Our world is rapidly advancing as technology accelerates the advent of the intelligent society. But, while the convenience of science and technology propel the evolution of society, it is also creating what has become known as a digital gap, which separates members of the community who are technologically savvy versus those who are less familiar. Bridging this gap by actively pursuing digital inclusion is essential in order to create a cohesive society in which everyone benefits equally.
The digital gap is a global phenomenon. In many cities in China, elderly people may be unable to hail a taxi on the street because taxis today are booked predominantly through mobile phones. Inhabitants in the Comoros Islands, as recently as two years ago, were isolated from the outside world because they had no communications network. In Bangladesh, women in particular have limited opportunities to learn about computers.
As the infrastructure of the intelligent world, the information and communications technology (ICT) industry has played a vital role in promoting national economic growth, as well as boosting social welfare and happiness. ICT can contribute to the realisation of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), enabling humanity to address challenges such as poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental deterioration, economic issues, and healthcare problems.
In an intelligent world, the ultimate goal is to leave no-one behind. Digital inclusion means every individual and organisation can equally access and use information and communications technology. Technology shouldn’t sit in an ivory tower. When it is accessible to all, it has the potential to be life-changing; it can provide visually impaired children with the joy of endless reading, enable people to decipher the frequencies that whales sing to their loved ones, and open up whole new worlds of experiences.
Access to technology education is the first step. Building an ecosystem that can benefit entire communities is the next. Technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), cloud, and smart devices are by no means limited to big industry, office workers or personal use. They can be applied in healthcare, for example, to make an immeasurable difference in treatments.
The true meaning of digital inclusion
In paediatrics, it can be difficult to diagnose a young child as babies cannot explain what’s wrong with them. Congenital eye diseases amongst babies and young children are some of the most difficult to diagnose, and, if left too long without treatment, there can be lifelong negative impacts. In Spain, Huawei is partnered with IIS Aragon, a medical research lab, and research centre DIVE, to develop a new device that can detect visual impairments in young children. It simply requires children to look at images on a screen, which stimulates their eyeballs. The DIVE system collects gaze data and transmits it to a smartphone app. Between the capabilities of the smartphone and AI, doctors can analyse data and detect the signs of eye diseases. What’s perhaps more remarkable about this technology, though, is that trained parents can also use the app to detect visual impairment in their children, in exactly the same way as a skilled doctor. We estimate that this fast, simple, and efficient method can benefit 19 million visually impaired children around the world.
This is the true meaning of digital inclusion. By working with international NGOs, we can address problems related to healthcare, education, development, and the environment on a much bigger scale. UNESCO understands that ICT and AI will help to achieve the SDGs more rapidly. The World Wildlife Fund will integrate AI into the monitoring, research, and conservation of endangered animals. These are just two of many examples in which technology is being used for the betterment of our planet as a whole, not just for humanity.
Technology will enable people, homes, and organisations to enjoy the beauty of the world, whether that is our natural environment or the digital landscape. It can help to protect vulnerable groups and make ordinary people extraordinary. We are just at the beginning of realising how far we can go when using technology as a tool for positive change. Collaborative efforts between all members of society will be key to unleashing its full potential.
Technological advancements are accelerating the advent of the intelligent world. While enjoying the conveniences of science and technology, we must also look at the other side of the story. The digital gaps still exist. Digital inclusion means using digital technology to promote inclusive development and leaving no-one behind.
Two years ago, we announced our companywide vision and mission: to bring digital to every person, home, and organisation for a fully connected, intelligent world. "Digital inclusion" best reflects the social value that Huawei can create through its vision. Against this backdrop, Huawei’s TECH4ALL was born, a recently launched global initiative targeted at helping another 500 million people benefit from digital technology in the next five years. We want to protect vulnerable groups and make ordinary people extraordinary. This is the unique value of technology.
Digital inclusion will need the joint efforts of businesses, governments, and society at large. Currently, we have just made the first small steps. We welcome more people and organisations to join us. For now, though, digital literacy, digital access, and digital infrastructure are all equally important components of an intelligent world – especially a world in which no-one is left behind.