Innovation has been the catalyst for some of the most significant advances in human development. The advent of the wheel revolutionized transportation systems and laid the foundation for modern trade; the development of heat-resilient, high yield agricultural crops spurred the Green Revolution and increased food security and incomes in many developing countries; and the discovery of vaccines has virtually eliminated some diseases, contributing to vital improvements in global public health. Today, innovation continues to play a central role in the achievement of development goals. From the creation of a $100 laptop to the use of nuclear power to meet sustainable energy needs, fast-paced technological innovation has created new promise and posed complex challenges for the developing world. Innovation and technology transfer have the potential to bridge development gaps in areas as diverse as education, gender, health and the environment. At the same time, technology can be a double-edged sword. The expansion of fossil fuel-based transportation, for instance, has increased the mobility of people and goods while threatening the durability of resources and exacerbating climate change. Nuclear power offers sustainable energy but poses new threats to global security. Moreover, access to modern technologies is unevenly distributed, as technology transfer is constrained by rigid intellectual property regimes, limited resources and weak absorptive capacity in developing countries. The Fall/Winter 2010 issue of the Journal of International Affairs explores the myriad ways in which technology is changing the development agenda.
David M. Driesen and David Popp start by discussing the role of technology transfer in addressing climate change. They compare the effectiveness of market measures such as the Clean Development Mechanism under the Kyoto Protocol with direct aid programs as a means of reducing global carbon emissions, arguing for meaningful technology transfer that enhances the capacity of developing countries to address climate change in the long term without hindering economic growth. Bertrand Tessa and Pradeep Kurukulasuriya similarly emphasize the importance of technology transfer, but shift the focus from mitigation efforts to technologies that help developing countries adapt to the harmful impacts of climate change. They also discuss the effect of the WTO's agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights on adaptive technology transfer. The authors describe how the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is attempting to address deficiencies in the transfer of climate-smart technologies needed for adaptation in developing countries.
Mark Warschauer and Morgan Ames touch on recent debates about whether technology alone can catapult low-income countries into later stages of development and question the wisdom of investing narrowly in technological interventions without a holistic understanding of the local social and economic context. The authors critique the premise of the One Laptop per Child program, arguing that support for basic educational reforms, such as construction of schools, teacher training and curriculum development, is more pressing in resource-limited settings than the distribution of laptops to individual children.
Walter G. Park explores the interdependence of innovation, copyright regimes and economic development, lust as patent laws are a driver of technological innovation, creative industries such as art, music, film, literature and media are more likely to flourish when protected by copyrights. Park argues that copyright protections can spur economic growth in developing countries through human capital accumulation and the creation of creative industries. At the same time, growth and development may be impaired if developing countries lack adequate mechanisms to enforce copyrights. Bhaven N. Sampat looks at intellectual property laws from the perspective of patents. …