Catching technological waves

Innovation with equity

Human development in recent decades has been accompanied by rapid changes in technology and an increasing proliferation of digitized devices and services. And the pace of change seems likely to accelerate as a result of “frontier technologies” such as artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, biotechnology, and nanotechnology.
These technologies have already brought enormous benefits – dramatically highlighted in 2020 by the accelerated development of coronavirus vaccines. But rapid advances can have serious downsides if they outpace the ability of societies to adapt. There are fears, for example, that jobs are disappearing as more economic activity is automated, and that social media is exacerbating divisions, anxiety and doubt. Overall, there are concerns that frontier technologies will further widen inequalities, or create new ones. Most of these issues have been voiced in developed countries. But the implications could be even more serious for developing countries – if poor communities and countries are either overwhelmed or simply left behind. This report from the United Nations Commission on Trade and Development considers how developing countries can catch the wave of frontier technologies, balancing innovation with equity in pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals.

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