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“You know,” Bill Clinton said to the massive audience at Microsoft’s Sharepoint conference in Las Vegas, almost accusatorially, “the burden of knowledge is responsibility.”
What the former president was referring to, was that tech forerunners such as Microsoft understand the challenges the world faces and that it will take time to solve some of the planet’s most fundamental problems.
Clinton who has been out of office for some time now, has been busying himself with the Clinton Foundation and working to eradicate inequality as he sees it. What does all this have to do with technology or Microsoft or Sharepoint?
Well, Clinton reckons that technology is the only way we can eradicate inequality. He has been thinking about the power of tech and the role companies like Microsoft, its partners and its employees could play in what is to come.
“21 years ago it was obvious that technology was going to permeate every aspect of our lives so we did everything we could to speed it up,” he remembers of his time in office. For him, small changes like reforming the telecoms laws in the United States was a big step. Though back then, tech, despite only being equated to about 8% the jobs in the States, showed 20% growth — one of the fastest segments.
Clinton’s current day-to-day is about enriching the lives of people in third world countries and he believes that technology will help him and the rest of the world do a better job of that.
He reckons that tech advancements made it possible for relief to be sent to places that experience disasters. Citing the ability to donate through the internet and enabling mobile payments for areas such as Sri Lanka and Haiti during difficult times.
The power of technology for him is tripling the number of people who can be kept alive around the world with less money than was previously used. “We live in an interdependent world were there will always be a gap between what government can do and what the private sector can contribute,” he says.
“We have suffered from an inability to create sufficient jobs for people, and it is a terrible inability.”
For the former president, the biggest challenge the world faces is inequality — he sees four key things that contribute greatly to this. Unemployment, health, disasters and the environment. He reckons that through technology, these four things can be combated, leading to the eradication of inequality. He doesn’t think this will happen soon, however he is optimistic about seeing significant steps in combating inequality in the next 20 years. It’s all about the way we respond to the problems.
Citing the work his foundation does in Africa, Clinton says costs and labour distributions needs to be dealt with and more tech savvy options need to be found.
“Farmers in Africa give 50% of their income to someone else in order to get their products to market,” he says. This needs to change, farmers need to be empowered to move their own products better.
We need to move towards a shared future, he urges.
“The world is too unstable. Political violence and financial crisis — these are due to an unstable world.”
For him, we are going to have to create a world where we do more with less, and this we can only do with tech.
“I am optimistic because the technological revolution is more about corporation than conflict,” he says. “It can also be a tool for positive or negative impact.”
But the corporation power of tech is Clinton’s current mantra. Young people think of their identity as inclusive rather than exclusive. “That’s hopeful for me,” says Clinton. If we want to build an inclusive world, our identity will have to be more about what we have in common than what we don’t.
“We believe in a shared future,” says Clinton. Every country should be free to make their own choices.
The idea is to reduce inequality through technology and corporation. Don’t try to rule people, work with them.
Photo Credit: Wolfgang Miedl