Information Technology (IT)
The IT revolution has touched nearly every human endeavor. Internet usage has grown 183 percent since 2000 (see Exhibit 1.1). The number of Internet users increased tenfold from 1999 to 2013. In 2015, around 40 percent of the world’s population had an Internet connection, and a wireless hotspot existed for each 150 persons.
Exhibit 1.1 Growth in Percentage of People in the World Who Regularly Use the Internet
Data source: http://www.internetlivestats.com/internet-users/
The Internet changes the ways in which people socialize, relate, and do business. It has created virtual communities, via email, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and others. It has made telecommuting possible. Shopping, entertainment, and education are being done from people’s homes. Opportunities exist for increased involvement in politics. Online dating is common. Interactive medicine has become common as well.
Smartphones are ubiquitous. In just one device, they integrate phones, personal data assistants, MP3 players, cameras, voice recorders, watches, calculators, and other functions. Computer use is expanding to many areas in which human intelligence previously was applied, such as driverless cars and automated medical procedures.
Thanks to enhanced computer power and performance, it has become possible to automate increasingly complex tasks. Manufacturing efficiencies are being accelerated as result of computerized controls. Although software that runs computers is not as creative as human beings, its reliability is greater and less mistake prone, which makes it preferred for routine tasks. The use of computers is growing as the programs that run them are becoming better at learning, adapting, and self-correcting.
The full promise of the IT revolution, however, has not yet been tapped. Among the trends that continue to be important are these:
- The ongoing digitization of audio, video, and film
- The spread of fiber optics that carry television, telephone, radio, and computer signals simultaneously and make rapid communications possible
- Expansion in the use of optical memory systems, such as disks, film, and barcodes
- Parallel processing, which permits many computers to be used simultaneously
- The evolution of chip technologies, which opens up the possibility for even more accelerated and powerful computers
It is not obvious which firms will take advantage of these opportunities. Their societal impact is considered in Chapter 6, “Old, Young, and Global Security,” which covers the role they play in the fight against terror and in Chapter 7, “Rich, Poor, and Global Inequality,” which portrays the role they play in perpetuating the world’s wealth gaps.
Chapter 2, “Commercialization’s Obstacles,” discusses the case of Xerox, which failed to exploit technologies it had developed and missed out on the promise of the IT revolution. There are other examples that could be cited. Kodak, for instance, missed out on the digital revolution despite accumulating the technical skills to be a part of it. The inability of established businesses to take advantage of technologies they have mastered and know are coming is considered in Chapter 2.