Millions of people risk being left behind due to the impact of rapid technological change, the General Assembly heard today as speakers called for increased cooperation to harness the positive and transformative power of technology to improve the livelihood of people around the world.
Opening the meeting, General Assembly President María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés said the world is witnessing a period of “substantive transformation” resulting from technological advances and that the United Nations must play an active role in assessing their impact. The Organization must identify which technological advances will help implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, she stressed.
She said new technologies present challenges and opportunities that will affect the lives of people worldwide, namely through changing labour and environmental trends. “Technological development can lead to clean and affordable energy for millions of individuals,” she said, adding that “the United Nations must address the question of rapid technological change while keeping the well‑being of individuals at the core of its work”.
Several speakers pointed to a looming fourth industrial revolution and said States cannot lose sight of the impact of rapid technological change on the lives of individuals.
“There are concerns about the impact of new technology on employment, privacy or security,” said the representative of the European Union, calling on all relevant stakeholders to ensure that all people can benefit from the opportunities presented by new technologies. For its part, the European Union set up a digital single market that is creating hundreds of thousands of jobs and established a clear set of data protection rules for all companies operating within its borders.
Digitalization has wide‑ranging benefits, said Sven Mikser, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Estonia, noting that the process improves governmental effectiveness and overall efficiencies, transparency and trust in public processes and it enhances citizen engagement to build more inclusive societies. Information and communications technology can revolutionize entrepreneurship, education, employment and health care, he said, adding that digital online services provide economic growth and bring down the unnecessary barriers between citizen and State.
Speakers identified increased cooperation as essential to harnessing technological advances for the betterment of humanity and for understanding their impact on implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.
Luis Videgaray Caso, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Mexico, said Member States should aim to harness technological advances without limiting or halting innovation and called on all countries and societies to get involved. Mexico has taken steps at the national and regional levels, promoting an exchange of views, data and policies with multi‑stakeholders. It has also set out to identify the impact of new technologies, including artificial intelligence, on achieving the 2030 Agenda.
The representative of Belarus said technological foresight is a powerful tool that can identify optimal areas for research and development, but it is not given due consideration at the international level. He recommended the creation of relevant cooperation mechanisms and urged Member States to pool their efforts and share technological analysis and research. Cooperation in this field will help develop clear priority areas for national science and innovation efforts, he stressed.
However, rapid technological change presents myriad security and development challenges, several speakers warned.
The representative of the Republic of Korea said that while these technologies can provide powerful ways to end poverty, epidemics and violence, they are also giving rise to increased uneasiness and anxieties related to privacy, equality, ethics, jobs and cybersecurity.
“We should remember that technology is only a tool, and in the hands of criminals or terrorists it could equally be maliciously used to enable new digital, physical or even political threats,” said the representative of Georgia. She added that artificial intelligence and robotics‑driven automation may result in the widespread displacement of workers. Developing countries and economies in transition are likely to bear the brunt of this disruption.
Guatemala’s representative noted that 80 per cent of job losses are due to the use of new technology and said knowledge about technologies and their impact on daily lives must be made public. He expressed appreciation for the work of the Technology Facilitation Mechanism and stressed that reliable information makes it possible to identify undesirable effects and to adjust policies accordingly.
The representative from the Russian Federation warned that new technologies can contribute to an increasing technological divide, noting that the United Nations has the tools to address this issue. He called for a holistic approach to identify the challenges and opportunities brought forth by scientific progress.
Cuba’s representative said meeting these challenges calls for the increased involvement of developed States. Equal access to new technologies on a global scale requires financial and investment commitments by developed countries, she asserted, adding that the achievements of science, technology and innovation must be used to promote human well‑being.
Also speaking were the representatives of Italy, Turkey, Chile, Montenegro, India, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates, Brunei Darussalam, Israel, Armenia, Norway and Canada, as well as the permanent observer from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
The General Assembly will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Friday, 19 October, to take up the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, and the Decade to Roll Back Malaria in Developing Countries, Particularly in Africa.
