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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So, well, it is expected that technology keeps progressing and the use of this mobile telephones as well as the fixed wideband service, where we allowed for thinking, well I allowed for telling you that being our commitment, I think that 60 or 70 percent of the population is going to have access to wideband in three years, whether in the classrooms, universities, schools, your house or your telephone.

Unidentified: There are many questions, so we are going to try, I hope, to work on the contents of the questions, but there is one that seems very similar, let’s try to group them.  Sara, Román, Martha Alicia Márquez, wonder about the problems that have to do with the negative effects of technologies, right? The negative effects that have, for example; junk information, pollution and global warming. The problem of language rules that are getting altered; abbreviations used in cell phones mostly among young people, a series of initials and things like that, which they use to communicate with each other.

There is also a question about which is the responsibility? Or how can it be treated? I mean which are the arguments to have a social responsibility over the negative effects of technology and that an investigation can or should be done on the negative effects and in some way assume the responsibility over that?

CS:  Well, I think that any change or advancement has negative effects.  Not everything is positive, when we take medicines, we have to look up to the contraindications and side effects, or so, but you have to take them anyway, right?  I think that junk information is also in print and we are not going to get rid of the press because of that, are we? And it was also a technological advancement.

Obviously, but we need to find systems to filter that junk information.  Nowadays, technology itself can be of great help to fight against global warming.

Global warming, which is a problem, is going to be resolved with technology, not by preaching.  Well, in the past, we used to burn wood, so technology is going to help.  I say that whatever these negative effects are in this society of plurality, freedom and diversity, technology is essential to gain that time.

And we will have to know what to do with that time, it is like saying: “no, not the car, because, we are going to speed and crash” or, “I do not exercise anymore because I already have a house and before I had to run to my job…”, I don’t know, I think that we have to realize that technology brings great advantages, we just have to filter and block the things that don’t work.

I suppose that there are also ways in which junk information from mobile phones or internet can be filtered or deleted, so there is people developing software to retire that information and others to bring good information.

When we see that through a little device like this one you can access to the whole work of a great artist or a great author or to the national library, because it was already digitalized, or the cellar of a museum or a serial library is available to everybody.

Unidentified:  There is a set of questions which is also oriented to problems, let’s say, of exclusion which is also generated by technology, I mean, there are uneven excesses, Antonio also spoke about this problem and there are different references to the problem in terms that at first not everyone can access new technologies in the same way and the problem of how the diffusion in the internet can be improved, and many things that happen in a country like ours.

CS:  Well, I think I have two points of view.  First, I am convinced that technology, technological advancement is not a breach but it is a bridge.  I mean it is not a widening breach between developing and developed countries.

It is a bridge that allows us to reach this condition more quickly.  Well, unevenness in the sense of not having the same opportunity, maybe…  I think that the access and opportunity that this new technology is going to bring, is going to be very, very superior to everything that has been in the past, back then there were great differences to access education and knowledge.

Now it is going to be very much easier, I don’t think that in a few years there is going to be any lack of accessibility.  I think that in a few years, I don’t know, maybe five, to say a number, there is going to be universal access to this technology with services, internet service in order to have access to this information and knowledge in a very general way.

I think this is going to give the population equal opportunities universally, generally; it is going to be free in some places, many places like a public library, but modern libraries will no longer have only books, maybe just some nice books in exhibition, but there are going to be free internet services, that is where this information will be more accessible.

Unidentified:  Well, there are other questions, Alatriste, Dulce María Santa Cruz, Edgar Alberto Gutiérrez Cuevas… whose questions are for example, educational problems, right? Illiteracy and others, as a restraining force to access new technologies, the problem of how new technologies can be linked to education and the problem of how other topics get more investment, here we say more in public works that in education, those would be basically comments about…

CS:  Well, when the Internet starting rising, I would say that for example around the 90’s, the early 90’s, even though it was obviously invented before that… we used to think that there was going to be a breach.  Well, the development breach and the generational breach, and we have seen there is none; I mean, it has been simplifying in a way that generations like ours can use it, as a child or a youngster does.

It has been found that even people who can’t read can use the computer and this technology, of course, it is still necessary for them to be alphabetized.  So, I think that even these people who haven’t learned to read can also use this technology.  It is important that they become alphabetized and we know that even though illiteracy rate is low, there are still rural regions in which older people never learned to read, but I think they can still learn to use the technology, they already use cell, mobile or public phones, so I think that would not be a problem.

