Technological innovations in themselves are neither good nor bad. However, they bring new risks with them. When used correctly, however, the bottom line is that the digital possibilities bring enormous advantages.
It’s a simple question, but sometimes difficult to answer: How are you? This is especially the case when it is addressed to entire nations. Gross domestic product (GDP) as the only variable has long been considered insufficient. Instead, organizations such as the United Nations or the OSCE try to determine the well-being of a population in a multidimensional way by including educational opportunities, quality and security of jobs, environmental aspects or the health care of a country.
All these additional aspects are becoming even more important due to the digitization of all areas of life. Technological innovations are basically neither good nor bad. But the change that goes with them has both advantages and disadvantages: jobs will be eliminated through the use of intelligent machines, adaptation to change will increase stress levels, and traditional communities will dissolve. At the same time, these disadvantages are offset by enormous advantages for companies, economies and societies.
“Over the past 40 years, technology in Europe and the USA has made a significant contribution to making people better”, says Eckart Windhagen, senior partner at McKinsey. According to him, this trend can only continue “if companies use new technologies correctly”. Using around 600 case studies and technological applications, the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) has identified several areas in which digital innovations have a positive impact on the well-being of individuals and societies.
Technology and work
Probably the most powerful influence of modern technology on the way we work. On the one hand, intelligent systems are increasingly replacing human labor. The MGI estimates that around 75 million people worldwide will have to change their jobs by 2030. This is accompanied by unemployment and the fear of losing a job, both of which have a considerable negative impact on well-being.
At the same time, digitization can ensure that these upheavals are less drastic. Digital job and collaboration platforms provide new opportunities for networking, work and income generation, which can ultimately have a positive effect on the material standard of living.
New technologies can also make a difference when it comes to diversity. Different pay with the same qualifications and work can thus be made more transparent. At the same time, software solutions are already ensuring that job offers are searched for discriminatory content so that they can be made more attractive to women. Up to now, women have generally been paid less than men and are selected much less often for leading management positions. Research shows that ending this inequality could increase Western Europe’s annual GDP by $ 2.1 trillion by 2025. Technologies such as face or speech recognition also help to better integrate disabled people into a workplace.
Technology and education
The foundation stone for a professional career and thus well-being is decisively influenced by education. Technology can help convey, acquire and evaluate knowledge here. Artificial intelligence (AI) can individually support students in the question of how best to learn and design tests so that their level of difficulty adapts to the learning progress. Online-based learning platforms enable access to knowledge from anywhere in the world and at any time.
At the same time, they reduce the cost of teaching. Digital whiteboards and access to the Internet complement traditional tools for imparting knowledge. Smart rating systems are already evaluating tests in the fields of business and IT more quickly than teachers and professors.
Technology and health
Health has the most direct influence on our well-being and performance. Modern technologies can add value here in many ways. Big data is already helping large drug manufacturers to test new drug molecules. Thanks to intelligent systems, there is also great potential in cell therapy and genetic engineering. AI is already being used to diagnose malaria or Alzheimer’s disease and help predict strokes and heart attacks. Robots are also taking on more and more difficult interventions.
In addition, health apps and fitness trackers help to raise awareness of a healthier lifestyle by monitoring important vital functions. Technology in hospitals can optimize the care of inmates and shorten occupancy times – for a hospital in Rio de Janeiro by an average of more than three days. Improvements in health and life expectancy are possibly the biggest contributors to increases in wellbeing after GDP.
Technology and environment
Information and communication technologies consume 1,700 terawatt hours of electricity annually and thus around eight percent of the amount of electricity used worldwide. On the other hand, digitization has a positive impact on the climate, for example intelligent traffic management in cities, including the optimization of traffic light networks, improves the flow of traffic and thus reduces the effects of air pollution. Technology can also reduce greenhouse gas emissions through energy efficiency, renewable energy sources, and battery and control technologies to balance supply and demand.
Utilities could use smart grid technology to improve system efficiency by 12 to 21 percent, or $ 310 to 540 billion, between 2015 and 2035. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the new circular economy services and business models, which are largely supported by digital platforms, could generate annual benefits of 1.8 trillion euros or an additional eight percent increase in GDP compared to the current development scenario in Europe alone by 2030 .
Overall, new technologies have the potential to increase economic prosperity in Europe and the USA by 0.3 to 0.5 percent by 2030, according to the MGI. The prerequisite for this are innovations that are not only aimed at reducing costs and personal savings, but above all increasing growth and expanding people’s skills. There is also a need for greater public-private cooperation, which leads to the rapid qualification of employees for new tasks.