantage of digitalization and connectivity.
They include artificial intelligence (AI), the internet of things, big data, blockchain, 5G, 3D printing, robotics, drones, gene editing, nanotechnology and solar photovoltaic.
"Frontier technologies are redefining our world, especially our post-pandemic future,” said Shamika N. Sirimanne, director of UNCTAD's division on technology and logistics, in a press release on Thursday.
Sirimanne said despite some negative realities associated with these technologies, such as their potential to worsen inequality, widen the digital divide and disrupt socio-political cohesion, they could be transformative in achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The report provides a "country readiness index" that assesses the progress of countries in using frontier technologies, considering their national capacities related to physical investment, human capital and technological effort.
It scores countries on their readiness for frontier technologies based on five building blocks: ICT deployment, skills, research and development (R&D), industry activity and access to finance.
The index spotlights developing countries that perform better on frontier technologies than their per capita GDPs would suggest. Their overperformance is measured as the difference between the actual index rankings and the estimated index rankings based on per capita income.
The greatest overperformer is India, whose actual index ranking was 43, while the estimated one based on per capita income was 108. Hence, India overperformed by 65 ranking positions.
It is followed by the Philippines, which overperformed by 57 ranking positions. The Philippines has a high ranking for industry, reflecting high levels of foreign direct investment in high-technology manufacturing, particularly electronics.
To catch up and forge ahead, UNCTAD urges developing countries to adopt frontier technologies while continuing to diversify their production bases by mastering many existing technologies. These countries need to strengthen their innovation systems, as most of them are weak and prone to systemic failures and structural deficiencies, the report says.
The report also urges policymakers to help people acquire the necessary digital skills and competencies to adopt and adapt frontier technologies into their countries’ existing production bases. Developing countries should also align science, technology and innovation (STI) policies with industrial policies.