UN Promotes Technological Developments for SDGs
Photo by IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth
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The ITU announced that over half the world is using the internet, following the UN General Assembly's adoption of a resolution on 'Impact of rapid technological change on the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and targets' (A/RES/73/17).

Several events took place in November 2018 on technology’s contribution to the SDGs, including the 13th Internet Governance Forum on the theme ‘Internet of Trust,’ the 2018 Web Summit, and a high-level briefing on frontier technologies for sustainable development.

7 December 2018: The UN General Assembly has adopted a resolution asking key UN bodies for updated findings on the impact of key technological changes vis-a-vis the 2030 Agenda, for discussion at the fourth annual UN Multi-stakeholder Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation (STI Forum). The UN also recently announced that over half the world is using the internet, held a high-level briefing on frontier technologies for sustainable development, and convened a forum on internet governance.

In June 2018, the UN Technology Facilitation Mechanism (TFM) and the Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD), a subsidiary body of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), presented initial findings on ways in which technology can support the SDGs, during the third STI Forum. The UNGA resolution adopted on 22 November 2018 (A/RES/73/17) requests the two bodies to update their findings, invites them to strengthen their synergies and mutually reinforce their work on STI, and requests the Secretariat to avoid overlapping meeting dates to further increase coherence. The fourth STI Forum will take place from 14-15 May 2019. Looking ahead to the UNGA’s 74th session, the resolution also invites the UNGA President to convene a high-level thematic debate to take stock of progress on the topic.

Presenting the draft resolution, Juan José Gómez Camacho, Mexico, said new technologies “can change the destinies of nations.” He called for the consideration of technological change in the next follow-up and review cycle on SDG implementation, given the opportunities presented by new technologies, as well as the fact that their impacts will depend on governments’ ability “to come together and cooperate on realizing a global vision.”

On 7 December, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) announced that more than half of the world’s population will be using the internet at 2018’s end. ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao noted that the milestone “represents an important step towards a more inclusive global information society.” Despite ITU highlighting that 96% of global society now lives within reach of a mobile cellular network, Zhao underscored that many are still waiting to experience the gains associated with internet access or a digital economy. With near-global coverage and the fastest rates of growth taking place in Africa, the impact of the internet on society is only expected to increase.

AI algorithms must shed human biases, participants stressed at the 2018 Internet Governance Forum.

In November, the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) brought together more than 3,000 participants at UNESCO headquarters in Paris, France, on the theme ‘Internet of Trust.’ Key messages are available on the Forum’s eight major topics:

  • Cybersecurity, Trust & Privacy;
  • Development, Innovation & Economic Issues;
  • Digital Inclusion & Accessibility;
  • Emerging Technologies;
  • Evolution of Internet Governance;
  • Human Rights, Gender & Youth;
  • Media & Content; and
  • Technical & Operational Topics.

The Chair’s Summary underscores the cross-cutting nature of new technologies, noting that governance of the internet must be both multistakeholder and multidisciplinary to ensure that systems do not discriminate and that artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms shed human biases. [UN Press Release] [IGF Homepage]

The IGF is convened annually by the UN Secretary-General, and this year, was hosted by the Government of France. In his remarks, French President Emmanuel Macron launched the ‘Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace. UN Secretary-General António Guterres described opportunities afforded by the digital world, but also advised vigilance. Recognizing that traditional forms of regulation do not necessarily apply to the new challenges that have accompanied the digital era, Guterres noted the emergence of potential issues around cybersecurity, data and instances of “the Internet being used as a platform for hate speech, for repression, censorship, and control.” Guterres emphasized the need to create a shared language, calling for a dedicated effort to include and amplify weak or missing voices.

Next year’s IGF will be hosted by the Government of Germany. An advisory group containing 52 members has been appointed to lead preparations. [UN News Release]

Also in November, the World Web Summit 2018 took place in Lisbon, Portugal, bringing together approximately 70,000 attendees. The 24 discussion tracks ranged from autonomous vehicles to cryptocurrencies to health. Guterres described the web as having the potential to turbocharge the world’s progress towards the SDGs, saying the UN itself is utilizing technologies to enhance impacts and achieve its goals. He also raised concerns on uneven social impacts, the spread of hate speech as noted at the IGF, and the weaponization of artificial intelligence.

An event titled ‘High-level Briefing on Frontier Technologies for Sustainable Development: Findings from the World Economic and Social Survey 2018’ took place on 1 November 2018 at UN Headquarters in New York, US. Moderated by Elliott Harris, UN Chief Economist, the event reviewed findings from the 2018 survey, a common message of which is that “technology is neither exogenous nor neutral,” meaning that societal needs and policy prerogatives must guide the development, diffusion and adoption of new technologies. The survey and event highlighted national-level policy measures that can maximize technologies’ potential while mitigating risks, taking economic efficiency, equity and ethical considerations into account. [High-level Briefing Recording and Concept Note]


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