Technology Development Zones: Economic Development Zones for developed nations

How long can we say a combustion engine is modern? Or a toaster or microwave or stove or even lounge rooms? We can’t break a lot of traditions or social norms, but there are definately people out there willing to give it a go. I saw a documentary once about the Chinese Economic Development Zone (EDZ), from what I know, they are small geographical areas which are isolated from the macro economy and regulation, which are used to attract investment. China most famously uses such zones to help their economy grow – allowing western investors to leverage cheap Chinese labour but with western business practices. These EDZs are economic hot spots which eventually flow through the greater Chinese economy. The general idea is developing countries need EDZs to industrialise. I propose that such EDZs should never disappear, even in an advanced industrialised nation. An EDZ in a developed economy should have a technology focus rather than economic – so it is a Technology Development Zone (TDZ) and should be harnessed to further technology, processes, social refinement and regulation. Just like in developing countries the main barriers are culture and law.

I consider TDZs to be important for future seeking, “modernised” societies.  Such people can enter TDZs. There is often cultural resistance to change. A TDZ would attract people and families who are excited to consume new technologies and are open to change. A TDZ will help innovators commercialise, selling to a tight, first mover market. People live in a TDZ voluntarily. Residents of a TDZ are co-operative, possibly innovators themselves and should be able to find employment within a TDZ with a wide range of industries.  They are expected to try out new things, answer weekly questionnaires, contribute feedback and embrace change. People outside a TDZ are more likely to accept change if they have seen it in practice, and investors are also more likely to invest in an idea that can be implemented in a co-operative market. It’s quite possible for the progressive social norms of a TDZ to spread outside of a TDZ, and transform a nation to be more conducive to change.

Many amazing technologies could be developed if everyone had access to all IP. Patents aren’t evil, they are necessary to protect inventors so they may extract value from their inventions, blocking out competitors which didn’t have enough foresight. Unfortunately there are cases where patent holders sit on the patent and don’t commercialise it, with the potential consumers being the losers. There are even cases where companies buy out technology just to stop losing their traditional markets. A TDZ could offer a small community immunity from IP laws, offering tremendous innovation opportunities. IP holders would have priority to commercialise their IP within a TDZ, but if another company wants to build a product (say a fridge) which uses another companies IP (eg. Text to Speech) and the IP owner is not building the same product within the TDZ, then there should be no block. As a result all products which are going to be built for the TDZ should be approved by a Product Register, to avoid product overlap and to negotiate IP priority. I don’t consider such IP law exemptions to be mandatory to the success of a TDZ, however they would have significant benefits.

I have seen evidence where highly competitive markets can detract innovation. The latest craze – eg. iphone – although innovative is already successful in the regular market place and can dishearten local new innovation. The competitors in the smart phone market are super players such as Apple, Google, RIM and Microsoft. Thankfully Google created an open platform which is starting to reduce the monopolistic iPhone dominance. TDZ managers could help isolate fads from inside a TDZ, freeing up consumption capacity for new innovation. Technologies and products within a TDZ should be limited, where possible, to products and technologies not found outside the TDZ. Residents within a TDZ would never have the luxury of settling with a device such as an iPhone. New devices would supercede old ones. For example, the iPhone would have been expected, then the Google Nexus, then a Microsoft Phone 7 phone, and so on. In trials residents should receive significant discounts for such devices, after all they would also be expected to answer questionnaires quite frequently, and sustain a relatively high consumption of technology.

The electric car is a great example for illustrating the need of a TDZ. In a previous article I discussed the resistence to change from the oil and combustion automotive industries. If a TDZ was set up in a small city, a micro-economy could be tooled to demonstrate a society living with electric cars. From that micro-economy the idea could spread to the rest of a country and then the rest of the world. The changes would be gradual and the industries would be able to foresee the success in the TDZ and adapt for the eventual success in the greater community. Within the TDZ regulations would be different: the government could mandate all EV patents illegitimate and road laws would be relaxed, requiring engineer approval for reasonable vehicles. Consider the benefits, innovators would discover the best frontiers for the technology, such as logistics and cost-effective transport for the housebound elderly. Then the technology could move to be used for mainstream transportation use, where the single occupant of a car can be productive while travelling.

Imagine the super futuristic TDZ. There could be social change almost impossible to introduce today due to safety hysteria. You can redesign infrastructure and experiment with new city layouts. Citizens expect to be able to watch a movie or do some work while their travelling, groceries are automatically ordered and delivered, no one does dishes or cooks their own meals, or irons or washes clothes, Internet speeds are 10s of gigabits per second. Such a revolutionary change can only happen in a captive conductive society where change is embraced.

The most effective TDZ would be a purpose built city. It could be close to a capital city, so initial citizens can find work outside, while the local economy and infrastructure is developing. Such a move would require significant convictions by a politician, and cannot be expected of the first TDZ in a nation. A TDZ in itself could be too progressive for a politician of today to call. IP relaxation could have serious political ramifications, but a successful TDZ may significantly outweigh those risks. In any case, a TDZ is something like an invention that can be scaled up in stages. I live in Geelong. Geelong could be declared a TDZ precinct, this could start a demographic shift, seeing technology “thrill seekers” move to the region. At the same time a new suburb can be planned and developed as a micro-TDZ. Depending on the success of a TDZ precinct, a purpose built TDZ may be politically feasible.

The TDZ may very well play a significant part in our future. Leaving behind most traditions and inhibitions, we can begin to understand how society can better adapt to technology. Aside from the ideals of a more modern world, the economic benefits may shadow even the most optimistic expectations. What are the benefits of technology not merely available, but fully embraced by society?

In 1899, the U.S. Commissioner of Patents was famously quoted saying, “Everything that can be invented has been invented.” We must not let ourselves become accustomed to the status quo, we have a lot to learn.

Update:

http://blogs.news.com.au/heraldsun/andrewbolt/index.php/heraldsun/comments/more_class_war_as_the_government_robs_business_to_pay_bureaucrats/

Looks like my idea has been picked up in some form, too bad the team captain is going to lose the game (botch this, just like everything else)

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