Use technology wisely, Keating urges

New technologies such as the internet and mobile communications will shape the way the world develops, but political and industrial leaders must ensure that the technologies are used responsibly, according to former prime minister Paul Keating.

The emphasis needs to be on narrowing the gap between information haves and have-nots, freeing up control over information and encouraging creativity and diversity, Keating said here at SAP's Sapphire '99 conference.

"The technologies are just a means to an end, and we must make important decisions about what those ends are to be," he said. "Those decisions will be as much political as technological."

Technology has the power to build bridges between different levels of society or it can be used to increase the divisions between them, according to Keating.

Similarly, the ease of information exchange can be used to celebrate cultural diversity or encourage a flood of similar products, he said.

"In the information revolution we must have open societies," he said. "We need communications to flow freely within countries and also from outside, because if countries clamp down on communications and expression, then they are clamping down on the creativity they need to create the new industries and the new world."

Just as companies are trying to become trusted brands on the internet, how countries present themselves to the global marketplace is becoming more important, according to Keating.

Inevitably, as the information revolution unfolds, there will be winners and losers among countries, Keating said.

"Power is going to go to those countries which are flexible, can handle the full range of the information revolution and create their own economic sphere regardless of their resources or land size," he said.

"Power is not information - but the ability to collate, assess and use that information."

One major shift is that there is no longer a shortage of investment capital in the world, but instead a shortage of skilled workers for the information age. Countries will compete for these scarce human resources and need to emphasise education for the new world which is being created by technology, said Keating.

But Keating warned that just because technology was creating unprecedented new business opportunities, political leaders should not think that age-old problems of war and violence had disappeared.

"Our dreams of a new world can still be derailed if we are not vigilant," Keating said. "As the world knits together commercially it must also do strategically and we must bring developing countries into the dialog. The technology is way ahead of the politics in this area."