Blockchain technologies are a form of distributed ledger technologies that allow multiple parties to engage in secure, trusted transactions without any intermediary.
It is best known as the technology behind cryptocurrencies, but it is also of relevance for many other domains of importance to developing countries.
These include digital identification, property rights, and aid disbursement. Open-source platforms, such as Ethereum, allow programmers to develop decentralized applications to run on their blockchain. However, one challenge for blockchains is that, for some applications, they require a substantial, reliable electricity supply for processing.
Three-dimensional (3D) printing, also known as additive manufacturing, can potentially disrupt manufacturing processes by boosting international trade in designs rather than in finished products. It offers opportunities for developing countries to leapfrog traditional manufacturing processes.
Internet of things
Internet of things (IoT) refers to the growing array of Internet-connected devices such as sensors, meters, radio frequency identification (RFID) chips and other gadgets that are embedded in various everyday objects enabling them to send and receive various kinds of data. It has wide applications, including in energy meters, for RFID tagging of goods for manufacturing, livestock and logistics, for monitoring soil and weather conditions in agriculture, and for wearables.
5G mobile broadband
Fifth-generation (5G) wireless technology is expected to be critical for IoT due to its greater ability to handle massive volumes of data. 5G networks can process around 1,000 times more data than today’s systems (Afolabi et al., 2018). In particular, it offers the possibility to connect many more devices (e.g. sensors and smart devices).
Cloud computing is enabled by higher Internet speeds, which have drastically reduced latency between users and far away data centres. Data storage costs have also plummeted. The cloud is transforming business models, as it reduces the need for in-house IT expertise, offers flexibility for scaling, and consistent applications rollout and maintenance (UNCTAD, 2013). Some free cloud services provide office-like application tools that are useful for micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs).
Automation and robotics Automation and robotics technology
These are increasingly used in manufacturing, which could have significant impacts on employment. There are concerns that such technologies may constrain the scope for developing countries to adopt export-led manufacturing as a path to industrialization (UNCTAD, 2017c), and that the more developed economies may increasingly use robots to “reshore” manufacturing jobs.
Artificial intelligence and data analytics
Artificial intelligence and data analytics Developments in AI, including machine learning, are enabled by the large amounts of digital data that can be analysed to generate insights and predict behaviour using algorithms, as well as by advanced computer processing power. AI is already in use in areas such as voice recognition and commercial products (such as IBM’s Watson).
It has been estimated that this general-purpose technology has the potential to generate an additional global economic output of around $13 trillion by 2030, contributing an additional 1.2 per cent to annual GDP growth (ITU, 2018b).
At the same time, it may widen the technology gap between those that have and those that do not have the capabilities to take advantage of this technology. China and the United States are set to reap the largest economic gains from AI, while Africa and Latin America are likely to see the lowest gains.