2017-12-28 14:28:16

Over the centuries, technology has helped humans overcome countless challenges, but it has yet to tame all of nature’s forces: this year’s Forum on Economic Development and Public Policy was shifted from the island of Bali to the Indonesian capital by an erupting volcano. “No technology can overcome Mount Agung,” said Sri Mulyani Indrawati, Indonesia’s finance minister, in her opening address.

Government officials, digital innovators and global thinkers, including Harvard economist Ricardo Hausmann, spent two days (December 8th-9th) discussing technology in sessions covering the future of productivity, smart factories, and the digital divide.

Australia’s outgoing Ambassador, Paul Grigson, said the conference underlined the “expanding partnership of digital cooperation” between the two countries. “The future looks bright for Indonesia’s tech sector,” Mr Grigson told the conference, organised by the Fiscal Policy Office with support from AIPEG.

The startling pace of technological change is posing new challenges, as advances in artificial intelligence mean more jobs are performed by robots, raising aggregate productivity but making some workers redundant.

Indonesian firms such as Go-Jek, which launched a ride-hailing app in 2015 and now offers a range of services to 55 million users, say technology can have a positive impact. “Social inequality can be reduced by digital innovation,” said Go-Jek’s Dimas Utomo. “We are ready to work with the government to do that.”

Even so, Ms Mulyani said the technological revolution posed “big questions” for policymakers, especially in relation to manufacturing in lower-wage economies, which may struggle to attract technological capital. Indonesia’s uneven economic development also means that Jakarta and other large cities are early adopters of new technologies but other regions are slower to do so, the minister added.

Ms Mulyani said it is important for governments to develop policies that promote technological progress but do not exacerbate existing inequalities: “No one should be left behind.”