President Iván Duque announced yesterday that he is working to enact a technology modernization law next month that will streamline regulation and embed a more digital mindset in areas ranging from education and healthcare to justice and the fight against corruption.
In a speech in Cartagena, Duque said “it is my obsession” to cut regulations in a way that will breathe life into the digital economy, encourage entrepreneurship, and enable the development of an ecosystem that can establish more innovation centers the work on artificial intelligence, robotics, and other emerging cognitive technology.
Achieving these policy goals begins, he said, with the newly announced launch of the High Council for Innovation and Digital Transformation in Colombia.
Establishing this task force is the precursor to the what the president called his “first commitment” when it comes to technology: the formal presentation of a new ICT modernization act “in the coming weeks,” said Duque.
With a plan to “invest more, employ more,” the president said the goal is to create a Colombia that is “more modern, more efficient, more transparent, and more equitable.”
While he was light on specifics, Duque did say that he wants to encourage entrepreneurship by giving a five-year income tax exemption to startup companies focused on innovation.
The recently inaugurated head of state outlined his digital vision for tech’s role in Colombian society during a speech in Cartagena at Andicom 2018, the nation’s largest conference devoted to information communications and technology (ICT).
Sharing a stage with Silvia Constain, Colombian Minister of Commerce, Industry, and Technology (MinCIT), Duque highlighted the ways that technology can increase development across the nation and help make progress in terms of the wide gap between Colombians living in cities with more economic opportunities and those in far-flung rural areas that continue to lack the most basic services.
During his presentation, Duque displayed an image and story of a modest, one-lane bridge in the coast Colombian town of Lorica that has no stop light. Instead, two people — “a human stoplight” — stands there all day long — as “a human stoplight,” said Duque — with red and green flags that tell the drivers when they can cross the river.
“In the past 20 years,” said Duque, “the penetration of technology in Colombia has been tremendous…But despite all these successes we continue as a country of contrasts. While some have access to technology, we also find cases like this [bridge].”
He continued to discuss the “11 years of great disruption” that have changed so much about the world, beginning with the announcement of the iPhone in 2007 and including major developments such as Twitter, Airbnb, the Amazon Kindle, and Change.org used digital channels to help elevate citizen voices in the United States.
These examples of how the world has changed how it communicates, interacts, and even thinks have come to Colombia. But it has been slower to progress than in much of the rest of the OECD nations, something Duque attributes in part to the fact that 50% of the municipalities in the country still have a deficit in supply versus demand when it comes to network connectivity. Nearly two-thirds of homes also reside in areas where the penetration level of modern networks is less than half, he added.
He says that the government must help lead the way in bringing more of a digital mindset to the country and that there are many applications that can improve society.
Duque said he sees vast potential to fight both crime and corruption by building better communications and collaborative networks between law enforcement and the attorney general’s office. Improving the justice system through technology is “our priority,” said Duque. He mentioned blockchain and artificial intelligence as potential tools that can be used to better detect and track corruption and other illicit financial activity.
The healthcare system stands to gain significantly as well, he said. By investing in the underlying network, hospitals and officials overseeing health coverage will have access to much more and better data about patient care. Widespread digital invoicing alone can help to control costs, monitor spending, and set prices for necessary services and goods, while tech-centric diagnostic methods can improve patient outcomes — something that can also reduce the budget impact if people require less treatment going forward.
Transforming educational models will be fundamental to making larger changes across society, said Duque. By adopting a new mindset and investing in key priorities, he wants schools to focus more attention on teaching Colombians skills that will prepare them for a career in a more modern, digital future.
(Main photo credit: Jared Wade)