Part Four of the debate series GeoDebates were held at the seat of Pallas Athéné Innovation and Geopolitical Foundation on 21st March. It focused on the question as to whether the global development gap can be bridged through the technological advances of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
The Oxford-type debate hosted four invited guests this time as well. They represented two different viewpoints, that is, “yes, inequalities can be decreased”, and “inequalities will persist” through the latest achievements of the industrial revolution.
Upon arrival, the audience had an opportunity to cast their votes on the keynote question. Before the debate, exactly half of the respondents thought that inequalities can be decreased through technological advances. At the beginning of the conference, a keynote study was presented, which revealed what impact the latest stage of the industrial revolution may exert on the developing world – sub-Saharan Africa, and South and Southeast Asia in particular. The impacts were presented along the dimensions of the economy, the infrastructure and the environment, the conclusion on which can be summarized in two points: first, the dimensions studied are closely interrelated, therefore the development of any strategy requires a complex, systemic approach. Second, the effects of the Fourth Industrial Revolution are not entirely beneficial or detrimental. We can talk about both potentials and threats.
In the debate, Tamás Haller, consultant at IBM Global Technology Services and Pál Belényesi, business advisor and university lecturer argued for a decrease of inequalities. They considered the number of potentials to be more significant, although the industrial revolution does pose challenges; thus, the overall balance is positive, that is, through technological advances the developing world can catch up. Although it is true that certain conditions must be met for this process, but if they are in place the regions now considered as underdeveloped might as well position themselves at the forefront.
Andrea Szalavetz, senior research fellow of the Centre for Economic and Regional Studies of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Doctor of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, and György Alföldi, architect, urban planner and developer, Deputy Head of the Department of Urban Planning and Design at the Budapest University of Technology and Economics, argued against the gap-bridging effect of the industrial revolution. In their argumentation, they explained, among others, that on the basis of historical experiences available, all stages of the industrial revolution have increased social inequalities, therefore this can be expected in the current stage, too. Furthermore, although the Internet and various instances of technological innovation provide access to a wide-range of services, in reality, it expands the market of developed countries in the developed world – increasing their economic advantage –, while economic production in more underdeveloped regions is not being modernized by these innovations as its various prerequisites (such as infrastructure) are missing. Thus, inequalities are expected to persist or even increase.
While arguing, the lecturers had a relatively hard time as they often put forward arguments that contradicted the stance they represented, which well illustrates the diverse nature of the impacts of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
At the end of the conference another poll was taken among the audience, the result of which was quite different from the first poll: affected by the debate, 70 per cent of respondents thought that global inequalities would not decrease as the result of Fourth Industrial Revolution.