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31 July


Jack Ma: In our era, Internet connection is as necessary as electricity in the last century

According to the report of the UN group, the proportion of people connected to the network grew rapidly in developing countries (from 14% to 45%)

Photo: AP

Connectivity to the internet could be more important in this era, compared with access to electricity in the past century, to build an inclusive digital economy and society, according to Jack Ma, co-founder and executive chairman of Alibaba Group Holding. This article appeared in the South China Morning Post.

"Today, if we are not connecting any country or if you don’t let your people connect to the internet, it’s worse than last century not letting them connect to electricity," Ma said on Monday during a live-streamed panel discussion on digital cooperation with American philanthropist Melinda Gates and United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres at UN headquarters in New York City.

"Internet connectivity is going to change a lot of things, so we should not leave people in the last century," Ma said. "The digital period from now is just the beginning".

The discussion was held to mark the release of "The Age of Digital Interdependence", a report of the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation. Ma and Gates serve as co-chairs of this panel.

The report calls for reinvigorating multilateral cooperation among governments so that digital technologies can be used to help improve life for everyone. That would be complemented by cooperation with a diverse spectrum of other stakeholders, such as civil society, technologists, academics and the private sector, according to the report.

The release of the report, however, has come amid a raging trade and tech war between the US and China, which has disrupted international commerce and cooperation in hi-tech research.

The report found the proportion of people online in the developing world expanded rapidly in the past decade – from 14,5% in 2008 to 45,3% in 2018 – but progress has recently slowed.

Some recommendations from the report include improving financial inclusion as part of creating an inclusive digital economy, supporting marginalised groups and reforming education systems to prepare students for the digital age.

But skills and digital inclusion aside, societies also need to focus on the right to privacy as well as improving trust and security as the world moves online and more data is harnessed from digital activities.