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Smart Bangladesh 2041: Balancing ambition with reality

Smart Bangladesh 2041: Balancing ambition with reality
 

Bangladesh aims to be a “Smart” nation by 2041 as the country goes through a drastic transformation founded on digital identity and innovation. Bangladesh, a technologically backward country, has made a remarkable journey towards mass digitization. Bangladesh established the foundation for its digital transformation between 2009 to 2021. Among its advances, the initiation of Union Digital Centers (UDC) and the development of the national e-Government Master Plan and biometric national ID card in 2016 are intended to catapult development in the country, while collaborations with global tech leaders like Oracle and Samsung underline the rising significance Bangladesh places on its virtual sphere. Despite the improvements, obstacles persist, such as digital service quality, internet security, and the need for greater computer literacy, highlighting the complexities of Bangladesh’s transition.

Research published in the International Journal of Qualitative Research late last year examines Bangladesh’s transition to a Smart Bangladesh. It investigates the existing technical landscape, government initiatives, and societal integration to find barriers to this move. Key findings include Bangladesh’s paradigm shift from digital to smart, challenges in implementation, and the need for stakeholder engagement. The research highlights the importance of inclusive policies and regulations to govern emerging technologies such as IoT, AI, blockchain technology, and big data analysis, highlighting technology’s potential to drive sustainable development and design a better future for Bangladesh.

Digital Horizon a2i’s transformation

According to a report by GovInsider in 2024, within the domain of Bangladesh’s digital evolution, the Aspire to Innovate (a2i) program is ahead of its time-heralding the move from innovation to institutionalization. Given its background as a pioneering agency for innovation in the public sector over fifteen years, it is ready to leap into the unknown by becoming Agency 2 Innovate, an information and communication technology (ICT) Innovation Agency.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League government is committed to digitization; which encompasses the ambitious “Smart Bangladesh” plan for 2041. The legacy of the Digital Bangladesh program, which ended in 2021, is recognized through concrete achievements such as the digitalization of more than 2,000 government services, internet users growing from 3 percent to almost 40 percent, and the establishment of over 9,000 Digital Centres that bridge the digital divide.

Anir Chowdhury, the policy advisor at a2i, said this during an interview with GovInsider where he pointed out that when it comes to the Smart Bangladesh agenda being pursued by Bangladesh at large then it is pivotally important that a2i becomes the anchor point. It was only in 2009 when this “five-year” endeavor emerged and now it has become an entrenched ICT innovation agency working towards enduring approaches aimed at accelerating Bangladesh into a digitally empowered tomorrow.

Digital identity initiatives empower communities

According to a report by WhiteBoard Magazine in 2023, Bangladesh has seen digital identity projects following a vision of Smart Bangladesh, which includes four elements, the smart citizen, smart government, smart society, and smart economy to struggle for a sustainable vision up to 2041. The endeavor from digital Bangladesh to smart Bangladesh led to major shifts in public service delivery particularly when it comes to education, agriculture, and small business sectors. This is largely based on the country’s adoption of ambitious biometric identification systems and digital identities as observed in successful models like Aadhaar. For example, in the area of education, digital identity is critical for seamless learning, especially in remote regions. Through innovative ideas such as virtual classrooms, students can access better education despite their location.

In agriculture also, some initiatives are centered on digital identity which eases the process of accessing important services for farmers. By using their biometric data farmers can efficiently access subsidies, market information, and agricultural extension services hence increasing productivity and improving lives. The app Krishoker Janala helps farmers identify crop diseases using image matching, representing Smart Bangladesh’s commitment to digital service delivery. The adoption of Mobile Financial Services (MFS) such as Bkash, Rocket, Nagad, and Upay, fueled by the Digital Bangladesh and Smart Bangladesh programs, has democratized access to citizen services and increased financial inclusion. MFS has used digital IDs to expedite transactions, ecommerce, utility bills, restaurant bills, and more services online bringing rural communities into the digital economy and bridging urban-rural divisions.

Shaping Bangladesh’s AI future

A draft 2024 National AI Policy has been published by the Bangladesh Department of ICT, which is a crucial milestone for this country’s AI journey. The policy underscores collaboration among stakeholders to establish the National Artificial Intelligence Center of Excellence (NAICE) basing its arguments on principles such as fairness and transparency. The highlights include an updated National Strategy for AI focusing on comprehensive frameworks, ethical guidelines, and data governance. On top of that, privacy protection measures take into consideration minimal data usage, consent, encryption, and user reporting mechanisms.

Ultimately, the draft AI policy reflects Bangladesh’s commitment to ethical AI practices, data privacy, and collaborative governance thereby setting the stage for an epoch-making AI landscape.

Challenges and opportunities for Smart Bangladesh

Bangladesh’s expedition toward Smart Bangladesh by 2041 is fraught with challenges and opportunities in digital identity and biometric data efforts. Privacy and data security problems necessitate strong safeguards, but AI and blockchain technology provide intriguing solutions. Collaboration among stakeholders is essential for tackling difficulties and capitalizing on opportunities, guaranteeing a complete strategy for digital identity deployment, and realizing revolutionary potential. Despite being one of the fastest-growing economies, Bangladesh’s internet penetration rate is only 38.9 percent among its 170 million inhabitants in January 2023.

According to a research study on biometric big data (2023), the use of biometric data for humanitarian initiatives in Bangladesh, reveals its dual role of assisting needy communities while offering problems such as privacy concerns and expensive maintenance expenses. While biometric data improves statistics, and databases and avoids aid fraud, its manipulation may create vulnerabilities. Protections are critical for ensuring that vulnerable populations benefit from biometric big data.

Bangladesh’s passage from “digital” to “Smart” Bangladesh by 2041 faces challenges and opportunities in digital identity and biometric data programs. Although privacy fears remain, the country is committed to exploring technologies like AI, blockchain and biometrics. Despite progress, however, low internet diffusion persists, and the above research study underscores the need for privacy precautions to benefit vulnerable populations without introducing new harms.

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