India top outperformer among developing countries on frontier technologies

at 11:44 pm

New Delhi (NVI): With its current focus on digitisation and technological reforms, India is the greatest outperformer on frontier technologies like drones, Artificial Intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), big data, among developing countries, according to UNCTAD’s Technology and Innovation Report 2021.

According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) report, published yesterday, India is the top performer whose actual index ranking was 43, while the estimated one based on per capita income was 108.

“Hence, India overperformed by 65 ranking positions. It is followed by the Philippines, which overperformed by 57 ranking positions,” says the report.

As per the report, the top 5 overperformers are India, Philippines, Ukraine, Vietnam and China.

The index spotlights developing countries that perform better on frontier technologies than their per capita GDPs would suggest. Their overperformance is measured as the difference between the actual index rankings and the estimated index rankings based on per capita income.

A few developing nations are showing stronger capabilities to use, adopt and adapt frontier technologies than their per capita GDPs would suggest, but most are lagging behind, according to an index of 158 countries in UNCTAD’s Technology and Innovation Report 2021.

According to the index, the United States, Switzerland and the United Kingdom are best prepared for frontier technologies. Most of the best-prepared countries are from Europe, except the Republic of Korea, Singapore and the United States. Some transition economies, such as Russia, also perform well on the index.

The top overall performers have well-balanced performances across all building blocks of the index and are typically associated with high innovation and GDP.

Frontier technologies are those that take advantage of digitalization and connectivity. They include artificial intelligence (AI), the internet of things, big data, blockchain, 5G, 3D printing, robotics, drones, gene editing, nanotechnology and solar photovoltaic.

“Frontier technologies are redefining our world, especially our post-pandemic future,” said Shamika N Sirimanne, director of UNCTAD’s division on technology and logistics.

Sirimanne said despite some negative realities associated with these technologies, such as their potential to worsen inequality, widen the digital divide and disrupt socio-political cohesion, they could be transformative in achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The report provides a “country readiness index” that assesses the progress of countries in using frontier technologies, considering their national capacities related to physical investment, human capital and technological effort.

It scores countries on their readiness for frontier technologies based on five building blocks: ICT deployment, skills, research and development (R&D), industry activity and access to finance.

“How did the outliers exceed expectations? China, at position 25, and India perform well for R&D. This reflects their abundant supplies of qualified and highly skilled human resources available at a comparatively low cost. They also have large local markets, which attract investment by multinational enterprises. In China, the progress is partly a reward for spending 2% of GDP on R&D,” the report stated.

The Philippines has a high ranking for industry, reflecting high levels of foreign direct investment in high-technology manufacturing, particularly electronics. Multinational enterprises are attracted by the country’s strong supply chains and solid base of parts manufacturing. The Philippines also has pro-business policies along with a skilled, well-educated workforce and a network of economic zones, as per the report.

Overall, however, the top five overperforming developing countries have lower rankings for ICT connectivity and skills. This drawback is true for developing countries as a group, it said.

For developing countries to catch up and forge ahead, UNCTAD urges them to adopt frontier technologies while continuing to diversify their production bases by mastering many existing technologies. “These countries need to strengthen their innovation systems, as most of them are weak and prone to systemic failures and structural deficiencies,” says the report.