Viewpoint : Sebastián Piñera Echenique

Latin America has always been a region of opportunities and frustrations. Opportunities exist due to its vast landmass, generous natural resources, limited involvement in the First and Second World Wars, and isolation from racial and religious conflicts that other regions of the world have been exposed to for decades. Despite these advantages, Latin America continues to be an underdeveloped region. This is due to the fact that the industrial revolution arrived late. Today, however, Latin America has an opportunity that has never been held before to bridge the underdevelopment gap. This will depend on whether it is able to bank on a much more powerful revolution: the digital revolution.

In Latin America the pillars of development have traditionally been political stability, an open and efficient economy, and commitment to social cohesion in order to create a sense of shared mission. These pillars were broken by periods of dictatorial regimes, weak democracies and state intervention in the economy. In turn, these circumstances jeopardised freedom, a fundamental factor for development.

The region has learned from past experiences, and the pillars of development should reflect this. Modern times demand new or reformed pillars. First, improving the quality of education is a priority. Education throughout the region needs radical reform that places the focus on the information and technology society. Another pillar of development is to promote innovation, entrepreneurship and creativity. The state must learn to accept the value of these three elements. It must attract great innovators with groundbreaking ideas to develop projects in our region and promote a transfer of knowledge from the most important innovation hubs in the world. Furthermore, Latin American countries must enhance investments in science and technology. The region currently invests around 0.8% of its GDP in science and technology, which is insufficient. The ability to be flexible in a rapidly changing world is also key. Thus, the region needs less rigid tax, regulatory and bureaucratic structures. The fifth pillar for development is the modernisation of the state. In this regard, states must interconnect their back office, crossing information between institutions to minimise the number of bureaucratic requisites that citizens and businesses alike are exposed to. Concepts such as the digitisation of bureaucratic processes and the creation of one-stop windows need to be at the core of any efforts to modernise how public institutions function. The digital revolution requires knowledge of the technologies needed, as well as of how to use them and interpret the outcomes of their use.

The internet of things, which pertains to this new revolution, functions in a similar way to the human body. In the same way that different organs are connected through human intelligence, which allows the body to function without conscious decisions for each and every organ function, our future world’s offices, vehicles, cities, infrastructure, homes, appliances and electronic devices will be able to make intelligent decisions without human intervention through interconnected systems of artificial intelligence. We believe that in 30 years 50% of today’s jobs will not exist. We need to ask ourselves what side of history we want to be on – the side that creates jobs or the side that destroys jobs.

The five aforementioned pillars will be key to creating jobs and building economies where the power of the consumer determines production, thereby altering production processes and lines. The region needs to look forwards rather than back. The digital revolution is now, and it will be much more powerful than the agricultural, industrial or internet revolutions before it. The challenge will be solving problems that do not exist yet with technology that is yet to be invented. Achieving this will only be possible if Latin America starts to take the right steps today.