I recently learnt the story of a fascinating Bangladeshi couple, Rini Ishan and Rakib Reza. The pair have quietly been manufacturing commercial robots in Bangladesh, including a 3D concrete-printing robot. So far in 2018, their company Planetary Limited has exported 11 robots to South Korea.
For some time, I have been telling friends around the world that Bangladesh has arrived at the nuclear age and space age, and that it’s a ‘shirt-to-ship’ story. I can now proudly say that Bangladesh is also in the age of robotics and 3D printing.
Rini and Rakib are not alone. Thousands of young Bangladeshi people have already put the country on the global IT freelancing map. Thanks to the passion, imagination and steady work of a few, ‘Digital Bangladesh’ is now a reality, contributing to the transformation of our social and economic landscape at the grassroots. For instance, 4,554 Union Digital Centres, more than 100 simplified public services, e-procurement and smart health cards are leading Bangladesh down the 4IR path.
I once asked Professor Schwab why he had labelled the fourth generation technological changes as a ‘revolution’. So many of us in Bangladesh grew up knowing revolution as something cataclysmic. Professor Schwab responded that these upcoming technologies are bringing transformative impacts to the thinking, values, life and work of every person, enterprise, industry and nation in ways that have been unfathomable until recently.
While revolutions in history have been loud, visible and often bloody, the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is rolling out so quietly, yet bringing effects infinitely more profound than earlier technological and political upheavals. We are seeing how a tsunami of science, technology and innovation, and the creative use of 4IR tools and applications, are changing the lives of individuals, companies and countries across the world, from entertainment to education to employment.
Drawing inspiration from Professor Schwab’s words, the Foreign Ministry of Bangladesh, in collaboration with the World Economic Forum, recently organized a national workshop on the 4IR and its impacts on the country. The event was designed to help stakeholders appreciate that the 4IR is real and present, even in Bangladesh.
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Every one of us must get ready, whether we are in government, business or research. And we must move fast. We need to employ imagination, creativity and innovation, without hindrance or inhibition, in our schools, factories, companies and even in government. Indeed, as Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos in 2017, Bangladesh is open and ready to move on the 4IR, to support start-ups, and to pilot innovative applications in our farms and factories.
Bangladesh has long been a story of the aspiration, resilience and innovation of millions of young women and men across villages and towns. In our brief, five-decade history, the country has constantly battled against natural and man-made disasters, and yet has sustained high economic growth. Today, we are one of the fastest-growing economies globally, expanding at over 7% annually. During the past decade, under the stewardship of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, we also significantly reduced poverty and inequality.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution coincides with the period when Bangladesh transitions towards a developed country. By 2030, around half of Bangladesh will be living in urban areas. These people will demand all kind of goods and services that we cannot predict today.
There is no point in debating whether the Fourth Industrial Revolution is good or bad, or whether it will benefit Bangladesh or not. It’s not something for us to accept, reject or regulate. It is time that we join hands with everyone to embrace the 4IR robustly. By hosting a first-ever national conversation and workshop on the 4IR, I believe we have made the first step towards achieving that objective.