María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés (Ecuador), President of the General Assembly, said the world is witnessing a period of substantive transformation caused by rapid technological changes and the United Nations must play an active role in the assessment of the impact of those changes. If the Organization is to be efficient in the face of those changes it must identify which technological advances will assist in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Technological advances, namely automation, will have a lasting impact on the global labour market. The potential of rapid technological change in the context of climate action is another priority area, she said, calling for the integration of technological advances in efforts to meet climate‑related goals.
“Technological development can lead to clean and affordable energy for millions of individuals,” she said, stressing that “the United Nations must address the question of rapid technological change while keeping the well‑being of individuals at the core of its work”. Rapid technological change will increase inequality if individual well‑being is ignored. She noted that a digital divide exists between and within countries and remains an obstacle to sustainable development. On privacy, she said certain technologies require regulatory frameworks to address future risks. She concluded by noting that technological change presents a changing paradigm for multilateral commitments.
MARTIN MAUTHE-KAETER of the European Union said that while millions of people have embraced change as an opportunity to improve their lives, others are at risk of being left behind. “There are concerns about the impact of new technology on employment, privacy or security,” he said, also warning of a gender digital divide. Governments and relevant stakeholders must ensure that people across the globe can benefit from the opportunities presented by new technologies. All actors must work together to harness the positive, transformative power of new technologies. The European Union envisages a future where new technology leads to sustainable development, good governance and where the dignity of everyone is respected.
“We need to maintain a transparent global dialogue that includes all relevant stakeholders,” he said, also calling for increased cooperation among stakeholders, including within the United Nations system. The Organization must follow the Secretary‑General’s call to become more open to new ideas and new voices, he said, adding that stakeholders must better utilize science, technology and innovation for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. He noted that the European Union’s digital single market tears down regulatory walls and is creating hundreds of thousands of jobs. The Union established a clear set of data protection rules for all companies operating within its borders and is coordinating a joint strategy on artificial intelligence.
LUIS VIDEGARAY CASO, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Mexico, said that he wanted to divert to a different matter for a moment, informing the Assembly that Mexico has requested the cooperation of the United Nations to help it process requests for refugee status of the people in the Honduran caravan traveling to the United States. The world must become involved in the Central American region to help resolve the structural causes of this crisis. Turning to technological advances, he said that the effects of technological change clearly affect all countries, no matter their level of development. Technology has the potential to promote development, he continued, adding that Mexico has shifted from being an observer to actively seeking solutions. Mexico has invited Member States to share their experiences and best practices.
The Assembly is the ideal space to create such awareness among States, he continued. New technologies present both challenges and opportunities. The purpose of Member States should be to harness technological advances without limiting or halting innovation. It is vital to understand the opportunities and challenges of technological change, he added, calling on all countries and societies to get involved. For its part, Mexico has taken steps at the national and regional levels, promoting an exchange of views, data and policies with multi‑stakeholders. Mexico has also set out to identify the impact of new technologies, including artificial intelligence, on achieving the 2030 Agenda. Artificial intelligence can serve as a great promoter of business productivity; however, it is also one of the major challenges to the labour market, particularly regarding the displacement of the labour force. This could lead to drastic and immediate loss of jobs for many people, he warned.
SVEN MIKSER, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Estonia, said that his country believes in levelling the playing field for everyone on their path to digitalization. Digitalization improves governmental effectiveness and overall efficiencies, transparency and trust in public processes and it enhances citizen engagement to build more inclusive societies. Information and communications technology (ICT) can revolutionize entrepreneurship, education, employment and health care, he said, noting that digital online services provide economic growth and bring down the unnecessary barriers between citizen and State. Estonia has shared its knowledge in this area with many nations and will continue to do so, in cooperation with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), African Union and all those interested and willing.
No amount of technical expertise will help countries digitize unless there is political leadership and political will to drive the process, he said, noting that in 2017, 96 per cent of people in Estonia declared their income taxes electronically. Tax declarations are automatically prefilled, making the verification and submission of a declaration take only a matter of minutes. Estonia is also the first country to introduce online voting and as a result more people are willing to cast their votes. Digitalization, however, is not the cure to all ills, but also presents its own set of challenges. He emphasized that these obstacles can be overcome, and the benefits far outweigh the risks.
