Society and Technology Seminar
Organized by the UNAM
Conference by Mr. Carlos Slim Helú

Dr. Gustavo Baz Prada Auditorium, Ancient School of Medicine, Mexico City
February 17th, 2009

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Then this society, and I am talking now about today’s society, turned into a very generous society, because it is not sustained anymore, nor is a zero sum society, new wealth is being created, goods are easily produced, enormous machines are working alone without much waste, just what is needed, instead of being like Charles Chaplin, tightening the screws, they work alone, we have a kind of machine factor, where there is one person checking the machines on a screen, supervising their work.

We are passing form intensive, slave work, to a 24-hour work that is now for the machines, not for the people.  Machines have to work permanently, not people.

Well, this is making that the society, instead of being an industrial society where people have to be working on the machines, turns to be a society of services.

I mean, we passed in the agricultural society from being a primary society to the secondary industrial society, and to the tertiary society of services, and today most of the population, for example, in the United States, or in the developed countries, works in the service industry, probably an 85 percent of the active population is in services.

I think just 2 percent of the population works in agriculture and other fields, a ten percent in manufacture.  The population, not only in the United States, but all around the world, needs more and more to work in the services industry.

Do you remember those old American movies where people were with the factory, the industry, or the countryside?  The movies we have seen in the last 20, 30 years are located in the financial sector, the health sector, education, and other type of sectors.

So, which are the paradigms of this new civilization?  I am sure that this society is sustained in the welfare of others, and for a society to work better it needs to be developed and sustained in the welfare of others.  It needs that the others contribute, that they have time, and an income, it needs them to be at modernity in order for the society to grow and have more activity.

I think that the paradigms of this new civilization are democracy, plurality, freedom, diversity, human rights, environment, science, technology, creativity, innovation, productivity, competition, globalization; this paradigms, as the civilizations keep growing, we already mentioned others, and probably some others slipped my mind, as civilization keeps growing, are not going to be options, they are not alternatives, they are characteristics of the good functioning of the society and I think that all these new paradigms give me a very optimistic view of this new society, and also the society to come which is also worth to talk about, this society of the information, of knowledge; tertiary, services, technological, digital society or whatever, is based on the fact that it is sustained and developed in the welfare of others, that everybody has a participation in the society, it is important that in this new civilization, what is easily produced like goods or wealth with the use of these equipments, can sustain and conduct the incorporation of the society, all of it, to modernity and to have time to enjoy these elements.

And, what does it need?  Well, budget is very important without question.  Human capital is essential in this society.  In the society of the agricultural and pre-industrial century, it even bothered everybody that people learned to read, they just wanted them not to know how to read or to move anywhere else.  Or some totalitarian regimes didn’t want anybody to move from where they lived, I mean, a total lack of freedom for men.  If you think about what society is now, which the new technological advancements are, the new means I was talking about before, well it is integration and globalization, we will be more global, much more global, globalization is one of the paradigms, it is not an alternative, it is a characteristic of this new society.  We are going to be more global, but also more local, there is going to be more identity, in the regions or in the countries, more local, but more global cities.

What is more important in this new civilization, without question, is modern, high-quality education, to pass from alphabetization to digital alphabetization, digital culture, digital knowledge, but why?  Well, because of books, we alphabetize to be able to read, to express ourselves.  But now, the access we could have to these media, this information and this knowledge, by the moment we have them all, we will be in the same level of opportunity as other people, our neighbors or the world; I mean, we will have the same possibility of information and knowledge as the American, the European or the Asian; and it is going to be a lot, it depends on each one of us that we are able to be informed, to have that knowledge, and process it, from the cultural point of view, but also from the point of view of ability, of continuous growth.

In the past, just a few were innovating, and then millions of people taking advantage of that knowledge.  But now there are going to be so many thousands of millions of people at the same time, contributing, proposing, studying and knowing that undoubtedly the 21st century is going to be a century with many important advances in knowledge.  And later, we can also observe the way countries today do not hold monolithic power anymore like they did before, in the agricultural city; they are democratic societies, most of them, and there are going to be more in the future, where there is division of powers and a series of elements, very different from the agricultural society.

