It is encouraging that information technologies like sensor, computer vision, and human-like machine intelligence offer the options of creating ideas for improving the quality and reducing cost simultaneously. For example, unmanned aerial vehicles, fitted with sensors and software, could be fine-tuned and leveraged by locally produced ideas for precision farming input distribution. Similarly, ideas could be developed and exploited out of robotic and intelligent machine solutions for lowering wastage in diverse sectors-as it offers the scope of increasing the precision. Leveraging the advantage of precision operation out of sensing and software offers the opportunity to improve the quality, lower defects, and reduce fabric and energy wastage. The possibility of the low-cost camera, high-performing computing devices, and ease of software development could be harnessed through image processing ideas in fabric inspection. As human inspectors, often, leave as high as 30 percent of defects undetected, it can lower wastage. At present, above 10 percent of the total fabric consumed is wasted. Making this number half, which appears to be attainable, could significantly improve the quality and reduce the cost of Bangladesh's export lifeline-ready-made garments.
Bangladesh can substitute the staggering amount of subsidies (more than 1 billion dollars) given to the agricultural sector by exploiting ICT ideas. For example, precision farming out of sensors, software, and unmanned aerial vehicles could simultaneously reduce wastage of farming inputs and increase yield. Studies indicate that wastage of farming inputs could be reduced by as high as 25 percent through such means. Starting from energy efficiency improvement to wastage reduction, there are diverse options for leveraging ICT possibilities. Furthermore, every product and process could be redesigned by integrating ideas around ICT possibilities to improve the quality and reduce the cost. The exploitation of such options is a must for attaining vision 2041. Furthermore, potential of IT ideas of lowering material and energy need, and decreasing wastage also empower us to make progress in climate change and sustainable development fronts. To make progress, we should focus on both the supply and demand of ideas. The policy of giving cash incentives and tax differentials should migrate to making an investment in R&D for creating the supply of ideas and providing incentives for deploying them to create the demand. It's imperative to form system capacity and develop the market for production, consumption, and exporting ideas out of technology possibilities.
SCALING UP STARTUPS: We think startup is our vehicle to create the idea economy. Of course, in advanced countries, the journey of startup by a few individuals for the commercialisation of ideas has created a big success story. Often, dropouts started such a journey from the garage with pocket money. Such examples have tempted us to adopt the strategy of arranging idea competition, offering seed capital, and giving office space for creating startup success stories. But, invariably, startups in Bangladesh and many other less developed countries have been failing to scale up. They are failing to keep improving the quality and reducing cost the cost. Hence, instead of reaching profit, these startups have accumulated losses and stayed afloat by burning investors' money. Such reality is raising the question of what went wrong. Like in the past, every startup out of great ideas begins the journey at a loss. They need a flow of ideas to turn the tremendous initial idea into a profitable business. How they will get this flow of ideas and create demand for them are significant challenges in leveraging startups for creating the idea economy.
By the way, the garage model of Steve Jobs and Hewlett & Packard is misleading for startups as they didn't create ideas sitting in those places. Instead, they were picking, fine-tuning, and assembling ideas produced in the R&D labs of Stanford University, Xerox's Parc, and many more.
ADDRESSING THE MARKET, SYSTEM, AND DIRECTIONAL FAILURES: Technology import and intellectual property-driven agenda runs the risk of weakening local market of ideas. To address the wealth creation issue out of ideas, we need to focus on strengthening the demand and supply of local ideas and facilitating profitable transactions between them, creating a vibrant market for ideas.
Individual creativity is not sufficient enough to create wealth from ideas. Invention is perceived to be the solo act of creative genius. Yes, it used to be, mainly in the age of tinkering. But it is increasingly becoming an act of synchronised collective response of firms and nations demanding well thought out strategy and policy. They must be derived from understanding how ideas are shaped in a competitive market into waste or wealth.
Transferring knowledge and ideas into economic value in a globally connected competitive market is more critical than producing graduates, publications, and patents. Unfortunately, this part is being overlooked. Although there has been a correlation between education and research in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) in advanced countries, attaining such competence is not enough. STEM education and R&D are like learning how to kick a soccer ball in an empty field. But that is not good enough to win the world cup. We need to know the dynamics of how STEM ideas are shaped into wealth or waste in the competitive market to master synchronised moves for winning. Hence, we need to focus on system capacity. We must also look into the directional failure. The exploitation of flow ideas--particularly out of digital possibilities-runs the risk of market power accumulation and loss of jobs. Therefore, strategy and policy should focus on net positive effects on employment and vibrant competition.
TRANSITION FOR MEETING BANGLADESH'S VISION: Graduating from a factor-driven stage to an innovation-based economy is the cornerstone of the perspective plan 2041 for reaching the desired high-income state. Hence, increasing total factor productivity (TFP) contribution to economic growth should be prioritised. Thereby, changing production priorities from replication and imitation of simple products to innovation, driving process and product sophistication, should get top most priority.
To adopt the conducive strategy, there should be technology possibilities. Among many other opportunities, IT offers options for creating economic value out of ideas through innovation and reinvention of many products. Furthermore, ideas could be developed out of IT possibilities to improve processes of producing whatever Bangladesh has been producing now. From shirts to sugar, every major product has the possibility to benefit from IT ideas. Furthermore, such ideas could be leveraged to scale up grassroots innovations. However, to move with this mission, Bangladesh should meticulously spell out the transition by creating a market of ideas and strengthening both supply and demand sides. The focus should be on making the transition from labour and knowledge to creating economic value out of ideas-by leveraging technology possibilities. Furthermore, in addition to pursuing a few great ideas, we should also develop a culture for empowering individuals for generating and exploiting millions of little ideas.
- Rokonuzzaman, Ph.D is academic and researcher on technology, innovation, and policy.