VITALY MACKAY (Belarus) said the General Assembly has requested several entities to give due consideration to the impact of technological changes on the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. Technological foresight is a powerful tool that can identify optimal areas for research and development. Belarus is establishing its own foresight system, he said, adding that the objective of this work is to identify scientific priority areas. Technological foresight is not being given due consideration at the international level, he said, calling for holistic collaboration in the field. He recommended the creation of relevant cooperation mechanisms and urged Member States to pool their efforts and share technological analysis and research. Cooperation in this field will help develop clear priority areas for national science and innovation efforts, he said.
MARIA ANGELA ZAPPIA (Italy), associating herself with the European Union, said today’s discussion is of paramount importance as the world is on the edge of a technological revolution. Such transformation is unprecedented and will have multisectoral impacts that present major opportunities and challenges. Responding to these changes requires comprehensive strategies, she said, noting that Italy has organized ministerial meetings to assess the impact of technology on sustainable development. She said Italy shares the Secretary‑General’s vision on new technologies and believes that new technologies hold incredible potential if they are aligned with the values and principles enshrined in the United Nations Charter. Action in this field must be guided by the principles of peace and inclusiveness, she said.
ANA SILVIA RODRÍGUEZ ABASCAL (Cuba) said implementation of the 2030 Agenda demands major efforts where science, technology and innovation play a central and decisive role. Development of those fields is a priority in Cuba, she noted, adding that digitization and connectivity are two key features that provide a wide range of opportunities to exploit new technologies to assist in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. States must develop the necessary policies to use new technologies safely and for the benefit of people. Equal access to new technologies on a global scale requires financial and investment commitments by developed countries, she said, adding that the achievements of science, technology and innovation must be used to promote human well-being. She said Cuba’s development efforts are under siege due to the unjust and illegal economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed on it by the United States.
RAUF ALP DENKTAŞ (Turkey) said that the United Nations should serve as a platform to build awareness and establish good models for country regulatory frameworks on technological advances. At the national level, policymakers should embrace and employ new technologies, adopt flexible policies and promote capacities to innovate. “We need proactive polices to help the labour market adapt to new demands and emerging technologies,” he said. This is not a matter for a single country. It concerns citizens of the world, he emphasized, calling for research to help Governments and people prepare for the changes brought by artificial intelligence and robots. Such new technologies risk widening the existing gaps between the developed and developing countries. He expressed support for strengthening the capacity of least developed countries, as well as for the Technology Bank for those countries, which has the potential to help foster productive capacity, structural transformation and sustainable development.
CHO TAE-YUL (Republic of Korea) noted that today’s technologies are rapidly driving forward the transformation of social and economic landscapes to the point of potentially outpacing the ability to foresee and adapt to changes looming on the horizon. These technologies can provide powerful ways of achieving the 2030 Agenda and a world free of poverty, epidemics and violence. At the same time, they are giving rise to increased uneasiness and anxieties related to privacy, equality, ethics, jobs and cybersecurity. In harnessing technologies to achieve sustainable peace and development, while addressing potential adverse consequences, meaningful dialogue and cooperation with all relevant stakeholders is essential. The United Nations is best poised to mobilize all relevant actors, especially those at the forefront of developing technologies, to make collective choices regarding them.
MILENKO ESTEBAN SKOKNIC TAPIA (Chile) said the rapid forces of technological change are shaping the world of the future. They affect systems of production, management and government. They threaten to increase inequality as well as alter behaviour and value systems. Among other things, Chile is focusing its shift to renewable energy to lead an energy transition in the region. Chile has become an important space in the promotion of experimental developments in artificial intelligence and robotics, he added, welcoming the many emerging opportunities for regional cooperation. It is imperative for Governments, private sector, civil society and academia to exchange knowledge and best practices and to discuss progress achieved. Such discussions will equip and empower Member States to use technology for human advancement.
