The rise of the digital economy and tech-driven inequality : Can the tech revolution be an equaliser instead?

Back in 2015, the member-states of the United Nations adopted its most ambitious, all-encompassing agenda ever attempted: To guide the advancement of humankind for the next 15 years.

Collectively known as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the agreements called on all countries to positively advance economies, societies and the environment. An overarching principle of these agreements was to “leave no one behind”. However, currently in the Asia-Pacific region, we are. Inequality is on the rise.


Since the early 1990s, the Asia-Pacific region has experienced a tremendous socio-economic transformation, facilitated by strong and sustained economic growth. Unfortunately, the gains from this remarkable performance have not always benefited those most in need.

The region’s combined income inequality, measured by the Gini coefficient, has increased by over 5 percentage points in the last 20 years. Income inequality has grown in almost 40 per cent of all countries.


Could technology be part of the solution? In 2015 the answer was emphatically yes. Back then, technology was heralded as key accelerator to meet the ambitions of the Sustainable Development Goals.As the Fourth Industrial Revolution progresses, technologies – such as AI, robotics, 3D printing, and the Internet of Things – are reshaping our economies, societies and the environment.

Digital trade and finance are opening economic opportunities through financial inclusion. For example, innovations such as Aadhaar – the digital identification system in India – have enabled the financial inclusion of 1.2 billion people. From a social perspective, digital healthcare and education are providing cost-effective solutions to people in rural communities. However, the wave of optimism surrounding the transformative potential of frontier technologies has been tempered by increasing concerns about potential negative impact, the future of work being the one gaining most attention.

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