New Technologies: Where To?

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Vol. LV Nos. 3 & 4 2018

This issue focuses on new technologies and their potential benefits for humanity as well as their expanding use in advancing the 2030 Agenda. It explores the promise of our digital age, while posing important questions about where these technologies are leading us, and how their misuse could also lead to increased inequality and conflict.

Cover of the first issue of the United Nations Weekly Bulletin, which later became the UN Chronicle.

In response to changes in the publishing industry, the UN Chronicle, like many journals and periodicals, will now become a fully digital magazine following the publication of this issue. A fully redesigned UN Chronicle website will be launched by mid-2019. Like its earliest predecessors, it will offer original content that is varied, concise and updated regularly, and continue to highlight the SDGs and the work being done to achieve them.

The goal of the Secretary-General’s Strategy on New Technologies, the first-ever internal United Nations system strategy on the topic, is to define how the United Nations system will support the use of new technologies to accelerate the achievement of its mandates, in particular the 2030 Agenda.

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.

Today we are at the dawn of an age of unprecedented technological change. In areas from robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) to the material and life sciences, the coming decades promise innovations that can help us promote peace, protect our planet and address the root causes of suffering in our world.

A military robot.                                                                                                   ©FUTUREATLAS.COM

It is only natural that advances in the intelligent autonomy of digital systems attract the attention of Governments, scientists and civil society concerned about the possible deployment and use of lethal autonomous weapons. What is needed is a forum to discuss these concerns and construct common understandings regarding possible solutions.

Malnourished 7-month-old Saamatou Bangou eats ready-to-use therapeutic food in the health centre in Secteur (Sector) 7, a division of Fada N’gourma, the capital of Est Region, Burkina Faso. March 2012. ©UNICEF/Olivier Asselin

Innovation and the rise of digital technology have forever changed how we work, interact with one another, and create and share information. Innovative technologies are also changing how we, at the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), are supporting children and young people around the world.

Standards bodies such as the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) are a primary means of enabling the collaboration and cooperation required to establish international standards.

Robot ©MAXPIXEL

AI could open up tremendous opportunities for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the United Nations in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Its applications enable innovative solutions, improved risk assessment, better planning and faster knowledge sharing.

Pulse Lab Kampala is working on a project to gauge via radio the quality of health-service delivery in Uganda, March 2017.           ©UN Global Pulse

Advances in information and communication technologies (ICTs) are driving global changes in our society—from the way we communicate with each other to the forces that shape our economy and behaviour. The rapidly evolving capabilities of artificial intelligence (AI) offer new opportunities to unlock the value of big data for more evidence-based decision-making that can accelerate progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

A solar data analyst at work in Kenya. ©Wikimedia Commons/DWALSH3

Policy is just as important as innovation because the right policy environments will ensure the success of efforts to achieve the Global Goals, including those related to technology.

A farmer village outside of Dodoma, Tanzania. ©Flickr/C. Schubert (CCAFS)

Tremendous technological leaps are being made, but the economic and social benefits remain geographically concentrated, primarily in developed countries. Too often the least developed countries (LDCs) remain far behind if not excluded entirely. Many have little choice beyond the use of obsolete technologies, such as those used in the garment or agricultural sectors.

Camila Gonzalez studying at home on a computer she received through Uruguay's "One Laptop per Child" Programme.  ©PABLO LA ROSA. 25 June 2009.

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'être—as we work together towards the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

GATSBII (Georgia Tech Service Bot with Interactive Intelligence) hands a research participant a medication bottle. Atlanta, Georgia, United States, 2011.  ©KEITH BUJAK/ GEORGIA TECH NEWS CENTER

The progressive digitalization of the world has an unprecedented impact on every sphere of our lives. Over the past 20 years, technology has permeated every aspect of modern society, and the use of digital technology, in particular, is becoming an integral part of our everyday lives. Many services and resources are now accessible only through digital means. Robots and artificial intelligence (AI) will also radically transform our lives, including the concept of care of older persons.

We are at a unique moment in history: our society is in transition from an industrial economy to one defined by a new set of technologies, ranging from digitalization to nanotechnology. Among the latest waves of digitalization is blockchain—a technology that many say promises to redefine trust, transparency and inclusion across the world.

Two women look up at security cameras in Toronto, Canada. ©UNSPLASH/Matthew Henry

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is converging with an extraordinary array of other technologies, from biotech and genomics, to neurotechnology, robotics, cybertechnology and manufacturing systems. Increasingly, these technologies are decentralized, beyond State control, and available to a wide range of actors around the world.

©Maxpixel

The digital future is already here. As nearly every aspect of our lives becomes digitized, we must ensure that laws and policies are based on fundamental rights.

Residents of Kasungu, in central Malawi, gather during a demonstration of unmanned aerial vehicle (drone) technology. The Government of Malawi and UNICEF are testing the use of drones for humanitarian purposes. 28 June 2017. © UNICEF/UN070228/Chisiza

Data is everywhere, constantly being created by humans and machines across the globe. But as half of the world seems to be drowning in data, too many people and places are still invisible in the numbers that drive decisions.

Successful deployment of 1KUNS-PF (Kenyan Satellite, selected as the first round of KiboCUBE) from the ISS Kibo Laboratory Module of Kibo in May 2018. ©JAXA

Since the very beginning of space activities in the late 1950s, the United Nations, through the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS), has served as the venue for debating ventures in outer space, national endeavours, international space law and challenges to the way we conduct space activities.