Bringing technology to the village; The World Challenge, by Jean- Jacques Servan-Schreiber. New York: Simon and Schuster. $14.95.
Once again Jean-Jacques Servan- Schreiber writes like a Columbus sighting a new world. But he is actually on a bandwagon that is beginning to draw a crowd. His impassioned report to the general reader broadens the audience for an exciting trend of thought among the specialists. It is about the frontiers where humanity and its latest inventions offer the most extraordinary promise for the poor nations as well as the rich -- if all concerned act with the wisdom and alacrity that are demanded.
Just when everyone else is talking about the limits of oil and other natural resources, Servan-Schreiber draws attention to those who would mine the limitless resource of intelligence in all countries. His own sweeping prescriptions for doing so are not presented with enough depth or coherence to forestall charges of naivete in today's terms. But they are kernels for the debate about tomorrow.
Twenty years ago it was "the American challenge" to Europe that Servan-Schreiber discovered. Europe would be economically overwhelmed if it did not recognize the force of American managerial and scientific prowess. Voila,m much of Europe, not to mention Japan, went beyond its transatlantic teacher, turning the challenge back on America.
Now all these industrial nations face "the world challenge" identified by Servan- Schreiber: to recognize and assist the process of bringing the developing nations right along with them into the postindustrial "information age."
Unless the way is paved for computers, communications, and other technology to release the creative human resources of the third world, he argues, there will be no expanding markets for anyone. The scientific accomplishments of the US, Europe, and Japan will wind up being meaningless.
Does Servan-Schreiber literally mean plugging remote Asian or African villages into high-tech data banks? Well, he notes that Japan's leading computer manufacturer, Fujitsu, a David taking on the Goliath of America's IBM, has already established two computer schools to train persons from other countries and prepare them to familiarize others when they go home. It is part of the essential "transfer of technology" seen in terms of people -- people "who are not yet part of this world and who must be introduced into it by the most efficient methods and with respect for their culture."
And, yes, computer terminals would progressively spring up in the villages, with local committees and technical advisers bringing the fruits of information to the grass roots. This could help reduce the rural exodus to crowded cities by enabling people to work where they are -- improving the choice of crops, the means of preparing the soil, the calculation of supply and demand. Already in the Middle East there are desert places blooming as water is rationed precisely by a system under computer control.
As Austrian Chancellor Bruno Kreisky puts it: "What networks of railroads, highways, and canals were, in another age, networks of telecommunications, information and computerization, education and training according to the most modern technologies are today. It is the absolute rightm of the people who want to develop to have these tools at their disposal without any transition. It is our duty and in our interest that they have and make use of them. It is, indeed , a question of a new Marshall vision, but adapted to our times and to the new nature of the economy."
Not everyone on the third-world development bandwagon goes as far as Mr. Kreisky or some of the others quoted by Servan- Schreiber -- such as the Japanese determined to be in the forefront of change, or the OPEC leaders pledged to the third world in which they are the rich kinsmen. Sheikh Yamani of Saudi Arabia to the West: "The time will come when we will not renew contracts for our oil, and even less for our financial reserves, unless we have an agreement on technology transfer to the whole Third World.m Technology and development will have to be granted without restriction if you want oil. Technology, in short, is the price of oil."m
But many share an awareness of the West's need to join in developing the third world for the sake of international political and economic stability. Urging the United States to correct its disgraceful backsliding in recent years is part of the testaments of former Secretaries of State Vance and Muskie and of retiring World Bank president Robert McNamara. West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher has been prominent in sensitizing the industrial nations to their interrelationship with the developing nations. French Foreign Minister Claude Cheysson pressed a commitment to third-world equity during his recent first visit to Washington.
Servan-Schreiber, once called the Lone Ranger of French economics, is the point man, too much out front to be taken seriously by all, undercutting himself with imprecision or literary flourish, yet making sure we can't say we haven't been warned.
If the consequences of not rising to his world challenge look grim, the rewards of rising to it look bright indeed. Here, with the concept of looking beyond raw materials to the fundamental resource of intelligence, the author is near the wavelength of thinkers in various fields: Britain's Shirley Williams, for example, or America's Carl Sagan and Buckminster Fuller. Servan-Schreiber sees not the submission of humankind to shiny new toys that make people irrelevant but the growth of "human capital," not only full employment in the usual sense but also full employment of each individual's capacities.