It is also interesting, curious and worth studying since college; it would be interesting to make a study of the whole thing, how they passed from the agricultural society, to monolithic power, to democratic, plural, liberal society and how, along the way, through many years, many dictatorial, totalitarian, fascist governments existed, and as a transition maybe, I don’t want to say natural, but maybe a little, towards there, and how they would even switch religion for nationalism, which is not the political power with religion, is political power with nationalism, for example.

So I think that was a transition from monolithic to democratic power, to this new civilization that has this as its characteristic, condition or paradigm. And now, what we are seeing is undoubtedly essential in order to insert ourselves into this civilization, to find the best way to do it, each country will be trying to find it, I think that China has seen it more clearly and it offers many challenges, for example, one the challenges for the United States or for the developed countries is the way the society stopped manufacturing, they turned into services, and how it is going to solve the problem of not producing goods, they import a great amount of goods and do not produce any other income, because they are not selling services in order to compensate for imports.  That is in part the reason that within just a few years we saw big malls in the United States, because they are becoming less and less an industrial society.  I cannot call them agricultural or industrial society, it is more a society of services, but during this transition, they are importing many goods and they are not being able to compensate with other exports, or those big malls.  They would have to investigate the way to do that.

Back to our matter, I think that the important thing for us is to insert ourselves in this new society and that one of the essential factors of all is education, knowledge.  We now have the commitment and the challenge, if we want to think that in three years there could be 60 or 70 percent of the population with access to wideband in various ways, we are working on that, we are conceptualizing this matter of education.  In a way, we are thinking that nutrition is essential obviously since pregnancy and of the baby at birth, as well as prenatal medical care, which was already adopted by the Government in the Progresa and Oportunidades Programs, and is very important because I think it is the base for everything else.

We have to start from early education, education maybe until six months of age, or a year, then preschool education and of course all the following and digital culture.  That is the reason we are suggesting several things, one is what we call “Mochila Digital” (“Digital Backpack”), those are the laptops developed first by Negroponte and then Intel, which are very important, believe me.  We are also working in the Casa TELMEX (TELMEX House) and mostly in Aulas TELMEX (TELMEX Classroom), which is a classroom in public schools with access to wideband and where teachers can be instructing their pupils, since they are very young, to use the internet, be informed and make school works or investigate any subject, and more.

It is our opportunity to progress and achieve universalization of wideband service, in order that most of the population has access to this way of information, either fixed or mobile.  Now… what can we expect?  First, that no matter what, this is a society that in a few years, when paradigms are clear and changes can be conducted, for today we are living in societies that at the same time one part of their population is very advanced in technology and knowledge, but still many people live in agricultural societies or even in some regions of the world we can still find groups of nomads, right?  In the Amazon or in Africa that nomadism still exists.

Then, there is still some backwardness, in the educational field, as well as in the training and the information fields, so we have to move them forward.  For example, genomics, resolved a serious problem of epidemic diseases, gastrointestinal diseases, which had an important rate of child mortality, and had been substantially reduced and now diseases are more expensive, chronic, cancer or kidney or heart diseases… well, I think all this genomics will allow these diseases to decrease, they are very advanced in this matter, there are many outstanding people with means, in fact we are working with some of them on diabetes and ten types of cancer, they are making progress already, I think that in ten years there will be many changes in this field.

I also think that our countries have an advantage which is that when the industrial society came, primary goods lost exchange terms; do you remember when they used to say that it lost exchange terms?  I think that now who are going to lose in terms of exchange are the industrials and primaries are going to recuperate in the future, they are in a different situation, and they are going to recuperate because more people are incorporating to modernity, and as more population incorporates to modernity, more population incorporates to trade, to the consumption of those goods, maybe even today half or more than half of the population live from self consumption, so as this population that lives from self consumption incorporates to modernity, there will be a great pressure in the production of these goods.

I would also say that in the health field the technological advancement must continue and it is going to be very important when we are in this society and become aware of this civilization and maybe this economic and financial situation we are going through is an opportunity to understand the vision, and not only the vision the workers may have, but to find the way out of it, where we want to be when this situation is over, when we are over it.