Unidentified:  There’s another question for Mr. Slim. Which is the role of Mexico’s science and technology in the development of the industry of telecommunications, as TELMEX?

CS:  In the last one, I left something unanswered, you say there are limited resources; what is interesting here is that all that Internet and communication technology, as it has universalized so much, prices have been reduced, very much, 90 percent, to establish a wideband Internet line, even a low speed line, used to cost, not long ago, just a few years, 1,300 or 1,500 dollars, now only ten percent.

So, as more population is using mobile phones, which were also very expensive in the past, their price has been reduced, and the volume of production is so large, and the manufacturers so many, that it is very competitive.

I think also that the matter of access is not going to be only through public budget, there is going to be private investment and support.  The existence of all these places where Internet can be accessed for free, either open libraries, I was saying Aula TELMEX, it is free, Casa TELMEX, all these services are free, and… universities are going to have their libraries open to all their students, and the phone is more and more, any telephonic device in a few years is going to have that possibilities.

Unidentified:  Which is the role of Mexico’s science and technology in the development of the telecommunications industry here?

CS:  I would say that what has been very important here in the case of TELMEX for example, it has been the cultural change that the organization had in the last years, for example, from six years of academic studies, now all workers have an average of 15 or 16 years, there are about 1,500 workers with an engineering degree.

So, I would say that first and more importantly is to know advanced technology, adopt it and master in it, understand and adapt it.

Telecommunications technology is normally developed in many ways by equipment suppliers.  They are working in technology, and what we did was to adapt it, progress, in order to do part of the job that was done before by the suppliers.  To absorb this knowledge in order to develop it and lessen the need to get everything done by them, right? And I would say that the most important thing here is training, the improvement of the academic and educational level, a thorough knowledge and master of the industry, as well as the technologies they develop, and in some cases there have been direct jobs done with some of the suppliers, in order to, jointly develop some specific projects, it is like “tropicalizing” technology.

Unidentified:  Well, there is also a set of questions about technology and unemployment, right?  Gallegos Ortiz, Israel Martínez Ramírez y Fabiola Gómez Jiménez are precisely asking about the effect that technology can have mostly in a situation of crisis like the one we are living now in matter of employment.

CS:  Well, I tried to say it in the conference, maybe I was not very clear, but technology increases productivity, and productivity means that the same job can be done by fewer people, and I gave a very simple example of a society, a nomad group of 50 people who were dedicated to hunt and gather food and suddenly they find a paradise plenty of food and instead of being 40, or maybe all of them, just hunting and gathering food, this job could be done by only ten of them; but this society is so simple and they don’t worry and think that 40 of them are without a job or that they should go back to nomads, they stay there and decide to work in something else.

It is important here, when technology and productivity increase, it means that the society is more efficient in creating goods, and richness and they just need those people that used to do one job, now they can do a different one, and this now means better jobs and also a way to gain time.

I am sure that is the reason why education is so important.  The better education or instruction we have, the better offer we are to get a job.  If we don’t know how to read or how to do anything, and the only force we have is the physical one, we will end up working as a carrier at La Merced, I don’t know…  Instead, if we have the proper instruction, and we know how to handle computers, and we know about this and that, we are a better job offer because we can get one job or another.

For example, in the case of TELMEX, what we did was the multi-abilities.  There were activities that were no longer needed to work on.  For example, in the case of the operators, the company became modern, so, without firing anyone, they were re-trained and instructed in order to perform some other activities, or instead, as a country, the jobs that the country requires and at the same time, as more goods and richness are being produced, the government must conduct these policies.

But I think that undoubtedly, we must not stop the technological advancement, just because we are afraid of producing more efficiently and that some people may loose their jobs.  This is a mistake, but we do have to make it possible for these people to find other jobs, even better jobs.

Unidentified: … says: How does free software impact in front of the present crisis, and how can it be implemented in the public sector?

CS: In this respect, as the bases keep broadening, there is always the construction of software alternatives, for example, in the administration of hospitals.

It is known that there are some high-quality software programs, and as we are in med school… there are highly qualified programs for the sanitary administration of hospitals and they have a high cost.  However, there is free software, created in this case by American veterans, and which use is free.

So, I think that in fact, equal quality will impact on massification, mostly of public services, but in respect of the technological threshold, I believe we are in terms of general regulation of the market.

I believe it is a positive, not negative factor, which makes it, first, accessible to many people, the economy of scale changes that; and second, governments must incorporate it right away.

