We are already in the midst of the great technological revolution disrupting space-time and human relationships. We are part of the digital landscape. Let us not see it as a technological phenomenon and try to understand its various dimensions: economic, social, cultural, political and ethical. We live in a time when there are 328 million devices connected to the Internet and by 2020 there will be more than 50 billion. We are only at the beginning of the digital revolution, with its threats and opportunities. We must be aware of this in order to appreciate the implications that this has and will have on humanity. Also, we need to understand how the Internet of Things will change our lives faster than ever before in the history of humanity. Let's stay in Mauritius and start with a quick inventory.
The Current State
Let's say it right away: Mauritius is currently well equipped with regard to our IT infrastructure in private companies, public administration and households, as well as connectivity. Of course, there is still progress to be made. With a contribution (figures for 2016) of 5.7% to gross domestic product (GDP), a growth of 5.4% and some 23,000 jobs in some 750 companies operating in this sector which exports Rs 9.6 billion worth of products and creates Rs 22 billion of added value for the economy, the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) sector is already an important pillar of the economy.
On the international indices scale, Mauritius is rather well positioned with SAFE and LION cables, a Fiber to the Home (FTTH), covering the entire territory by December 2017. Digital penetration indices (relative to the population) indicate the following figures: internet 86.3%; broadband 68.3%; personal computer 54.7%; 144% cell phones (a number of Mauritians have more than one device), 59.6% smartphones.
The concept of the e-government is progressing. The 2030 strategic plan identifies the mismatch issues between supply and demand for jobs, the need for training for advanced technologies (cloud, apps, big data). What is also in question is the whole project of innovation and research with a rationalization of institutional structures to optimize R & D and the Internet of Things. That said, there are serious operating problems with outages, slowness in connectivity, and customer service that leave something to be desired in some cases.
The implementation and orchestration of this strategic plan cannot be reduced to its purely technological dimension. Digital technology must serve the user, and the user must remain in the center. A quick overview of the sector's evolution is necessary for some perspective, especially since growth in this sector is exponential.
From call centers to platforms
Our foray into the digital world happened with the rise of the first towers of the Ebène cyber city in 2003. In the beginning, they were essentially call centers that led us to talk about the "typists" taking over from the knitters in the area. The BPO was added quickly. Since then, a slow diversification in several niches in software development and other applications appeared. Now, strong from previous gains, it is time to move upmarket and focus on high value-added segments. Forget a Silicon Valley in Mauritius because of a small domestic market; the future lies beyond our shores and with Africa, a continent full of opportunities. At any rate, this is what specialists recommend - operators who have proved their worth. Yes, Mauritius has a real know-how to triple its income in the ICT sector, excluding MT, in 4 to 5 years.
Speed is vital. Africa does not wait for us! All local stakeholders must work to exploit and optimize digital platforms in partnership with African countries. An articulation of our small and medium-sized enterprises - the backbone of our economy - and our large groups can create fertile ground for the democratization of the much-needed opportunities for our economic future.
Enterprises, artificial intelligence, and human values
Digital technology - including artificial intelligence and robotics - is the fourth industrial revolution and it is shaking up the business world and the workplace. Bloomberg showcases the magnitude of the phenomenon by arguing that "jobs taught to machines put half of the US workforce at risk. The days of many workers performing the same menial tasks are quickly coming to an end." Middle-skill and low-skill jobs will be the most affected. Our country will not escape this trend. With robotics, artificial intelligence (AI) will replace human workers; however, it should also be seen as facilitating human work, reducing hardship, and increasing productivity In the long run. AI, when regulated, can be a positive force.
Many of our businesses are aware of the need to integrate digital technologies because of their multiple benefits, including those relating to customer experience. The challenge, however, is to develop the relationship between human and machine by combining people's creative ideas with advanced technologies. The coupling of technological change and cultural change is an a facet of the evolving world that is at stake here.
With regard to contemporary companies, some studies say that they are 16% fully digital, 63% hybrid, and 23% not digital. Where are we in Mauritius with our local businesses? More than ever, young people must learn to interact collaboratively and develop strategic thinking. This means committing ourselves to guiding our technologies with a sense of responsibility to create opportunities for the many and not the few. Professor Joel de Rosnay talks about the central role that the digital integration department is called upon to replace the balance of power with the balance of flow.
Maximizing the potential of digital technology in the public administration, both to improve productivity and competitiveness and the quality of life at work and for citizens, requires an in-depth reform of its structures and operation. All of this as part of a rigorous policy of public fund management.
Education and digital technologies
It is not necessary to insist on the relationship between digital technology and education, an aspect that will be developed in the text about Education and the Knowledge Economy. The following excerpt from a paper by THINK STEAM * explains that children are much more capable of absorbing information when they are younger rather than older. Their desires and passions must be given space to grow from a strategic perspective. They need to cultivate a desire to share early, an area where the current education system has failed. According to its authors, it is an attitude that must be inculcated since early childhood and is contrary to existing educational forms in the capitalist system.
The development of human skills is at stake in these new areas of thinking. The jobs that will remain in great demand are those where the human dimension is solicited for "critical thinking, social finesse, and emotional intelligence such as the management of people and those jobs that require persuasive skills such as in sales," they say . A road map for future professions is a necessity.
Beyond jobs, there are opportunities to create businesses. We must therefore address the difficult but exhilarating challenges of the rapidly changing 21st-century economy.
Humanity and Technology
We cannot fall into technological fetishism. Modern technology has unfathomed potential but people remain the master of the game, because we possess things that technology does not such as real and lasting values and the ability to solve crises of meaning. The common denominator of our strategy to fully invest the digital continent at all levels and in all fields remains the democratic and human finality.
Our mandate must be ethical in its broad sense. The world is connected with a new space-time impacting social relations and at the origin of the emergence and affirmation of new communities. The challenge will be not to let oneself be carried away but rather to be those who, in an era marked by shifting changes, become more and more involved in a complex combinatorial game. Professor Joël de Rosnay explains that the Internet will disappear to give way to the digital ecosystem and that the era of communication will be replaced by the era of symbiosis with innovative systems based on human and social links.
Investing in the digital continent has the potential to create new economic opportunities to develop a pillar of the national economy and build a more united and inclusive community. The goal is to be at the service of a societal project combined with a participative citizen-driven democracy to bring and ensure a green, human, and modern development.
*THINK STEAM is an educational company
-Translated from Malenn Oodiah's "Investir le Continent Numérique"