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How Software Will Transform Global Society: Lifting the Developing World

Enormous changes enabled by software will help millions of people in the developing world live healthier lives, bring new ideas to life, and participate in the global economy.

Last year, the World Economic Forum established the Global Agenda Council (GAC) on the Future of Software and Society. Our mission is to help society navigate the huge societal shifts coming from software technology, both positive and negative. As part of that effort, in March, we conducted a survey to gather views and provoke discussion on some of the transformations occurring in society as a result of software. We asked a wide range of entrepreneurs, experts, and government officials for their views on when the adoption rate of specific technologies will reach a point that results in major societal impacts–everything from implantable mobile phones to robotic pharmacists to cities with no traffic lights. One outcome that emerged was exciting in its ability to directly impact millions of lives today: the potential of software to empower the developing world.

As chair of the GAC, I had the privilege to work with a diverse team of technology experts to identify six of the biggest software-driven technology trends that are shaping our society: ubiquitous computing, wearable technology, artificial intelligence, data analytics, blockchain, the Internet of Things, and 3D printing.

Taking just one of these trends, ubiquitous computing, access to the Internet helps people seek and share information, freely express ideas, and develop and maintain relationships almost anywhere in the world. Although just 43% of the world’s population is connected to the Internet today, the combination of increasing computing power on software-powered smartphones and decreasing connectivity costs is driving exponential growth in Internet access, providing a helping hand for entrepreneurs in developing countries. A rural Ugandan farmer with a smartphone can use cloud infrastructure to tap new opportunities to get her products to market. Software enables farmers to share best practices, find market prices and weather updates, and even buy and sell cattle online.

The ability to use software to connect and better leverage data for a healthier tomorrow is remarkable. In Kenya, mobile data is being used to identify malaria infection patterns and pinpoint hotspots that guide government eradication efforts.

3D printing software is also helping transform the developing world. Researchers are engineering ways to create low cost, 3D printed farming equipment for farmers in the developing world. These tools, ranging from simple chicken feeders to complex water quality testing devices, give farmers the ability to grow their businesses at a lower cost. 3D printing also has incredible potential in the field of human health. We are already seeing great medical advances from 3D printing. Today, doctors in Africa are 3D printing personalized prosthetics for amputees, vastly increasing quality of life.

The predictions outlined in this report point to a future with more opportunities for more people. Together, we can help navigate the great changes to come from software.

To read the entire “Deep Shift: Technology Tipping Points and Societal Impact” report, click here.

Victoria Espinel


Victoria Espinel is a respected authority on the intersection of technology innovation, global markets and public policy. She leads strategic efforts that help shape the technology landscape in 60 countries through work in BSA’s 10 global offices.

Espinel also serves as the President of the BSA Foundation. is an independent and nonpartisan international research organization created to help policymakers and the broader public better understand the impact that software has on our lives, our economy, and our society.

Espinel served for a decade in the White House, for both Republican and Democratic Administrations as President Obama’s advisor on intellectual property and, before that, as the first ever chief US trade negotiator for intellectual property and innovation at USTR. She was also a professor of international trade and intellectual property at the George Mason School of Law.

Espinel is a founding and ongoing co-sponsor of Girls Who Code’s Washington, DC, summer immersion program, which empowers young women to pursue careers in STEM fields. She speaks before audiences around the world to build visibility for the amazing things people can do with software, and encourages businesses, governments, and the public to support a policy environment that will enable even more software breakthroughs.

Espinel chairs the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on the Digital Economy and Society. She was appointed by President Obama to serve on the Advisory Committee on Trade Policy and Negotiations (ACTPN), the principal advisory group for the US government on international trade. She holds an LLM from the London School of Economics, a JD from Georgetown University Law School, and a BS in Foreign Service from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. Follow her on Twitter: @victoriaespinel.

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