SALOME IMNADZE (Georgia), associating herself with the European Union, said that there is great promise in technological advances. Technology can contribute to curing disease, feed growing populations, drive economic growth, and connect people. “Technology can be the agent of change,” she added. In the same vein, it is important to recognize the potential risks it may entail. Artificial intelligence and robotics-driven automation may result in the widespread displacement of workers. Developing countries and economies in transition are likely to bear the brunt of this disruption. “We should remember that technology is only a tool, and in the hands of criminals or terrorists it could equally be maliciously used to enable new digital, physical or even political threats,” she warned. Countries should strive to uphold the promise of technology while at the same time keep potential perils at bay.
MILICA PEJANOVIĆ ĐURIŠIĆ (Montenegro), associating with the European Union, said the international community is at the beginning of a Fourth Industrial Revolution as developments in information and communication technologies, artificial intelligence, robotics, nanotechnology, biotechnology and other technologies expand upon one another. While the impending changes hold endless possibilities for sustainable development and the efficient implementation of the 2030 Agenda, there is a set of broader socioeconomic, geopolitical and demographic drivers of change running alongside the technological revolution. The resolution being discussed today offers a good foundation for further actions and it is very encouraging to see that previous resolutions on the same matter had a positive impact on actions taken by the United Nations, particularly through the Technology Facilitation Mechanism of the Economic and Social Council. Montenegro has had a positive experience while working with the International Telecommunication Union and other countries on the country’s Digital Innovation Profile. The analysis will help the country develop digital ecosystems, including designing policies, and implementation of programmes and projects.
TANMAYA LAL (India) said that although technology is neutral, its deployment and access to its benefits are not. Disparities in access to such technologies exacerbate the existing inequalities and create new fault-lines. Other concerns include cybersecurity, cyberattacks on critical infrastructure, ethical issues regarding genetic manipulation and obsolescence of certain jobs and industries. Each industrial or technological revolution has had winners and losers among communities and even nations. “We cannot afford it now,” he said, urging the need for a serious discussion on the possible need and scope of international cooperation and governance in certain areas. From green revolution in food security to nuclear energy for healthcare, India continues to invest in science and technology for sustainable development. Information and communications technology tools are also being effectively deployed to improve access and quality of education and healthcare services.
DMITRY S. CHUMAKOV (Russian Federation) said the world is on the brink of a major paradigm shift and there is a need for new development models that can address looming changes. He said artificial intelligence is causing changes that affect all sectors of society and nanotechnology is directly affecting the medical field. New technologies can contribute to an increasing technological divide, he warned, noting that the United Nations has the tools to address this issue, including within the Economic and Social Council. Underscoring that steadying the impact of progress must not be limited to information and communications technologies and the solutions they bring, he called for a holistic approach to identify the challenges and opportunities brought forth by scientific progress.
JÜRG LAUBER (Switzerland) said that digitization has brought many positive developments in the lives of millions of people in the last two decades. “We are at a turning point in which citizens, but also businesses and politicians, are increasingly concerned about some of the more complicated aspects of digitalization,” he added. Regarding government intervention and regulation of digitization, he emphasized the importance of pursuing an innovation-friendly approach. Digitization is not only connecting people and objects. It is also connecting various policy fields that have traditionally been addressed in silos. He welcomed the launch of the High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation by the United Nations Secretary-General. This Panel should help generate ideas on how numerous actors that discuss and make decisions regarding various aspects of digital governance can cooperate better so that everyone will benefit from digitization.
SAUD HAMAD GHANEM HAMAD ALSHAMSI (United Arab Emirates) said it is important to ask whether technological development brings the world close to achieving the goals of eradicating poverty, providing education, combating climate change and achieving the other sustainable development targets. To answer this question, the international community must agree on the mechanism and values on which its management of technology will be based. A public‑private approach is the key to an effective framework for putting rapid technological change at the service of the Sustainable Development Goals. The United Nations needs to invite the private sector to participate in its forums and meetings to give partners and institutions the platform to enrich the debate. For example, the Famine Action Mechanism is a great example of technology could be used to help predict and respond to the risk of famine. He also emphasized the need to act urgently on the so‑called technological gap as reports indicate that more than half of the world’s population is not connected to the Internet.