Not only in the need for efficient public services  when it comes to incorporating technologies; because up to here, and with few exceptions, the technological impact is a point of reference for the governments, it is like the consolidation of freedom, something that is almost in every program, but it demands a concerted public-private action.

Unidentified:  Questions about the participation of young people in order to persuade businessmen and the government to invest more in education, there is Luceti Lizete Mata, Jessica María Paredes, who make these questions.

I understand it is a problem of participation, right? I mean, how can students take part of the decision making?

Participate in the decision making and contribute to the decision making… in education.

CS:  I think that, no doubt, we have to give an impulse to education.  I am a believer of public education, besides; I think it is essential that the resources are applied to public education because it is critically important for the development of any country.

We also have to think in a better way to use the resources, modernize education, and I think that the private sector must invest in education, not only in private education, but contribute to improve the conditions of public education, or as a complement in some cases for public education.

We are convinced, committed, and we have been doing it for many years, we do it in different ways, with hardware, scholarships and other ways that, well, other important way to do it are the Aulas TELMEX that are conceptualized for public or private schools, but are considered to be done at public schools.

Surely, I think that everyone should work for a better superior, middle and sub-professional education, and for it to be of higher quality and more competitive.

Unidentified:  We will make some final questions.

CS:  As many as you want.

Unidentified:  Well, we will read two more questions; there is one about the problem of young college graduates that are having trouble finding a job in companies, and it is a question by Nayeli Islas García and Axely Sarahí Rivera Asensio, I hope a read it correctly, that are about this.

I understand that one is in respect of, what else do they need to be competitive in the professional market, engineers in particular? What has to be done?

The other question is about which are the problems to hire graduated professionals, engineers, and people of those sectors, to be hired in Mexico.

CS:  Well, I was saying that someone with education has a better offer; it is because you have the possibility of working at one place or another, in one position or another.

Not so long ago, engineers were unemployed, many of the engineers; I would say, for example, that as I have never seen before, maybe I have when I just graduated; there is plenty of work for engineers, it is amazing how much public work there is: federal, state, and city work; and I would say that the demand for engineers, construction technicians, welders; well, everybody around this work, is enormous.

I don’t know, probably there is carrier in certain fields with lack of specific professionals, but we have to find formulas to go forward, for example, in medical services we have to find some innovations like, for example, medical franchises, telemedicine services that can be installed in rural regions and those services may be provided by doctors with private support, or some organization that supports these kind of medical services.

But I think this turns like casuistic, I don’t think the problem is general, even nowadays, as I was saying, there are many activities that are having a great demand of professionals.

Unidentified:  There is a question by, Jesús Antonio Sánchez Jiménez, how feasible is to technologically support the small and medium sized enterprises being Mexico a dependent country in this matter?  Which measures have to be taken?  Which industries will be the most beneficiated and how can we influence on this as college students?

CS:  Well, the case of the small and medium sized enterprises (SME’s) is essential because, as you know, those are the most job-generating enterprises.

The owner is the most importantly involved, he normally has a great business vocation, and I think we have to reduce business mortality there.

How can we have access to all these?  Usually, large companies work with many small suppliers, in our Group we work with more than 42 thousand suppliers, which are like 36 thousand SME’s.

So, I think that the relationship between the SME’s and the company contributes to maintain an adequate work, quality and technology standard, it is a very close relationship, so that there is a feedback behind work and technology, and I think this is the best way to do it.

Normally, what SME’s need is capital and maybe the possibility to operate without many regulations.  So it is also important that credit flows towards them.

I think it is very important what the National Agreement proposed for Welfare and Employment, about a percentage of the public expenditure going to the SME’s, for example, it is important to encourage this kind of things, this is what in the United States they call support for minorities, which usually are the SME’s.

Unidentified:  Well, Lizete Marisol Cruz León asks how to insert local inside global.

CS:  Well, in spite of being global, it is important to maintain our local identity, mostly our cultural identity, I would say that cultural identity is essential, because at the same time we can be worldwide enterprises or professionals that can go to work abroad, and maintaining our national and cultural identity is the clearest way to do it.  I think maybe we could round out a little more, but I think national and cultural identity is what is essential and also gives you the strength for your global operations.

CS:  Now, if we reflect on it a little, thinking, knowledge, science and art have been global, as well as religion and what is globalizing now is trade and finance; what is left to globalize is employment…

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