Keeping Pace with an Accelerated World: Bringing Rapid Technological Change to the United Nations Agenda.

AuthorCamacho, Juan Jose Gomez

Humanity is at a crossroads: we face both the opportunities and challenges of a range of powerful and emerging technologies that will drive radical shifts in the way we live. The accelerated pace at which technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), biotechnology, robotics, automation, advanced materials and quantum computing are developing, is already transforming the systems that we take for granted today. From how we produce and transport goods and services to the way we communicate, collaborate or even elect our governments, rapid technological change--which often happens at an exponential pace--is reshaping how we experience the world around us.

The good news is that this period of rapid technological change is in its early stages and is still under our control. Standing at this crossroads means that we bear a huge responsibility, since new technologies can increase inequality among and within countries, replace obsolete labour forces, affect vulnerable groups, foster a concentration of critical knowledge and wealth, and pose significant ethical questions. However, such technologies can also be used positively to accelerate achievement of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and their 169 targets.

According to the World Bank, the proportion of jobs at risk of automation is higher in developing countries than in developed countries. From a purely technological standpoint, two thirds of jobs in developing countries are susceptible to automation in the coming decades. However, the effects of that process could be moderated by lower wages and slower adoption of technology (1) in those countries. Using an adjusted measure based on technological feasibility, the share of employment that is susceptible to automation by country ranges from 55 per cent in Uzbekistan to 85 per cent in Ethiopia (2), while the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development average is 57 per cent.

On the other hand, using smart grids, big data and the Internet of things can help reduce energy consumption, balance energy demand and supply, and ensure and improve the management of energy distribution, while increasing the role of renewable sources by allowing households to feed surplus energy from solar panels or wind turbines into the grid. The cost of solar cells has dropped by a factor of more than 100 in the last 40 years, from $76.67 per watt in 1977 to $0.029 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) in 2017. Solar energy is now the cheapest generation technology in many parts of the world. (3)

National and international institutions are challenged to keep pace with the economic and social consequences of new technologies, which is why there is a growing need for a discussion on this issue. The United Nations, valued for its normative and impartial standard-setting role...

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