Blog Post

Developing a “Smart Americas”

By Kevin D. Franklin, Fernando A. Hernandez and Simon J. Appleford

The production and consumption of knowledge drives competitiveness in the global economy.  As a result, nations and geographic regions that desire to succeed in a new interdependent and rapidly changing world must become “Smart”.  They need to collect, process, and analyze data to both develop knowledge and act with increasing efficiency to make decisions that will strengthen their government, business, and education sectors and improve the quality of life of their citizens. There are already a number of national data integration and analysis efforts underway— including the National Data Service, led by the University of Illinois National Center for Supercomputing Applications, and Europe’s EUDAT research data initiatives—that offer potential models for others to follow as they forge academic and industry partnerships (Harmon, 2014).

In 2009, the World Bank identified four cornerstones of Knowledge Based Economies (KBE). These were:

1.      An economic and institutional regime that provides incentives for the efficient use of existing and new knowledge and the flourishing of entrepreneurship;

2.      An educated and skilled population that can create, share, and use knowledge well;

3.      An efficient innovation system of research centers, universities, think tanks, firms, consultants, and other organizations that can tap into the growing stock of global knowledge, assimilate and adapt it to local needs, and create new technology; and

4.      Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) that can facilitate the effective communication, dissemination, and processing of information. (The World Bank, 2011; World Bank, 2009)

The report concluded by declaring that “Making effective use of knowledge in any country requires developing appropriate policies, institutions, investments, and coordination across the four abovementioned functional areas” (Ibid.) These four cornerstones can guide the countries of the Americas to become a “Smart Region”.

There are strategic benefits for a nation to have access to both open access data repositories and open-source technologies. Indeed, it is clear that institutions of all types benefit from access to the free flow of information and knowledge.  At the same time, however, provisions are needed to allow individuals and industries to recoup costs and profit from research and development activities that contribute to these open access capabilities. As a result, governments in the Americas should identify and implement regional open-source and intellectual proprietary policies that work in tandem with coordinated cross-border investment programs for near-term, mid-term, and late-term business and nonprofit start-up ventures.

Geographic borders no longer restrict creative and innovative entrepreneurs as developments in Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) allow them to launch regional or global enterprises from the start. Government policies and financial investment approaches need to be coordinated regionally to take advantage of this new reality. Countries within the Americas must work together to balance open access and proprietary concerns, while also increasing support for data sharing and funding for collaborative cyber-infrastructures such as the Latin American High Speed Network RedCLARA  (RedCLARA, n.d.).

To implement this, policy, academic, and industry leaders in the Americas will need to coordinate across national borders to establish new goals, objectives, and programs that prepare their citizens as traditional jobs are superseded by automation. A study of 702 current jobs in the US estimated 47 percent of these jobs are expected to be automated within the next decade or two (Frey & Osborne, 2013). Most at risk are workers in logistics, transportation, clerical and administrative support personnel, and production workers. They state, “ Our findings thus imply that as technology races ahead, low-skill workers will reallocate to tasks that are non-susceptible to computerization – i.e., tasks requiring creative and social intelligence” (Ibid). 

As a result, employers are increasingly seeking workers who have high levels of cognitive, critical thinking, and social skills. Additionally, this new knowledge workforce will need to “learn-how-to-learn” and become flexible and adaptable as technologies take hold that require new skills. Efforts already underway in this area include the Connected Learning Alliance and the Digital Media and Learning Competition, which is supported by the Humanities, Arts, Science and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory (HASTAC) and the MacArthur Foundation.  These initiatives place the needs and experiences of learners at their center and leverage creativity and critical and innovative thinking skills within the context of these learners’ virtual networks (HASTAC, n.d.; MacArthur Foundation, n.d.).

Recommendations for creating a Smart Americas:

1.     Establish an Organization of American States (OAS) Task Force to develop a “Smart Region Plan” for the Americas. The Singapore 10 year Smart Nation Plan can be used as a reference document (IDA, n.d.; iN.SG, n.d.; Yu, 2014).

2.     Develop policies that strengthen collaboration across various sectors of the economy to create intelligent communities of interest by fostering institutions that are data-driven open, inclusive and diverse.

3.     Establish personalised learning systems that go beyond reliance on institutionalised education by:

a.     Developing and training educators to have a strong understanding of technology; stimulating students to leverage learning networks, become more self-directed and use big data to enhance their knowledge and understanding,

b.     Increasing the numbers of under-represented peoples in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM); leveraging programs that effectively support women and the economically disadvantaged, and

c.     Blending the strengths of the liberal arts with STEM to prepare a workforce that can address grand challenges facing the region. (Hernandez, Franklin, Washburn, Craig, & Appleford, 2013).

4.     Strengthen regional e-science and cyber-infrastructures by:

a.     Sharing advanced technology resources including high performance computing and high-speed networks to increase the capacity for using big data.

b.     Making Information Communication Technologies available to all citizens.

In conclusion, nations in the Americas can no longer persist in looking inwards they must work together more effectively and become a “Smart Region”.  Developing cross border business and nonprofit startup funding programs and sharing technologies including e-science, cyber-infrastructure and big data can enable nations to deliver greater prosperity, growth, transparency, justice, education and address other grand challenges that will improve the quality of life of their citizens and gain a competitive advantage for the Americas.




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