RELEASE DATE: 25 Jul, 2015

EDITORIAL BY William Wroblewski

Over the past few weeks, 16-year-old Esteban Quispe has been making the media rounds. Recently appearing in local newspapers and television programs, he is Bolivia’s latest technological discovery. In the unassuming town of Patacamaya, about 100 kilometres southeast of La Paz, Esteban has spent the last several years building robots, largely out of trash.

From his tinkerer’s workshop adjacent to his parent’s house, Esteban has dreamed up and constructed a family of robots, one with a shocking resemblance to Wall-E, the Pixar robot from the film of the same name. Taking inspiration from the needs around him, he hopes to pioneer artificial intelligence in the future, and to use robotics to help make the work of the farmers and laborers in his community much easier.

The Bolivian altiplano may at first seem an unlikely place for such a tinkerer. In a community whose economy is largely based on potato cultivation, how does one of its own, the child of a bricklayer and a homemaker, find the passion and the talent for robotics? Truth is, Bolivia today is a hotbed of technology. In recent years, the launch of the Tupac Katari satellite and the completion of the first phase of the Mi Teleférico project (with a second phase on the way) are just some of the more high-profile projects in Bolivia. The national government has even announced the creation of a Technological Citadel, a dream to sow the seeds of Bolivia’s very own Silicon Valley, a task for which the State will need to continue improving telecommunications and to move government processes and citizen engagement online.

As these and other initiatives continue to take hold, more and more stories like Esteban’s will certainly come to light. Both Bolivians and expats living in the country are realising what this place is capable of in terms of technological innovation, giving more and more people the drive to dream up the seemingly impossible and push forward to make their visions a reality.

Technology likes to cross borders, and this is very apparent in Bolivia. Much of the latest technological changes here have been brought from elsewhere. Facebook has come with a plan to provide free (if limited) internet access across the country. US engineers have implemented ways to use one of Bolivia’s most abundant natural resources, llama feces, to filter and clean water (no joke!). And German engineering has introduced new technologies to help mend heart defects among children across the country.

But much of the exciting advances in technology in Bolivia are the result of local inventiveness. There are countless people across the country who, like Esteban, have the drive, initiative and knowhow to offer some pretty impressive technologies. In fact, some homegrown efforts are looking to be exported to nearby countries: Bolivia’s RFID-based tagging and registration system for automobiles seems primed for implementation across the continent. And in certain parts of Bolivia, fine examples of traditional technologies, particularly around agriculture and food production, are being brought back into practice as time reveals their usefulness and effectiveness.

In this issue, BX looks at technology and how it is changing and shaping Bolivia. Whether coming from Bolivians like Esteban or from foreigners bringing ‘the next big idea’, Bolivia is entering an exciting new phase of technological development, and we wanted to capture a snapshot of that process.

With improved telecommunications, more advanced training opportunities and a growing interest in moving Bolivia’s tech sector to the global stage, we should expect to see more stories like Esteban’s in the future. The most important thing we can do is encourage the curiosity, foster the inventiveness and support the ingenuity that drives these efforts. Only then can Bolivia be brought closer to participating meaningfully in global technological transformation.



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