Are Developing Countries Prepared for the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

By Maria Delgado, Vice President, Publicize, United States

October 13, 2022

The previous digital revolution introduced new technologies, which together yield greater power, making way for the fourth industrial revolution. But as there’s a greater need for digital skills, are developing countries ready for a successful deployment?

The arrival of the fourth industrial revolution, or Industry 4.0, represents the integration of smart technologies such as robotics, analytics, nanotechnology, Internet of Things (IoT), among others, with the organizational processes across all industries. It places automation and speed at the forefront of manufacturing processes and creates cyber-physical systems generally monitored by humans, yet able to make decentralized decisions based on data.

These technological advancements dictate the future of business models, allowing industries to remain relevant, fuel innovation, and drive competitiveness. And those leaders who fail to identify and successfully implement cutting-edge technology simply get eaten up by their competitors and quickly become forgotten. The same happens with a country’s economy and development, representing a huge challenge and opportunity for leaders to push toward the future.

However, in developing countries where resources are scarce and investments are often misplaced, the hope for a “smart” and resilient future lies within young professionals and knowledge-thirsty individuals and how they can help drive the economy forward. This begs the question, how prepared are these curious minds in emerging markets to take on such a responsibility, and are governments and organizations doing their part to help enable such advancements?   

The Call for Smart Development

The implementation of smart technologies represents a paradigm shift towards adapting to innovation. That is, with the advent of automation and artificial intelligence, certain roles within an organization become obsolete and this revolution completely shakes up business structures. With these structural changes, new projects emerge, requiring certain sets of digital skills destined to increase overall efficiency, speed, and accuracy in business processes. This is where young professionals, or those curious individuals, have the potential to become an asset for their companies, focusing on the research and development of smart technologies. 

From analyzing environmental data to improve agricultural conditions to researching scientific discoveries that enable the acceleration of clean energy development and deployment-the deep study of smart technologies is the main focus for forward-thinking industries and young professionals. However, how accessible are these ‘forward-thinking’ programs, and are governments in emerging economies pushing to close this digital divide widening each day as technologies continue to develop?

According to reports, Colombia, a developing country, is losing more than half of the potential of young professionals who can contribute to the country’s development.  A recent Global Opportunity Youth Network (GOYN) report showed that out of every 100 young people who complete secondary education, only 48 access higher education, and only 24 complete it. This number reflects the lack of quality education in public institutions, the lack of resources for students to access the guidance and tutoring they need, and the great vulnerability society faces with the absence of an adequate education system.

In most developing countries only 35% of the population have access to the internet, and although most young people make up this number, the content they consume is not advantageous. This means that governments from emerging markets must promote and facilitate investments and funding for innovation systems driven by viable science, technology, and information (STI) policies and ensure access to basic tools for professionals to participate in their country’s development. Such advancements are not possible without research programs and their respective monetary compensation for curious minds. In short, investments need to be refocused.

“The decision to pursue graduate studies is relatively common in natural science areas,” says Dr. Julián Alvarado Gómez, Karl Schwarzschild Fellow, and tenure track at the Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics in Potsdam, “Such studies were necessary to reach the minimum level required internationally in physics academia and research. However, in reality, even after completing the academic degree of Ph.D., professional work experience in one or two post-doctoral positions (which are NOT university degrees) is required to have a chance for a permanent position in these areas. Unlike most universities in Latin America, in other countries, Ph.D. studies are considered research work and therefore have a salary.”

“Unfortunately, in emerging economies, it is still not understood that research is the most efficient tool that can generate development, as it has been clear in countries such as Germany, Korea, Japan, etc. Given the few opportunities for professional research, a giant brain drain has been generated”, adds Dr. Eliana Amazo-Gómez, researcher of the Stellar Physics and Exoplanets group of the Cosmic Magnetic Fields branch at the Leibniz-Institut für Astrophysik. Dr. Eliana focuses on the analysis of stellar magnetic fields to determine the rotation periods of sun-like stars. “Sadly it is very difficult for these people trained to think and to solve complex problems to return to their country under inferior working conditions. One can only hope that the new generations of modern professionals, industrialists, and politicians will change their way of thinking about science from something strange and exotic to something common and necessary, this would be the simplest route to bring real opportunities for development.”

“The development and research of emerging technologies quickly become a differentiating factor in the growth of a country and the contributions of science in society,” shares David Andres Quiroga Salamanca, who is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Computer Science at Rice University researching optimization in quantum computing and quantum machine learning. “Such is the case of the so-called 4.0 technologies with areas such as quantum computing and deep learning, where a global effort for advancement has been seen among both researchers, developers, and people who are simply interested in learning about innovative topics.”

To navigate this new technological wave, large enterprises, governments, and institutions need to foster a collaborative environment pushing for greater investments, innovation, and research for growth. Colombia and all other developing countries have the talent to develop significant advances across all industries, but their brightest minds flee to countries that place education and scientific advancements first. As we edge closer to the fourth industrial revolution, emerging markets need to make a permanent shift towards “smart” investments and give science its much-needed platform.

This article is by Maria Delgado