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Technology in developing countries has expanded at double the rate in the West since the 1990s — but still hasn't bridged the gap between them.

This was the conclusion of a World Bank report on technology transfer in the developing world, released last week (9 January).

The authors say rapid technological advancement in developing countries has helped to reduce the proportion of people living in absolute poverty from 29 per cent in 1990 to 18 per cent in 2004.

The report reveals that globalisation and a highly skilled diaspora have exposed developing countries to foreign technology.

But despite the progress, the authors say that capacity to absorb new technology is still limited.

One factor is poor technical literacy — even though the number of educated adults has increased, the quality of the education remains low. Another is the low penetration of technologies in rural areas.

According to the report, the capacity of a country to absorb new technology depends on its overall economic status and governance. This affects risks for entrepreneurs taking on new technologies as well as basic technological literacy and skills in the population.

To promote capacity, the report recommends being receptive to foreign technology, government policies that ensure uniform spread of technology, improving technological competence among the public, and motivating public and private sectors.

Charles Gore, an economist and special coordinator for the UN Conference on Trade and Development, told SciDev.Net that whilst open trade, foreign investment and links with the diaspora are important channels for knowledge acquisition, technological progress is best seen as a "process of technological learning and the development of technological capabilities".

"These require effort and investment on the part of domestic enterprises and the process is far from automatic. Access is not equivalent to effective use," he added.

Gore says the report must be used as a starting point to consider how exactly technology plays a role in development. "We are at a moment of paradigm shift in development thinking and knowledge, and technology will be an important part of this."