COVID-19 recovery efforts present an opportunity for governments and the international community to use new and emerging technologies to reduce the inequalities brought into sharper focus by the pandemic.
This is according to a report by United Nations Conference and Trade Development Technology and Innovation Report 2021 launched in February.
“It is key that developing countries do not miss the wave of frontier technologies, otherwise it will further deepen inequalities. Hence, societies and productive sectors need to be well prepared and build the required skills” said Acting UNCTAD Secretary-General Isabelle Durant.
She said frontier technologies have already brought enormous benefits, but rapid advances can have serious downsides if they outpace the ability of societies to adapt.
The “frontier technologies” are a group of new technologies that take advantage of digitalization and connectivity which enable them to combine to multiply their impacts. They include; artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of things (IoT), big data, blockchain, 5G, 3D printing, robotics, drones, gene editing, nanotechnology and solar photovoltaic (Solar PV).
The report finds that the countries best prepared to equitably use, adopt and adapt these technologies are mainly in Northern America and Europe, while those least prepared are in Sub-Saharan Africa and other developing regions.
“Technologies are not deterministic. We can shape their pathways for good. And we have an obligation to do it,” said Shamika N. Sirimanne, director of UNCTAD’s division on technology and logistics.
Technologies should not perpetuate inequalities
UNCTAD warns of serious implications for developing countries if poor communities and countries are either overwhelmed or simply left behind by this new technological wave.
It says success in the 21st century will require a balanced approach – building a robust industrial base and promoting frontier technologies that can help deliver the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its global vision of people-centred, inclusive and sustainable societies.
Each country will need science, technology and innovation (STI) policies appropriate to its stage of development, but all developing nations will suffer the impact of frontier technologies and need to prepare people and firms for a period of rapid change.