Roshan, one of Afghanistan's first mobile phone companies, has not only transformed the way Afghans communicate — it's changing everything from healthcare to banking. The company came on to the scene in Afghanistan in 2003 when there was virtually no mobile coverage in that country; now, they serve 5.5 million customers.
"Mobile phones are the most rapidly spreading, most powerful technology humanity has ever experienced, the only technology of even remotely comparable power that's ever reached the village level in the same way is the transistor radio, and prior to that, arguably, it was fire," says Philip Auerswald, an economist at George Mason University and author of the book The Coming Prosperity.
It can be hard for Americans to see the influence of technology, he says, because a lot of the major changes are happening in other countries.
"For a 64-year-old Korean who has experienced what that country has gone through since they were born, the magnitude of change as measured in per capita GDP is comparable to what an American would have experienced had he or she been born in 1830," says Auerswald.
Money transfers are one example. One study of hundreds of Mexicans found that every single person had a story of violence and theft related to picking up their pay checks. But now, people can make money transfers through their cell phones.
"The vulnerability that people experience on a daily level ... you think about if you had to go to an unsafe neighborhood to pick up your monthly paycheck in cash," Auerswald says. "So by having the transfer go to a mobile phone, it really can be a life-changing experience."
And for skeptics of this optimistic worldview, Auerswald has answers. For those that bring up overpopulation?
"The growth of population has been accompanied by an improvement in human well-being. More people have led to more prosperity, more ideas, more exchange."
And climate change?
"The reason we have a climate change problem is very simple: we have too much fossil fuel. It's a paradox of prosperity. It's a concern not because of resource scarcity, but because of resource abundance."
This optimism, Auerswald says, comes from the power of innovation. And as a way to ensure America continues to be a leader in global innovation, he and a group of colleagues are proposing a space on the National Mall devoted to celebrating American technology and manufacturing.
"Let's tell a story that's about all Americans, that's about the future, and that's about the creative possibilities of people," he says.
Auerswald believes that the National Mall shouldn't just be a place for American history, it should also be a place to celebrate America's role in a global future.