Learning always, on the road to national wealth

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Guess who was in Amman for lunch and some meetings earlier this week? Craig R. Barrett, the president and chief executive officer of Intel Corporation, the world’s leading manufacturer of microchips and other computer technology that drives the Internet revolution.

Think about this for a moment: among Intel’s most recent innovations are Intel Itanium processor-based computer servers that could, in theory, store 18 exabytes of information. Like you, I have no idea what an exabyte is, but here is what it means: such servers could store every word ever spoken by human beings throughout history — three times over. Intel have also announced the breakthrough of the world’s fastest and smallest transistor, featuring structures just three atomic layers thick. In the coming years, consequently, Intel will built microprocessors containing more than 400 million transistors, running at 10 billion cycles per second.

So what, you ask? Well, these products being produced at Intel and other high-tech labs will long shape the global communications revolution that will in turn fundamentally change how individuals live and how countries and cultures compete, prosperéor collapse. So, in the coming years, you’ll probably be able to blink your left eyelid in a certain pattern and enjoy a virtual tour of Hawaii, or analyze your body health indicators, or read obscure academic journals at Oxford University, or watch a movie, or check on your company’s marketing plans around the world.

The individuals, companies, governments, and countries that can master this technology and apply it to commerce, education, entertainment, telecommunications, and governance systems will be the rich, powerful societies of the future. Those who don’t will flounder in poverty and irrelevance Craig Barrett spent just half a day in Jordan, meetings officials and Jordanian computer industry leaders and having lunch with King Abdullah. The fact that Jordan was the first Arab country he visited is symbolic and significant, because today it’s probably much more important to sit down with the Craig Barretts of this world than it is to meet with most of the presidents, kings and heads of state of the world.

The reason is two-fold. First, Intel and Barrett and their colleagues in this industry represent the future direction of global economics, power, and the consequent national measures of success, wealth, and stability. Second, for the past two years, Jordan’s radical economic re-orientation has emphasized precisely those fields that are required to succeed in an information-based global economy, namely information technology, free trade, intellectual property rights enforcement, and other such matters.

Barrett’s decision to visit Jordan and explore how Intel can work with the Jordanian government and private sector is a major vote of confidence and shot in the arm for Jordan’s current economic strategy — but it also highlights the fact that we have hardly begun to make the sorts of changes necessary to succeed in this global technological and economic revolution. For example, Barrett said that Jordan was correct to focus on the education of younger generations as the key to long-term success. But he also pointed out that simply putting computers in every classroom is no formula for success. Experience around the world indicated that massive retraining of teachers was required to allow computer technology to be integrated into the teaching process, and to promote critical and creative thinking among students and young people. Computers in schools is a means; the end is liberating the human mind.We have not even started on that goal yet, but we will soon have to make the decision about whether or not we wish to go in that direction. 

Current trends in Jordan have shown that a very small minority of high-tech individuals and firms can compete and triumph on the global stage. These Jordanians lunch with the Craig Barretts and Intels of this world to explore how we can tap our incredible human energy and talent to achieve our goals of national excellence, wealth, security, and widespread human fulfillment and wellbeing The vast majority of Jordanians, however, remain defined by a much more traditional mindset, bureaucratic system, tribalistic ethos, and patriarchal and official power structures that are rather more glorious reflections of a noble antiquity and a recent past than they are pointers to a productive and wealthy future.

I believe that Jordan’s leadership has made the right decision to integrate swiftly into the global economy. The interest shown in Jordan by Intel and others is a powerful sign that we are on the right path and have what it takes to succeed — but it also dramatically highlights how much we still have to do in order to walk the path of prosperity and productivity that has already been navigated by other small and talented countries such as Ireland, Singapore, Israel, Taiwan, and others.

We should carefully draw the correct conclusions from the interest that global Information Technology firms are showing in Jordan. Our economic wellbeing and national salvation will not come from handouts or pats on the back from corporate giants in Silicon Valley, Seattle, Singapore or Taipei. Rather, we will prosper if we make the right decisions and changes here at home, and, more importantly, if we engage every one of our citizens in the decision-making process that will see us make that exciting leap from patriarchy to equality, from antiquity to modernity, and from vulnerability and dependence to stability and real independence.

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