For example, the United States should be trying to design a way out of this situation in order to stay inserted in a more clear way in this new civilization…

Thank you very much…

Adrián Cerón Pérez Negrón:  In front of the technological advancements offered by a comfortable environment, suggesting more rapid social relationships and an investment efficiency in the short term, being all these the cost of complexity.. Shall we consider investing using the new technologies and our abilities to try to create time?  This is a question made by Adrián Pérez Negrón.

CS:  Well, I think that one of the great advantages offered by all this technological development is precisely the conquest of time.  It is a conquest in the sense of having more availability.  In my opinion, it is evident that the development itself should oblige us to take advantage of that time and seize at the same time the opportunity to efficiently develop the instructional and educational processes of those systems, and that I think we have entered now in another phase.  So, it seems to me that time is what we have and that now we have to find the balance in education which is necessary in order to optimize the technological resources we actually have.

Unidentified:  There is a question here for the engineer, Mr. Slim.  Which is the role that technology will play in overcoming the present crisis?  Would Mexico’s condition as a technologically dependent country ruin its economic recovery?

CS:  Well, speaking of technology, we need to emphasize that technology is not local, technology is global, and I think that even though it is important that countries develop technology, the most important thing is to absorb technology as we absorb science.  I mean, it is important, or more important, I believe I am not exaggerating, that, let’s say, most part of the population do not develop, but absorb and master the technology that becomes available and most important is to take advantage of the better technologies of the world, there are no enterprises or countries that are developing all the technology.

The important thing is to absorb it, apply it and get the advantages of this technology.  The invention of the internal combustion engine was exploited by many others; software or an Intel PC is used in all enterprises, or Windows is also used by many people, and there is no doubt that time is an essential factor.

For instance, machines work 24 hours and men work less and less hours, they gain time.  And, what is that time for? Well, that time is to spend it with their families, studying, in entertainment, sports, and tourism.  Then there is going to be a series of activities that are going to have a great development based in the extra time that the population has available, a person is no longer tied to a machine for hours and hours or working in the field all day long, instead they are people who make the most of all the conquests that technological advancement has made, it is time, as it was when men became agricultural from being nomads; by then, instead of being 24 hours looking for food, or I don’t know how many hours, they had time to do other things and they started to look up to the sky and started to build housing and to think in organizing and such.

Unidentified:  Thank you; there is another question from Mauricio González-González.  How are mobile media going to modify the provision of public services?

CS: How are they going to modify…?

Unidentified:  Yes, services.

CS:  Well, it has been interesting; we presume on having developed prepayment in Mexico, we made an innovation, unfortunately, just like the Caesar’s salad; it cannot be registered or patented.  Mobile telephony has been universalized.  Currently, in Latin America four out of five, 80 percent of the population; that is the market penetration, not every one has one, some even have two or three, but others do not have even one, right? There is a penetration of 80 percent comparable above Canada and a little below the United States, Latin America median.

So, according to the fact that we already have this instrument, we realize that the use of the telephone increases the productivity of people in a very important way, for the plumber, the lawyer, the financier, the housewife.  For part of that time, that he does not have to go anywhere else, that he can speak with whoever is in that place and can resolve many things.  But, besides that, new ways to use it are being developed, not only among messages, which are very important, but it can have other characteristics.  For example, for the development of telemedicine that can be very important, for the noted wideband I was talking about, we are already considering the third generation… in this conference it is strange I am talking about technology as I don’t use a computer, but now with the little phone here, it turns into a laptop, so it works, you can find information, data, etc.

So, what I want to say is that these are ways to use the internet.  You can already work in finance; make payments, reservations, a thousand things.  I think this is a revolution.  A few minutes ago, I was commenting about the difficulty of conceiving oneself without a phone.  I can say that when I was born, my dad was already 52 years old, but when he was born or when he was 15, there were no airplanes, there were no cars either, of course.  Changes have been brutal, there was no electricity, and many other things we do have now.

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