Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, at the annual United Nations International School-United Nations conference, titled “Under control: Technology, innovation and the future of work”, in New York today:
Welcome to the United Nations.
The theme of this year’s conference is timely.
Rapid technological advances are profoundly changing how we live, work and interact. In a new era of social media and digital technology, we are living through a revolution in how we communicate and connect with each other as individuals and societies.
By and large, new technology and innovation are helping to improve people’s lives. And they are instrumental in our aspirations to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and unlock a more inclusive, prosperous and sustainable future for all.
Throughout history, the game-changing powers of science and technology have transformed workplaces and societies. Advances in areas such as manufacturing, agriculture, medicine and aeronautics have changed the playing field. As a result, hundreds of millions of people have risen from abject poverty and are enjoying better health.
Historically, technological progress has been the main driver of economic growth. And while it has been a predominant cause of climate change, modern technology can now help us accelerate the global transition to clean energy, which we need.
Overall, innovations have demonstrated and still hold great potential to improve prosperity, education health and well-being. And we are now on the cusp of a fourth Industrial Revolution — one that will dramatically change how Governments, business, and communities operate and interact.
This new revolution is characterized by a range of modern technologies that span the physical, digital and biological worlds. In the physical world, we see drones capturing previously unimaginable images and delivering critical supplies to needy communities.
Advanced robotics and 3D printing are changing the precision with which we are able to design solutions to age-old problems, and electric cars are providing the option to reduce emissions and reduce pollution.
In the biological world, genetics and synthetic biology allow us customize organisms by modifying DNA, holding untold promise — and ethical debate — for agriculture and people’s health.
And, in the digital world, companies are increasingly creating value out of data and information while digital banking has helped to bring some of our most remote communities — and women — into the financial system.
Today’s satellite imaging technology allows us to gain a street-view of any location from our laptop or mobile device. Its implications in the context of rising conflict and complex development challenges remains largely untapped.
Digitalization has also changed the face of entrepreneurship and is demanding changes in the kinds of skills required in the workplace.
Three years into the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, we must ensure that we are also evolving with the times, leveraging the advances we see happening around us to meet the call of the Goals to go the last mile and leave no one behind.
But we face a gaping digital divide that we must overcome. Most of the developed world takes Internet access for granted. But approximately 45 per cent of households around the world still do not have access.
Too often those with disabilities or other marginalized groups also lack access to appropriate technologies. Such unequal access to connectivity inevitably affects economic growth and development. The good news is that the least developed countries are on track to achieve universal Internet access by 2020.
There are also legitimate concerns and risks that we must be mindful of. While new technologies open untold possibilities, we have to be conscious of the possible negative implications for people and societies. We must consider the ethical risks and minimize the unintended harmful consequences.
While constantly pushing the frontiers of knowledge, we must always stay true to our shared values and commitments. We cannot allow technologies to undermine the right of every human being to live a life of dignity, online and offline.
With digital and social networks provide a new way of engaging, they raise issues of privacy, bullying and the dissemination of extreme views and false information. On the other hand, they also give access to some of our most vulnerable people that will give them the tools to advance.
There are also valid concerns that technological innovation will lead to increased unemployment, suppressed wages and greater inequality. Robotics and artificial intelligence stand to replace ever more jobs done by people.
For example, autonomous vehicles threaten to displace workers in driving-related occupations and an increasingly digital assembly line threatens to displace countless factory workers around the world. But, modern technologies can also create jobs for workers with the appropriate skills. This means we must plan ahead and rethink training, employment and social policies.
New social safety nets need to be explored and initiated. Curricula in schools and universities can be adapted and on-the-job and life-long learning opportunities can be promoted.
We must also consider the implications of cryptocurrency and get in front of it, ensuring financial systems that work for everyone. And every day, in every sector, we need to ask how and whether technological innovations are contributing to the common good and the betterment of humanity.
Our guide is the Sustainable Development Goals. Seventeen interlinked and interdependent Goals for peace, prosperity, partnership, dignity and opportunity for all on a healthy planet.
The bottom line is that we — as societies — have the power to direct the impact of new technologies. We must remain in control. We must look far ahead and plan today for the possible impacts of technologies on our lives.
That means we must work in clear-eyed partnership, with people from all sectors connected by common cause. People from all walks of life need to work together to make sure that the power of technology and innovation becomes a force for good for people and the planet. This includes you.
You are influencers of today and the leaders of tomorrow. You have unprecedented knowledge and access to technology at your fingertips, and what you do with it will make all the difference.
As you discuss the implications and possibilities of technology over the coming days, please keep a clear mind about the values and aspirations that define humankind. They provide the ultimate test for modern technologies and innovation.
I encourage you to think creatively and act big. Think globally and act locally.
Be the change the world needs. We have much to learn from you, the generation that is on the frontlines of this technological revolution. Together can we shape fair, prosperous and healthy societies for decades and generations to come.