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Knowledge (still) confined

The UNO's Technology Achievement Index (TAI) assesses the processes of creation, use, and diffusion of technology in 72 countries, and suggests measures to stimulate investments in search of solutions for problems in developing regions

The Human Development Report 2001, published by the United Nations Organization (UN) at the beginning of July, brings, for the first time, a ranking of the technological development of 72 countries, ranked using a Technology Achievement Index (TAI). “Human development and technological progress strengthen each other mutually”, explains the report.Brazil was placed 43rd, in spite of being the home of two of the 46 Global Hubs of Technological Innovation – one in São Paulo and the other in Campinas – identified by the Wired magazine and mentioned in the report.

Wired took into consideration the presence of universities and research centers of international standing, of high technology companies, and the availability of qualified labor, among other criteria, to rank these centers on a scale from 4 to 16 points. São Paulo achieved 9 points, and Campinas 8, strengthening Brazil’s leading role in the development of new technologies. The UN makes a proviso, however, that the TAI does not measure technological might. It takes into account the process of creation, use, and, above all, the diffusion of technologies, a question that waters down the relative participation of developing countries in the ranking, and of Brazil in particular.

The TAI was constructed using weighted averages of four indicators: the creation of technology, measured by the number of patents granted to residents and by the foreign income per capita received from patents and licensing; the diffusion of recent innovations, which takes into account the number of Internet sites per capita and the proportion of exports of technology products in the total of the country’s exports; the diffusion of old technologies, which takes into account the number of fixed and mobile telephones, and the consumption of electricity per capita; and the indicator of human skills, which measures the schooling of the population and the gross enrollment ratio of college students enrolled in scientific courses.

The 72 countries analyzed were ranked, as a result of their relative importance, as Leaders, Potential Leaders, Dynamic Adopters and Marginalized. Finland took first place, heading the list of 18 countries classified as Leaders in technological development. It beat the United States, by recording a higher number of accesses to the Internet and of individuals educated at a high level of science. Brazil was among the 26 countries regarded as Dynamic Adopters, along with India, China, Colombia and Iran. Argentina, placed 34th, was grouped with the 19 Potential Leaders, along with Mexico.

“If the index were to assess technological potential, Brazil, China and India would not find themselves inthis position”, ponders Carlos Américo Pacheco, the executive secretary of the Ministry of Science and Technology. The TAI, he says, correctly compares the impact of technology on the quality of life of the Brazilian population with other countries.

The price of backwardness
The problem is the comparative figures. Brazil records an average of 33.6 patents granted per million inhabitants, and an extremely low income from royalties and license fees. The highest index recorded by the UN was 994 patents per million inhabitants. Despite the report registering spectacular growth in the number of accesses to the Internet in Brazil, from 26,500 in 1995 to 1.2 million in 2000, the number of sites per million inhabitants, something like 2,500, shows that the country still has a long way to go before making this tool for information democratic.

Among the leading countries, this figure reaches 232.4 per million inhabitants. A questionable indicator is the consumption of electricity per inhabitant, which is around 2,000 kW in Brazil, since demand is basically determined by the climate. The Norwegians, for example, consume 13 times more electricity, without necessarily being technologically more advanced. “If the criteria were the number of households connected to the network, we would be better placed”, is Pacheco’s comment.

Brazil’s positioning in the TAI would also be different if the indicator were to add to the high technology exports, in the amount of US$ 4 billion, the soybean exports, which is a product that incorporates high technology, as Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, FAPESP’s president, points outs.

Brazil won points in the indicator for fixed and mobile telephony: we have already reached the noteworthy mark of 425 telephones per thousand inhabitants. But it loses badly in the indicator that assesses human skills. In 1999, according to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), Brazilians had, on average, 5.8 years of schooling, compared with 12 years in the developed countries.

In this aspect, however, the report reflects much more the structural backwardness in the system for qualifying human resources than the current picture of education in the country, according to Pacheco. The number of enrollments in Brazilian universities grew 20% between 1980 and 1994. This timid expansion in the number of places only failed to cause a revolution, because demand in the period was low. Between 1994 and 1999, the expansion in the number of enrollments leapt up 43%, reflecting the expansion in high education of 66% in the same period. “In absolute numbers, we graduate 13 times more doctors than Mexico or Argentina, and at a tertiary level of high quality”, he notes. Over the next few years, he foresees, the expansion in the schooling of Brazilians and in enrollments in higher education will be “monstrous”.

Technology and market
The great merit of the report, in the opinion of Pacheco, lies in its assessment of the role of Science and Technology in social development. The basic premise is that technology is a tool for development, and not just its reward. Even though it may be a venture aimed at the market, it has to be at the service of the needs of the population. In addition, the requirements of the European, American and Japanese consumers do not necessarily correspond to those of the consumers in developing countries, and the technologies need to be adapted.

The report mentions that investments in the creation, adaptation and marketing of the products that the poorer populations need or may pay for, end up not happening, since the return is low, and the products do not represent a market opportunity for the private sector. Breaking out of this vicious circle calls for the developing countries to adopt active policies for science and technology, and global initiatives to make it possible, for example, to resolve the shortage of food of 2 billion persons all over the world, or to eliminate the lack of electricity of another 3 billion.

Stimulus for investment
The report urges the adoption of at least four measures worldwide. The first is to stimulate governments, the private sector and academic institutions to put together their investigative capacity, as much in the developing countries and as through international collaboration. The second concerns the administration of intellectual property rights, in order to achieve a fair balance between private incentives and the public interest. The third suggestion is to expand investments in technology for development, ensuring the creation and diffusion of solutions for urgent national problems that have not been attended to by the world market. And, finally, the report proposes a strengthening of regional and worldwide support to foster the technological ability of the developing countries.