NADIAH AHMAD RAFIE (Brunei Darussalam) acknowledged the vital role of science, technology and innovation to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and recognized the merit of increased knowledge sharing to address potential challenges. Unprecedented and simultaneous technological advances are leading to a fourth industrial revolution, she said, adding that it is “crucial to harmonize this revolution with economic growth, social inclusion and environmental protection”. She said her Government is implementing a national development strategy that aspires to create a well-educated and highly skilled society that focuses on science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The country is diversifying its economy and has identified manufacturing and the digital economy as priority areas. The Government is also pursuing greater global economic connectivity to ensure market access and strong trade links.
NOA FURMAN (Israel) said her country is on the cutting edge of global technological innovation. Every day, Israelis and Israeli companies redefine what is possible. Welcoming the establishment of the Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation, she said one of its youngest members is an Israeli, Kira Radinsky, who developed an algorithm that can recognize the early warning signs of such global events as political riots and epidemics. She emphasized the vital role of education, noting that one Israeli startup teaches very young girls and boys the basics of programming through play. Technology can also provide women and marginalized groups with new opportunities, she continued.
MHER MARGARYAN (Armenia) said that new technologies have served as a fundamental driver of change, enhancing possibilities towards more inclusive and participatory societies. Armenia remains committed to embracing new technologies to create knowledge-based platforms to accelerate the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. It taps into human capital by providing young people with digital training and access to information and communications technologies. Approximately 75 per cent of the population in Armenia has access to the Internet, which is indispensable to building ties with the diaspora and creating start-up ecosystems for young entrepreneurs. New technologies are also being used to improve the efficiency of public services and the day-to-day operations of the Government. The United Nations remains an important partner in helping promote the space for new ideas and creativity, beyond traditional development cooperation.
OMAR CASTAÑEDA SOLARES (Guatemala) said rapid technological change, including exponential change, is increasingly relevant for all countries, especially when implementing the 2030 Agenda. Expressing appreciation for the work of the Technology Facilitation Mechanism, he said reliable information makes it possible to identify undesirable effects and to adjust policies accordingly. Noting that 80 per cent of job losses are due to the use of new technology, he said the knowledge about technologies and their impact on daily lives must immediately be promoted. He added that Guatemala will support the draft resolution on this agenda item.
TORE HATTREM (Norway) said that new technologies can increase the welfare of people throughout the world. It is therefore important to examine closely the role that digital technology can play in sustainable development. “We need to continue to make steps to bridge the digital divide, including the gender digital divide that might rise,” he said, warning that, if nothing is done, the gap could continue to cause uneven growth and inequality. The Secretary-General’s establishment of the High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation and the Strategy on New Technologies shows that the United Nations is putting this topic at the top of its agenda. Norway’s national experience has taught it that many companies and organizations with rich technological competence stand ready to contribute, but that efforts and development strategies stand to gain from a more systemic and goal-oriented approach. “I would argue that the same is valid here at the United Nations,” he added.
PIERRE-DAVID JEAN (Canada) said that emerging technologies do not exist in a vacuum. They can, at a rapid pace, further exacerbate and replicate existing inequalities, biases and prejudices that are systemic. It is critical to ensure that the ways the world harnesses the potential of emerging technologies support economic and societal inclusion. One of Canada’s top priorities as it reaps the benefits of disruptive technologies is gender equality. This includes addressing a variety of issues such as women’s equal access to capital, markets, digital technology and business development services. Connectivity remains a challenge for many particularly in the country’s remote region where it is scant, poor or non‑existent. Canada is working to address this issue by building partnerships with civil society to improve connectivity.
ROBIN OGILVY, Permanent Observer for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), stressed the need to ensure that investments in technology help tackle inequalities and not accentuate them. Today, 250 million fewer women than men have access to Internet technologies and women remain underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. “The challenge ahead is not to put brakes on but rather to work together to put in place the right policy responses to ensure that the benefits of innovation are broadly shared,” he emphasized. He said science, technology and innovation polices are too narrowly focused on national priorities, with insufficient focus and funding. “This needs to change,” he added, calling for new science governance models to align with the new reality.