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Are You Ready for the BRINE Transformation in International Development?

By Guest Writer on May 18, 2015


At the first-ever USAID Symposium on Future Development Challenges, Dr. Linton Wells II highlighted the importance of the fast- changing trends in biotechnology, robotics, information sciences, nano-technology, and energy that are re-shaping tools for development success.

Parallel Revolutions in Science and Technology

Several parallel scientific and technological revolutions are in motion. The information revolution is obvious. ICT has not only increased the speed with which we communicate, it also has fundamentally altered the way in which we communicate. ICT and cellphone-based services have helped to improve everything from education to maternal care, particularly in the most remote areas of the world.

The 2010 Haiti earthquake, 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, and 2012 Hurricane Sandy show how advancements in ICT can help to save lives and make a difference on the ground. Likewise, when policymakers and practitioners look at the future of aid and development, ICT is an area commonly cited as a catalyst to deliver and administer assistance more effectively and efficiently.


Crowd-sourced information increasingly is being used in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief for everything from damage assessments to locating unexploded ordnance and linking citizens to first responders. These examples highlight the value of having educated users who understand how to use technology in new ways to solve problems.

Yet, information technology is just one part of a larger technological transformation occurring throughout the world. Collectively, much of the change will be driven by a group of technologies known as BRINE: Biotechnology, Robotics and human performance enhancements, Information (as referenced above) and cognitive science, Nanotechnology and new materials, and Energy.

These technologies have the potential to dramatically change the way we live and how long we live – in the United States and around the world. BRINE concepts, outputs and interactions will also have a profound impact on the global development sphere where USAID works.

Each of these revolutions warrants a closer look:

  • Biotechnology is changing even faster than information technology in many respects. Synthetic biology offers extraordinary promise, peril and ethical issues, and biomedical engineering majors now command the highest starting salaries of recent college graduates.
  • Robotics brings increasingly capable unmanned military vehicles, exceptional tools for scientific exploration and new approaches to manufacturing. However as robots become more independent in action, this also poses conceptual, operational and ethical dilemmas.
  • Information through neurocognitive research is opening new insights into how we think, how people interact and how to treat brain injuries.
  • The very small products of nanotechnology research are finding their way into everything from new types of materials to cancer treatments to energy storage.
  • Energy itself is another revolution. The search for alternatives to hydrocarbons, learning to use the fuels we have better, and understanding related environmental impacts shape technical, economic and political agendas around the world.

It may be possible to expand BRINE by adding developing technologies such as additive manufacturing (also known as 3D printing) which allows for the creation of complex three-dimensional objects by laying down successive layers of material in a printing device based on a Computer-Aided Design.

This technology will likely have a huge impact on international logistics and supply chains, moving traditional manufacturing from industrial centers to more localized environments. This will have implications for development planners as urbanization, smart cities, innovation hubs and new infrastructure become even hotter topics in development thinking and program implementation.

Other revolutions may also arise such as discoveries in dark matter or dark energy, but the BRINE technologies are likely to stimulate discovery and spur innovation globally over the course of the next 20 years.

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One Comment to “Are You Ready for the BRINE Transformation in International Development?”

  1. Whitney says:

    Can you clarify what’s going on with the graphic? November 2011?