Identifying pathways for UN system organizations to facilitate norm-setting for
and application of frontier technologies to support Member States in addressing development challenges
and promoting the achievement of the SDGs at all levels
This project was a contribution to the Secretary-General and UN system Executive Heads’ extensive discussions on “Frontier Technologies” issues and the convening power of the UN system to facilitate norm-setting for and application of new and emerging technologies and strengthening the means of implementation of the 2030 Agenda.
Thanks to this project, an institutional consultant produced a 23-page paper, drawing upon interviews with 53 individuals from 24 UN system entities. The paper, provided as background to the Board’s discussion, outlined the challenges, articulated the UN system’s potential contributions in this area of work, and highlighted three strategic opportunities for the UN system to better position itself to make an impact in an era of rapid technological advancement. The analysis concluded with recommendations on how the UN system could leverage its competitive advantage as a convener, a forum for norm development, and the custodian of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The paper offered further recommendations on improving the UN system entities’ organizational effectiveness in an environment shaped by frontier technologies.
At the end of its discussion, the Secretary-General proposed and the Board agreed to develop a road map for further United Nations engagement on frontier technologies that included both external engagement on, and the internal application of, these technologies. The external engagement was envisioned as consisting of activities led by the Secretary-General, including: high-level advocacy and the possible convening of a high-level panel of experts, in consultation with Member States; a system-wide “deep dive” policy and programme analysis regarding the impact of frontier technologies for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, continuing under the auspices of the High-Level Committee on Programmes; and a plan to support Member States’ efforts to address the implications of emerging technologies on peace and security. United Nations system entities would continue their work with relevant stakeholders to help shape norms and guide the ethical development and application of frontier technologies within their existing mandates and fields of expertise. Efforts to boost the internal application of frontier technologies could include initiatives led by the Secretary-General on mainstreaming innovation to improve business practices and active engagement with a system-wide innovation network, through the High-Level Committee on Management and High-Level Committee on Programmes.