Imagine a world with no hunger, where every child attends school and no one dies from a communicable disease. This is not a Utopian dream, but rather our collective vision for a society where no one is left behind. It serves as our guiding spirit--our raison d'etre--as we work together towards the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Frontier technologies offer us considerable hope for a sustainable future.
The World Economic and Social Survey 2018: Frontier Technologies for Sustainable Development (WESS 2018)--the flagship report of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA)--describes technologies at our disposal that can help us eradicate hunger and epidemics, increase life expectancy, reduce carbon emissions, automate manual and repetitive tasks, create decent jobs, improve quality of life and facilitate the achievement of new heights of prosperity for all. Breakthroughs in carbon capture and sequestration may eventually help reduce net emissions and mitigate climate change, as envisaged in the 2030 Agenda. New materials used in photovoltaic cells are enhancing energy efficiency and making renewable energy technologies a viable alternative to fossil fuels. Digital finance, which is facilitated by advances in frontier technologies, is enabling more efficient allocation of savings and investments, thus creating jobs and directly contributing to reducing extreme poverty--an overriding objective embedded in the 2030 Agenda.
While such possibilities are alluring, let us remember that technology cannot make its own choices. We humans develop and deploy technologies to solve our problems. Technologies cannot, on their own, reach the people that need them the most. Policies--still shaped and guided by human beings--allow technologies to benefit people and solve complex, intractable problems. Policies help us develop and diffuse the most-needed technologies, reaching the furthest corners of the world. They can also bridge the great technological divide that persists among individuals, communities and countries, helping them realize their sustainable development potential.
In the past, it took decades for a technological breakthrough to spread across countries. Diffusion and adoption were slow and there were considerable barriers. The process is different for many new technologies. Mobile phones, for example, reached billions of people in less than 20 years. Today, nearly 70 per cent of the world's population uses mobile phones not only to communicate, but also to read news, check weather, make payments and sell products. These devices have become an indispensable feature of modern existence, regardless of where we live or what we do for a living. The Internet is another technological advance that more than half the world's people use every day. These are great examples of enabling...