A further feature of databases, which very often is not considered, is their invisibility. In a sense they are inherent in many different places and get absorbed into areas of application and user interfaces. In these cases we have to be very careful about restrictions that apply.
In addition to its responsibility in the production of data and databases across many disciplines, science has also provided the underpinning of what we now refer to as the information and communication technology (ICT) revolution. Physics and chemistry were basic to the advance in solid-state electronics and microelectronics. Mathematics was fundamental to the development of software. It was, in fact, the vast amount of data pouring out from the high-energy particle accelerators that created the conditions for the development of the World Wide Web, which we all use. The World Wide Web originated at CERN in Geneva.
Science created the Internet. Many of the tools of information technology—for example, space and communication technologies, including knowledge of the radio spectrum, the laser, and aspects of magnetism needed for storage—all emerged from it. Science has made it possible, through ICT, to have databases and access to them. We cannot deny science, which has been the creator of all of this, its future. We must see to it that access is widely available.
We also must consider the impact of restrictions on access, not only from the viewpoint of science and as an international endeavor, particularly noting what is happening in the developed countries, but also on what would happen to the developing societies, and how they would access the data and information that is vital for their development and for their nascent science. We are talking about an economic divide, and now there is the growing digital divide. The problems faced in developing societies, including poverty, illiteracy, population growth, malnutrition, poor sanitation, and ill health, among others, are a result of poor economic growth. This will be exacerbated by the growing digital divide.
First of all, the poor cannot afford computers. Telecommunications in general in developing societies is poor and where (and to the extent) available, expensive, making access to the Internet limited.
Illiteracy is especially a problem. People who are illiterate cannot use computers. The Internet is significantly English-dominated and will be so for a long time to come. In India today only 5 percent of its population of one billion know English. Although there is access in some other major languages, none of these are the primary mother tongues or languages in developing societies. There are vast numbers in the developing societies who, for a variety of reasons, are educated but computer illiterate. In most places energy availability is poor and in some cases totally unreliable for the use of current computer systems. Computer systems will have to be made more inexpensive and telecommunications less costly for more widespread growth of information technology in these countries.
These are the problems developing countries face, even if total access to everything is available, without any hurdles and barriers relating to access. Reading material has become enormously expensive. There are very few universities in developing societies that can afford the scientific journals that are produced. These journals are enormously expensive, along with books; therefore, as far as developing societies are concerned, one has to consider the ethical aspects of this issue. If you want them to develop, it is absolutely vital that they be given freer, much more open and lower-cost access to the existing and growing global reservoir of global knowledge. In return they have an enormous valuable inheritance in content that they can provide to the world, so far carried by oral tradition, community knowledge, and social interactions. Its magnitude and value have still to be evaluated, but it is certainly significant.